Citizen Sleeper Review (Switch)
Release Date: May 5, 2022
File Size: 828MB
Publisher: Fellow Traveller
Developer: Jump Over The Age
Click here to view on the Nintendo eShop.
Version Reviewed: 1.0.11
Narrative RPGs are not anything new to the gaming world. Much like a book, you want to ensnare the player by having a compelling plot and/or interesting characters. And one of the best ways to keep a player engaged with your story is to give them agency, letting them make choices, experience the consequences of their actions, and wonder how a situation could have played out differently if they pursued a different path. Citizen Sleeper is an engaging narrative RPG that draws inspiration from tabletop RPGs in order to bring forth a wonderful experience.
You play as a nameless protagonist who has been found near death in an abandoned ship. While disoriented after being found, you quickly get up to speed with your predicament. Long ago, you signed away your rights as a person to a corporation known as Essen-Arp for the promise to live off world. The body that you possess is not human, but corporate property controlled via emulation. You have escaped from their control with the hope that you could pursue your own life.
But while that might sound good, things are grim. For one, your body is slowly shutting down due to no longer having access to a set of supplements required for your body to continue functioning. And a bit later, you find that there is a tracker on your body that can lead any potential Essen-Arp hunters right to you.
How you choose to handle your plight is up to you, with lots of opportunities to progress or fail. For those who look for replayability when it comes to narrative RPGs, there are up to nine endings that you can achieve here. There is quite a bit of exploring to be done and while it can end up being overwhelming if you take on multiple storylines at once, it also helps to set the tone of urgency and survival with Citizen Sleeper.
Rather than a major mainline quest, there are smaller bite-sized quest lines that you can pursue. Of course, your general goal is to survive and not let your body break down or let yourself get caught by Essen-Arp. Otherwise, you can go through the choices in any way that you like. And if you’re curious on what exactly happens should you let the negative options play through, you can do that as well.
Citizen Sleeper is a narrative RPG where you can perform specific actions to advance the plot and select choices to learn more about Erlin’s Eye, the inhabitants of the floating civilization, and about yourself. You use dice to perform actions, and depending on the number on the dice and the risk level of the task, you can come out with a positive, neutral, or negative outcome.
The gameplay loop is very straightforward once you are set free to experiment around and actually play through the game. You’ll find that there are some times where you’ll want to be risky and use less than desirable dice for specific actions, and other times where you’ll want to play things safe. As you complete quest lines, you’ll gain upgrade points, which can be used to unlock new abilities.
Choices and Actions
As a narrative RPG, the main gameplay elements of Citizen Sleeper relate to making choices. There are two sets of choices that you will make throughout your time with the game. The first have to do with narrative choices, selecting specific responses to the story. Some of these choices don’t affect how the story progresses, while others may set you down a path that you were or were not expecting. These choices can’t be changed and unfortunately, since the game operates on autosave only, there’s not really a way to go back and see how a scene may have played out without having to go through the entirety of the game again. And outside of the block dedicated to displaying the text, there doesn’t appear to be a text log that you can go back and reference.
The second type of choices that you will make will be the actual actions that you perform. This is where the bulk of the gameplay resides and where you will need to bring out your time management and strategy skills. Once you have a place to live, you will be released into the world of Erlin’s Eye. There are several locations on the Eye that you can go to, but in order to perform actions, you will need to have available dice ready. You will gain a specific number of dice based on the condition of your body, with less dice spawning if your body condition is really bad. The dice can range from one to six, with six guaranteeing a positive outcome while one gives you a 50/50 shot of a positive or negative outcome.
There are three possible outcomes with all actions: negative, neutral, and positive. Each action will either be repeatable or non-repeatable and will display their risk type. For higher risk actions, you’ll want to use your higher number dice to have a better chance of getting a positive outcome. Negative outcomes will result in lost money, energy, and/or condition. No matter the outcome, a completed action will progress a clock associated with that action, either good or bad. Good clocks are designated as yellow while bad clocks are red. Keep an eye on the red clocks, as the results from those clocks filling up are usually not good.
Some clocks progress automatically by the day while others only progress after an action has been performed. And after a while, this can be juggling specific clocks. You’ll need to keep your priorities in check and figure out which actions are more important to handle right then and there. However, this can also mean that there will be some downtime, especially if you end up doing a good chunk of missions around the same time, leaving you with not many to fill in the time.
