It isn’t every day that you can draw comparisons between the worlds of politics and video games; especially considering that the latter is often a means for adults to escape the former. Eden Industries and Atlus’ role-playing game Citizens of Earth however, is an example of a game where these two worlds collide. Unfortunately, that wasn’t a nod to the main character’s position as Vice President of Earth but rather, a reflection on how despite both having a lot of promise, you can’t help but feel disappointed at the final result.
While Citizens of Earth may have a bright and chirpy aesthetic reminiscent of a modern mobile game, fortunately it has the soul of a more classic role-playing game experience; with a particularly strong resemblance to the SNES’ iconic Earthbound. Unlike other independent games that take their classical inspirations too far and end up having more in common with clones than homages, Citizens of Earth feels confident to take the stage further and modernise the experience beyond its visuals.
While many video games in the genre choose to stick to a “tried and tested” formula, Eden Industries clearly weren’t satisfied with taking such a cautious approach and have rather ambitiously overhauled what has become a standard combat system for role-playing games, with the most notable change being the replacement of “MP” (“Magic Points” that are often used as a cost for magic and other non-physical techniques). Instead, this title uses a simpler and more convenient system called “Energy”, which is represented by a number of blue orbs under a characters’ HP. As long as you don’t select any moves that require energy to be used, you will see the number of orbs replenish as you battle; effectively making it more akin to stamina than MP. This change is of huge benefit because it means that I no longer found myself rationing healing moves in case a boss lay in wait for me at the end of an area; I could simply heal as needed without a worry, because I could always restore that energy later.
Despite all the praise Citizens of Earth’s battle system deserves though, I was left feeling that it was let down by the other aspects of the game. One of the game’s most lauded features is the large number of playable characters on offer – basically, almost every NPC can be recruited to fit for you. This idea definitely sounds amazing on paper but I was left wondering if perhaps it was too ambitious in scope because before I had time to gain a firm footing in the game, I was overwhelmed by a large number of side quests popping up offering me a new party member if I completed them. Fortunately the game keeps a log of all active side quests; because there would have been no way that I could have remembered all of the requirements being thrown at me. Despite the large number though, I found a lot of them were actually out of my reach – often asking me to visit locations that I didn’t actually have access to at that point in time.
For the purposes of this review, ATLUS were generous and provided WiiUAndMii with copies of both the Wii U and 3DS versions of Citizens of Earth which gave me the perfect opportunity to compare the two Nintendo-bound versions. Moving the obvious difference in visual clarity aside and focusing purely on the intended gameplay, the two versions are almost identical with the only two real differences, with the first being in regards to the organisation of the battle screen. In the home console version, move options are presented at the top left of the screen while the handheld version takes a leaf from Pokémon’s book by having the lower screen dedicated to move selection. I appreciated the dedicated 3DS fine-tuning, but found that I preferred the simplicity of the Wii U’s system due to being able to see all of my available options at one time, whereas with the Nintendo 3DS version, you have to cycle through the different move categories.
The second difference is more minor and focuses on the placement of the map. I found that the map only showing your immediate surroundings as opposed to the whole area defeated the point in having a map, but at least the 3DS version made it easy to read by placing an enlarged version on the system’s lower screen. As the Wii U’s GamePad mirrored exactly what was on the TV screen however, that meant the map was placed in the corner where it was difficult to read. While the mirroring may be seen by some as a negative, I do have to praise Eden Industries for a small touch that many developers do sadly gloss over; despite the content on the GamePad being the same as the TV, the game allows me to use the touch screen to navigate through the menus!
It is a huge shame though that despite the many things Citizens of Earth does right, my enjoyment of the game was greatly affected by something both versions had in common but shouldn’t have: gameplay issues. During my time with both the 3DS and Wii U versions of the game I was met with a number of game crashes that have either resorted to the game closing itself (3DS) or my whole system freezing until I manually turned off the system (Wii U), making it difficult to progress through the story. Of the two though, the Nintendo 3DS version of the game was more susceptible to similar issues, such as all audio suddenly disappearing during some battles and very noticeable and frequent frame jumps (it’s worth mentioning that I was playing the game on the New Nintendo 3DS as opposed to the original or XL models).
Citizens of Earth’s most redeeming aspect has to be its sense of humour. Pretty much every character is a ridiculous caricature or stereotype which is perhaps most noticeable with the Vice President, who is depicted as being an incompetent momma’s boy who often makes statements about his own self-importance. Eden Industries also utilised some puns so brilliantly that I often found myself over-looking how cringe-worthy they are, such as the “FedUPS” delivery service and my personal favourite enemy, the Telefawn (a fawn with a telephone receiver balanced on its antlers).
At times Citizens of Earth feels like it is struggling to carry the weight of its ambitious ideas but ultimately, it is a quirky and stylish take on an old-fashioned genre that admittedly, needed a little bit longer in the oven. Out of the two versions on Nintendo platforms, I would definitely recommend the Wii U version; although it might be worth holding fire until news of any possible bug fixes are announced.
Citizens of Earth is available on the North American eShop now, with a European release to follow on Thursday.
Nintendo 3DS Version: 5/10
Nintendo Wii U Version: 6/10
Disclosure: For the purposes of this review, ATLUS USA supplied us with copies of both the Nintendo 3DS and Wii U versions of the game.