Citizens of Earth, having been released on January 20th, has the distinction of being the first game in this series that I actually started and finished in one stretch, like a normal person. Before this came out, I had been playing a game called Unepic, but I was so excited by Citizens of Earth that I put it aside for the time being. To this day, I still have not finished Unepic, but hopefully at some point in the far-flung future, I will be able to tell you about it.
Citizens of Earth is an old-school top-down turned-based RPG, and the reason I was so excited about it was how reminiscent it seemed of my favorite RPG of all time, Earthbound. The cartoony art style, the modern world setting, the quirky pop-culture-based humor, and even the battle systems all seemed like a loving homage to that classic. Citizens of Earth casts you as “the vice president of the world,” and the gimmick is that you don’t do any battling yourself, but instead recruit up to 40 citizens to do your dirty work for you. The citizens are great and offer a lot of variety – from your character’s own mother to scientists and plumbers and sports mascots. Each one comes with their own leveling systems and power sets, and each one has their own little quest that you need to complete to add them to the team. By the end of the game, here was my crew:
The recruitment processes for the individual citizens are joyously fun, and offer a lot of variety – from collection quests, to puzzles, to quizzes, to rhythm-based mini-games, and so on. This is the gimmick that the game is selling itself on, and it really works well. Unfortunately, that’s where the appeal of your crew of citizens ends, from a gameplay perspective. The problem is that the actual enemy encounters, whether you’re fighting a lowly minion or a main boss, are ridiculously easy and don’t require nearly the amount of varied approaches that the huge party offers. I pretty much kept the same three people in my party through the entire game, and once I leveled them up a couple of times, they were pretty unstoppable against every foe I came across.
There are some other problems with the game too, most of them small, nitpicky things. The environments are awesome and beautiful, pulling from the same bag of tricks as Earthbound by offering tripped-out versions of mundane real-world places (big city, small town, beach resort, etc). But they are often way too big and samey-feeling, with an overabundance of useless red-herring nooks and crannies, so it makes navigation unnecessarily difficult. The garbage world map doesn’t help at all. I spent a lot of time with this game, but most of it was trying to figure out how the hell to get where I was trying to go, a problem that persisted even in areas that I would have become intimately familiar with in games with more efficient layouts. The easiness of the battles might also be an issue for some people, but since I am actively trying to zip through as many games as possible in a year, I didn’t mind skipping out on the hours of boring grinding that more challenging RPGs force upon the player.
The biggest problems of all, however, are technical ones. First of all, the load times in this game are really close to being unforgivable. Every single time you enter a door, or even change screens, a loading screen pops up and you have to wait a good 5-10 seconds to continue playing. In a game so reliant on exploration, this is fucking unbearable, and I can’t imagine how this is necessary in a simplistic 2D game in the year 2015! There were much more complex RPGs back in the fucking SNES era which didn’t have this issue! To make matters worse, the game also occasionally freezes up entirely, forcing you to completely reboot your system. This isn’t something that happened once or twice – I’d say it happened about 15-20 times during the course of my playthrough. I am not sure if these particular problems are limited to the Wii U version or not, but they shouldn’t fucking exist in the first place, and hopefully the game gets patched sometime soon.
I know it sounds like my feelings on the game are really negative, but the truth is I’m just more far articulate when it comes to expressing shit I hate than shit I love. And I truly loved Citizens of Earth! It totally scratched that decades-old Earthbound itch, but it also has its own distinct personality. The character design is gorgeous, the gameworld is charming as fuck, the story is amusing and fun, and the game offers way more variety than I expected. I think it’s a testament to just how much I enjoyed it that, in spite of all the time-consuming problems I detailed above, I played obsessively enough to finish the game in just six days!
I even liked it enough that I tried continuing on to collect the citizens I’d missed, but eventually decided that I’d wait to see if they patched the game, so I could go back to it at a future date without having to deal with all the annoying technical problems. If you’re a fan of RPGs in general, or of Earthbound in particular, you should give this game a try, warts and all. In addition to the Wii U version, it’s also available on 3DS, PS4, Vita, and Steam.
UPDATE: As of April 13, 2015, a patch has been released for the Wii U version of Citizens of Earth, which claims to fix most of the technical problems I complained about here. I haven’t had a chance to test this out yet, but if it does what it’s supposed to, I now have no reasons not to wholeheartedly recommend this game.
Thomas Was Alone