Citizens of Earth ReviewJoe Shaffer
Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. Unless you're a games designer, then it's just lazy...
I know, that sounds scathing and borderline ignorant, since a vast number of video games borrow concepts from the few revolutionary titles that exist. However, what separates a good clone from the aforementioned slothful ape is whether or not the game in question stands on its own. This is what separates an inspired piece from a woeful carbon copy. I feared that the turn-based RPG Citizens of Earth might be such an indolent product because one of its selling points states that it draws inspiration from the Mother trilogy, in particular the second entry Earthbound. After a good number of hours playing the game, though, I can safely report that it's not just a lax copycat.
Citizens of Earth resembles its inspiration in many ways, the most apparent being the combat screen. There you face zany opponents, such as militant hippies, muscular mosquitoes, and secret service agents hiding behind palm trees. All the while, a trippy, colorful backdrop swirls behind your foes. Unlike your average RPG, Citizens places a firm emphasis on buffs and debuffs, as can be gleaned by looking at any recruitable character's skill set. Almost all of your allies come with silly maneuvers designed to beef up their muscles or improve their quickness, not to mention (literally) punishing moves that put the hurt on your enemies. The protagonist's mother, for instance, has the ability to nag, spank, and ground goons, thereby nailing them with defense-degrading and speed-stemming ailments.
If you couldn't tell, Citizens of Earth's delightful cast of labor-inspired combatants is one of the game's main draws, and also where it diverges from Earthbound. Citizens introduces forty fighters from various industries, including a handyman, a scientist, a pilot, and even your own secretary, mother, and younger brother. Similar to games like Shining Force and Suikoden, enlisting these folks is a matter of discovering their whereabouts and fulfilling a condition or quest for them. Convincing the scientist to join, for example, involves locating her in a cemetery and eliminating a legion of undead kittens. I think I spent most of my play time attempting to recruit everyone, or at very least speak to them so I could gain access to the quest necessary to add them to my army.
What's more is each buddy has his or her own talent, which adds graciously to the campaign's already long list of non-story diversions and side quests. When you're itching for a distraction, you could take on some of the policewoman's bounty missions and annihilate special felons hidden throughout the realm. There's also the exterminator, who wishes to wipe out creepy-crawlies from various areas. Some other characters don't offer quests, but provide useful services. The conspiracy theorist, for example, records all of your defeated adversaries in a bestiary, and the pilot flies you to several different locations at the drop of a hat. Needless to say, seeking out new pals is a very rewarding activity.
Finding friends is not difficult, especially since the game allows you to traverse a huge chunk of the world very early on. Rather than forcing you along a tight rail, Citizens of Earth provides several full size regions to explore, packed with all manner of goodies and secrets. It's even possible to advance story events that transpire later in the campaign this way. During my travels, I entered a valley fully of hippies that serves as the focal locale of chapter 3. The thing is I took this site on at the beginning of chapter 2 and fought my way to the chapter 3 boss. Granted, the game wouldn't give me the opportunity to rumble with him, but when the time came to charge through the third chapter, there wasn't much more to do than approach the boss and call it a day.
Typically I love exploration. The the more offered the better, right? In this case, though, Citizens allows so much exploration that it doesn't take much effort to become terribly over leveled. Because of that, the game's challenge factor is pretty light while on its moderate setting. While I don't mind a slightly weak standard rogues gallery, what bugs me is that boss encounters are anticlimactic. I destroyed most of the bosses I came across in a matter of turns, sometimes after delivering only two or three blows, usually consisting of a hard strike from a tank character and one additional attack from someone else to seal the deal. Personally, I've always preferred bosses in RPGs to be noticeably tough and not feel like glorified cronies, as is the case with Citizens of Earth. Thankfully, it is possible to crank up the difficulty rating using one of your allies' talents.
I will admit that I was disappointed by the art style at first, too, because it seemed too reminiscent of flash games. I'm not a fan of dismissing video games because they look or play like flash titles, but it's hard to deny that such visuals give the game a cheap look. I adjusted eventually, though, as the game revealed more of its excellent array of nemeses. I will say that the art design lends itself to the ridiculousness of your foes, which aids in maintaining the game's lighthearted feel.
I suppose I could complain about Citizens of Earth not being uproarious in terms of hilarity, but the truth is I prefer titles with cheesy, simple humor. Most titles I've played with comedic elements usually would have done better without them, mostly because their respective developers' attempts at clever jokes or puerile comedy fall flat. Basically, you either wind up with a pretentious story or segments that only a thirteen-year-old would/might laugh at (Fallout: Brotherhood of Steal springs to mind, with its supply of gags involving cascades of urine and rotting testicles). Citizens of Earth doesn't overreach its boundaries. It gives you chuckle-worthy lines now and then, along with the occasional groan-summoning pun (this is a good thing, mind) and some basic political commentary without descending into a self-righteous satire that's too wordy for its own good or insulting the intelligence of its players with juvenile material.
Bottom line: Citizens of Earth is an entertaining, simple throwback to 16-bit RPGs. It does a fine job of presenting aged concepts without ramming them down your throat, as if to say, "Look, I'm retro! Love me! LOOOVE MEEE!!!" It's a charming title that wears its inspiration on its sleeve just enough to make fans of said games swoon, but manages to stand on its own. Mostly, this is thanks to the Citizens's usage of a massive contingent of recruitable workers and simple humor.
There's a fine line between inspiration and imitation. Citizens of Earth stands on former side rather than the latter, and is all the better for it.
Disclosure: We are provided copies of games from the game companies for some games that we review.