Riviera: The Promised Land – Review

US PSP Box Art
The US PSP box art.

Belonging to the list of games I was interested in when I first heard about them but never managed to play is Riviera: The Promised Land. I was interested in it when it originally came out on the Game Boy Advance solely for the fact it was an RPG. I finally got my hands on a copy, albeit the PSP version, which is probably the superior version but was not impressed by the game. I applaud the fact that the game is different than other RPGs, but I found it repetitive and boring.

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before; a thousand years ago there was a war between the gods and demons. The gods weren’t able to hold their own and in desperation created Grim Angels to assist them. They were able to seal the demons away and bring peace about for a thousand years; but of course demons are beginning to come back. The main character of the game is Ein, a Grim Angel who throughout the game will learn about himself, betrayal and friendship. I found the characters to be predictable and ultimately ones I’ve played as before. Likewise the story was predictable and didn’t offer any surprises I couldn’t see coming.

Adding to the lack of surprise was the way the game progresses outside of battles. Early on you visit a town, Elendia, and for the rest of the game this becomes your home base. You travel here after each dungeon and work out the next plan of action. The dungeons are influenced by adventure games it would seem. Rather than controlling Ein directly, you enter a room and are given the option to look around, interact with objects by spending Trigger Points which are earned by performing well in battle, or move onto the next room. A set of rooms make up an area and in between each are you are given the chance to save. Looking around was vital in the sense it often netted you new items but it wasn’t always necessary to progress.

The battles are never random; the way the dungeons are laid out there will always be a group of enemies in “that” room and to progress you must fight them. Rather than equip characters with a weapon and armor, you are allowed to bring four items into battle. Not all characters can use all items so you have to plan ahead, for instance Ein is good with swords and direct attacks but if Cierra, a witch, were to use the same sword, she’d do a magic attack. Before the battle you can look at the enemies and pick your characters and items. The items have a limited number of uses, so you must also plan around this fact, however, early on you run into more items than you can hold.

Like the battles, leveling up is also unlike most RPGs. Rather than a character getting experience from enemies and leveling up, they earn experience for the item they’re using. Each time Ein uses a certain item, it gains a point of experience and once it’s maxed out, he’ll learn a special ability with that item and boost his stats. However each character has unique levels with each item, so after maxing out something with Ein, you’ll still need to max it out with another character for them to learn a special ability and get their stats boosted. Since the items have limited uses, gaining experience could be troublesome, but there is a practice mode which allows you to level up without breaking items.

Fia's turn in a fight; notice the four items she can use.

The game is completely voice acted and with the exception of one minor character I found it to be very good. My only major gripe with the VO is that a lot of the characters sound familiar, not simply their voices, but the way they act; if you’ve played a handful of RPGs, you’ve seen them before. I liked the soundtrack as well but didn’t find it particularly mind-blowing; I would recommend playing with headphones though to get the nuances in the music.

After the first few hours of getting used to the way the game is different, it became a very linear experience, completely lacking the sense of exploration and wonder I turn to in RPGs. While they tried to innovate in a few ways outside of the storytelling, it shined a spotlight on the generic tale the game wove.

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