Author’s Note: This review was originally published on September 5th, 2007. This one of the first reviews in which I started using “witty” taglines to separate each section.
My first time hearing of the Sting developed RPG entitled Riviera was back in the days of the Wonder Swan Color. I thought there would be no way that Americans would get a chance to check out this interesting looking game. Luckily, I was proven wrong with the game being brought to America on the Game Boy Advance, and then for the PSP. Since the GBA version was supposedly the same as the PSP, I decided to check it out on the PSP. While different from most RPGs and sometimes a bit tedious, RIviera: The Promised Land is a quaint little gem worth playing.
Grim Angels and Demons
During the era of Ragnarok, the gods of Asgard sacrificed their lives to summon the Grim Angels in order to thwart the evil demons. When the Grim Angels emerged victorious using the powers of their mighty Diviner weapons, the gods were sealed into the heavenly land of Riviera. 1000 years later, demons are resurfacing on Riviera! The Seven Magi of Asgard knew that only The Retribution could prevent another demon outbreak. Two Grim Angels were sent down to actuate The Retribution. One of these angels is none other than Ein, the character you control throughout the story.
What begins as a mission to destroy Riviera develops into much more for young Ein. Despite the fact that the story is short and leaves little to the imagination, it was still fun to watch unfold. Some may find the setting to be too light-hearted, anime-esque, but there are some rather dark parts in it. This is especially true near the end of the game.
The story might be average, but the characters in said story are excellent. Ein is accompanied by four beautiful women on his journey through Riviera. The spunky archer Lina, the taciturn fencer Fia, the fierce witch Cierra and the tomboy bat-girl Serene help Ein through some of the toughest tasks around. Each of these chicas, as well as Ein, develop well over the course of the game, yet stay true to their original character types. There are no dramatic changes in personalities, just good character development. You get to see Ein mature from a naive wingless-angel into a powerful warrior. Ein also develops relationships with each of the girls in the party. During conversations, selecting the right thing to say can greatly alter the mood of the girls. Ultimately, this will effect the ending you receive at the end of the journey. The villains, while not as fleshed out as the heroes, were given similar development. Unfortunately, a few of the villains come across as unoriginal with their intentions. Really, destroying the world is fun and all, but can we at least think of a better reason for doing so? Despite that, the characters were brought to life in Riviera and made the game much more enjoyable.
Look, Don’t Touch!
Exploration in Riviera is different from exploration in other RPGs. You move from place to place by hitting one of the arrow keys on the control pad. This will move you from one part of the map to another. As you progress through various dungeons, a map will get drawn out. When you reach a certain part of the map, you can enter the next area of the dungeon. When you are in the town, the same thing applies. The only difference is that some dungeons are one-way only. If you wish to go back to a previous area of the map, you most likely are unable to do so. This linearity was unfortunate, because it limited the exploration.
When you enter a new area, you can hit the X button to enter Look Mode. Most of the map screens have objects you can check. These range from treasure chests to piles of feathers. Examining these objects introduces you to the Easy Trigger System. Trigger Points, obtained from battles, allow you to examine various objects on screen. However, they are not infinite so you have to plan accordingly on how you use your TP. To some, this may come as a frustrating feature because while there are many things to examine, you have only so many TP. To others, this adds a new level of strategy to an otherwise simple design. Some objects do not require TP, such as story objects or objects in town.
Hitting the Select button will bring up the main menu. Here you can check your items, stats, turn count, Trigger Points, and your key items. You can also enter a practice battle to boost your experience, but I’ll get more into that later. The menus were very easy to deal with.
Another interesting (but often times aggravating) feature you will find during the map exploration is the Action Trigger. Traps, flying pieces of paper, and hidden secrets require you to deal with the AT in order for you to proceed or obtain an item. You may have to hit a pattern of buttons within a certain time, tap a certain button quickly, stop a moving cursor on a mark, or hit the correct button sequence before time runs out. This adds a bit of quick thinking to the game, but it gets terribly frustrating if you mess something up. Often times, there are items that you will permanently miss just because your timing was off. Messing up the AT could also damage your energy.
Entering a new dungeon and seeing what is in store adds a very addicting aspect to the game. Obviously, Riviera takes a very different approach to adventuring. It can get frustrating, but at the same time it is exciting. Just as different, frustrating, but overall exciting is the battle system.
Four For Three?
