A friend recommended Riviera: The Promised Land to me, and being the avid gamer that I am, I didn’t refuse. I wasn’t sure what to expect, especially because he described the game as a “play-along book,” which I thought sounded crazy. It turns out he couldn’t have been more right. Riviera: The Promised Land feels like a tribute to the days of the “point and click” adventure games, and it merges adventure and RPG elements together into a cohesive and entertaining package. In an era where good Game Boy Advance titles are becoming harder and harder to find, Riviera is a shining gem that hardcore RPG fans should add to their collection.
Riviera: The Promised Land borrows from Norse mythology. While it doesn’t follow any myths exactly, it uses the ideology as a backdrop and builds an original story on top of it. It begins one thousand years after Ragnarok (a war between heaven and hell,) in a world where the gods have died. The only remainder of their existence is their wisdom, which was sealed away in the heavenly isle of Riviera during the war. Mysterious deities known as the Seven Magi have devised a plan to excavate the knowledge and wisdom of the gods from Riviera by activating the “Retribution,” a power deep within the land that will pass judgment on all sinners when it is activated. The Seven Magi select two angels named Ledah and Ein to complete this daunting task. Known as “Grim Angels,” Ledah and Ein wield godly weapons capable of destroying the fiercest of demons. As the two angels descend to the sacred promised land, they are attacked by a strange deity named Ursula, who puts an amnesia spell on Ein and sends him away to a far away village. There, Ein meets two young girls named Lina and Fia. The young girls’ sense of adventure takes Ein across Riviera, and they slowly begin to unravel what the “Retribution” really is, and what will happen to Riviera if it is activated.
The storyline doesn’t do its best to avoid clichés, but it is solid. For the most part, the characters are believable, and you’ll probably end up empathizing with them before the quest is over. Unfortunately, the second half of the game feels rushed because the character development takes a dive and much of the dialogue isn’t as fleshed out as could be. The game loses most of its humor halfway through, and while this is understandable, it doesn’t feel right. Nevertheless, the story itself is still great, and it packs a few shocking plot twists and surprises.
Gameplay is where Riviera shines brilliantly. When exploring dungeons and towns, you can move Ein by selecting a direction to move him in. Once you’ve designated a direction, he’ll move to the next screen automatically. Or, if you want to look around, you can enter “Look Mode,” and find items by selecting the buttons indicated on the screen. However, in order to examine certain items, you’ll need Trigger Points (TP), which are earned in battle. As unique as they sound, Trigger Points are an unnecessary hindrance to the game, and would have been better left out, because it is almost impossible to run out of them.
There is also an assortment of neat mini-games to keep the gameplay varied. They range anywhere from button mashing to rhythm games (a ‘la Dance Dance Revolution.) With the exception of a few, they are pretty cool, and fit into the game quite well.
The battle system is creative and is a nice break from the traditional turn-based system, because it merges both turn-based and strategy elements. Before you start a battle, you can select three characters to use, and put them in the formation of your choice. Then, you must select up to four items to use in battle (yes, only four.) Once the battle begins, it becomes a turn-based brawl, with characters attacking one at a time. Each party member can use several weapons, but specializes in one particular type; Ein is a jack of all trades, Lina is handy with a bow, and Fia is dangerous with a sword. Eventually, you’ll also meet Serene and Cierra, who dominate battles with a sickle and magic, respectively. Every time a member uses a weapon, he or she gains experience for that weapon, and when they master it, their base stats increase and they learn a new skill.
Once you have a few skills under your belt, you can use the “Overdrive” meter to utilize your newly acquired attacks. The meter fills as you attack and receive damage, and once it’s at full capacity, you can unleash devastating specials. Overdrive skills are essential to winning battles, and if you can win the fight with one, you’ll be awarded bonus points, a high ranking, and sometimes even an item.
The number of battles you’ll fight is limited, so you’ll have to use the game’s “Practice Mode” to learn more new skills and stats. The key to beating the game lies in this mode, because if you don’t use it, you’ll get brutally beaten. Practice Mode can be selected from the menu, and it allows you to fight defeated enemies. If you win, you’ll receive items. Luckily, the game will not end if you die in Practice Mode, and any items you used will be replaced at the end of the battle.
