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Citizen Sleeper is perfect for visual novel novices

An understanding, if dodgy, parent

A mercenary speaks to the player in Citizen Sleeper
Image credit: Rock Paper Shotgun/Fellow Traveller

For whatever reason, I'm quite good at reading physical books, but when presented with a visual novel game my attention span slumps. "It's not you, it's me", rings true here, as it's definitely not the fault of the video games. I trust that Phoenix Wright or Paranormasight are brilliant, but the sudden act of having to read lots in a game has never worked out for me.

Then Citizen Sleeper came along for this month's RPS Game Club - and I think I'm a changed man? I think I now get why people are excited about static images and dialogue boxes. And I'm certain it's the game's cyclic nature that's managed to lasso my brain and keep it focused on the task at hand: help an AI trapped in a vending machine.

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What's really clicked with me is how alike Citizen Sleeper is to a parental figure. The game's split into Cycles, which are basically days I get to gamble my pocket money (dice) on lemon slices (work shifts, daily tasks etc), then repeat the process day in, day out. It might not be a particularly great parent figure, in that they're forcing me to risk everything in a sci-fi dystopia, but I do feel like it's taken me by the hand, and helped me nurture a greater interest in games outside of my traditional bounds.

Citizen Sleeper's gentle grip keeps a firm hold over my wavering attention span, as the game's segmented into hundreds of five or ten minute cycles. Perhaps even less. And when I've spent my pocket money, it just stands there, hands on hips, waiting for me to go to bed. So I slink back to my empty shipping crate and tuck myself in, giddy at the prospect of gambling yet more dice to make yet more lemon slices light up. Sleeper is comfortable with limitations, knowing full well our characters can't work 24/7 shifts at diners or weld hulls together non-stop. And in doing so, it works in tandem with my real life capacity for video games at the moment.

Eventually, Sleeper starts setting you multiple coursework projects called Drives. Normally I'd find these quite overwhelming, especially in a visual novel-style RPG where choices are crucial and consequences might overlap. Incredibly, I can't get enough of the Drives. They let me know where I can gamble my pocket money, and from experience, I know they don't collide with each other in terrible ways. Not once have I diligently pursued some coursework, only for another project to swoop in and prevent its progress, or even worse, cancel it entirely. Instead, Sleeper's coursework assignments feed into each other positively.

A sentient vending machine chats with the player in Citizen Sleeper

As it's a story-focused affair, I won't spoil anything regarding how the Drives do overlap at times. But I've been able to strike up relationships with all manner of folks so far, and never once felt at risk of feeling like I had no choice but to go down one path. Sure, there's an engineer person and a bartender I might not get around to, alongside a cute father and daughter who might abruptly end my journey. But Sleeper's given me the chance to explore multiple relationships with little pressure, and that's a win for someone like me who wants to experience as much as possible in a single playthrough.

As you meet more folks and uncover more stuff, sometimes blood oranges appear. They are Sleeper's way of introducing deadlines to your coursework, so you've got to ensure you counter them by filling up lemons elsewhere and pursuing Drives which could counter them. Again, it's a great technique for keeping me engaged. Suddenly, my pocket money must be spent very carefully, lest I get pursued by horrible bounty hunters, or my engineer friend in hiding gets outed if his poisoned USB drives aren't plugged into the right spots. My daily allowance rolls into a weekly investment, where I'm genuinely excited to see the outcome of the lemon I fill up, and the blood orange I want to pop.

Citizen Sleeper is the introduction I needed to visual novels, acting as an understanding parent who knows my limits. Even if they are big on gambling. I genuinely think it's opened up a new interest in a genre I'd totally ruled out, so here's to like, experiencing new things!

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