"My first hours with Riviera were not indicative of what my next few weeks with it would be like. I popped it in and was displeased by the entire set up and not surprised that I could guess the whole story within the first 5 minutes. The jaded RPG fan inside of me totally flared up. I almost sold it right back to someone who would appreciate it, but gave it a second chance. What I almost missed out on was one of the more refreshing RPG experiences this gen. Through the distillation of typical, wo..."
My first hours with Riviera were not indicative of what my next few weeks with it would be like. I popped it in and was displeased by the entire set up and not surprised that I could guess the whole story within the first 5 minutes. The jaded RPG fan inside of me totally flared up. I almost sold it right back to someone who would appreciate it, but gave it a second chance. What I almost missed out on was one of the more refreshing RPG experiences this gen. Through the distillation of typical, world-spanning RPG travel, Riviera turns the genre into a concentrated and addictive romp that simply progresses screen by screen.
To get the most obvious flaw out of the way first, I'll say the story suffers from the same generic story bug that has bit almost every RPG. The protagonist is Ein. He gets blown away Wizard of Oz-style and ends up in a wonderful place called Riviera, where the lovable locals are worried about a demon invasion. Unfortunately, somewhere in the process Ein gets amnesia. How shocking. Luckily, he is picked up by two cute anime chicks who both have a crush on him and yada, yada, yada, he remembers who he is and he's off to save the world. To do so, he must battle with the gods. Just another day in the life of an RPG protagonist.
That's the story in a nutshell but the key point here is the two cute anime chicks. As you go through the game, you'll meet 2 more cute anime chicks and a cat chick. They all kinda have a crush on you. How is the sappy love story supposed to take place when everyone has a crush on the protagonist?? Well, Riviera is a dialogue heavy game and one major aspect is how you relate to your party. Say there's a switch on the ground and Ein needs to choose someone to step on it to open a door. The girls, who always take jabs at each other and fight over Ein, might suggest the red witch Sierra in a backhanded way, hinting that she's fat(which she is anything but.) If you choose her, she'll get pissed and you'll lose a love point. However, choosing the person who made fun of Sierra would please her and boost her appreciation for you. All kinds of funny situations like this come up and as the game progresses, they get more complex. The love point system even works with the cat, oddly enough. Each love point is tallied at the end of each chapter and at the end of the game, the character who you have turned on the most times determines which ending you get. So the courtship aspect, while it is very entertaining, is also an important thing to keep in mind while playing. This is just one of Rivieras three unique gameplay systems.
In what superficially appears to be the blandest design choice ever, your quest takes place in squares. The 7 chapters in the game are mapped out in square plots of land, so you simply move from one plot to the next. I was vehemently opposed to the basic movement interface at first. The characters stand in the middle of the screen and are presented with "Move" options to decide which way they will go next and "Look" options to explore the surrounding area. However, this streamlined method of movement quickly proved its worth to me. It is completely linear, but there are many little events to detract attention from it. For one thing, there is dialogue almost every time you move, which ties into the courtship aspects I mentioned earlier. Battles and traps can also take place each time you move screens, but the most important aspect by far is examining the area through the TP system.
If you enjoy ruining a box of chocolates by poking each piece to see what's inside (who doesn't?), you will love the TP system. To start, in order to use the "Look" option, you need to gain TP points. After each battle, you are rewarded with TP depending on how well you fought. Then, to observe something or open a chest, you need to use a TP point. It is easy to accumulate these points, but they go fast since battles are pre-planned and limited and spots of interest often outweigh your quantity of points.
Looking results in many side effects: you may spring a trap, which puts you into a minigame that decides whether you evade it or not. Usually you have to input a combo of buttons, like inputting a secret code. Alternately, you may find a sword stuck in the ground, it's yours if you can pass a button mashing minigame. Other times, you may trigger an event in which the characters examine a crack in the floor, which might break, cause you to lose HP, and land you in a secret room with new weapons. On top of that, choosing one thing will restrict others, making a replay more plausible. The TP system is just about perfect. Looking is an addiction that I had to support the whole game and I think I only got to see about two thirds of the possible events.
Finally, the battle system is also different from your average RPG. There are no random battles to make you pull your hair out. Instead you are greeted by your enemy when you move to a new plot of land and once you beat them, they are gone for good. Instead of receiving experience to level up from these fights, each character must use a weapon a certain number of times in order to grow. When they hit the limit, which varies from 3 to about 10 uses, some of their stats go up and they extract an overdrive skill from it. Since the number of times you can use a weapon and fight are limited, you are presented with the option to practice fight through the pause menu, in which no harm is done to the characters, but they can level up freely.
Unfortunately, the practice fights made the whole system boil down to cold efficiency, much like experience farming in other RPGs. A decent chunk of my time playing the game was just in these practice battles. Powering up my characters with various weapons consisted of me sitting there pressing the A button, just trying to expedite the process without much thought. Along with that, in normal battle, each enemy has strengths and weaknesses which you can view before the fight starts. After viewing these, you can choose the right characters and items to fight with, which leads to more mindless battle.
There is a lack of challenge to these fights, making them boring for the most part, but they are acceptable since you earn TP depending on how well you fight. The less moves you take in battle and the stronger skill you use to finish off the last enemy, the more TP you get. Like most RPGs, it's basically a hoop to jump through and it's fun at first, but gets a bit tedious later on in the game.
So, for about 3 weeks straight, almost every night before I fell asleep, Riviera had its hooks in me. The personalities of the characters grew on me, my addiction to searching each stage was insatiable and I couldn't stop until it was all over. When I finished after 22 hours, I found that I had unlocked only one of the many extras and had missed a bunch of hidden scenes. This should make it all the more enticing to go through it all again. Unfortunately, the tedious battle and level system keep me from doing that right away. Aside from that, Riviera is a must have for GBA owners of all types. Its streamlined interface and simple mechanics make it accessible to fans of most genres, which is really outside the norm for an Atlus-published game. Since you can save at any point while playing and easily pick up where you left off, even if it has been weeks since you last played, it's very portable. Most importantly though, Riviera transcends its portability and should be played by anyone who has been waiting patiently for a fresh RPG experience that won't demand 80 hours of your life on the spot for a playthrough, but can give it, if you choose to discover every secret it has to offer.
Featured community review by apossum (August 02, 2005)
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