There is nothing wrong with homage, but if you are going to create a video game with such obvious reverence for a specific source material, you immediately put yourself under pressure to better it, or at the very least, match what has come before.
That might sound a little harsh given Earthbound’s place in the pantheon of great RPGs, but if you put yourself in that company (as Eden Industries so clearly have), you best step up to the plate lest you be left firmly in your inspiration’s shadow. If Citizens of Earth was just an everyday RPG, then it would be a solid if decidedly unremarkable one, but as it has so clearly been crafted as a love letter to the much loved, Earthbound, then, well, its deficiencies just make it, for lack of a better term, something of a sh*t Earthbound. And sadly, that’s exactly what Citizens of Earth feels like – a sh*t Earthbound.
Yes, judged on its own merits, this is a flawed but competent RPG adventure, but when compared to Earthbound, which it invariably must be, those flaws are all the more glaring and its issues that much harder to ignore. In fairness, the game isn’t without its positives and for the most part, it actually starts rather well. It looks nice enough, offers a pleasant change from the standard RPG set-up and the script is, initially at least, relatively sharp. Sadly, after a few hours of gameplay, that same script starts to wear a little thin and the antiquated design choices which offered such a pleasing sense of nostalgia to begin with, quickly feel painfully old fashioned. Heck, even the visuals manage to lose their initial lustre.
Still, as disappointing as Citizens of Earth might be, there is fun to be had with its eclectic cast of characters, unique setting and old school sensibilities. The setting and the characters in particular are a nice change of pace for a genre that often takes itself far too seriously.
Playing as the wholly incompetent Vice President of the World, you find yourself, despite living with your mother and being something of an idiot, in a position of power during an alien invasion. Of course, rather than dirtying your hands and fighting yourself, in true politician style, you instead go about recruiting members of the public to do the fighting for you while you run errands and do chores behind the scenes to keep them all happy.
With any character recruitable and the vast majority of them both built and named based upon their specific vocation or core interests, you can quickly establish a team that both do battle on your behalf but also offer additional services and skill during exploration of the overworld. From pilots who open up fast travel to car salesmen that will allow you to get across the map quicker, the idea of characters that offer additional skills outside of standard battles is a clever idea and one that is well implemented here.
The characters themselves, while spread a little thin due to their sheer number are at least entertaining, even if, like the script, they begin to wear out their welcome long before the final credits role. The lead fares a little better, and again, the unique suburban setting and the anti-hero status of the protagonist (if you could even call him that), do combine to make Citizens of Earth stand out from the crowd much in the way that its inspiration did back in the early 90s.
It’s a shame then, that despite these positives, the experience is hamstrung by a tiresome recruitment mechanic, boring mini-games and an unhealthy array of fetch quests. Nothing is broken and there is certainly plenty to do, but honestly, very little of it was fun. Sure, the political satire is kind of entertaining and the vast array of characters do make it all initially interesting, but you’ll soon come to realise that the characters have absolutely zero depth, the political satire is bland and the story ultimately forgettable.
This would all be easier to overlook if the battle system was up to scratch, but again, while not broken, developer, Eden Industires have made an array of poor design choices that do their very best to suck the fun out of combat. The energy system is the biggest offender in so much that it makes combat reliant upon grinding weaker attacks that do not use up energy so that you can use your heavier attacks later in battle. That might not sound that bad on paper, but believe me, in practice, it can turn even the most basic battles something of a chore.
This isn’t helped by the games’ insistence upon random battles…..lots of random battles. Between these, the need to grind for energy and the never ending selection of simplistic but repetitive side quests, it’s not long before battles become something that you need to do rather than actually want to do. I appreciate that the random battles are part of the whole throwback thing, but here, they just don’t work, and to be honest, are something that even the best of RPGs could do without.
Even if you remove the issue of random battles though, the core issue remains – the battles themselves aren’t much fun. The aforementioned energy system is a chore, and while there are plenty of buffs and status effects, a single tactical approach will most likely get you through the vast majority of battles. It’s nice having options, but the game rarely gives you a good enough reason to utilise them.
Nothing is broken in Citizens of Earth and those who want to enjoy this game or have particularly fond memories of EarthBound or Mother 3 will probably be able to extract some enjoyment from its old school combat, unique setting and satirical sense of humour, but for the majority, any potential enjoyment will soon be worn away by its array of poor design choices, one-note characters and repetitive gameplay. The battle system is a chore and the world, despite its initial promise, soon reveals itself to be a bland and disappointingly unremarkable place to be. Citizens of Earth isn’t completely terrible, but I’ll tell you this much, it’s no EarthBound.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Sony Playstation 4 code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.