I was originally disappointed when the Riviera Full Arrange Soundtrack was released and did not contain a copy of the original Game Boy Advance soundtrack, particularly as both Minako Adachi and Shigeki Hayashi had managed to fit some impressive music into a handheld game that already featured advanced graphics and voice acting. However, after their second soundtrack, Yggdra Union, was released with both an arranged and original version, I half-hoped, half-guessed, that Riviera would eventually receive similar treatment. In this I was not disappointed; following the release of the PSP version of the game, Sting decided to release the definitive Riviera soundtrack. This album is comprised of three discs; the first is the PSP soundtrack, the second is the Game Boy Advance soundtrack, and the third is the soundtrack from the original Wonder Swan Color game. Each disc mirrors the other by following the same track listing with tracks to each disc at the very end. The PSP soundtrack is almost identical to the Full Arrange Soundtrack that was released last year with assistance from Toshiaki Sakota – indeed all but two tracks are exactly the same. Curiously, the two tracks were the only two composed by Hayashi in the GBA release, which may or may not be coincidence. The possibility to stream audio explains why the PSP soundtrack is essentially the Full Arrange Soundtrack put into the game.
In Yggdra Union, Minako Adachi and Shigeki Hayashi had developed a composition style in their own right, but here in their first soundtrack the influence from Motoi Sakuraba is clear. Although they are described overall as co-composers, and it is impossible to tell how much influence each had on the soundtrack, only Adachi is credited for the majority of the tracks. The album itself does not take many risks or try to be innovative, which is wise considering these are two composers that at the time were both very new to video game music. Additionally, this familiarity in style does not harm the soundtrack at all, and each track feels solid and well thought out. The few slow tracks in the album are contained at the beginning and end of the disc, and while from a gamer’s view it would be preferential to hear these in the order they appeared in-game, it does not harm the album to put these all together. “Overture,” “Riviera, the Promised Land” and “To a Distant Place” are all beautiful pieces to start off the soundtrack with, creating a good impression and raising the bar for subsequent tracks.
From Track 6 onwards, the album kicks into the main bulk of the album, the fast-paced location and battle tracks that define Riviera as one of the best handheld RPG soundtracks ever. The upbeat “Heaven’s Gate of Darkness” is one of my favorite tracks on the album, and is evidently well liked by Adachi as well, for it returned in a remixed form in Yggdra Union. If you haven’t noticed the influence from Sakuraba yet, “Lacrima, the Black Evil Castle” should convince you, sounding like it was lifted straight out of Valkyrie Profile. One thing I really liked about this soundtrack was how each theme managed to feel light without needing to remove the percussion and bass lines. This is music to tap your feet along to, exactly what is needed for a handheld RPG. “Yggdrasil Region” is a particularly fine example of this. However, my personal favourite track in the whole album is “Battle with the Evil Family.” While I previously listened to it on the Full Arrange Soundtrack, to have this track subsequently adopted into the PSP version has given it a new meaning. While it does not sound all that different to any of the other battle themes, its execution is flawless and it exemplifies a sense of urgency that exists in the album’s fast paced tracks.
Adachi’s style leads me to believe that if the Sega Mega Drive was still around today, its games would have soundtracks like this, with the instrumentation in “Fierce Fight!” and “Infernos Battle” vaguely reminiscent of Phantasy Star. The section of battle themes ends with the two tracks that were created solely for the PSP version and are not included on the Full Arrange Soundtrack. The first of these is “Decisive Battle with Hector,” changed from a dark piece with a heavy bass line to another upbeat battle track. The slightly eerie introduction to “Last Battle,” the second track, belies its subsequent manner, after a few seconds it also returns to the style of the earlier battle tracks, albeit at a faster tempo. Following this are a few miscellaneous tracks, and it is somewhat of a shame that they are placed where they are. Even tracks like “Elegant Melodies” – clearly a filler track – would stand up well against the previous battle themes. Despite my earlier acceptance of the layout of the tracks, I would have preferred Sting arrange them in the order they appeared in game. Despite being a short track, “Ursula” uses soft choir and acoustic piano samples that sound fantastic, and manages to convey a sense of grandness that handheld soundtracks rarely manage to deliver. The last track is Hayashi’s sole track on the first disk, and was written especially for the PSP version of the soundtrack. ‘Four Seasons Wandering in the Lost Forest’ rounds off the disc well, although it does not feel as powerful as some of the earlier tracks.
Of course, the Game Boy Advance and Wonder Swan versions of the soundtrack should not be neglected. Both are very impressive for the platforms they were composed for, and it is interesting to see how various tracks developed in each version. In the Game Boy Advance disc, the bass and percussion are inevitably less prominent, but the synths used are a good enough quality that this doesn’t become a problem when listening to it. The Wonder Swan soundtrack is obviously less impressive sounding than the GBA version, but it still possible to appreciate the effort that was put into the soundtrack even when only three channels were being used.
This is unquestionably a good soundtrack, and whether or not it is worth buying largely depends on whether you already own the Full Arrange Soundtrack. For while I cannot just offhandedly describe this as a completionist’s album, if you already own the aforementioned album it does become a matter of balancing the new tracks from the PSP version and the soundtrack from the GBA and WonderSwan versions of the game against the price of buying what is nearly the same CD once again, and making up your own mind. Certainly if you don’t already own either of the Riviera soundtracks and are interested in hearing the music, this one is the definitive version. Either way, this is one album that no video game music lover should be ashamed to own.