It’s hard for me to be unbiased about a game I’ve covered for awhile. I’ve done the demo, some alpha, even interviewed the game’s creator, Ryan Vandendyck. However, I have to admit something: I wasn’t always a fan. In fact, when the game was first announced, I scoffed. I was offended. “How dare someone try to hold a flame to Itoi-san‘s Earthbound!” I thought. Despite what some starry-eyed readers may think, writing about games doesn’t always mean I get to write about games I like or want to buy, and an opportunity to try the game, combined with my experience and tastes, practically required me to give the game a chance, but that’s all it needed for me to start following it.
However, between the failed Kickstarter, alphas, and help from Atlus, I wanted to see what the game looks like now. Atlus was kind enough to send me a copy of the retail version of the Steam version of the game, but if you’ve got a Wii U, 3DS, PS Vita, or PS4, you have a platform to play the game on. Let’s look at what the game has down so far.
First, for those who have somehow clicked this link without knowing a thing about the game, Citizens of Earth is the story of the Vice President of the world, beginning with his first day off… which happens to be his second day in office during a protest held by his political rival. If it’s not obvious yet, the game is meant to be humorous. It’s a light-hearted, modern-day tale like the Mother/Earthbound series that also borrows some of its RPG elements from, but combines that with Pokemon like mechanics and the Suikoden emphasis on recruiting a rather large roster of characters, though we have 40 instead of 108.
Let’s start with the game most people have compared it to: Earthbound. No, you’re not playing as a kid going out on an adventure, but to be honest, I’m getting tired of being an adult and my light-hearted games forcing me to be kid again. What some Mother lovers may forget is that you actually played as adults at certain points in Mother 3, and while most people love Earthbound, M3‘s more mature story resonated with me as an older teen. I like being an adult protagonist, even in light-hearted games!
However, story line comparisons aren’t the only thing that influenced CoE. First, there’s no random battles. You can see every enemy and choose to fight them or try to avoid them. In fact, some will talk to you and not attack you unless you literally send your team charging at them (a mechanic that is unique to CoE but I find quit fitting). Like in Earthbound, the direction the enemy is facing you when you engage in battle determines who gets a battle bonus. Starting face to face means you’re on even footing, but if you start the battle when the enemy’s back is turned, you get extra energy (needed for attacks) and can attack first. Also, if you’re much more powerful than an enemy, you don’t even need to fight them. The game will automatically end combat and grant you the rewards you would have gotten if you actually had fought.
Like Pokemon, the main character doesn’t actually fight. I mean, let’s be honest: you’re the vice president of the world. It’s bad enough you don’t have Secret Service Agents to help you out, so having regular citizens do the dirty work for you makes sense.
You’ve also kind of got the reverse version of effort value training. Rather than gaining stat bonuses based on what you defeated, members of your party get bonuses based on who they’re grouped with, but no additional bonuses if two characters grant the same bonus. For example, having your Mom in your party with you gives other party members a bonus to special attack, while your Brother gives an HP bonus. If you have the Baker in your party, and he levels up, he’ll get a bonus to HP and Special Attack. However, because the Baker and your mom grant a Special Attack bonus, when your Brother levels up when partied with both of them, he’ll only get a Special Attack bonus as if he was partied with only your mom (or the Baker). Long story short, while the game can be played rather simply, it does have some deeper mechanics for min-maxers looking to make the perfect party.
The Suikoden element is fairly straightforward: go out and do quests to convince many people to join you. There’s very few people you “need,” but lots of options, and each person has a different role (well, literally job). Collecting more doesn’t just give you more battle and dialogue options (though some unlock other options, such as a difficulty setting or leveling school), but unlocks the opportunity to complete “challenges,” which are like achievements. No, Suikoden doesn’t usually have achievements, but there are usually bonuses for recruiting more people, such as access to better equipment (which your Brother handles in CoE).
The game’s certainly changed from the demo though. The dialogue’s much better but still familiar, even if I have to admit I miss a few of the old lines. The humor has more punch, and rather than starting with a cell phone, you have a tablet (a small change, but it makes the game feel more modern).
Going back to the enemies that you can chat with, one thing that eventually hit me that I didn’t consider in the alphas (because, well, it was alpha) is that the game doesn’t really have NPCs. There’s a few that are, literally, gate keepers there to prevent you from progressing, but everyone else is either recruitable or an enemy. It makes the game feel fairly organic. While the bubble icons make it obvious who you can recruit, when you realize that it’s pretty much every NPC, you start to see that icon less as a quest notifier and more like the shadowy outline of locked characters waiting for you to unlock them.
The game’s also fully voiced now, save for a few moments where the dialogue varies based on who you’ve brought along (in which case, they have stock voice responses while you, the VP, tend to keep your audio track). However, note that if you’d like to play the game in another language, such as German, the audio won’t change as well. Just the same, there’s a lot of hammy accents that aren’t too terrible and at least should put a smile on your face.
I must admit that the few games I’ve demoed from Atlus in the past had cringe-worthy voice acting, but perhaps that was because they were Japanese games with American accents. While certain characters do sound a bit too over the top for me (looking at you, Mom!), even considering that this is a more humorous game, I feel like Atlus recruited some good talent, and perhaps the voices match better since this is a Western-made game with an international cast. I liked the game without the voice acting, but the new addition is actually enjoyable, and I don’t always say that about modern RPGs (sorry Dragon Age, I miss my silent protagonist).
I’ve been playing the game on the hardest mode I can access at a time, since the difficulty setting is attached to a certain character (the Mascot). It has slowed down my review of the story, but not the content. While the game is an RPG, it does mix things up a bit. That is, you don’t recruit each person by killing rats or bringing back their family heirloom stolen by the rat king. You take a quiz to recruit a certain character, but the game won’t give you hints about which answers you choose are right or wrong, so you need to explore. Another lost its “fighting spirit,” which will start appearing in random battles, buffing enemies and running away, but retaining the damage you deal to it. It’s not revolutionary, but as someone who’s been gaming for over twenty-years now, I can really appreciate simple tweaks to emphasize fun things to do in games, rather than just attaching dialogue as a reward for grinding experience points.
The Steam version of the game did have some bugs that caused crashes the first few days, but I haven’t had a crash since the updates were sent out. I’m expecting the launch to go rather smoothly so far, at least on PC. I’m only allowed to cover the game up to a certain point for pre-launch previews, but from what I’ve played so far, I’m having fun. This isn’t PR spin or media/industry favor trading. I actually had to decrease the difficulty level for a bit to ensure that I could see enough of the game to give you guys my impressions before the launch, and will be resetting it once this is published. I honestly have had a hard time getting into RPGs outside of sequels to games I liked when I was a kid. That being said, as I mentioned above, the game did appeal to me due to influence from certain games and mechanics I’m fond of, and while I started out as a critic, I have been following the game for awhile.
Check back with us later for Jay Borenstein’s full review of the game and see what a new citizen of Earth player thinks about the game. Oh, and for those who may have followed me from my Tofugu interview linked above, some good news for your Japanese studies and Japanese friends! Atlus’ PR Manager John Hardin says that the game is still being considered for a Japanese translation due to it’s portability and the fact that it’s an RPG. Of course, not all the humor translates easily, but it still has a chance, so feel free to tell your friends and fellow citizens about the game!