Condition, Energy, and Upgrades
Citizen Sleeper operates in cycles, with the next cycle progressing whenever you sleep. Unfortunately, your body’s condition will not stay the same throughout your time in Erlin’s Eye. Your condition has to do with your body and how close it is to shut down due to a lack of supplements. You will eventually be able to either purchase supplements, create supplements, or repair yourself using scrap that you find while working and scavenging. If you let your condition worsen, you will receive less dice, which means less actions that you can take per cycle. Your condition will automatically decrease each cycle, but it can also decrease due to injury or a lack of food.
You also have an energy bar, which decreases at a much faster rate than your condition. You can refill your energy by eating food or by sunbathing. To eat food however, you’ll need money to purchase it, although at a point in the game, you do get the opportunity to cook your own food. To sunbathe, you will need a dice to perform this action. Your energy depletes by two sections each cycle, although it can also decrease during certain actions as well. If your energy bar is fully depleted, you will gain the starving status and your condition will drop twice as fast.
While it can feel daunting to keep up with both body statuses, they are not impossible to manage and after a while, it’s extremely easy to upkeep everything. The statuses also add another level of management to the game that keeps you on your toes.
You do have the option to upgrade skills associated with your character. After completing a quest line, you will gain one upgrade point. These upgrade points can be used to either unlock a skill or give a modifier. There are a variety of skills such as the chance to earn money, energy, or scrap with specific actions. While at first glance, some skills can seem useless, as you play through the game, they settle in as useful additions that just feel natural for the experience.
Another aspect to Citizen Sleeper is the fact that you can connect to the data networks of The Eye. Using your dice actions, you can extract data from several of the groups working on Erlin’s Eye. However, unlike actions, you must have a matching dice in order to extract the data. Most of the data nodes that you come across can be sold off for money, but there are several key nodes that need to be bypassed in order to progress certain storylines.
However, there is a threat that lingers while extracting data. Hunter, a program that has been running for as long as the networks have been up, will sense you as you are extracting data and after a certain point, will confront you. Truthfully though, they never feel like a threat after a certain point. After a couple of appearances, they stop appearing altogether even when their timer is ticking with each extraction done. I do wish more had been done with Hunter to make extracting data feel more risky like what was done the first two times you encounter them.
Citizen Sleeper is a text-based game with 2D character sprites and 3D environments. The text is a decent size and is easy to read, as it’s just simple white text on a black background. The UI for the game is a bit convoluted when it comes to displaying your items and data, and the screen for seeing the upgrades available to you. The toggles for displaying the missions also are a bit clunky, with it being restricted to one of the trigger buttons.
The controls are a downside for Citizen Sleeper. To navigate the strip that is Erlin’s Eye, you’ll need to use one of the joysticks to bring certain points into view. And while the regular world is okay to navigate, the data networks are a lot more cumbersome. Some data points are secluded to different parts of the map that you would need to use vehicles to access in the regular world. However, there is no way to easily get to those points in the network without going back to the regular world, navigating to those secluded parts, and then going back into the data network. If there was a way to cycle through the points easily with the arrows buttons and actually be able to see which points you were currently on, that would have been really nice.
There is very little music in Citizen Sleeper, with the game taking the road of background noise to set the mood. But in the more lighthearted moments, you will hear a bit of piano and a synth or two. It’s not something that you would write home about in terms of soundtrack, but it fits the tone of the game.
Citizen Sleeper is a great narrative RPG that is easy to find yourself sinking hours into. Cycles can pass with a blink of an eye, as cycles are only as long as you make them out to be. While a single playthrough will clock well under 10 hours, those hours can definitely multiply if you go out of your way to explore other endings. Some quest lines will play out exactly the same, as they only have one outcome available. But as you progress, you’ll see certain storylines completely close off because you chose to do something else.
Overall, the atmosphere of Citizen Sleeper is both chilling and fascinating. The writing of each questline and the characters you encounter leave you wanting to know more about the world around you. It’s a great experience with nice packaging and even if you’re just interested in a single playthrough, you’re sure to have a great time.