Eden Industries' Citizens of Earth looked like it wouldn't have seen a release after their Kickstarter project didn't reach their goal. But as luck had it, North American publisher Atlus USA decided to pick up the project and help guide it to market with some tweaks and guidance along the way. Heavily inspired by Ape and HAL Laboratory's cult-classic SNES RPG Earthbound, it tries to strike a fine line between that old-school style of gameplay while adding newer approaches created since. How well it does that is a bit of a mixed bag, however.
The premise for the game is that you play as the newly appointed Vice President of the World who was just elected to the office, which in a nice old-school throwback can be named whatever the player wishes. The next day you wake up to a world which has suddenly went haywire and it's up to you as the Vice President to get to the bottom of it.
Of course like most politicians you have better things to do than get your hands dirty with the busy work of fighting the random enemies littering Citizens of Earth's overworld. So who else to do that work for you than the citizens you were elected to look out for, which leads into the core differentiating gameplay mechanic in Citizens of Earth.
Littering Citizens of Earth's world is a number of different archetypical characters that can be recruited to fight at your beck and call. These range from the stereotypical conspiracy fanatic, a German pastry chef and even a pilot. This plays nicely into the politician aspect of the narcissistic Vice President when you get into fights, as the VP prefers to delegate his "work" to his subordinates.
One of the issues I had while playing was that when I encountered a side quest to unlock a new citizen it was hard to figure out at times what exactly needed to be done to fulfill it. One example of this was a quest to collect evidence to release a potential party member out of jail. The game only tells you to "collect the evidence", but what the player actually needs to do is defeat specific enemies which drop the evidence needed to clear their name. Almost all of the story and side quest missions are like this, where you have to seek out vague random hints that you could easily miss if you spent time looking in the wrong direction. Making things too easy wouldn't be the solution here either, but I felt the developers could have done a better job guiding the player and still keeping the old-school discovery aspect intact.
Also, because each character is essentially a caricature of their given profession, there's no real attachment to any of them. The developers did a decent job of not repeating the same jokes frequently, but there's only so many ways someone can phrase a joke before it begins to wear thin. Even the Vice President of the World falls into this trap as his character centers around the usual political jokes and jabs one would expect. It feels at times the developers tried too hard to capture the feeling of the classic RPGs, and in turn never let the game get its own identity outside of it.
Battles in Citizens of Earth uses an Earthbound-style presentation, but with some key differences. You can visibly see the turn order at a glance so there's no guessing games as to who will attack after the next person. HP also doesn't dwindle down when hit as the game uses a typical meter-based health bar gauge.
Lastly, but most importantly, all actions in battle uses an energy-based system. Every action outside of using an item or running away from battle involves energy to some degree, either by gaining it back or expending it with an attack or skill. The system itself isn't a bad idea, but how the developers implemented it feels half-baked at times. Because of how the gain and loss of energy works, you often are forced to use weak attacks to build up your energy to be able to use your stronger attacks that require a lot of energy. There's equipment and items that help restore energy or reduce cost, but it feels like a bandage fix for the underlying problem.
This issue also involves how you begin encounters with enemies on the overworld map as well. Much like Earthbound, enemies are visible and run towards you when you get close to them. Unlike its inspiration, though, the developers place the enemies too close to each other in the sometimes narrow paths inside areas that are found in buildings and other such structures. You only have a very small invincibility window following a battle, so if you just defeated an enemy and its nearby partner sees you and makes a run to attack you you're out of luck and are forced into another battle.
Another issue with the battle system is that after gaining a level or two you'll often feel overlevelled compared to the enemies you're fighting against. And on the flip side, when you enter a new area you'll feel underlevelled. There is options available to alter the difficulty, but the player shouldn't have to shoulder the effort of level balancing for the developers. You do have the option of auto-clearing the battle ala Earthbound if you're at a high enough level compared to the enemy, but unless you're backtracking or purposefully overlevelling you won't likely utilize this feature.
These issues are unfortunate as the art style and music are rather superb. Each character feels unique but still tied to the overall art style encompassing Citizens of Earth's bright and colorful art direction, as if Earthbound's pixel art graphics was transitioned to a smoothed-out modern style. Each of their animations feels exceptionally smooth which made me want to progress further even with the issues stated earlier to see what the developers came up with next.
In terms of ports, we didn't have many issues with the PC or PS4 versions of the game, but we did run into some longer loading times on the PlayStation Vita version. The loading times weren't too long, thankfully, but it seems there could be some more optimization done on the porting process for that version in particular.
Citizens of Earth is a one of those games where its appeal will either make or break things for you. If you're a fan of old-school style RPGs with a modern twist, its issues can easily be overlooked. But for those who favor the niceties of modern RPG design, the flaws will most likely be too much for you to overlook. Overall, it feels like it's stuck in the shadow of the classic games it's trying to eclipse.
|The art and sound direction feels like a Super NES RPG brought into the modern era.|
|Donâ€™t have to fight super-weak enemies since you can just auto-win against them.|
|The citizensâ€™ abilities are put to good use throughout the game.|
|Since all of the characters are caricatures of their given profession, none of them ever escape that and become their own unique person.|
|The in-game hints are frequently too obtuse for their own good.|
|The enemy level scaling feels broken at the beginning and ends of a new map.|