"Riviera: The Promised Land was one of the most kick-ass games ever released on the underachieving WonderSwan Crystal. Its GBA incarnation features loads of new voices (that's good) and majorly cutified character designs (that's bad), but otherwise it's a byte-by-byte port of the original. In other words, Riviera's still (almost) as awesome as it ever was."
Riviera: The Promised Land was one of the most kick-ass games ever released on the underachieving WonderSwan Crystal. Its GBA incarnation features loads of new voices (that's good) and majorly cutified character designs (that's bad), but otherwise it's a byte-by-byte port of the original. In other words, Riviera's still (almost) as awesome as it ever was... except that now you don't have to be a nerd like me and buy an import handheld system to play it.
Since it's an RPG, self-proclaimed genre experts will be quick to make some basic (and completely reasonable) assumptions. Riviera will then make those experts look like fools. The majority of RPG staples -- exploration, leveling up, and fetch quests -- have been eliminated or reduced to single button presses. Want to see what's inside a treasure chest? Just press "up"; no need to even move near the chest! Ready to move on to the next room? Don't bother walking towards the door, because you can't; just press "right" on the D-pad and your alter-ego Ein automatically does whatever it takes -- climbing rocks, pushing through bushes, or shuffling across suspended chains -- to move into the room to the right.
So basically, Riviera's laid out like a big board game, where you move from one square (room) to the next.
Square One: find a treasure chest!
Square Two: fight a mutant plant!
Square Three: hide from wandering guards!
Since each "stage" is divided into 5 to 8 rooms, this makes Riviera really easy to play in short on-the-go segments (perfect for a portable). It also makes the game seem really linear, but this is a DEVIOUS TRICK because there's actually a lot of depth. Between the two versions, I've played through Riviera three times and still haven't been able to find everything!
Part of that is because Riviera is an RPG/dating-sim hybrid, where you spend time romancing four cute girls (although one of them looks like she's six years old in the GBA port). Each time you move anywhere, the characters all yammer like they're in the next Lunar, and you often get an option of what to say, which can either make a particular girl love you or literally break her heart (which is represented by a shattering heart in a speech bubble above her head).
It's so cute!
It's also really funny. As you win battles, you earn X amount of "trigger points" depending on how well you fought. You can spend trigger points to look at things in each room. Sometimes it's useful -- open a chest to find an item. Everything you find (even weapons) can only be used a limited number of times before they break, by the way. Sometimes exploring is dangerous -- open a trapped chest and you'll have to play a trap-dodging mini game. And sometimes it's not useful at all, but hilarious -- like when the hero Ein and his harem are climbing up an enormous, scantily-clad statue of an angel... and you keep selecting "LOOK AT STATUE" while standing next to the breasts, buttocks, crotch... and the girls' hearts keep breaking over and over and over again!
The enemy encounters are funny too, whether it's a demon crying "Ook ook!", gladiators running around dressed in purple dinosaur suits, or villains calling you "Naughty haughty!" like it's the gravest insult in the world. These battles pit Ein and two girls (you get to pick before each fight) against up to four creatures in isometric turn-based combat. The neat thing is that, instead of earning experience points, the heroes improve their stats by actually using all of those cool items found by looting treasure chests or getting perfect scores in previous battles. If you fancy saucy witch Cierra and want her to become tougher, you've got to send her into battle and make her use the fire whip. When she's used it a few times, her ability in that weapon "levels up", granting her access to an OVERDRIVE POWER with the whip. She'll also get a permanent bonus to her HP and strength. Even though each weapon is limited to anywhere from 5 to 50 uses, you can't worry about wasting your items in battle -- you'll find so many more that you'll end up discarding a bunch anyways.
As you fight, your overdrive meter (which is shared between all the characters) builds power, which lets Lina rain a dozen arrows on the enemy or Ein boost the entire party's defense... assuming you've used the appropriate items enough to learn those particular skills. The highest grades of overdrive powers come with a full-screen portrait of your character and a cool little quip.
"Death to all sinners," Ledah says in monotone... right before he spears, slashes, and hacks the enemy to bits. Then he sets them on fire. Powerful stuff indeed, but your opponents have their own RAGE POWER that grows during battle, so you've got to keep your characters healed (sweet Fia is best at that) or else just kill everything really quickly.
There's also some kind of story related to Norse mythology, but that didn't make much sense to me. The fun character interaction and unique battle system are what kept me hooked. Since exploring requires trigger points, and since each exploration scene provokes a new bit of dialogue or special event, it takes several plays to see everything there is in the game. There are even entirely optional stages, usually dependant on whether you win or lose at a special "long jump" mini-game! This is fun stuff.
All in all, I still like the WonderSwan Crystal version better, because the graphics had a bright, clean look to them that doesn't quite carry over into the GBA port. Also, the WSC version doesn't make me feel like a pedophile for laying the mack down on Lina. Of course, I realize most people will never touch a WonderSwan, so I'm pleased to report that Riviera: The Promised Land is still a great game on GBA and easily worth buying... if you can find it.
Staff review by Zigfried (August 28, 2005)
Zigfried likes writing about whales and angry seamen, and often does so at the local pub.
If you enjoyed this Riviera: The Promised Land review, you're encouraged to discuss it with the author and with other members of the site's community. If you don't already have an HonestGamers account, you can sign up for one in a snap. Thank you for reading!