"... good things led to me enjoying myself through about 85% of the game."
It's not often that we at RPGFan get the opportunity to provide reviews of a game on multiple platforms, by multiple reviewers. Usually, we've got one copy and one person with time sufficient to the task. But we got to play Citizens of Earth on PC, Vita, and 3Ds, and I found seeing my fellow reviewers' reactions fascinating. Of course, it may be that that's the case because I got to play what's probably the best version of the game: the version on Vita. I will let their reviews speak for themselves, though.
Citizens of Earth's developer, Eden Industries, describes it as "Earthbound meets Pokémon/Suikoden," and I think that's a pretty fair description of how it plays and feels. It's got the quirky writing and humor of Earthbound, plus the "catch 'em all and craft the best possible team for each area" feel of Pokémon. CoE's main character is the Vice President of Earth, and as the game begins, he's taking a vacation from his busy schedule of delegating things. He's visiting his mom's house and awakens to discover that one of his political rivals is leading a protest in his hometown. A protest full of people who are more interested in fighting than talking about their grievances.
This looks like a job for... mom and little bro! And maybe a hobo! Because an important guy like the VP can't be getting his hands dirty, the various folks he recruits do the actual (turn-based) fighting for him. There are a total of 40 potential recruits, each of whom has their own strengths and weaknesses in battle, and each of whom has a unique talent outside of battle. For example, the baker is a very useful healer in a fight, and out of battle, he can sell you healing baked goods. The scientist, on the other hand, deals an impressive variety of elemental damage in battle and allows you to change the time of day outside of battle.
It's fun to figure out how to recruit most of the citizens, and 40 is a reasonable number to drive your desire to actually get all of them... even if you will probably find yourself looking to the internet to find the methods required for a few folks. That said, it's highly unlikely that you'll spend even-close-to-equal amounts of time with them all in battle. You have three citizens in your active party at any time, and once you find a good combination for the area you're in, you'll probably stick with them the whole time you're there. Actually, once I discovered my personal dream team (conspiracy theorist, handyman, and scientist), I only swapped new citizens into the party long enough to max out their talent level.
The sad thing about that is that the developers clearly put a lot of thought into the citizens and making them, their abilities, and their talents varied and diverse. They have standard "remove the obstacle" talents, but they also have "mess with game settings" talents like changing the speed at which the game runs. There are standard "hit that guy" attacks, but there are also things like the cat lady using turns to gather kitties, then subsequent turns to throw those kitties at enemies or use them to auto-revive any ally who happens to fall (unused kitties carry over to the next fight). There's a tall, fat, white baker and a Rastafarian musician, but there's also an Asian photographer and my beloved Frankenstein-like scientist who happens to be a black woman.
From a design perspective, there's a lot to like here, and those good things led to me enjoying myself through about 85% of the game. But that other 15% was sometimes rough. One of the citizens' recruitment requirements is that you get everyone you've already recruited up to level 20. Not a huge problem if you get to her early, but a huge pain if you have already recruited a fair number of citizens. And as I mentioned earlier, many citizens' talents require that you level them up before they reach their full potential. Issues of these types lead to a fair amount of grinding, but so does the game's overall design. Each time you leave an area, the enemies in that area respawn. So if you're in a city area, each time you go into a building (and wait through a loading screen), you know you'll come out to a fresh crop of foes who you probably didn't want to see. All versions of the game have some crashing issues, too, although as far as I can tell, the Vita may be the least prone to that problem. Still, it's frustrating when it happens, and for me, there were more crashes late in the game than there were early.
In terms of presentation, it's a similarly mixed bag. The game looks great, and characters and enemies alike are creative and well drawn. And yet, you can't bring up a map if you're indoors. The voice work is solid, and the music is generally good stuff. And yet, you hear the same few phrases shouted in battle over and over. I was happy that I generally have to play my games on mute due to circumstances in my environment.
As I mentioned earlier, the Vita version may be the best of the three we got to play. It crashes less than the PC version, and its screen lets you see more of what's going on than the 3DS. Also, the controls are well designed, using both the touch screen and the buttons to good effect. You use the analog stick and face buttons to move around, activate items/talk, and bring up the menu. But once you're in a menu (or battle), you can use either the buttons or the touch screen to take action. Both work perfectly, so choosing between them is simply a matter of how you like to play games.
When it comes right down to it, Citizens of Earth is a game you'll have lots of fun with, right up to the point that you suddenly realize that you're tired of it and put it down. Having spent some grindy time making sure I recruited every citizen and gathered every treasure I could find, I finished it at just under 50 hours. I think I would have been happier had it been about 8 hours less, but 40 hours of fun is still 40 hours of fun, and despite its issues, I still think this is a game that plenty of folks can enjoy.