By Andrew Dodson on January 18, 2015 at 1:25am
I don’t remember my impression when I first became aware of “Citizens of Earth,” which isn’t exactly a good thing when you’re trying to sell a game. The artwork had that nostalgic, “Earthbound”-feel, but it didn’t feel like anything new. From the trailer, you could see some silly dialogue but silly doesn’t make a game. And the initial gameplay didn’t feel terribly revolutionary.
When I started my first game of “Citizens of Earth,” I suddenly lost five hours of time.
The game is addictive and inexplicably fun. It’s really hard to pinpoint exactly what it is that makes “Citizens of Earth” feel like such a new and interesting experience, because all the components feel like something that I’ve played before. Maybe it’s because all those pieces just traditionally work so well together that “Citizens of Earth” felt like something fresh.
That’s not a bad thing.
The story begins like any other great RPG. In your bed. You wake up on your first day as “Vice President of the World” and you start going about your day. You meet your mother and brother. You walk outside to go get some coffee. There are violent protesters outside and, obviously, you have to defeat them.
The story progresses very much in that fashion. You arrive at a new area, there is a problem to solve (typically through fights), there is some silly story and some puns and then you move to the next location.
That part of “Citizens of Earth” is fairly unremarkable. It gets deeper, though.
The most interesting part of this game is the recruitment system. As the Vice President moves from area to area, you meet different citizens in the city – all representing different jobs (baker, police officer, barista) or stereotypes (cat lady, conspiracy guy). Being the Vice President, he doesn’t actually fight his own battles. The citizens that he helps and then stand up for his cause are the ones that step forward when danger is near.
Given that there are over 40 possible citizens to recruit, all with special powers that can be used in battle and out, it is really easy to draw similarities to the “Pokemon” series. After you get one or two citizens on your side, it really starts bringing back that old “Gotta catch’em all” itch. You find citizens at their jobs, but they rarely join you right away. They all need something, and as the charismatic Vice President of the World, you have to do something to earn their support – meeting them at a different location, dealing with a certain enemy or finding a lost item. As someone that really enjoys collecting things in games, I found the citizen recruitment aspect of the gameplay to be very addictive.
Just like in a “Pokémon” game, the citizens all have their different damage types which are effective against different enemies. You can only have three active citizens in your party at a time, so switching your party around is an important aspect of the game’s strategy. It’s important to spend time leveling them up as well, otherwise when you get to a point where you need them you’re going to find their strength and abilities lacking.
“Citizens of Earth” is cartoony and silly, but if your citizens aren’t strong enough or aren’t dealing the right kinds of damage, the game can be very unforgiving. At the beginning, when I had to deal with the coffee shop "Moonbucks" (like "Starbucks," get it?), until I got some citizens with fire abilities. Those java bean monsters wiped me out way too many times than I’m comfortable talking about.
“Citizens of Earth” is not an easy game to really explain, because it is very simple. It is not a difficult game to just pick up and start playing as the mechanics aren’t terribly different from a lot of the games that we grew up on (its “Earthbound” influences are pretty obvious). The more you play though, and the more citizens you pick up and the more enemies that you encounter, the deeper strategies of this game start to reveal themselves. This is a game that, if you aren’t careful, you could easily sink several hours into and not even realize it.
I recommend "Citizens of Earth" because it is a game that a child could play but an adult could also very much appreciate. You can go into it very casually, or look at the numbers and min-max to your heart's content. However you play the game, as you progress the message of the game becomes obvious:
A leader is nothing without the people that support them.
"Citizens of Earth" is available on Jan. 20 (today). You find it on Steam, PS4/Vita, and Wii U/3DS.