When you encounter a group of demons, you can either fight or run away. Unfortunately, running away does nothing for you except prolong the inevitable encounter. At the start of battle, you first pick your formation. Will you have two in front and one in back to boost your attack power, or will you have one in front and two in back to boost your magic power? After deciding the formation, you chose your team. Unfortuantely, Ein always needs to be present during all battles. So, this leaves you with two other characters to pick. When this step is done, you can pick a maximum of four items to use. Each character performs differently with each item, adding plenty of variety to the battles. For instance, Ein is amazing with a broad sword, but he will do little with a whip. There are countless items to find in this game, so it is a bit depressing knowing that you can only have four in at a time. What is worse is that your item menu can only hold about 19 items, so you will have to do plenty of discarding in order to gain new items. If you are having a hard time deciding which items to bring into the fray, you can check the stats of your enemies and read what the in-game suggestion recommends. At any rate, once you chose your four items, it is time to fight.
The battle screen has two bars on it. On top is the Over Drive bar, which fills up as you give and take damage. The bottom is the Rage Meter, which fills up every time you hurt a foe, but it goes down depending on how long until the next turn comes up for someone. When one of your team members has a chance to attack, you can chose an item to use. What struck me as odd was the fact that you could not select your target. Either your attack was random or you hit the foe directly in front of you. This did not make the game any more difficult, but it made battles last longer than necessary. Both sides continue to exchange blows until one side is completely gone. After you finish the battle, you will be graded. A ranking of S grants you the most rewards, whereas obtaining a C ranking grants you little.
The aforementioned Over Drive bar can help make even the longest battles easier, as well as boost your ranking up a few notches. Each character has their own set of unique skills they learn by continuing to use certain items. When they use an item enough, their stats increase and they obtain a skill for that item. Depending on how proficient they are with an item, they can execute level 1, 2, or 3 OD skills. The higher their proficiency, the higher the skill they can execute. Level 3 skills require the whole gauge to be filled and are usually more than enough to decimate your foes. However, the second meter I mentioned, the Rage Meter fills up dramatically every time a foe is defeated. If it gets filled up all the way, then your enemies can use a powerful skill. Ein can execute a level EX skill, but doing this will make it so the OD bar is no longer usable in the current battle. However, with a plethora of items, by default there are a plethora of skills to learn. But, most of the items have an endurance limit. If you use an item too much, it will break. What should be done about this negative aspect?
The answer is to practice battle. While you will not receive any TP or rare items from practice battling, you are able to use whoever you want and whichever item as much as you want. While it can get tedious, the results are well worth it because you can dramatically increase the power of your characters just by leveling them up with a few items. Besides, it gets exciting to see what type of skill they will learn when their item levels up.
Riviera’s battle system is truly unique. There are no pieces of gold, no random encounters, and battles can take a while to finish. However, I found them to be enjoyable the majority of the time. The lack of depth and variety may turn off die-hard RPG players, but I found the endless amount of items and skills to be great.
Living in a Fantasy World!
The PSP version of Riviera is by far the best looking. Not only are there some delightful, anime still frames that play out during the story, this game has some of the best character art I’ve ever seen. There are plenty of facial expressions each character has, and their sprite forms are crisp and colorful. The areas that they explore were just as nice, and highly detailed. While the amount of monsters is limited, there are some cool looking attacks and spells and exciting battle fields. There is not much to say about the graphics, other than it goes to show you that 2D sprites are indeed forever.
Two Languages. One Soundtrack. Zero Problems.
The audio department was done just as well as the graphical department. You are able to pick whether or not you wish to hear the fully voiced audio in English or Japanese. For some reason you can only chose your language every time you turn the game on, not from the option menu. It’s not a problem, I just question this idea. No matter which language you pick, the voice acting sounds great. Too bad that the UMD has a tendency to load the text quicker than the voicing that goes along with it. This can make the game glitch up a bit, but in my experience, it was never a huge issue. Finally, the music was excellent. I expected as much from the developers of Yggdra Union, and I was not let down in the slightest.
Extra! Extra! Play All About It!
Some of the items you find in the game allow you to unlock extra content. These include all of the music, all of the artwork, and all of the items. You will most likely miss a few of these during your first play through, because I most certainly did. Luckily, the game is short enough to be able to immediately play again and you are able to quickly skip over any text you do not wish to read. Plus, with multiple endings, there is no way you would not want to give this game another go. I know I’ll be playing this until I get everything uncovered.
The Promised Gem
Riviera: The Promised Land is not the best RPG out there, nor does it offer something that hard-core RPG players may enjoy. Hell, it is very linear, very short, and gets tedious at times. However, I found Riviera to be a fun little diamond in the rough that offers interesting game play and fun characters. Decent RPG experiences are hard to find on the PSP. If you have not played the GBA version, wish to relive a game with a new make-over, or just want an RPG to play wherever you want, then Riviera: The Promised Land is the RPG for you.