CITIZENS OF EARTH / Atlus / PC
The cult series Mother, better known in the West for the second installment localized as Earthbound, is very much unlike any other games. The 12 years between the second and third game, as well as designer Shigesato Itoi declaring there isn't going to be a Mother 4, has left quite the fan demand for something they can't really get anywhere else.
Developer Eden Industries jumps into this niche with both feet with Citizens of Earth. They're openly trying to sell to the Mother fanbase, adopting all sorts of trappings specifically from Earthbound. You really can't "do" Earthbound, though. You absolutely need one Shigesato Itoi, because that's the source that all the idiosyncrasy that people love about the game springs from, and then it really helps to have a Nintendo R&D team on hand providing you with your aesthetics and polish.
Minus that, Citizens of Earth is basically a Mother fan game that managed to get picked up by a major publisher (Atlus) and given a decent budget. And while it's more well-done than the usual fan game, it also shows why you just can't do Mother justice without Itoi (and probably Nintendo) involved.
One of the big sources of Earthbound's appeal was how well the screwball surrealist "adults as seen through the eyes of an innocent child" world concept was pulled off. Citizens of Earth is more like Spongebob Squarepants or Teen Titans Go instead; rapid-fire quips and pop culture references with a big dose of "weird for weird's sake", but no real strong central conceit anchoring it and tying it all together. It's also devoid of Earthbound's more emotional moments, which came in at surprising times and provided refreshing contrast.
There aren't even really characters in this game, to be honest. You play as the Vice President of Earth. Why is he the Vice President of Earth? Who knows, it's never explained. Does he have a name? No. He's a walking stereotype of the superficial, glad-handing politician only concerned with his poll numbers and staying in office. He wakes up in bed at home where he lives with his mom, a la Chrono Trigger. Why? Doesn't matter. It's a bit, don't think about it because we're on to the next bit in about two seconds.
So our walking politician stereotype goes around collecting a bunch of other stereotypes for his party. Why? Who the hell knows. There is an ongoing story, but it's pretty random and I never saw a good reason for recruiting all these people even a few hours in. Your brother stops by the house to congratulate you on your VP win, which starts the game. You then go next door to Moonbucks (boy that one must have taken some time to come up with) for a celebratory coffee, only to eventually discover some shady alien goings-on when you can't get the special house blend. But you're recruiting all these people primarily just because they're there and that's clearly what the game wants you to do, plus you keep getting attacked by randos and monsters everywhere so you need to roll deep to survive in these streets.
Though it clearly isn't Earthbound, it does some things pretty well. While the characters may be flat stereotypes joining you for no good reason, the battle system actually turns out to be a surprising strength. Your mix of allies each has their own set of strengths and abilities, and the enemies are also fairly varied with their own tactics you have to account for. So though there's no good plot-related reason to collect all these people, it's useful and fun just from the perspective of battling.
Also, the full map is open from close to the beginning of the game. There's an initial "chapter" where you're restricted to part of the starting town by police barricades, but once those are lifted you can go pretty much anywhere you want. The only barrier is the roving enemies who will smash you to bits if you drift too far from safety, a structure that the first Mother game employed (but it's much more clear here when you transition into new "zones", and you can see enemies approaching on the map - if they look buffer than the ones you're currently struggling with, you're probably out of your element).
So there's a lot to see and do here, though a lot of it is of the "fetch quest" variety. The game is very good about constantly keeping you busy with lots of little things to do, but it'll depend on how much you like mobile phone / online game Skinner Boxy sorts of structures. The thing that made it appealing to me was in incentivizing you to explore every little nook and cranny in the game world, where space rarely goes to waste. I took off after a few hours due to all of this just starting to kinda feel like an endless laundry list of busywork (plus the game's tone and humor just not really being for me), but you might have more luck actually focusing on the story. Maybe it actually goes somewhere eventually.
* Gameplay Video
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