I've been a huge fan of RPGs since, well since almost forever. It's long been one of my favourite genres, and many of my fondest gaming memories involve my wee brother and I working together to complete whatever particular title had captured our imagination that week. We loved games like Secret of Mana and the Zelda series, but of course, we also played LOADS of JRPGs too. My first exposure to them was when we rented a copy of the original Phantasy Star on Master System and, from then on, I had a love for both the turn-based, menu driven style of these types of games, and also for sci-fi settings in my RPGs. So, when a game called "Citizens of Space" dropped into my review inbox, and I noticed it was also an RPG, I was instantly intrigued and rather interested to see what it was all about.
Now, just in case you didn't know (because I didn't) this game is actually a sequel to a title that released a few years ago called "Citizens of Earth". It continues on the story of the previous game but, if like me you've no prior knowledge of the series, don't worry, the narrative here is more or less stand alone, so you'll be able to jump right in and follow the story without any trouble.
The game starts off with our main character, simply titled the Ambassador, arriving at the headquarters of the Galactic Federation, to begin his duties as the representative from their newest member, the planet Earth. As he introduces himself to its collection of counselors though, explaining who he is and why he's there, things rapidly go off the rails. Not only are they not very interested, but an urgent newsflash then also interrupts his speech with dire news, Earth has gone missing!
With the senate bogged down in procedure, and not really caring about any of this anyways, our hero decides he shall investigate the disappearance himself. I mean, he can't very well be an ambassador from a planet that no longer exists, can he? This leads to an intergalactic collect-athon, a treasure hunt situation where you'll head out into the galaxy, searching various worlds to seek out both his constituents and allies, as well as unraveling the ultimate mystery.
What has happened to the Earth?
The tone of the story is played for humour, and it uses it at basically every opportunity. There are little jokes, puns and pop culture references spread throughout the whole game but, while its perfectly adequate in this area, it doesn't really stray from this one story beat. There isn't any real drama or threat involved, don't expect deep emotional twists and turns, or finger biting tension, instead it goes for a silly, Saturday morning cartoon feel to the whole thing. Someone expecting a more mature level of writing maybe a little disappointed with this lack of depth but others, especially those newer to the genre or younger gamers, might find the humour rather fun. I had a few genuine laugh out loud moments here and there, and although I wouldn't actually call the story bad, apart from the humour it did ultimately go by without much of note or major interest happening. Everything is told through on screen text, and while there's no cinematic cutscenes, all the dialogue is fully voiced by some rather good vocal talent. All the voices seemed to fit the various characters and although a little cheesy in some places, like the stoner Hacker, they do all fit the overall animated look that they've gone for. The style is very cartoonish, as you can see from the screenshots, and all the characters have large colorful sprites with loads of details that fit the wide variety of personalities involved. They also look decent when moving, their idle and attack animations are smooth for the most part, and look fine for what they are. Although there's nothing in the visuals that will blow your socks off, everything you do see is very well done and could easily be taken from an episode of some Saturday morning cartoon, or even something like Futurama or Rick and Morty. The only problem I had here was some stuttering in places. It didn't happen often but sometimes, in more packed areas, you would get a second or two where everything froze before suddenly starting up again. This wasn't a huge hassle during exploration of the map, but when it happened during minigames, it could really screw up the outcome. It didn't happen often mind you, maybe a few times an hour, but it's enough to mention it here.
So as said earlier, the character you control is called the Ambassador, he is rather narcissistic and arrogant, believing his job to be one of the most important in the galaxy. He's also rather stupid, he misses the obvious, misunderstands things and doesn't pick up on important plot details, much to the annoyance of his ever suffering Assistant. He never slips into being unlikeable though, in fact despite his stupidity, he is rather sweet, always seems to mean well and is willing to help with any, and every, problem he comes across.
But he certainly doesn't do it alone.
