Citizens of Earth review: executive order

Game Info
Platform Win, Wii U, PS Vita, 3DS, PS4
Publisher Atlus
Developer Eden Industries
Release Date Jan 20, 2015

Citizens of Earth shares its greatest strength with many of history's most successful politicians: It's able to appeal to multiple demographics.

In this case, that means a very conservative, old-school role-playing game masked by bright colors and clever writing. Citizens of Earth has its share of grinding. Its slow turn-based combat system requires careful, strategic choices. It has a bevy of design decisions that would normally turn away all but the most hardcore and nostalgic of RPG fans.

Yet Citizens of Earth's cheery disposition is impossible to ignore. It approaches the dustiest of mechanics with a wide-eyed imagination, rethinking them in a way that fits its colorful, goofy world. I went into it feeling a bit of RPG burnout, but Citizens of Earth's enthusiasm won me over in the end.

Citizens of Earth's cheery disposition is impossible to ignore

In the first of many twists on the genre, you take on the role of the newly elected vice president of the world, who wakes up on his first day in office to discover a world gone mad. Protesters have taken to the streets in anger over your victory, a local coffee shop seems to be lacing its lattes with something addictive, and the president himself is missing in action.

Lucky for you, the game is overflowing with citizens to win over to your cause — 40 in total, beginning with the VP's own mom and brother. Each subsequent recruit comes with their own special recruitment quest. These enthusiastic supporters form the backbone of your campaign.

See, the vice president doesn't do his own fighting. Instead, he stands back and barks orders at a team of three during turn-based battles. With a quickly ballooning roster of party members, Citizens of Earth has a ton of potential combinations. A big part of the game's strategy is figuring out which characters work best with each other.

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These followers don't have typical fantasy RPG class types either; each attack or special move is a weird twist on genre norms. Example: You can recruit a soda shop employee who specializes in buffing your team with his carbonated beverages. However, anyone partaking in the soda will experience a sugar crash, gaining debuffs a couple of turns later.

Or there's the bodybuilder — an Arnold Schwarzenegger look-alike who does warmup exercises to buff his attack and defense before unloading with super-powerful physical attacks. Or the car salesman, who can aggravate enemies just by talking at them. Each character has their own strange options, and it's a delight seeing each of them bend normal role-playing game combat.

Those fun tweaks on expectations are important to Citizens of Earth; without them, the combat would be flat.

The game employs a slow-and-steady turn-based system that would be at home in an NES-era Final Fantasy game (or the slightly lesser known EarthBound, its most obvious inspiration).

Characters use certain attacks to build up energy, and then spend the energy to perform other more powerful abilities. It's a basic system, one that would feel too sluggish if not for the interesting powers and huge selection of playable characters.

the vice president is mostly played for laughs
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Citizens of Earth finds other ways to respect the genre's legacy while dodging some of its weaknesses. Instead of frequent random battles, you can see enemies on the game's map. If you're running low on health or just don't feel like fighting, you can avoid them. You can also send your party members charging into them to get the upper hand at the start of the battle or (if you're much higher-level) instantly knock out the bad guys.

In addition to combat powers, each character comes equipped with a special non-combat option that can be a life saver. Some of them are actually necessary for progress, like the architect's ability to build bridges. But others remove some of the tedium that can make old-school RPGs difficult to stomach.

Deep into enemy-filled territory and don't want to let defeated foes respawn as you make the long trek back to town to buy healing items? The VP's brother works for FedUPs and can call in a delivery of items at any point. Need a quick journey across the world? The computer programmer can hack into a computer, creating a fast path to your destination via cyberspace. Each option is a thoughtful addition to Citizens of Earth's otherwise traditional structure.

While the team members improve the game mechanically, they also are the source of much of its heart and likability. Though the vice president is the main character, he's mostly played for laughs as an aloof, scaredy-cat control freak with the delusion that everyone loves him. The growing list of followers humanize him and provide fantastic, witty banter.

It's also worth praising the cast's diversity. Citizens of Earth features a huge range of characters of many races, body types and genders. A young girl in a wheelchair is one of the most powerful recruits in the game. And it doesn't go out of its way to draw special attention to anyone's differences; they're just part of the team and who they are, without needing to be mostly white dudes.

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Wrap Up:

Citizens of Earth is rooted in the past but still forward-thinking

It's rare for a game so clearly concerned with the past to be so thoughtful and progressive. Citizens of Earth contains straightforward, deep gameplay that veteran RPG players will appreciate. But it also builds a fun story with a memorable cast of characters. It balances gracefully between two audiences, finding a truly worthwhile alternative in the middle ground.

Citizens of Earth was reviewed using a final download code for PlayStation 4 as well as a Steam download code for PC, both provided by Atlus. You can find additional information about Polygon's ethics policy here.

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