A lot of video games, especially RPGs, are a power fantasy. RPGs don't have the guns and testosterone of Call of Duty, but there is a thrill in watching your characters shift from killing (and struggling!) basement rats to fighting world-ending terrors with great success. You start as a thief, you become a ninja. A farm boy becomes a world savior. Citizens of Earth makes you Vice President of the United States. John Adams once described the position as "the most insignificant office that ever the invention of man contrived." I guess they didn't have middle managers back then.
Much like the real VP, you don't really wield much power in the game. You don't even level. You make other people fight for you, and THEY level up. Instead of fighting your battles, you make others do it for you while offering color commentary as they get beaten up. Quips like "Don't forget to protect me!" emphasize your VP's own cowardice and inability to defend himself. The man is a VP and still lives with his mother.
The script, which is the best part about the game, does a great job at poking fun at his ineffectual nature and as a weak-willed man the President can barely seem to stand. His own mother has to save him from the head of the opposition running a protest against him. There's even a moment where a psychologist analyzes your dreams, to help you deal with your own feelings of inadequacy. Citizens of Earth would be an easy recommendation on story alone but then you have to play it and that's where the game lost me. Citizens of Earth is a slog, the Aristotelian form of tedium manifest into a series of 0s and 1s that flash across your screen, broken up only by its excellent writing.
RPGs matured as a genre when people realized that man, random battles are pretty lame when there's no strategy to them. Final Fantasy and Chrono Trigger added real-time elements, Pokemon endures with cool characters, environments, and a collection mechanic. Even throwbacks like Cthulhu Saves the World changed how healing and progression are handled outside of battles.
Citizens of Earth seems to have been designed with the last, we'll say, 21 years of RPG innovation completely passed over for the sake of making a game like Earthbound, a game with mechanics that were already dated at the time. Final Fantasy's real-time system had already been introduced, and the straight-ahead-view battles that could mostly be finished by just hammering a button until it was over haven't aged well. But it's the exact thing Citizens of Earth takes.
I'll take this moment to mention that I couldn't finish Citizens of Earth. It just became impossible for me to play. I could fire the game up, play for hours, and get nothing done because of the tedious battles and eventual lack of guidance. The story, the only part that I came back for, wound up being spaced further between as the stick got longer and the carrot got smaller.
Battles work by loading you into a separate battle screen, having the VP say an overly-repeated sound bite, then you hit the button for them to attack unless there's an element in play. Some moves give you energy, others take a certain amount, so you have to balance creating it versus using it. However, the system is not that deep and the battles are usually not so difficult. It's an attempt to add strategy, especially since the elemental aspects are basically just shrugged off, it just doesn't do much.
The idea of the game is to take NPCs from other games around with you and let them do their thing. The pilot can fast travel, the psychologist does... a different form of fast travel, your brother can order things in the mail, and the hobo can root through garbage. It's a little weird at times, though. For example, why take the baker, who sells items, if you can only sell them in his store? His NPC skill is useless because it's only viable in that one spot. Side note on the hobo, I started to feel really bad when I was with him. One of his skills is just called 'survival', and another gives text about how you're trying to get sympathy from your attackers. It just felt a little... real. Also like when the cop summons in a bunch of other cops to beat you down.
The game's numerous characters can be swapped out but you can only keep three at a time. You can pay at a school to level up others by leaving them for weird real-time intervals. Each characters has two levels, stats and talents, that are increased through combat. Increasing these levels affects the characters, allowing for your brother to order more expensive things or the hobo root through better dumpsters. It's an alright system, but I wish raising their citizen level was more interesting. It's the same battles, just a separate bar for some reason.
It's been a while since I played a game that I dreaded reviewing so much that it made me question why I even play games. Why am I playing this? Why would I think this is fun? What sort of person would open up a game they don't enjoy playing so much and keep playing it, and do I want to be that sort of person? I couldn't exactly answer the first few questions, but to the last is an emphatic 'no.' Review or not, I'm not torturing myself with a game that both bores me and fills me with dread at the concept of playing. So I stopped. If you just want to play a game that's all about pointless grinding, for whatever weird reason, then go ahead. But Citizens of Earth just can't keep up with the promise of its story and falls flat after just a few hours and then you realize that you're somehow not even halfway done.