We’ve been waiting oh-so patiently for Citizens of Earth since our first peek at its colorful, cartoony 2D visuals back in January.  While the wait is not quite over, its launch on Kickstarter this week and the inclusion of a playable alpha demo has sated some of that hunger and confirmed many of our hopes: namely, that this game is going to be good.  And it’s going to be even better for fans of Earthbound.

The story follows our “hero,” the Vice President of the World, during his post-election vacation at his childhood home.  After being forced out of bed by his Chrono Trigger-cameo,curtain-pulling mother, the VP decides to head to Moonbucks for a late-morning pick-me-up.  What begins as a simple trip to the local coffee shop quickly turns into a series of challenges and mysteries that need solving.  Why are protestors picketing on your lawn?  What happened to all the bags of Special Blend coffee?  Can anyone stop the sick bee that is infecting hikers?

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As the Vice President of the World, our hero has one main talent: recruiting followers.  This comes in handy since he’s also above fighting his own battles (because he can’t risk ruining his $500 suit, come on!).  The first two, default recruits are your brother and mother, but there are dozens of other NPCs available to charm into your party.  Most require you to complete a goal first: for instance, the Barista will join you once you find her missing Special Blend coffee, while the Baker will join after you run off the guy who’s trying to take his giant donut.  Each character comes equipped with their own stats and special skills: Mom can heal status effects with hugs, while the Conspiracy Guy can interrogate enemies to learn their weaknesses.

Outside its expansive party system and mostly unheroic hero, Citizens of Earth is very much an homage to Earthbound.  Everything from the modern day setting to the way the turn-based battle screens are set up—centered on the enemies and with your party lined up along the bottom—is endearingly reminiscent of the SNES classic.  Enemies are visible on the world map, wandering around and avoidable.  You can direct your party to charge an enemy for a surprise attack, but can also be surprised yourself.  Even the post-dungeon feature of enemies running away from you and allowing for easy, immediate victories is included.

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The story and dialogue is light-hearted and self-referential.  Enemies range from deranged humans to anthropomorphic inanimate objects to bizarre animals, like the Telefawn—a fawn with a telephone strapped to its head.  Characters’ and enemies’ battle attacks are hilariously personalized and reminiscent of great moments like Pokey apologizing profusely.  The Protestor “criticizes your controversial corporate policy” and your defense goes down.  Conspiracy Guy “savagely accuses the enemy of a cover up” and they lose hit points.

Citizens of Earth‘s gameplay similarities to Earthbound are obviously intentional, as direct references appear frequently even in this short demo.  A photographer appears out of nowhere and snaps a photo-op of the party when they pass a specific landmark.  A wanted poster in the police office states “Spiteful youth seen beating crows with cracked bat, please report any information to the authorities.”  A queasy bee lying on the ground says “Buzz Buzz,” to which the VP responds “Buzz Buzz?  This is one suspicious-sounding bee!”  These are charming moments only Earthbound fans will enjoy completely, but Citizens of Earth has enough character beyond its obvious inspiration that players unfamiliar with the Mother series shouldn’t be left out or “miss the joke” too often.

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And everyone, classic fan or not, can appreciate Citizens of Earth‘s gameplay additions.  With such a large and varied party, choosing the correct characters for battle even early in the game is crucial; thankfully, a “Regroup” option allows you to restart a battle at any time and choose different party members going in.  Each member also provides a stat boost upon level up if they are in your party, à la Espers in Final Fantasy VI.  This allows you to control your party’s growth more directly; for instance, if you’d like to improve your party’s hit points, you should put the VP’s brother in—he adds extra points to health at each level up.  The use of Power instead of MP/PP is also an interesting adjustment; each special attack either uses Power or recharges it, so you don’t have to worry about spamming recovery items during lengthy battles.

Everything we’ve seen in this supposedly alpha—yet extremely polished—demo points to a game that will charm the pants off retro RPG fans without frustrating newer players.  Citizens of Earth has successfully drawn inspiration from the past, and specifically Earthbound, to create a modern update that could potentially live up to its epic muse.  Unfortunately (or rather, very fortunately), we’ll have to play much more to find out if it does.