Citizens of Space, the sequel to 2015’s Citizens of Earth, has a ton of potential. It takes inspiration from a collection of classic Nintendo RPGs, such as Earthbound and Paper Mario. But ultimately, Citizens of Space fails to live up to its lofty inspirations, despite being a fine children’s game.
The story begins with the main character, the Ambassador of Earth, arriving at the galactic federation in space. Earth goes missing very quickly and it’s your job to solve the mystery. There aren’t any other layers or dynamics to the story which leaves it feeling very one dimensional. There aren’t any interesting sub-plots, character relationships or any emotion. The narrative just meanders until it reaches its end. Kids are the target audience for the game so it’s fine, but for the rest of us the story comes across as one-note.
The Ambassador is also an annoyingly arrogant and underwritten character. It’s initially fun to see other characters slyly undermine him since he’s so stupid, though the occasional cute pun or innuendo isn’t worth the frustration of hearing him speak for 10-14 hours. The rest of the cast doesn’t have any stand outs that I can point to who were particularly funny, interesting or who had any real arc. The voice acting can also become quite grating after a while. None of the voices are bad, but they’re all so exaggerated and over the top that it’s best to just read what all of them say, rather than listen to it.
Citizens of Space’s art style takes inspiration from Saturday morning cartoons. Bright, colourful, hand drawn environments are pleasant enough, however it’s the character models that make the art style shine. Most of the playable characters have distinct designs such as an old woman with a wandering telescope as an eye. Monster designs are also your typical cartoony angry animals like a gang of ripped rubber ducks. Overall, Citizens is cute everywhere you go, but isn’t anything to write home about in the art department.
As a JRPG Citizens of Space has a lot of fun ideas that don’t work out. The turn-based combat system is heavily inspired by the Paper Mario series where the success of attacks are determined by quick-time-events and button prompts. Each character’s move-set has its own mini-game but they all seem to get tedious quite fast. None of these QTEs are necessarily bad, however, unlike Paper Mario, none of them are very dynamic or interesting. They’re mostly, “tap A as quickly as you can” for maximum damage.
This wouldn’t be too much of a problem if there were some interesting strategic elements to the combat, but Citizens of Space is pretty barebones in that respect too. Players can get by most random encounters by just attacking regularly without the need to use any support abilities.
Like many other JRPGs, enemies in the game have specific weaknesses, so using a fire attack on a hostile penguin with icy spikes as hair, will be super effective. The problem is that there are only three elements in the game: fire, ice and electricity. So, exploiting enemy weaknesses is just as simple as using an electric type attack on a robot and so on. The Ambassador can use abilities that effect the entire battlefield but random encounters are so easy that they’re only really needed in boss battles. These abilities include things like lowering the attack of every character in the battle, friendly or otherwise, buying time for players to heal.
Some poor design problems also hinder Citizens of Space’s party system. You can recruit many of the characters you find around the world to your party and they come in three forms. Battle characters are what the name suggests, characters you can use in battle. Each of them have different abilities and stats. Support characters can also manipulate certain things in the game world; the Assistant for example can adjust random encounter rates, which is useful if you’re too overpowered for a certain area (or if you’re just bored of the game’s sub-par combat.) You can also pair up battle characters with a support character to raise their stats. Lastly, summon characters can be called into battle – once per fight – as a powerful attack. Characters can also be used on the over world to get rid of obstacles or open new areas of the map.
Only a few of these characters join your party through the main story though; most require you to complete personal quests for them first before you can take them with you. This could have been a really fun way to add extra content to the game but most of these objectives are fetch quests and collectible hunting which can be the most tedious thing to do in a game where moving around the world isn’t particularly interesting.
Citizen’s navigational problems only worsen these problems. Many of the main worlds you visit have a maze-like design, so using the mini-map or waypoint is pointless. The on screen waypoint is especially confusing. You can bring up this arrow by holding X and it should point you to your objective but there have been multiple instances where the arrow would bug out and point to where I had just came from. On one occasion this arrow began to point in multiple directions wildly. This isn’t a major issue since most of the time with enough exploring you’ll eventually find your way.
There are also a few technical hiccups that occur when exploring the world. The screen will completely freeze or just lag fairly frequently. For a game that already struggles with some frustrating level design and repetitive combat, lagging is just another noticeable annoyance. I didn’t encounter any game breaking bugs though.
It’s easy to see what Citizens of Space on Xbox One is going for: a playable Saturday morning cartoon for children. But many of the decisions made to achieve this – such as simplistic combat and a dumbed down story – make it hard to recommend. At best, Citizens of Space can be regarded as a fine JRPG to get your children started.