|System: PC*, PS4|
|Dev: Eden Industries|
|Release: January 20, 2015|
|Screen Resolution: 480p-1080p||Fantasy Violence, Tobacco Reference, Simulated Gambling|
by Angelo M. D'Argenio
One could argue that the JRPG formula really hasn’t changed since the days of the Super Nintendo. You get together a party of rag tag adventurers, fight a bunch of random battles to level up, and head off on an adventure to save the world. It could also be argued that this is the reason the JRPG is much less prevalent in today’s video game market than it was say ten or fifteen years ago. However, Atlus’s new JRPG in spirit, Citizens of Earth, is attempting to make us look at this aging genre once again. Built in the tradition of some of the best JRPGs of all time, such as Chrono Trigger and Suikoden, Citizens of Earth combines traditional JRPG mechanics with modern day design sensibilities. The result is a game that shows you what potential the JRPG formula has.
The story of Citizens of Earth is a quirky tale of aliens and politics. You play the recently elected vice president… of Earth. You wake up the day after your acceptance speech to find a group of angry protesters rallying outside your door, led by the leader of your opposing political party. You, of course, do the only sensible thing to do in such a situation… personally beat the crap out of each and every one until they leave your town. You then realize that people are getting strangely addicted to a new type of coffee at the local “Moonbucks” and make your way to a nearby mountain, where the story explodes and unfolds into a tale involving an alien invasion and the fate of Earth as you know it.
The story, sadly, is probably one of the weaker point of Citizens of Earth. It wants desperately to mimic the weird yet lovable nature of Earthbound and the rest of the Mother Series. However, it never quite gets there. While the bizarre nature of things in Earthbound was used as a contrast to the otherwise kind of dark plot, Citizen of Earth never gets to a point where you take it seriously. It kind of feels like goofy things are happening for the sake of being goofy, which is OK, but doesn’t push you toward seeing the next chapter of the plot.
The mechanics, however, easily make up for whatever shortcomings Citizens of Earth has in its plot. As we said before, the game is built following the traditions of some classic JRPGs of the past. For example, the encounter system is exactly like Earthbound. Enemies wander the world map waiting to fight you, and if you run into them you go into a first person Dragon Quest style battle. If they run into your back, you start the game with a penalty (less SP in this case) and if you run into their back or send your party out to “charge” them on the map, you will start the battle with a bonus (more SP). Also, if you are vastly over-leveled and your opponent does not stand a chance, the game will simply award you an auto victory before the battle even starts, just like Earthbound did.
The battles themselves, however, are a little bit more unique. The two meters you need to keep track of are HP and SP. HP is your health, which operates as you would expect. SP is your “magic” but the way it works is pretty unique. Every action you can take is labeled as an SP Up or SP Down action. SP Up actions are simple actions you probably want to take each turn. These actions include things like your basic attack, simple healing, weak buffs and debuffs, and so on. Using these actions increase your SP slightly.
SP Down skills use the SP you earn by using your other skills. These are more powerful attacks, multiple buffs, whole party healing, powerful debuffs, even things like increasing the XP you get at the end of the battle. There are also certain skills that you can use that make OTHER party members spend their XP. For example, there are heals that cost you no SP, but cost the characters you are healing XP depending on how much they heal. This tug of war between SP up skills and SP down skills set the pace of battles, and managing your SP well usually determines whether you win or lose in battle.
Citizens of Earth makes you think very, very hard about party composition by making party members interact with each other in interesting ways. For example, your Mother’s debuff scolding skills aid your Brother’s multi hit attack skills. In addition, each party member gives a stat boost at level up to all other members of your party. So, for example, putting Brother in the party buffs everyone HP. You’ll be very tempted to just put your strongest party members into the party at all times, but you’ll soon realize that they are raising a random assortment of stats that doesn’t really help you, and you’ll find yourself doing too little and taking too much damage because you didn’t use a variety of different party members.
The final interesting quirk about the combat system, is how XP works. Each enemy gives you a bit of XP, and you gain this XP as soon as the enemy dies. This means that you can gain levels (and thus heal yourself completely) in the middle of a battle. This actually factors into the strategy of large group battles quite a bit. You also gain extra bonus XP at the end of battle as well, based on how many enemies you have beaten. So if you run in the middle of battle, the battle isn’t always for nothing.