Does Citizens of Earth do the EarthBound Legacy Justice?
It's likely that Nintendo had no idea what impact EarthBound was going to have on the RPG genre. The game's oddball marketing and overall lack of attention inevitably made it a cult hit — one that's been increasingly imitated and referenced in modern games by titles like Cthulhu Saves the World and Boot Hill Heroes. The latest in the not-so-long line of EarthBound look-alikes is Eden Industries' Citizens of Earth. Published by Atlus, the colorful RPG takes cues from Nintendo's famed classic but adds its own spin on the formula.
Since the launch of Citizens of Earth, I've noticed a mixed buzz from the community in regards to its EarthBound influence. Some folks genuinely enjoy it and appreciate the differences, while others think it's too cheesy and over-the-top. If you've played Citizens of Earth, then you've likely noticed that, despite a few similarities, the game is very much its own thing and really only emulates EarthBound in conceptual terms. Quite frankly, that's probably the best thing Eden Industries could have done.
Rather than parodying pop culture at every turn and being quirky in an almost-mesmerizing way like Earthbound, Citizens of Earth takes its humor in a different direction. The type of comedy on hand here is not unlike something you'd see on Cartoon Network, Nickelodeon, or even Adult Swim. Although it's usually friendly, there are a few moments when the jokes can get a bit more bizarre (albeit in a different manner from EarthBound), and there are even some quips and situations that only older players would understand and find funny.
The biggest takeaway here is that Citizens of Earth is mostly conceptually related to EarthBound. It's a funny, offbeat RPG that pokes fun at things. The gameplay is a bit different, and the characters and story aren’t similar at all. Again, none of that is a bad thing and, in fact, this gives the game its own identity. After all, this isn't a sequel or even spiritual successor to EarthBound. This game is its own thing and, as such, takes a different direction in terms of style and gameplay.
If we have to draw comparisons and put EarthBound and Citizens of Earth side by side, how does the latter fare? To be honest, it's not as good as the game it draws its inspiration from, but that’s not to say that Citizens of Earth is a bad game. The time I spent playing it, I found myself liking Citizens of Earth more as I progressed. It's an engaging experience that's just a lot of fun to play. It's cool exploring the world, it's a blast talking to NPCs, and battling enemies is fun. To be fair, though, the battles aren't nearly as entertaining as either the world or characters, and I think that's where Citizens of Earth suffers a bit.
The reason the world and characters thrive so well is because they're connected to each other quite seamlessly. As you explore the game as the Vice President of the entire world, you and your party (which consists of your mom and brother at the start of the game) meet a number of NPCs. As it turns out, these NPCs are only non-playable for as long as you want them to be, because you can actually recruit most characters to your party. Each of these characters has a different task or tasks that you need to complete in order to recruit them, and it's usually worth it to try because the characters all have unique abilities.
Admittedly, it can get cumbersome trying to recruit everyone, especially since there are 40 characters you can get to join your party. And really, once you've put together a party of characters who offer the specific abilities you desire, you're likely to stick with them instead of trying to recruit all the other NPCs. Even then, it's at least entertaining meeting and interacting with these characters, regardless of whether or not you'll help them out in favor of their services.
That brings us to the battles in Citizens of Earth. It's not that the combat in the game is bad, but it does get fairly repetitive. Coupled with the fact that you face a lot of the same enemies often, it's easy to get tired of the battles after a handful of hours. Whereas EarthBound constantly surprised players with its progressively crazier enemies, Citizens of Earth features a lot of the same types of baddies.
Stylistically, Citizens of Earth is vastly different from EarthBound. The visual design is largely reminiscent of a Saturday morning cartoon. It's actually quite nice as everything has a colorful, jolly look to it. A few players have mentioned that the whole thing looks like a Flash game, and while Citizens of Earth certainly has a simple look to it, I found it solid overall. The music, on the other hand, isn't very memorable — a stark contrast to the incredible soundtrack of EarthBound. This all points to what I previously said: Citizens of Earth is only EarthBound-like in concept, and it does its own thing a lot of the time.
Scouring Internet forums and review comment sections, I found that a lot of folks couldn't refrain from comparing the two games. Naturally, that's bound to happen with a title like this. The fact that Eden Industries used Nintendo's gem of an RPG as a blueprint is immediately evident. But in order to fully enjoy Citizens of Earth, it's important that you look beyond that. Yes, this game is inspired — and greatly so — by EarthBound. Having said that, it's not trying to be another EarthBound, nor is it an attempt by Eden Industries to create a spiritual successor or a quasi-sequel to that game.
Simply put, Citizens of Earth is another entry in what can easily be referred to as the comedy-RPG genre, and it's a damn good one at that. Does it carry on the legacy of EarthBound? Not really, but it doesn't have to. Instead, Citizens of Earth takes a great idea set forth by a classic SNES title, and it shows us that this brand of RPG is still really cool.