Atlus is unlike most game development companies. They like to create games that do not follow the typical path of a specific genre but still manage to maintain a high level of entertainment. Just like Playstation?s Thousand Arms, Persona and Rhapsody , SNES?s Ogre Battle, N64?s Snowboard Kids, and the GBA?s Tactics Ogre, Shining Souland Robopon, Altus has created another game that doesn?t follow traditional gameplay, but manages to entertain the player with Riviera. This game, like the rest of Altus?s crafty lineup of hit titles, will likely spawn another cult following.
Riviera, like any good RPG, is built around a detailed story. Following Norse Mythology, the game takes place after the Ragnorok, a huge war between gods and demons. This war was leaving Asgard, the land in which the war was taking place, in ruin. As a desperation measure, the gods sacrificed themselves in order to mold warrior Grim Angels. Each of these Angels wielded a scared weapon called a Diviner. After the Angels defeated the demons, the gods left their remnants of power on the island of Riviera. 1,000 years have passed since this Ragnorok, but the demons are starting to regain their strength. Without the gods, Asgard wouldn?t be able to survive another full-scale war. As another last ditch effort, the Seven Magi, messengers of the gods, form a plan to destroy Riviera, in hopes of fully defeating the demons.
The player assumes the role of Ein, one of the Grim Angels. Unlike the rest of his kind, Ein had to sacrifice his wings to become a Grim Angel. This leaves Ein with a massive sense of confusion and amnesia. Luckily, Ein is paired up with an older and wiser Grim Angel named Ledah. On their quest to impel the Retribution, these two Grim Angels, bump into some trouble with a pack of fairies, causing Ein to venture on his own. Only when Ein journeys on his own does he realize that it is up to him to find his lost memories and friends.
The story certainly has its unique points, but this is not the only reason why Riviera holds different gaming experience. While the game is an RPG, it does not contain the usual RPG elements, typical for Atlus?s style. Instead of walking around the world map with the D-pad like in any Final Fantasy game, Riviera uses a more point and click style of gameplay. The player is presented with a list of options from a text-based menu, where all actions are taken place.
Movement is basically divided into two types: Move and Look. Move mode is the basic way of traversing the game?s environments. One simple tap of the D-pad will send the character in that direction. However, depending on that particular room, the player might only be able to move in one or two directions. As the game progresses, each dungeon becomes more complicated by offering more paths for the player to take.
Look mode is a little more complicated than Move mode. Look mode is activated by pressing ?A? while in Move mode. While in Look mode, the player can examine anything that is off the path of travel. Things like boxes and treasure chests can be opened and examined to find treasure or other secrets. However, Look mode can only be activated if TP (turn points) are in stock. TP is awarded for how well the player competes in battle. If all the enemies are killed quickly while taking little or no damage, more TP will be awarded. The more TP the player has, the more secret stuff they can find.
Occasionally, when opening a chest or finding some other object in Look mode, the player must partake in a sequential button pressing type mini-game. These mini-games often involve button mashing to avoid springing a harmful trap. Because this doesn?t happen every time a chest is examined, these mini-games keep the player on his toes as the player must always be aware of what could suddenly happen. These Look mode antics need to be fully taken advantage of to avoid missing helpful and rare items.
Besides the unusual movement system, the battle system has also been tweaked from stereotypical RPGs. Riviera does use a turn based battle system, but there are a few rules and restrictions that separate it from the rest. Only four items can be brought into a battle. This includes weapons, stat altering items, and healing objects. Plus, only certain characters can effectively wield specific items. This weapon sharing technique causes the player to deeply think about each battle. Also, each weapon can only be used a certain number of times before it breaks.
Leveling up is also quite usual because characters don?t really level up. Instead, they master certain weapons, causing them to become stronger offensively and defensively in battle. Once an item has been used a set number of times, that character will learn its Over Drive technique. This technique is a move that causes a lot more damage than a standard attack. But this system is flawed because each weapon breaks within a set number of uses.
Even though items break from battle experience, Riviera still encourages combat. Whenever there is no threat of an enemy, the player can participate in practice combat from the Select screen. While in this practice mode, weapons can be used without deterioration penalties. Plus, the game pairs you up against a fair opponent. With this, the player can level up at his leisure, but it still seems flawed as the player must take time out of the main quest to grow stronger for battles that will need to be fought anyway. And for some reason, the game starts with player?s hit points nearing the thousands. This is strange and makes the game over complicated by starting with big numbered hit points instead of starting within the first hundred.
Perhaps Riviera?s best feature is the graphics. Everything in the game has been hand drawn to create detailed environments, character models, and sprites. Backgrounds contain intense detail while each character sprite is well animated. Plus, there are very rare instances of lame pallet swapping. The only negative aspect of the graphics is in the number of backgrounds. While the game boasts many different environmental backgrounds, they can repeat a little too often especially when trying to level up and explore.
The musical score is well done and has been crafted with the right mood in mind. While the music is not as memorable as some SNES games, it still benefits the overall mood and feel of the adventure. Surprisingly, Riviera has voice snippets that sound amazing. It is rare to hear voice acting in a GBA game, let along good voice acting. Also, the game?s sound effects are quite bright and fluid. The clashing of swords and the voice acting set this game?s audio effects above most.
Riviera, like a lot of Atlus games, could be displayed as a sleeper hit. This RPG formula is not for everyone, but if you finished Tactics Ogre and Robopon, then Riviera should be next on your list. With multiple endings, unlockable content, and over 20 hours of gameplay, Riviera will please most GBA RPG fans. If you can work with the strange combat and traveling system, the quirky but limited combat system, and the weapon leveling up technique, Riviera will prove rewarding. Plus the visuals look fantastic, even though they tend to repeat a little bit.
Throughout the GBA?s life cycle, many great RPGs have graced the system. While there are better RPGs for the system, Riviera is a nice break from the traditional RPG field. If you are looking for an out of the ordinary RPG for your GBA, Riviera will definitely fit the bill. Atlus, once again, has continued their legacy of making entertaining but slightly different games.