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Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Review: Citizens of Earth (Sony PlayStation 4)

Review by Jedediah H.
     
Whether you closely follow and intelligently participate in politics, or reluctantly observe its policies, promises, and the disparate outcomes that follow from behind news coverage of Taylor Swift’s perfect post-workout limp, you probably have a sense that something is smelly and awry within the world of governance. 


Aside from corporate collusion and the failure of political parties to compromise (in the U.S., Democrats in Congress are more willing to negotiate trade-offs with Republicans; yet, Republicans rather cling to their arguably bygone beliefs like suicidal sticky grenades), politics takes itself way too seriously. 

And when a process or institution takes itself as seriously as politics does, like a university professor who’s added a smug-activated draw bridge to the entrance of his ivory tower, it’s incapable of introspection and accepting criticism – observations that are necessary to question failures and correct mistakes - from anyone outside of its vocation, social status, and belief system.


This brightly animated world consistently vetoes all seriousness.

Though there are academics and pundits, some professionally certified, others fabricated by media corporations, available to analyse and criticise the actions of our government and its politicians, they cannot be completely honest about the dysfunction, folly, and insanity of the political process. If they want to remain afloat on the airwaves of mainstream media, they have to employ euphemisms, substituted phrases that suppress any emotion, discomfort, and honesty that the original phrasing would inevitably evoke (e.g. referring to a “murder” as a “liberation” or “neutralisation”; referring to a “stocky, grope-happy senator caught cheating on his wife in a mustache-exclusive cocaine orgy” as a “strapping constituent allegedly participating in sexually suggestive narcotics lollapalooza”). 

So whom can we trust to break through the humourless superiority and deceitfully soft language, and poke fun at a methodology and institution incapable of owning up to and giggling at its own mishaps? Atlus and Eden Industries, it seems, with their satirical, colourful, goofy, Earthbound-inspired RPG, Citizens of Earth.

Even if you avoid politics like it’s a man breast feeding atop the grass patch adjacent to the public park’s dandelions (sorry for that image), you’ll recognise the personality traits of the main character, the Vice President of Earth (whom you can name, and whom I shall refer to as Major from this point on): like almost every VP in the history of the world, Major lives with his mother, sleeps in his business suit, and is completely clueless about the middle and lower classes’ lifestyle and concerns. But unlike most VPs and bureaucrats, Major seems to understand, from behind his self-satisfied smirk, that it’s these members of the lower and middle class who help society properly function. So, like the fascinating Suikoden series, Major meets and recruits a unique cast of citizens, the likes of a school teacher, an architect, a fire-fighter (and even his own mother), to battle at his tailored side as he smacks around a puppet president and solves the mystery of the disappearing/ flying coffee shop, Moonbucks. 

Peace-Loving Hippies are the least strange adversaries you'll encounter.

Actually, to realise the theme of an important and contributing citizenry, Major can enlist the fists and skills of every citizen, all of whom are fluidly animated caricatures of their profession, he befriends. There are forty (that I know of), and their battle-oriented skills and occupation-specific talents are the gunpowder that maintains the game’s booming variety during battle, while also having the benefit of unlocking optional areas and quests during Major’s journey. For example, the architect’s talent is to construct new buildings and structures, such as bridges, throughout town, permitting you to enter previously inaccessible areas. As you level up the architect in battle, not only will she gain more battle-oriented skills, but she will unlock blueprints to construct even more buildings and structures, meaning that levelling each and every character is a must if you wish to discover all the hidden items and secluded landscapes the game is so generous to offer. 

Tip: Recruit or find the school teacher as soon as you can; his talent allows you to tutor the citizens who aren’t in your party, giving you the opportunity to increase their levels while they’re awaiting public service.

I predict that it will be partly because of the battle system that you’ll want to recruit all the citizens and unlock the entirety of offerings. It’s simple, with its three-character limit and straightforward interface; however, there are mechanics that add civic strategy to the turn-based encounters.  First, your citizens have two types of abilities: those that build Energy, which is this world’s version of MP, and those that consume it. Energy is represented by orbs, and a normal attack (like the baker's rolling pin smash) on an enemy will generate a single orb that can be used to supply a weaker ability (like a health regenerating hug) on the next turn, or can be stored for use on a more effective ability (such as a multiple-target thermal attack) on future turns. 


This system becomes more in depth once elements, such as thermal, hydro, and muscle, to name a few, are introduced. Each citizen, and some of your tenacious foes, has a particular element that he or she is strong or weak against. Now if, say, your school teacher uses a thermal attack, which costs a single orb, on a protester who’s vulnerable to its knee-chaffing heat, he will deal additional damage and gain, or maintain, the orb that he just used for the successful exploitation of the enemy’s weakness. But if your school teacher attacks an enemy who possesses an element that he’s weak against, the school teacher’s attack will bounce off the foes jacket like a parched spit wad, and he’ll be additionally robbed of an orb for his poor calculation. 


The voice acting and dialogue are refreshingly, suitably silly.

And let’s not misplace the fact that you can switch out citizens at any point during battle, so long as you don’t mind restarting the encounter, to utilise a team appropriate for taking advantage of your adversaries’ weaknesses. The bottom line regarding the battle system: like watching an under-educated senator argue the merits of global warming, it’s enjoyable and, if you increase the difficulty, affording your opposition buffs that grant them quickness and resilience to your efforts, engaging. If there’s one issue I have, it’s the sometimes overbearing number of enemies, which you have the option of dodging or one-hit killing if your team is of a significantly higher level, on the world screen that seems to inflate the encounter rate. 

Politics can be one of the most sensitive, volatile, and drowse-inducing topics. Mention your party affiliation or political stance around the wrong guy, and there’s a good chance that he’ll A) plug his nose as though a rogue cat smothered in raw soy crawled on his lap, tell you “You’re views stink,” then exit the room in small steps; B) heel drop the stool next to your punting leg and scream “Your party is overpopulated with thin-wristed pansies - JUST LIKE YOU!”; C) fiercely point out the window, howling “There’s a tiger on fire on the roof of your car!” as he leaps from the third-floor balcony of the pool hall to escape the incoming boredom. 

I’ve witnessed first-hand politics as a topic of discussion enrage and bore the inspiration right out of an optimistic person seeking leisure after a bruising work week, and this is partly because highly intelligent citizens find the subject depressing, sedative, exclusionary, and most importantly, humourless. Citizens of Earth is the antithesis, the elixir, for these negative effects. As an adventure that does just about everything right in the fun and technical sense, CoE's most valuable triumphs are its sense of humour and accessibility; whether you’re politically knowledgeable or oblivious, and if you have a near-romantic relationship with turn-based RPGs, you will risk yawning through a filibuster if it means becoming the Vice President of this world. 


- Jedediah H.
News Editor
I veto the humourless on Twitter  
The elixir for your negative effects is on Twitch 


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Review: Citizens of Earth (Sony PlayStation 4)
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