As fun as the battle system can be, it has two slight problems. First, there is no targeting system, so you can’t target the enemies you want to hit. This is a problem because there are too many times in the game where you’ll waste an attack on an enemy that doesn’t need it. Secondly, if you try to use a weapon that your character can’t wield, he or she will waste a turn by throwing it instead, which does little or no damage. If you’re not paying attention, you’ll do this a lot, and it’s frustrating.
Next, let’s talk about the item system for a moment, since it almost single-handedly ruins the game. Your item inventory only has sixteen slots, and whenever you acquire that sixteenth item, you have to get rid of something to make room for it. This is extremely annoying when you constantly receive items after every battle and have to get rid of something. It also becomes a hassle when you have to get rid of an item you haven’t mastered yet. As the game progresses, you’ll start to accumulate items faster than you can finish using them. Even worse, items break after a set amount of uses, which isn’t much fun when your favorite weapon shatters in the middle of a battle. This is a flaw that most people are willing to overlook (myself included,) because there are so many great things in the game. But it is something to keep in mind when you pick the game up for the first time.
Last but not least, there is an affection system between Ein and his lady friends that is reminiscent of the “Private Action” system in the Star Ocean series. Ein’s decisions will please certain girls and anger others, and the ending of the game will be different depending on which girl he impresses the most. While this sounds like a dating sim, it never takes itself too seriously, and it focuses more on the friendships between Ein and his friends rather than love. Most of the game’s humor lies here, and it never gets old. In fact, it’s fun to watch the girls’ reactions, since they frequently regard Ein as a “pervert” for most of the game.
The graphics in Riviera are well done and extremely pleasing to look at. The game’s hand-drawn environments are drawn from a cool colored palette, and feature browns, blues, and greens to keep things easy on the eyes. To say the least, the dungeon areas are gorgeous. The only problem is that every dungeon uses the same backgrounds to death, making towns and dungeons feel more repetitive and uninspired than they really are.
The game’s character sprites are what you would expect from a GBA title, and they look the best in battle. Every character has several animations for every weapon, and enemies sprites have a few different animations. Battle effects are top-notch as well, with tons of colorful sparkles, slashes, and lightning to spice up the mood.
The game also features hand-drawn portraits for every character during event scenes, which are gorgeous. Every character has a large number of animations to show how they are feeling, so you never get the sense that the same portraits are being overused. There are also hand-drawn cut scenes which are a marvel to look at. When you see the opening scene for the first time, the graphics will hook you immediately, and leave you thirsty for more. There are quite a few cut scenes in the game, and you can unlock them for viewing if you find a special item.
There’s not much to cover in this specific area, but the menu system is simple and easy to use. The game’s limited movement system isn’t very hard to adjust to, either. The item management could use a little work, but it’s forgivable. The only beef I have with the control is during the mini-games. They are fairly easy to complete, but the controls aren’t as responsive as they should be.
This is my favorite part of the review. The soundtrack to Riviera: The Promised Land is absolutely wonderful. It was created by Minako Adachi and Shigeru Hayashi, fairly new composers who have quickly proven that they have what it takes to run with the big boys. Their soundtrack is Game Boy Advance music at its best: clear, crisp, and dynamic. The dungeon and battle themes are the most memorable, and could have been at home in a SNES action title. To make a long story short, the soundtrack does everything extremely well, and I can’t wait for Minako Adachi’s next outing.
There are also voice clips, too. In battle, every character has a few lines that they’ll say before and after battle, such as “The enemy is strong, be careful!” or “I didn’t even break a sweat.” The voices aren’t top-notch, but they get the job done. Most of the characters sound natural, with the exception of a few. Many reviewers argue that the voices should have been left out of the game, but I disagree; they give the game sauce.
Riviera: The Promised Land is a fun game that will keep you busy for about 15 to 30 hours. The detailed story and affection system are worth a second play, and the ability to unlock a slew extras, such as animated cut scenes, a sound test, and a bonus chapter, will keep you playing for a few more hours. Despite a few flaws, I totally recommend Riviera to anyone who wants to play something that’s not Golden Sun or Fire Emblem. It’s not quite as polished as those games, but it’s just as much fun.