In Citizens of Earth, your character is the Vice President of the world. He returned to his hometown to discover that Strange Happenings are afoot. As any good Vice President would do, he sets out to figure out the cause of the Strange Happenings and stop them. Along the way, he runs into a ridiculous cast of characters ranging from conspiracy theorists to beekeepers and angry protestors who are unhappy with the political climate.
Citizens of Earth is clearly inspired by Earthbound. From the moment it starts, the similarities are undeniable. Even the Vice President's hometown has similarities to Onett and onward. The enemies call to mind Earthbound's ridiculous possessed humans, evil animals and walking sentient plants. We got a brief glimpse of the enemy selection, but they felt very familiar. Even the battle screen has a lot of similarities to the cult classic, right down to the wavy new-age lava lamp background.
However, Citizens of Earth isn't just an Earthbound clone. It feels like it's starting from a similar tone to go down its own path. One of the defining features of the game is how your party is formed. The Vice President isn't much of a fighter, so his combat capabilities lie in convincing others to do his fighting for him, just as any politician should. Throughout the game, you'll recruit 41 different characters to your cause, ranging from the Vice President's brother and mother to the aforementioned conspiracy nut or beekeeper. All characters can be renamed upon their recruitment, and each has combat abilities that come into play.
Citizens of Earth has a turn-based combat system, but that is about where the superficial similarities to Earthbound end. Every character has a set of distinct abilities. The VP's brother, for example, is a straightforward combat fighter. He defaults to Roughhouse, which does physical damage but can also taunt and protect. Mom, on the other hand, can nag enemies to reduce their defense, sacrifice herself to heal other party members, or give advice. These abilities also have sub-abilities. Roughhouse comes in three different forms: a regular attack, one that hits all enemies for less damage, and one that hits a single enemy for 25% damage and can be used up to seven times. Mom's Nag ability can be used to scold, which lowers an enemy's defense for the rest of the battle, or lecture, which severely lowers the enemy's defense for one turn. It's an interesting system because it rewards you for considering your options. If Mom is used before the brother, which you can see on the turn meter, using lecture followed by a multi-hit attack can do more damage than a regular attack.
Each character has an energy meter. Attacks can build energy or spend energy; regular attacks build energy, and particularly strong attacks use it. The VP's brother can build energy with his roughhouse attack and spend it to do x2 damage with a regular attack. Mom can spend energy to force a character to repeat the last action. Just like regular attacks, these attacks have multiple levels, and the higher the level, the more energy it costs. Sometimes, these abilities have special elemental effects. The conspiracy theorist can do fire, ice or lightning damage depending on the chosen attack.
Your party members also influence your overall party power. Each character has a passive ability that can help other party members. The first three members we saw had the potential to cause a character to gain an extra stat point upon leveling up. Other characters have different passive abilities that can drastically change your team makeup. Characters do not level up when they're not in your party, so this offers a lot of possibility for customization. You can have three party members at a time (minus the non-combat VP) and switch them at any time outside of battle. There are also upgrades, although Atlus was quick to stress that the upgrades are more of "sidegrades" that let you customize your character but not give them a big power boost.
The game is divided into main story quests and side-quests. The bulk of the 41 collectible characters is going to be hidden behind optional quests to recruit them. Mom can be recruited by turning off her soaps while she's watching them. Others are complex, such as the conspiracy theorist requiring you to find evidence that something weird is going on so the police will release him from jail. We're told the game may take as long as 20 hours on a first playthrough, but doing all the side-quests can double that.
Citizens of Earth has the potential to scratch a long-neglected RPG itch. It's ridiculous, self-aware and charming in a way that is rarely seen in RPGs. The plot is silly, but it embraces that wholeheartedly and seeks to make the player laugh along. Mixed into that Earthbound style is an engaging and interesting combat system. With over 40 characters, each with a distinct fighting style, it's possible to have hundreds of different parties with their own dynamics. Citizens of Earth is due out this October for the PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita, Nintendo 3DS and Nintendo Wii U.
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