Citizens of Earth is an interesting game, though I’m not entirely sure what the developers were trying to accomplish with the release. I’m not going to go so far as to say the game is “bad,” but much of the story didn’t make sense to me, and the characters were hard to root for. It just kind of “is” at this point.
When I was first approached by my friends at Atlus to review this game, I was enticed with “It’s modeled after an old school SNES RPG!” Being someone who grew up on EarthBound (which CoE is clearly inspired by), I immediately jumped at the chance to review Citizens of Earth. In truth, they weren’t lying about the fact that it resembles a retro RPG….in gameplay. With CoE, you’ll find most of the classic RPG tropes; top down view of the game world (no overworld), EarthBound-esque enemy encounters (not random), and more grinding than you can shake your fist at. In a most basic sense, yes…CoE is like a retro RPG.
Where the difference lies, however, is in the characters and storytelling. That’s the difference between a good game and a not so great game. In my experience, what was so great about FF IV, for instance, was not necessarily the gameplay, but the characters and plot. I cared about characters like Kain, Cedric, and Rydia. They were what made the story so gripping, and they were characters that I became invested in. I cared about what happened to them, and what they did. The same goes for EarthBound. I truly cared about Ness, Paula, Jeff, and Poo because they were so well fleshed out.
In CoE, I don’t even like the character I’m supposed to be, the Vice President. He’s obnoxious and cowardly, to be blunt. He’s written to be a satire of a clueless politician, not exactly someone I’m ready to stand in battle with, and he speaks with a stereotypical “game show host” voice. But what of the characters in your party? If the main character leaves lots to be desired, maybe the supporting cast can offer up a few gems…right?
Not really. The problem with your party is that it will always be a revolving cast of characters from around town that you recruit. Your party can range from your mother to a policeman to the local coffeeshop owner. Because you see, that’s probably the most unique thing about CoE’s gameplay, the need to recruit as many townspeople as possible, kind of like a lite version of Pokemon. The problem with this system is that once you start to gain a lot of recruits, none of them mean anything. Sure, each one may offer their own special skills, but you don’t care about them as characters. I don’t care if I never used the baker again, of the farmer. You end up with so many recruits that your 3 person party will always be revolving, and you feel no need to stick with any particular characters. So what you end up with is a player controlled character that’s unlikeable, and a cast of random people that you couldn’t care less about.
While we’re on the subject of recruiting followers, let’s take a look at how you do so. Throughout your travels, you will run into random folks scattered about. Upon talking to each person, you will be given a side quest to complete. For instance, the photographer might want you to find a certain car in a lake and pose for pictures, or the farmer might want you to collect 3 Donut Pieces. That’s all fine and dandy; at least with those two early examples, you have mostly a specific objective. But then you’ll run into some really vague tasks, like “Investigate the strange happening around town,” or “collect evidence.” That’s all the information you’re given. You’re not told WHAT strange happenings to investigate (everything in the game is pretty strange), and you’re not told what kind of evidence you need to be searching for. In the end, all I could do was investigate everything…every single thing that could be interacted with. That turned CoE into a REALLY long experience.
The combat mechanic in CoE is pretty simple, and for the most part it follows what we’re all familiar with when you think of a retro turn-based RPG. Combat is energy based; each character has an energy bar that you fill for stronger skills. Basically, combat follows a pretty set routine: start with weaker attacks to build up your energy meter, unleash strong attacks that deplete energy, rinse, repeat. It’s not the worst, but it definitely takes any strategy away and can make battles more drawn out than they need to be.
There are some good point about CoE, however. First off, I love the art style, and I love the tongue-in-cheek parody of modern American culture. The art style is very cartoony with bright, bold colors. I can definitely see the influence of EarthBound’s style in this game, though I’m not a huge fan of the menu UI. It looks like a cheap iPhone game in that regard. But other than that, the sprites look nice an smooth, and the over exaggerated character models show that Eden Industries isn’t taking themselves too seriously. The quirky characters range from a high pitched baker to your stereotypical hippie. All in all, with the exception of a grating character here and there (like the VP), most characters are fairly entertaining. It makes me wish that the characters were more fully fleshed out rather than disposable “ammo,” for lack of a better term.
Citizens of Earth will be somewhat intriguing when you first pop it in. It catches the eye, has a fairly unique concept, and will remind more than a few people of EarthBound in many ways. The quirkiness and humor should entertain most who play the game, and sarcastic poking fun of modern life in America will produce a chuckle. However, a few hours into the game, everything just starts to seem a bit too familiar. Repetition starts kick in, and soon you realize that nothing new has really happened in the past few hours. You’re still confused with the story, you’re still trying to recruit endless townspeople, and you’re still grinding enemy after enemy. And that’s the way it continues until the very end. Again, I won’t go so far as to say that this is a “bad” game. As far as retro-styled RPGs go, this is not the worst. But I can’t help but feel like this could have been so much more, and so much less repetitive and vague.