Citizens of Earth PS4 Review
RPGs may not be as dominant as they used to be during their renaissance period (which began around the time Final Fantasy VII released and ended sometime after Final Fantasy X), but they haven’t gone away either. These days, the majority of traditional turn-based titles can be found on handhelds and/or Indie-developed kickstarters. Citizens of Earth is born from the latter and available on the former in addition to consoles, though it also wouldn’t have seen the light of day were it not for the publishing power of Atlus.
Citizens of Earth takes a break from the traditional fantasy/sci-fi backdrops found in most RPGs and instead sets itself up in the modern world, albeit a modern world filled with talking eagles, killer stop signs, coffee robots and hippies. The closest comparison would be the Earthbound/Mother series, which is hardly a coincidence as Citizens of Earth is based largely around the cult hit Nintendo series; from its battle interface to its pun-filled enemies, the trippy modern day aesthetic is lifted almost wholesale from Earthbound. This is hardly a negative, however, as very few RPGs have taken inspiration from the long-revered classic, making Citizens of Earth almost as innovative as Earthbound was some twenty years ago.
The story is set up somewhat similarly to Earthbound as well, albeit with a much more grandiose title thrust upon its main protagonist. As the newly elected Vice President of the world, the protagonist is enjoying his time off to greet his adoring public (a mob of violent protestors led by his political rival), get some coffee at the local Moonbucks (which has enslaved its customers with its mind-controlled special blend) and see the sights of a nearby forest (home to a monstrous honey bear…that is, a bear made up of honey). If the early signs of oddity aren’t enough to clue you in, the protagonist’s personality (a mix of The Tick’s dimwittedness and Zapp Brannigan’s narcissism) should help paint the picture on what kind of tone Citizens of Earth is going for.
While the Vice President never engages in any of the fighting, he does have a surprisingly large list of supporters to aid him in battle….provided he can fulfill the requirements to recruit them. Taking a cue from large-party RPGs like Suikoden and Chrono Cross, Citizens of Earth features a plethora of party members around the world, each starting out as an NPC with a specific quirk (the crazy cat lady, the conspiracy guy, the high school mascot) or even serving a traditional RPG role like shopkeeper (the pastry chef). Each of these characters can be recruited into the party, but most require that the player fulfill a specific quest line or challenge in order to persuade them.
These sidequests can either be completed on the spot or require further advancement in the story, but the resulting recruitment is almost always worth it. As far as battle-specific abilities go, there aren’t many characters who exceed the usefulness of the starting set of members (the VP’s brother and mother, respectively), but the real convenience lies in their traits; once recruited, each character’s trait can be accessed at any time in the menu. This includes shopping for items, adjusting the rate of difficulty, accessing the bestiary, and more. This concept of unlocking additional features through party members is a neat idea that ensures each character is useful, even if they aren’t used in battle.
Speaking of the battle system, for those who have not played Earthbound, the game follows a classic turn-based approach where all of the party members input their commands in advance and unleash them all at once on the enemy, while the enemy responds in kind with their own attacks. Since you typically cannot brute force your way until a few level-ups, it becomes paramount to plan out a strategy that combines support and offensive abilities. The VP’s mother, for instance, has abilities that lower an enemy’s defense, leaving them wide open for a strong attack from the VP’s brother. Planning out an order that lets the party members work together is often the key to victory, though there are the usual curveballs thrown in such as status attacks and powerful party-killing super attacks. Though battles tend to last a bit quicker than previous cinematic-heavy RPGs, they can still drag on with the slow text speed and transitions. On the upside, the VP can send out party members to charge toward enemies on the field, which can lead to an instant defeat and exp gain if their levels are high enough.
From a presentation standpoint, Citizens of Earth is solid. The artwork is colorful and the animation is smooth, giving it a modern look on a retro backdrop. The voice acting and writing are also professionally done, even if the jokes tend not to move beyond “boy this sure is a weird thing huh?”. The soundtrack offers multiple battle themes, which is always appreciated, but is otherwise unremarkable and forgettable. The only other knock against the game is that it often feels aimless; the main draw for players will most likely revolve around the party recruitment system, which means lots of wandering around the different areas to see if they can complete a recruitment quest now or later. This could also lead to enemy encounters that are way above their current level, which is made more annoying as players cannot escape boss battles. Fortunately, the game also applies Earthbound’s continue feature, as players will find themselves back in their house without any penalty to their progress. Nevertheless, a more active main story and a slightly more linear path would have benefited the game overall.
But overall, Citizens of Earth is a fun RPG that takes much inspiration from a classic title that few other games have emulated, making it more unique than it is repetitive.