Captain Falcon has finally been executed for his crimes.
Citizens of Earth is crushing. When I heard a cheeky, satirical game harping on both politics and SNES-style RPGs was swooped up for publishing by Atlus, I set my expectations high, but having played the game now, I realize that it’s always better to set your expectations low so you’re not hit with the disappointment experienced.
Citizens stars a Mitt Romney looking dude who just won the vice presidency of the entire world and wants to take a day off. He wakes up to the world falling down around him: coffee stores are turning into hives of evil, the Capitol Building is under high alert, and your secretary refuses to bring you coffee! What’s a VP to do? Why, get others to do his dirty work for him of course! The VP enlists the aid of a gaggle of the previously mentioned citizens to get their hands mussed up and fight for him. Combat is turn based with each citizen doing damage with moves that fit their job description. The mother kisses boo-boos and spanks opponents, the chef bakes cakes, the guitarist can tune his guitar to unleash a stronger attack later on, etc. The citizen’s attacks all use an energy meter instead of your standard MP bar, and this is Citizens’ freshest idea. Some attacks give you a notch in your meter, and other, stronger moves detract some. You can use items to add to the meter, as well as refill your health, but a well rounded team will never need to do that. Hell, since leveling up refills your health, I barely had to use items the entire game.
I did enjoy the diversity in citizens, both in job and in race, gender, etc. There’s about an equal amount of women to men, and a good amount of PoC. There are some iffy stereotypes here and there, such as the homeless guy being an unhinged bearded coot, and the sushi chef having “Japanese guy voice”. You know the one. Overall I enjoyed the cast I was able to recruit, and finding new citizens was the best part of the game. Citizens can also assist in interacting with the environment, and while some things feel like upgrades that you need to work for, such as the car salesman’s car that ups your speed on the world map, there are other disappointments that just feel like their ability should be in the options menu, like the school mascot’s difficulty adjuster.
The combat is the first sign of a problem in Citizens of Earth, but at first I didn’t realize it. CoE’s combat screen immediately brings EarthBound to mind: Between the way your characters walk around the game’s world and the newspapers that talk about a “baseball capped youth fighting crows” it’s hard to shake the feeling that this game wishes it was a Mother game. At first that seemed fine, but eventually it just made me want to play EarthBound instead; unlike EarthBound, Citizens stumbles with its jokes, having a handful of chuckle worthy lines coming from the VP and nothing else. There aren’t any character specific lines from any of the citizens once they’re recruited, they interact with the story in the same way every other character would. During battle, they repeat the exact three or so lines , and you end up rotating citizens because you’re sick of their battle grunts, not because you need to diversify. The game does give you the option to defeat enemies without engaging them once you’re overleveled by charging your team into their backs, but you’ll often miss and get into a battle where the enemy has the upper hand because of your team’s turned backs. EarthBound itself handled this idea better, and that game came out over twenty years ago.
Quests are finicky in this game. You’re often told to search for an item or location, but are almost never given directions to find them. An early quest has you searching for “evidence”, and not once does the game tell you that specific enemies are holding said evidence or that they drop it after defeating them. You can end up searching for hours instead of actually finishing this quest, which I feel like is the game trying to be “old school Nintendo hard” but in reality it’s just bad design that we’ve grown out of. Citizens is also incredibly buggy. Before patching, the game crashed to desktop after battle about a fifth of the time, and while a few patches that came out during the review process helped, it wasn’t by much. After a week or so, however, the game refused to start. I was going to play more of the game, but it seems like the PC version is unplayable. Even when the game worked, it still left room for new bugs to pop up. It’s incredibly easy to accidentally skip a sequence in a quest, which makes the game crash to desktop. You’ll also often end up freezing after clearing a room filled with enemies, which is helped slightly by the game’s checkpoint save system, which kicks in when you enter a new area. If you’re fighting in the open world, however, this doesn’t help at all.
I felt like Citizens was working against me the entire time I played it: every time I felt like I was starting to like the game, it would crash, erasing my progress and making me slog through another series of bland battles to get back to where I was. I really wanted to like Citizens of Earth, but as it is now it’s too broken to play. Maybe if it had more of its own personality instead of harping directly from EarthBound, there might’ve been something here, but for now it’s hard to recommend. Maybe once the game actually works on PC, it’ll be worth a look when it’s on sale. But for now, this game is an absolute mess, and I’m very sad about that. If you have a Wii U, go buy EarthBound instead.
I’m going to be looking closer at the Vita and PS4 versions of this game, and will update the review afterwards. Those versions, while also buggy, may actually be playable at the end of the day.