One of the main features of Citizens of Space is its roster system of recruitable team members. As you explore the various different planets, you'll come across civilians in a myriad of different jobs, most of which can be convinced to join your team. A few of these will quickly join as you play through the story, but many will have some sort of mission, usually a fetch quest, that must be completed before they'll be willing to fight on your side. You'll recruit cyborg space captains, a sentient plant that's also an amazing gardener, a giant shrimp decorator and even a popstar that is obviously Elvis Presley, if he was an anthropomorphic starfish, that is. There's a whole lot more too, 40 altogether, and not only do they have large, well drawn sprites, they each have a different focus and skillset. For example, characters like the Captain or Angler are your heavy hitters, while the Confectioner has a healing focus. For elemental damage, the Astronomer or Exterminator should be your go too. Basically though, every recruit fits into one of three types, either Summon, Battle or Partner and work differently depending on this class. Summon types are like the Summon ability in Final Fantasy, it summons a character into battle and they carry out a powerful, but costly, special move that does great damage in combat. Battle types are your fighters, it's them that make up your squad in battle and you can give them orders, using their skills and powers to damage and defeat your enemies. Lastly, are the Support type, and these are a little different from the other two. These characters have their own skills and moves but must be partnered with another character to use them. By assigning Support to a Battle type, it'll not only modify their stats, they'll also lend them their abilities as well, allowing the Battle type to use them in a fight. Basically Support types are equipped by Battle types, giving them more options against opponents. As well as the primary function dictated by their type, every character also has a secondary "Talent" as well. Discovering what these will be for each character, and levelling them up to full effectiveness, was an ongoing concern and was a part of the game I really rather enjoyed. These skills vary wildly in function and usefulness, but can also be upgraded, making them more powerful as they level up. For example, discovering the Chef allows you to buy healing food, the Miner and Decorator allow you to destroy or move certain obstructions, while the Banker allows you to know how many treasures are hidden in each area. There are even characters whose abilities introduce things like allowing instant fast travel, a bestiary, changing the music or even modifying the encounter rate for the random battles.
And speaking of random battles, I'd better tell you about the combat.
Before that though, I have a slight confession. I'm a bit fed up with the traditional "pick a move from a menu and let the RNG gods do their thing" type of combat seen in traditional JRPGs, and this was another thing that drew me to Citizens of Space.
The combat here is more like the system used in the South Park RPGs or something like Paper Mario, with almost every ability or defense having some sort of small minigame attached to it. There are loads of different types of these games, and they vary depending on the character or ability you've decided to use. They are relatively straightforward for simpler attacks, the onscreen prompts will tell you to press a certain button at a certain time, to spam a button till the bar fills, or try to keep the cursor in the middle of a target. More powerful attacks however have more challenging minigames, and may have you remembering complex button combinations or trying to play along to a music style rhythm game. These minigames can be a little challenging for some attacks but, if you don't get it exactly right, it simply becomes less effective, so you'll always do some damage, even in the event that you screw it up completely. The battles take the form you'd usually see in a turn-based RPG, there's an on-screen indicator for turn order that includes both your team and the enemies. Now something to understand about the combat here, is that the Ambassador doesn't actually fight at all. This is because he's a typical politician, he doesn't fight his battles directly. Instead, he hangs back and gives orders to the roster, sending his team forth to both give, and receive, all of the damage. This doesn't mean he is useless in combat though. As the rest fight, they generate charisma that will fill the Ambassador's bar, and he can interrupt any turn, even an enemies, to use one of his skills to affect the combat. For a few charisma points he can use an item to heal, cure or buff his Battle types. Spend a little more charisma, and he can use a "Policy", a one round rule that introduces some sort of effect like doing and receiving more damage, or having a greater chance at a critical hit. Finally, by spending all 100, he can also call forward the aforementioned Summon types, and by completing one of the tougher types of minigames, he'll use them to make a huge, powerful attack that will completely drain his charisma supply. Using the Ambassador gives some tactical choice but most time you'll simply rely on your Battle types and their minigames to win the day. One thing to add about the various minigame types, is that they constantly change up the buttons you'll be required to press. One time it might be A, while the next it's B or X and so on. This is a good way to keep you involved in the battles, as you need to pay attention or risk dealing out minimum damage with attacks, or receiving full damage when defending. Unfortunately though, although there is a wide range of skills available, which all complement each other and work together, most battles can be won by sticking to simple attacks, and the minigames for these amount to little more than QTEs. These quickly get repetitive, especially when you're constantly drawn into random battles with low level enemies. This wouldn't be that bad but most areas you'll explore have a maze like design, and while there are things to discover and collect, many will require backtracking later, as you don't have the relevant power or character yet. This leads to a LOT of time spent just walking from A to B, especially later in the story as you wrap up the huge amount of fetch quests you'll be doing alongside the main story mission. Getting sidetracked can be mitigated a little however by using the handy compass assigned to the X button, this always points towards the main objective but I also found it to be rather buggy sometimes, pointing the wrong direction or even spinning wildly one time, and I found map indicators much more reliable.
Ultimately Citizens of Space is an interesting, but flawed, RPG. Style wise the bright, cartoon look, and wide variety of interesting characters you'll encounter and collect, are a particular highlight. The comedic story, although basically funny, has nothing else to hold the interest and might put off a more experienced or mature audience. While the combat has a wide range of characters and abilities to experiment with, on normal difficulty most battles can be won by spamming basic attacks and start to get repetitive, especially towards the end game hours. A good choice for youngsters experiencing their first RPG, or for people who want a simpler one that still has charm, the budget price and around 20-25 hours playtime might make this one to consider. Despite the little problems it has, it's still a good mid-level RPG, but it probably won't ever be a classic.
*Note: A copy of the game was provided for the purposes of the review.
Final Score: 7/10
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