Though Citizens of Earth’s initial Kickstarter missed its mark, Atlus surprisingly stepped up to support the game, thus saving it from obscurity. For a big game company to pick up where Kickstarter left off, there must be substantive reason for it. When I got the game, my first thought was, “this looks like a zany ride full of wacky hijinks,” and so began my venture into this strange world.
You, the Vice President of the world, are woken up by your mother in your room filled with strewn socks and underwear. Although you’re technically on vacation, the odd events that stir up in town and nearby areas end up finding the VP, who, in an earnest attempt to gain the favor of more voters, decides to take them on. As he bumbles along this journey, his bureaucratic excellence in delegation has him roping in citizens for help, including dear old mom and his brother the FEDUPS guy. Clearly incapable of self-sufficiency, empathy, or hard work while taking credit for others, the VP can be an insufferable character. However, more often than not, his ridiculously outlandish quips serve as a striking parody to political bureaucracy.
Set in a present-day alternate universe, the world holds enough normality with just a tinge of crazy, like deer with telephones as horns. Each recruitable citizen is characterized by their profession, such as the Sushi Chef, Baker, Programmer, and even a Conspiracy Theorist. They boast their own complementary abilities and talents, such as the Baker healing by making bread and selling delicious baked goods as items, and the Conspiracy Theorist’s ability to sniff out and record enemies’ stats and abilities. The VP needs to fulfill each citizen’s unique requirements before they happily join him. Naturally, the game does not take itself too seriously, and spends every possible moment referencing pop culture, punning, or satirizing stereotypes. Although Citizens of Earth takes digs at many social and political conventions, I was pleasantly surprised by the gender distribution of the citizens’ occupations, including a female Scientist, Architect, and Pilot.
In battle, the VP can only have three citizens fighting at a time, but you can choose to restart the battle at any point (before losing) with a restructured team. Instead of mana, citizens have a limited number of energy tokens, which are gained by using weaker abilities and spent for stronger ones. Some can also give energy to or steal energy from allies, which makes sense as certain citizens are energy hogs while others have much better “weak” abilities. Most enemies have elemental weaknesses, and since each area usually only has three to four different types, it is easy to conjure a team that will stomp their faces in. The best part of combat is the ability to gain experience even while knocked out, and whenever a citizen levels up, they regain full heath even if previously comatose and jump right back into battle.
Unfortunately, that’s about where all the good things end. Hostile areas are constantly teeming with enemies, and while it is possible to weave through some, there will always come a time when you run out of luck and end up fighting at least two, plus whatever else is trailing close enough behind. Meandering around large maps trying to solve puzzles or getting every single last treasure gets absurdly frustrating with the sheer amount of enemies lying around. The battles are not usually hard, just time consuming and mindless. Once the right team combination and abilities are discovered for the area, each battle is just clockwork with occasional healing. And believe me, you can’t take 5 steps without running into something. On top of that, the enemies in each area respawn once the party leaves and comes back, so if you discover something neat to check out in a map jump, you’ll have to face the same enemies again once you head back.
Most annoying were the crashes — I must have encountered them in the tens or twenties, largely at the most inopportune moments, resulting in “re-doing” a lot of maps. The game auto-saves whenever the team enters a new area, and if the player decides to save while in the midst of a location, the party starts right back at the entrance no matter where you saved. If there was an unfinished puzzle to solve, you have to start again from scratch. At one point, due to bad pathing, my team ended up in a location that should be inaccessible while in the midst of solving a puzzle, resulting in a cursed hammering of the large X button and restarting the entire map and puzzle once more.
Control is fairly simple: hold down right click and drag the mouse to move, and if an interaction is available, an icon will pop up. Left click to analyze or pick up an object or talk to a person. Alternate keyboard controls are available, with any preferred key bindings. In battle, players can left click a category on the left menu, then mouse over the ability tab before clicking to select it. Ability menus are rather finicky, and I often found myself selecting something I didn’t want because I forgot to pause half a second at the correct tab. However, it is possible to undo ability orders before the final execution by right clicking, which is a welcome touch. Players can pull up a main menu that consolidates the information for recruited citizens, talents, item inventory, agenda list, and recruitment requirements — handy for managing so many recruits, but a little tedious, as the interface always felt somewhat delayed. Since the game does not provide any introduction to the controls and buttons available, it’s possible to miss some useful features.
On the flip side, the game boasts vibrant 2D graphics with smooth animations that suit the theme well. Enemies always seem to naturally belong in their locations and no two citizen recruits look alike. Though some area connections, like walking from land into a river, could be more obvious, the presentation is overall pleasing and distinctive. Each recruit features his or her own voice acting, adding some depth to the characters as they all respond differently to key events. Not all lines are voiced, but citizens will at minimum express a unique interjection. The simple music was initially enjoyable and somewhat memorable, but as battles and maps dragged on, the tunes caught in my mind were akin to torture, evoking the frustration I felt even after I shut down the game — a new paradoxical experience for me as catchy tunes are usually cheerful reminders. Spending so much time in the same areas fighting the same monsters heavily devalued the audio experience due to the overwhelming saturation.
Now, it may seem like there are many irredeemable qualities about Citizens of Earth, but in truth, I think its problems fall squarely on the mindless battles, quantity of enemies, and the lack of good scaling for citizen levels. Given the length of battles and number of enemies per map, I would gauge that in the forty hours accumulated, I spent more time fighting enemies than actually playing the game. Is fighting enemies with the same formula every encounter really playing the game, or am I just wasting time while trying to get from point A to B? If the game had half as many enemies per map, I would have enjoyed it so much more. With up to forty available recruits, it should not fall on the player to grind them up to par for difficult areas when it is impossible to unlock them all at the start. Each recruitment brings with it the excitement of something new, only to realize that the citizen barely tickles the enemies and can’t last a single hit at level eight when the rest of the team is in their twenties. No one wants to backtrack to an easier area just to kill enemies for hours to try a new member out. Instead of giving recruits a fixed level based on when they can be acquired, why not base it off the average level of all available recruits, or perhaps allow universal experience gains? With so many creative ways to get around the big bad grind, Citizens of Earth really fell far short.
Overall, Citizens of Earth is brimming with potential but fails to deliver completely. The variety of recruitable citizens, satirical humor, puzzles, and presentation form a solid base that could easily stand on its own. However, the insipid battles, excessive enemies, and superfluous grinding that hog most of the gameplay come close to ruining the whole show. What it comes down to is this: if you don’t care to collect them all — citizens and secrets alike — the game will probably be a much more enjoyable, shorter experience. For the discerning OCD curators who will literally flip tables to find the last hidden item, better strap those boots tight for the long trip ahead.