You can't just be promising...
1000 years ago, the Gods of Asgard were at war with the Demons of Utgard, causing a cataclysmic battle to ensue. Fearing that they may lose ground to their malevolent foes, the Gods decided to break a holy taboo and release the most powerful band of warriors in existence, The Grim Angels. Sporting black wings and powerful weapons called Diviners, The Grim Angels turned the tide of the war, and the power of both the Demons and the Gods was sealed within the Promised Land of Riviera.
For some reason now, a millennia later, the Demons have broken through the seal and are causing all sorts of havoc all over Riviera. Knowing that they have only one option left, the seven Magi servants of the Gods have decided to destroy the continent with the help of two Grim Angels: Ledah, an unfeeling soldier with a heart of ice and Ein, an optimistic young boy who, despite being an angel, has given up his wings to wield his Diviner.
After a run-in with a mysterious woman named Ursula, Ein is knocked unconscious and flung into the heartland of the very place he was trying to destroy, a town named Elendia. Unfortunately, the impact has caused him to lose his memory (although he remembers his name well enough, go figure). After helping two local village girls secure the safety of a neighboring village, Ursula appears before him and restores his forgotten memories. Now carrying a personal bond to the setting he was sent to eradicate, he decides to go about his journey another way – instead of genocide he decides to take down every demon in the land, one by one. And so, the story of Riviera: The Promised Land begins…
If the plot seems cliché’, that’s because it is. However, it’s entertaining enough, and the characters themselves are endearing, even if they seem a tad cookie-cutter. This is the part of the review where I’m supposed to say that there’s something about the game that makes up for the predictable story and truly sets Riviera apart from other iterations in the genre.
Well, there are aspects that make it different. For one, Riviera is not just an RPG. It’s also a dating simulator. Depending on sentence choices during various conversations with your mainly female cast, you can make them like or dislike you more or less. This is a fun little distraction now and then, and does a lot to lighten the mood at more serious moments in the adventure.
I’ve never run across a game that prides itself in being so completely linear. I’m serious – in a trailer I saw before sitting down to play the game, it was explained that because you don’t actually move your own character, exploration is a breeze. “What does that mean?” you’re probably wondering. Well, the way your party will get around will be through an assortment of static screens, with the word “Back” behind you and the word “Go” in front of you. So instead of using the D-Pad to walk around in the environments, you simply have to press forward or backward to progress through the chapters, occasionally finding yourself confronted with scripted battles. So yes, while it would be hard to find yourself lost, exploration isn’t a breeze, it’s nonexistent. I could keep my eyes closed, tap random directions, and still get where I need to go.
And the oddities don’t stop there – I still haven’t told you about the battle system. You choose your three-character fighting group from your party (one of these characters must be Ein), and then you're shown your item menu, where you’ll choose four, count them, four items that you’ll be using for the entirety of the battle – and that includes weapons. So if you’ve got characters who use different types of weapons, you’re left with only one slot to use for healing items, armor, etc.
And you have to be careful with these items. They’ve got a set number of times you can use them and then the item disappears. Luckily, generic items like bows, scythes, and the like are pretty common throughout the game. I’m still not sure of why this decision was made, though – I guess developer Sting thought the game was too easy with its lack of actual exploration and figured they’d just screw you over in the item department to make up for it.
You’d think that with scripted battles, the need to feverishly level up just to stay ahead of the game wouldn’t be there. Somehow Sting found a way around this. You see, you don’t level up by fighting and gaining experience points. You skill up by using an item until you learn an Overdrive Move (special attack) with it. When you skill up, you gain more strength points, vitality points, and so on. Thankfully, you’re given the option to enter a practice match at any point during the game and learn your way around new items without wearing down their durability. You’ll still have to tediously go through a set of meaningless encounters, though.
Once you get into a real fight, things are a tad more normal and the game becomes a standard turn-based RPG, sans choosing the recipient of your attack. If it seems like you have to go through a lot of extra trouble just to find yourself in a generic RPG situation, well, that’s because you do.
The odd thing is, once I allowed myself to get used to these nonsensical conventions, they seemed less and less nonsensical and I could finally allow myself to have fun with most of the weird choices Sting made with this game. Although there’s a steep hill of monotonous gameplay, if you can persevere, you’ll find that Riviera possesses a certain charm that makes it likable.
Gameplay details aside, there are some good traits to be found in Riviera. For one, the game is gorgeous – hand-drawn sprites may have never looked better on the GBA and environments scream detail, even if they are over-used (you’ll often find yourself traveling through an entire dungeon that consists of five or six backgrounds). In addition, the game features a sizable amount of voice acting that fits the various characters well enough. As for music, it’s business as usual in the world of fantasy RPGs; cinematics are lined with instrumentals, while epic percussion numbers dominate battles. Themes aren’t particularly memorable, but they get the job done well enough.
In the end, Riviera is a game that desperately tries to be different, but it just ends up making itself frustrating in areas that should be simple. If you’re dying for a new GBA RPG that does things differently, then Riviera might be your kind of game. But if you’re frustrated easily, I’d recommend you look elsewhere.