Citizens of Earth is one of those niche RPG titles that a bunch of people just aren’t going to “get”. I mean, from beginning to end, the 24-ish hour experience is a giant high-five, love letter and hug to Super Nintendo RPG titles like Earthbound, Final Fantasy Mystic Quest, and even elements of Chrono Trigger. Once again, this is another “love letter” game.
I know “love letter” is a term I’m fond of using, but saying “inspired by” when describing certain titles makes them seem more like a rip off than an actual, viable product. Buuuuuut Citizens of Earth really delivers, and it’s snarky, media-savvy writing makes it the perfect fit for 25-35-year-olds who cut their teeth on the Nintendo RPGs of yore.
That’s not to say it’s all good, though. More on that in a little bit.
For starters, Citizens of Earth takes place almost entirely from the perspective of the goofy, Martin Sheen-looking Vice President of the World. Picture a graying, slightly-less-endearing Michael Scott, and you’re on the right track. Like Chrono Trigger, you start the game in bed, being woken up by your Mom. Unlike Chrono Trigger, you’re a grown-ass man in your 50s-60s who still lives in his childhood bedroom. It’s funny, and an obvious jab at goofy Vice Presidents…and it gets even jabbier from there. The crux of the game is to recruit constituents back to your side, and in order to do that, you’ll need to complete a myriad of fetch/find/bring quests to gain their trust. Even though “go fetch” can get monotonous, there are minigames and short nods to classic titles to keep it fresh.
Like classic RPGs, you can customize your party and name them whatever you want. Clearly Joe Biden was the best name for my protagonist.
During your adventure, you’ll encounter 40+ citizens, all of whom can be incorporated into your party…for a price. Sometimes it’s tracking down missing items, sometimes it’s showing up for photo-ops, and sometimes it’s just a matter of being in the right place at the right time! Once they join your party, you can customize their name to reflect your own creative style. Me? I just kept their names as-is…it helped me remember who was who.
Once they’re recruited, you can add up to three to your travelling party…and they’ll fight your battles for you. Yup, just like real sleazy politicians, you’ll secretly trick your constituents into fighting your battles for you, while you direct them from the sidelines. Combat is turn-based like most classic RPGs are, and you’ll be able to unlock additional buffs, attacks and specials that vary depending on which characters you include. Side-note: it’s always best to keep the Baker in your party…TRUST me. Each character also has a special non-combat ability as well. For example, your brother can order items from his shipping company, FedUPS; while the Team Mascot can adjust the difficulty for greater rewards (or less challenge). It makes you a little more choosy about picking the right character for the right segment…although once you’ve leveled a suite of characters, you get leery about bringing new people into the fold.
All special attacks/buffs cost points, which are handily shown as pips next to each character. Specials are “banked” between fights, so you won’t have to worry about rebuilding for each battle. In addition to the standard and special attacks/buffs, you’ll also be able to utilize items found while exploring as fodder: hot coffee can be flung at enemies for elemental damage, while soda (and other caffeine-and-sugar items) can be consumed for “pain buffs”, which give you an initial boost, but damage you later…JUST LIKE SODA DOES!!
So it’s super fun, well written, has great voice acting and a clever play mechanic…why does it get a 7? Despite all of the aforementioned goodness, there’s a crucial gameplay element that’s missing: DIRECTION. Shortly after “Day 2″, the entire experience comes to a grinding halt when you don’t really know where to go. Sure, when you’re putzing around your hometown, there isn’t a whole lot you need to worry about…just gather up your constituents and do the zany fetch quests to unlock them. But once you get to the city, you’ll see how huge the map really is…and the only real navigation/directive is a push-pin marking the next place you have to go. Unfortunately, it often points your next direction into a locked area, and you’ll spend an inordinate amount of time trying to find another way into the area, instead of bumbling through quests that have no real bearing on the task at hand.
Plus, there were a handful of times where my party would get stuck on the edge of something they were trying to pass, and just sit there. One time, while battling a bubble bee, it just sat there, like my controller was shut off, and wouldn’t allow me to proceed. Both occurrences made me think my controller suddenly crapped out…but I was totally able to get back to the main screen, close out the program and restart. It wasn’t like I lost data or anything.
There were also points where I’d save my game in one area, and when I restarted, I’d be in a completely different area, and I’d lose ~30 minutes of progress. Not fun. Again, it only happened a couple times. Not great.
Overall, even though there were really annoying aspects and glitches to hurdle, the game’s excellent writing and fun atmosphere kept me coming back. Would I play it again? Probably. But it’s not the kind of game that will merit a third or fourth playthrough. Still, for under $15, it’s completely forgivable. I’d suggest giving it a whirl…especially if you’re a fan of classic games.