Another victory for the VP?
I’ll start this off by saying that I knew nothing of this title when I jumped into it. I had not followed the kick-starter nor read any news stories or updates about the game. The very first bit of information that was offered to me about this game was the comparison to one of, if not my most beloved game from my childhood…Earthbound. Now, I’m well aware that rose-tinted nostalgia goggles are a damning thing to wear during the review process, so I will do my best to take them off as often as I can. However, a comparison to Earthbound is a heavy order to fill and I am going to be addressing my thoughts on the matter as to whether they succeeded in such a feat or not, but I will also judge the product on its own merits as well.
First of all, lets just address that huge elephant in the room right from the get-go. Does this game live up to the Earthbound comparison? In my opinion? No, it does not. But don’t take that as a strike against it. All I’m saying is don’t go into this expecting the next coming of Earthbound, this game is its own thing entirely. The game is obviously heavily inspired by Earthbound, from the psychedelic battle backgrounds to the wacky modern day inspired enemies and situations. So if you’re a fan of Earthbound you will no doubt enjoy these throw-backs and catch a reference every now and then (Like the reference to Ness on the computer in the police station for instance). If I had to best sum up the “feel” of this game compared to Earthbound it would be something like how Paper Mario or Mario Superstar Saga felt compared to Super Mario RPG or how Black Sigil felt compared to Chrono Trigger. They were obviously trying to recapture some of the magic of the first game and may have succeeded in part, but the final product feels entirely different on the whole. Ok, that’s done…The elephant is gone now, lets move on. This game (if you didn’t pick up on it yet) is an RPG put into a modern day setting based mostly on our world. Instead of potions and tonics you consume donuts and coffee. Instead of fighting off hordes of orcs you fight off hordes of protestors and law enforcement officials of all kinds. Instead of riding around in a horse-drawn carriage you ride around in a taxi or car, etc. This should give you an idea of what to expect. The concept is heavily inspired by Earthbound through and through (Gah, damn elephant).
You play the role of the “Vice President of Everything” a self centered, oblivious, cowardly individual who generally means well (I guess). The VP still lives at home with his mother and brother and spends most of his time trying to find the easy way out or the path of least resistance, which ironically is what you will end up doing as well. When roaming the world the player can see enemies wandering around and decide if they want to avoid them or charge head on into battle. Should the player try to avoid and get caught off guard then they start the battle with a penalty. On the flip side if the player charges into battle (using a charge command where you send your allies running towards the enemy) you stand a chance of automatically defeating said enemy if your team is strong enough. This deviation from the age old random encounter mechanic is a blessing. That said, there are still TONS and TONS of encounters and you most likely will grow tired of seeing the same 2-3 enemies in a dungeon constantly. The battles themselves are turn based and built around a system of energy storing/usage. Some attacks you do will let you charge energy and others will require energy to use. This is a bit of a departure from the classic “MP” system of other RPGs and requires the player to sort of plan ahead and start charging energy now if they wish to do a stronger attack later or simply wish to have healing skills at the ready. The system is a little awkward at first but really isn’t that bad and keeps the game from feeling exactly like a “been there done that” RPG. Each party member has their own unique set of attacks and skills they can perform based around whatever profession they were, for instance School Mascot has many “team spirit” type of skills and the Baker attacks with rolling pins and heals by feeding you baked goods. Each party member really does feel like they play differently which opens up many possible party configurations. This brings us to our next talking point, the recruitment aspect of the game.
I’ve mentioned Earthbound a lot so far in this review, but there is another game that i’m reminded of while playing this, Suikoden. As you adventure around Bizarro-USA you will frequently encounter NPCs that can be convinced to join your cause if you can complete a task or two for them. Each NPC has a unique job and niche they can fill on your team and really lets you feel like you’re in control of your party and can fight how you want to fight. They also all have different talents based on their occupation which can aid you in your quest. Recruiting them all can really turn into a compulsive fascination if you’re not careful. Of course, beyond the first 3 or so party members you aren’t REQUIRED to hunt them all down if you don’t want to, you could probably beat the game with the first few members you’re handed if you were so inclined. You would however be missing out on a lot of the game. The cast of recruitable characters feels like its the very heart and soul of this game (which i guess explains the name of the game, eh). Each one feels unique and different and has its own personality (and voice) and really drives you to WANT to collect them all if only to see how varied they all are, and there is a LOT of variety here. Options for recruitable party members range from Conspiracy Nut to Computer Hacker to Homeless Guy to Car Salesman and so on. If crafting an RPG party consisting of “jobs” like that sounds fun/appealing to you, then this is your game.
From that list of potential party members you can probably get a feel for the overall humor of this game. Let it be said now, this is not a super serious game, it is as cartoonish and light-hearted as they come. This works to its charm for the most part, though at some times the humor feels a bit forced and can come off as grating. I get it, Government is inept, I don’t disagree with you there game, but its the level of ineptitude that sometimes is annoying. The NPCs in this game can frequently border on the “Idiocracy” or “Planet Spengo” levels of buffoonery. That said, there are also genuinely funny aspects of the game. I recall one of my more infuriating deaths was also one of the most humorous, as I was fighting this super huge glutton enemy and one of his attacks was him having a massive heart attack and thrashing around on the ground (killing my party), sure it was aggravating, but I can look back on it and laugh. The voice clips of your party members in battle can also be very amusing, ESPECIALLY Conspiracy Nut.
Speaking of voice clips, there is a TON of voice acting in this game, way more than I had anticipated. A large majority of the game is voiced, I supposed that explains the rather large download size of the game. As impressed as I was with the voice acting, where the sound fails is in the music. I just didn’t find much of the tunes in the game to be that memorable, especially the battle themes. None of the battle music did much to get the player pumped for the battle, it really reinforced my feelings of “ho-hum, another battle” while traversing a dungeon.
Other bells and whistles didn’t fare so well either. I’m sure the game wanted to have a retro feel to it, but the graphics just didn’t convince me of that. The visuals of the game come off in a rather “flash game” sort of way. The battle animations for some enemies were well animated while others came off as sort of blurry until they did an attack at which point they were clear but then went back to blurry when they stopped. I will say however that I played this game on the 3DS XL which is in my opinion probably the worst system you could play this game on. Just a quick comparison as an example, the pause screen on the Vita vs. the pause screen on the 3DS is just a complete world of difference. The Vita pause screen clearly shows what each button on the menu is supposed to represent while the touch screen pause menu on 3DS does nothing at all, it just shows the buttons and hopes you know what to do. I really don’t see a reason why they couldn’t have at the very least had the description of what the button does pop up on the top screen if the bottom is too cramped. Not a huge issue, but it can be confusing if you don’t know what you’re doing.
All in all, Citizens of Earth isn’t a bad game. It has its flaws as most games do, but in the end I believe it can provide a meaningful enough gaming experience to justify the time put into it. If you go into it expecting the next coming of Earthbound you’re destined to be disappointed. However, if you’re interested in another developer’s Earthbound-inspired take on a modern era themed RPG splashed with a dash of Suikoden character recruitment, this game will be right up your alley.
Review Score 7/10