Riviera: The Promised Land - Staff Review  

A Game with Promise
by Matthew Demers

15-25 hours


Rating definitions 

   Riviera: The Promised Land is a unique RPG experience for the Game Boy Advance in which the player takes control of Ein, a grim angel of the realm of Asgard. With his familiar, Rose, and another grim angel, Ledah, at his side, he embarks on a journey for the land of Riviera to actuate the "Retribution" after demons become a threat for the first time in a thousand years. Many twists occur from almost the beginning of Ein's adventure, though; by meeting and befriending inhabitants of Riviera he learns enough to put into question the motives behind his initial quest.

   Riviera is a very different game than most RPGs, and that is made evident almost right off the bat. Not once in this game will the player ever move a character in realtime. Not only is battle turn-based, but movement and actions are all turn-based as well. In any area, options are present to move in specified directions or to look at different points of interest. The consequence is that the game plays out in a very similar way to old-school text-based games or NES titles such as Shadowgate. While the limitations of this style are obviously great in number, the game uses the system fairly effectively to create a generally enjoyable experience in the end, though there are definitely times that the gameplay becomes dry and repetitive. How does the game unfold? Ein and his party travel from level to level in a very linear style, and after completing each stage, the heroes travel back to the town of Elendia to prepare for the next step in the quest. Since many of the items that are obtained and events that occur depend on the player's performance at key moments, there exists the potential for some big replay value. It is guaranteed, for example, that there will be many moments at which any player would ask him or herself "I wonder what would have happened if I had taken that action instead?"

   It is easy enough to move through any given stage, but to stop and check anything out the party needs to spend Trigger Points, or TP. TP may be earned by choosing to fight enemies, and the amount obtained from battle depends on how quickly and flashily the enemies are dealt with. For instance, by using a powerful special move to finish off a monster, more TP will be awarded at a battle's conclusion. Enemies are, of course, in abundance in the world of Riviera, as they are in most RPGs, and battles are just as different as the game itself. Before any battle begins, it is possible to browse in detail through enemy stats, strengths, and weaknesses, as well as useful advice for dealing with them. Based on that information, a party of three can be selected to enter combat in a formation of the player's selection, and four different items may be selected to bring in as well. These items can be weapons, healing items, or support items, but only four can be chosen. Combat consists of nothing but using these items, which is far more strategic than it sounds at first, especially since almost all items break after being used a certain number of times. Some characters can gain experience with items as they are used as well. After a character gains enough experience with any such item, a new "Over-Skill" will be learned and the character will receive a boost to his or her HP and stats. To use these very powerful techniques, the player must fill up a gauge in battle to a particular level through hitting enemies or being hit. All the while, however, hitting opponents is often dangerous, since all opponents have a similar gauge which fills up as they are attacked. Pushing enemies over the edge often results in a deadly Max Attack which can quickly put your own party's health in jeopardy. While the battle system is interesting and strategic, it would have been nice to have the option of defending or taking no action in addition to using items; the player will occasionally find that characters will have nothing to do except attack when attacking is definitely not the best idea. Combat is, despite this shortcoming, largely enjoyable and often quite challenging.

Caption The heat of a typical battle

   Patience is key to this game, whether it comes to disarming traps found in treasure chests, or carefully planning battles before leaping into them. If care is not used around the many traps throughout the world of Riviera, Ein and his friends can suffer a temporary loss of their Max HP, thus making life quite more difficult during the battle scene. If defeat occurs in battle, however, there is almost no penalty; any fight can be retried, and in any retry, the same opponents are fought with lessened HP. This is valuable, since it can be easy to discard items used for powering up, as the room in the party's inventory is very limited. Thankfully, it is also possible to fight "practice battles" at any time in which item experience can be obtained without fear of items wearing out; using practice battles to the player's advantage at the right times is also key to this game. No matter how the game is played, however, there is always an element of tactical strategy that keeps the interest level high; the challenge never disappears entirely.

   Riviera is a pleasure to look at in the beginning. Some of the backgrounds are quite beautiful for the Game Boy Advance, and the anime-style close-up character art is wonderful as well. However, it becomes tiresome quickly, because however good these designs may be, they are reused again and again throughout each stage. The background graphics of many areas in some stages are used easily a dozen times, and with such a simple game design, it would have been nice to have a greater amount of variation. Character and enemy sprites are adequate but nothing special.

   One area that this game does excel in, however, is in the quality of the music. While there are a couple of themes that sound quite poor in quality, the absolutely exceptional battle themes and background music within stages more than make up for them. Battle music is generally upbeat and exciting, and stage background themes fit the game very well; the overall style of the music is somewhat reminiscent of Golden Sun, though it has a unique flavour to it that makes for a real treat.

Caption Pretty crystally icy backgrounds galore!

   Riviera also has a fairly good, usually light-hearted plot. It isn't terribly convoluted or deep, but there are a pleasant number of twists and turns, with a good enough localization to allow players to follow without any trouble at all. The characters are all quite typical but generally very likable, and as the quest progresses, every character in Ein's party will come to like or dislike him based on decisions that the player makes at certain moments. Depending on who comes to like Ein the most by the end, certain elements of the plot may change, and different endings will occur. This presents a nice additional layer to the game.

   Getting through the game doesn't really present any huge challenges when it comes to maneuvering through status screens and item windows, and the player should have no problem mastering the interface within the first hour or so out of this roughly twenty-hour adventure. Easy-to-follow in-game tutorials in the early stages of the game help the player master the basic techniques of turn-based exploration and battle. One place where things could have been improved, however, is in battle, where it is often very difficult to understand exactly what the descriptions of item effects mean. The short-form explanations that appear in battle windows are often very unclear until the item is actually used for the first time, and sometimes remain unclear even afterward. Generally, though, the player will pick up what most descriptions mean fairly quickly, and this issue represents a fairly minor problem, all in all.

   All things considered, Riviera: The Promised Land is a one-of-a-kind experience that shouldn't be overlooked. Its style is very different from both traditional and modern RPGs simultaneously, and could easily be enjoyed by many unsuspecting RPG players, given enough patience. Even though it fails to measure up to most other RPGs of today's world in some respects, this game certainly demonstrates that life does indeed remain on the Game Boy Advance; it prospers in the land of Riviera.

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