In spite of several missteps, Citizens of Space can be a surprisingly fun time.
2015’s Citizens of Earth was a surprisingly fun, if extremely flawed, Earthbound-style RPG. The surprise sequel, Citizens of Space, which was announced earlier this year and then released shortly afterwards, is equally fun, and also equally flawed. Both of those things can be attributed to the game eschewing the Earthbound trappings, and instead going for an entirely different style of gameplay, one that seems to take from Mario RPGs, and manages to execute on its bizarre premise surprisingly well – though, of course, with some substantial missteps.
Said premise is like something out of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (though, to be clear, not half as clever or witty) – you play as the Ambassador of Earth, who is extremely self-centered and narcissistic to the point of being satire. However, the character is more Michael Scott than any present day politician you may want to draw a parallel to, because he’s actually naive and unexpectedly well-meaning at times.
Shortly after taking on the mantle of the Ambassador of Earth, you realize that the Earth itself is missing. More out of acknowledgement of the fact that your position is meaningless without there being a planet for you to represent than anything else, you decide to set out in search for the earth.
Dialog is cheery, light hearted, and very funny, though there is some unnecessarily crass humor sometimes that seems as though the writers were trying too hard. NPC banter is especially engaging, especially between your assistant (who is called The Assistant, because names aren’t necessarily this game’s strong point) and you, and it’s actually really fun to walk up to the NPCs, each of whom are brimming with personality, and engage in conversation with them.
"Dialog is cheery, light hearted, and very funny, though there is some unnecessarily crass humor sometimes that seems as though the writers were trying too hard. NPC banter is especially engaging."
That chatter with NPCs has another major benefit, however, one that ties in to a substantial gameplay mechanic – NPCs can be recruited to your party. There are actually very few exceptions to this (you can think of it like how the recruiting skills work in Octopath Traveler for an analog), although in most cases you need to complete quests for these characters before they’ll join you on your quest.
This is where the first problem with Citizens of Space shows up – the quests are sub-par at best, and offensively tedious and sloggy at worst, and the fact that you have to engage with them so much means a bulk of your time with the game can end up feeling trite. To be clear, this criticism does not just apply to the NPC recruitment quests – across the board, the quests in Citizens of Space are poor, and end up leading to you feeling discontented more than anything else.
Getting party members can still be worth your while (even if not to the extent of getting every single one of them), because it enriches the already fun battle system of the game.
The battle system feels like something out of Mario RPG (and to a lesser extent, Paper Mario), with specific in-battle QTE prompts for actions that can lead to offensive (such as critical hits) and defensive (such as a defense boost) perks. Actual battles are fundamentally fun on a base level, and recruiting NPCs makes them more nuanced, with more elements to juggle.
There are three kinds of NPCs, once recruited – those that can be directly controlled in battle, those that can be called out in battle as a special attack once per fight, and those that have passive abilities that can be used as you navigate the world. The first two kinds especially add to all sorts of layers and dimensions to the battle system, though eventually, repetition starts to set in, and the battle system itself, while remaining intrinsically fun, plateaus.
It’s entirely possible the battle system would come off stronger in the end if we didn’t have to engage with it so much. This game has a positively obscene encounter rate (though you can eventually adjust it, it ends up coming well after you’ve already started to tire of the relentless fights) – far too high for how simple the battle mechanics are. Simplicity is not a bad thing, in and of itself – but if the bulk of your game’s playtime is going to be battles, you need to ensure your battle system is deep enough to remain engaging and varied throughout, and Citizens of Space does not fully meet that threshold.
"What is undoubtedly pleasant is the game’s fantastic presentation – everything, from the art style, to the animations, to the writing, the voice acting, and yes, the music, all seems like it came out of a Saturday morning cartoon."
One area where Citizens of Space has made strides over its predecessor is traversal and navigation. You, at last, get a compass showing you where you should be going, which can be useful since some of the locations in the game seen like they would be borderline impossible to get through without it. The in-game map constantly shows you your location and destination as well (though it doesn’t always take topography into account). Given how much time you spend going back and forth between locations in this game, and how much battles constantly impede that progress, it is good to see the game at the very least tries to make this aspect as pleasant as possible for the player.
What is undoubtedly pleasant is the game’s fantastic presentation – everything, from the art style, to the animations, to the writing, the voice acting, and yes, the music, all seems like it came out of a Saturday morning cartoon. It is corny and cheesy, and rarely feels like it is taking itself seriously, which is one of the things that helps keep absolute frustration with Citizens of Space at bay – it is hard to get angry at something that doesn’t seem to place too much importance on itself, after all.
There are many, many RPGs on every major system (all of which Citizens of Space is available on), and many of them are far better than this game. However, for what Citizens of Space is, it’s hard to find much fault with it – a not overly long, light-hearted, witty jaunt through a surprisingly well written and well playing inter-galactic adventure.
This game was reviewed on the PlayStation 4.
Extremely charming art style, with great voice acting and music as well; witty and funny dialog; engaging battle system; navigation greatly improved over its predecessor
The quest design in the game is horrid; battles eventually start to wear thin; some of the dialog can feel too try-hard; the encounter rate feels ridiculously high
For what Citizens of Space is, it's hard to find much fault with it - a not overly long, light-hearted, witty jaunt through a surprisingly well written and well playing inter-galactic adventure.