A common complaint levied against video games is that people can’t see themselves reflected in them. Citizens of Earth isn’t likely to have that problem, as it’s a Suikoden-like RPG set in a comically exaggerated real world (like Earthbound), in which the newly elected Vice President of the World hires his family and friends to do battle against protestors, sea monsters, joggers, robots, hippies, ninjas, and hyperactive campers. All told, there are 40 playable characters, from the hug-dispensing master scold, Mom, to a nightmare-causing Psychologist, and morale-raising School Mascot. It’s a literal everyman narrative, in which regular citizens save the day from the influences of a dangerous corporation, Moonbucks, and its brain-altering brew.
For the majority of this 20-plus-hour odyssey, the development team’s humorous choices are enough to mask the repetitive and grind-y aspects of this nostalgic turn-based battler. The adorable illustrations and cleverly scripted attacks of the Bubble Bees and Telefawns that you face early on in Mount Pom Pom help to distract from the frustrating amount of combat you’ll endure, just as constantly rotating characters in and out of your three-person party help to keep things feeling fresh. (The voice acting is charming as well, serving to at least give these one-note—or rather one-profession—characters a second dimension.)
Unfortunately, this variety isn’t all that balanced, and the comedy sometimes distracts from utility. After the first few chuckles, how funny is it, really, that the Programmer’s damage is misleadingly expressed in binary numbers? The Sushi Chef’s “Pufferfish” ability is accurately named, in that it generally fully heals his energy and HP, except for when it kills him instantly (as poorly prepared fugu is apt to do). But given the random nature of the skill, players are far likelier to go with safer skills, like the Camp Counselor’s “First Aid.” Worse, it’s hard to find much use for characters with multi-turn effects like the Yoga Instructor or Musician, especially when a character like the Handyman and his “Buzzsaw” or “Sledgehammer” can be optimized to end most battles in two or three turns.
Though your party continues to grow, your options are essentially still restricted to classic RPG conventions, in which you’ll want one character to attack, one to enhance stats, and one to heal. At this point, having to babysit an under-leveled Gardener or Bodybuilder—so you can use their secondary skills to unlock shortcuts on the world map—begins to become irritating. Punny and puny enemies like the Snuggly Duckling are replaced by deadly foes like the Maracacobra, and what begins as a series of comic fetch quests for your constituents soon sours into something resembling a political career, with repetitive combat serving as talking points.
To be fair, Earthbound is a clear point of inspiration, and none of these issues are new to developers attempting to bottle up nostalgia. Moreover, Citizens of Earth does offer a refreshingly nonlinear approach to gameplay, often mapping out multiple routes to each objective, depending on the characters you’ve recruited. Of course, this means that you might miss out on certain areas like Flushmoor entirely, and therefore struggle with the lack of certain key abilities (like the Firefighter’s Escape ability) or vehicular transportation (like the Pilot’s convenient Helipad teleport). On the whole, though, piecing together the way the world fits together once you gain access to the Captain’s “ship,” Lifeguard’s underwater travel, or Psychiatrist’s Dream World, is enjoyable; the constant encounters with enemies are the sore spot.
Citizens of Earth shows no lack of ingenuity and inspiration, whether the maze you’re navigating is made up of cookie-laden conveyors in the campers’ sweatshop or if it’s a politician’s headquarters, in which the convoluted instructions of a series of four toupee-wearing eagles must be followed in order to pass through bureaucratic red tape. The developer, Eden Industries, misses no opportunity for a joke—especially a recurring one, like the odd books about Japanese cuisine written by Dr. Seusshi—and almost every attack and enemy description found in the Almanac has a comedic slant. As the game puts it, the penultimate section is mightier than the swordultimate one, and if that joke makes you laugh, then at least your time with Citizens of Earth won’t be wasted.
Eden Industries’s Citizens of Earth is available now for the Wii U, PS4, PS Vita, Nintendo 3DS, and on Steam.