Written by  :  blefuscu (462)
Written on  :  Dec 16, 2008
Platform  :  PSP
Rating  :  3.5 Stars3.5 Stars3.5 Stars3.5 Stars3.5 Stars

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RPG Randomness and Restrictions

The Good

Riviera is full of dichotomies. It is certainly a very well done game, but it has its quirks. This is only my second console RPG game -- my background is decades of PC and tabletop RPGing -- and I have to say I enjoyed most of it.

To start with some of game's positive aspects, the most obvious area is the interpretation of character advancement. It's a departure from traditional RPG leveling techniques in that your characters advance in power/abilities when the use weapons and equipment (they don't even have to be successful in the usage) which they have affinities for -- rather than, say, defeating monsters or completing a quest.

In that light, there is also a good mix of strategy involved in choosing the most useful characters and equipment for each battle based on the enemies' strengths and weaknesses.

The visual presentation is also quite pleasing -- all areas that you travel through are beautifully drawn, as well as the cutscenes, which feature high quality manga (I hesitate to say anime since it's not animated). Additionally, the special attack graphics are creative and worth the effort to "save up" for in battles in regards to gameplay and eye candy effects.

I quite enjoyed the music, and luckily that was the case as you can't turn it off (separate from the main volume)! Sound quality and voice acting were also polished and enjoyable.

Lastly, Riviera's story and plot were entertaining and engaging enough to keep me interested. It's a very basic story with many cliched elements borrowed from other traditional mythologies that is awkward at times, yet for some reason seems to work.

The relationship metagame with your party members (this is a teenage boy's dream -- your main character is the only male) was also fun, as it determines what ending you receive. To be more precise, the endgame battle/story is always the same except for a small detail, it's just a the final relationship story is different. It adds a bit to the strategy as it is determined mainly by combat actions you make, not only dialogue choices

The Bad

Unfortunately, there really isn't much of an RPG here, at least not in the traditional sense. Besides a few rare occurrences -- and even those situations there's really only one "right" response -- and your building of the relationships, the only meaningful choices you make are what equipment and characters to bring to each battle.

The graphics, while nice, are a bit awkward as the environments are wonderful hand drawings, but the characters are very generic and dull pixel sprites that don't seem to be the same art style/color palette as the backgrounds. This may be due to the fact that it's a 5-year old Game Boy product ported to the PSP.

Besides the music issue I mentioned earlier, the complaint I have with the sounds is the male voice acting -- while done well, they were all cast with older/middle-aged sounding men but their onscreen characters look like teenagers. This again may be due to the manga style, which I am not familiar with.

By far the most irksome aspect of the game is also related directly to its uniqueness -- the item/advancement system. It breaks down because the treasure you find is all randomized, so unless you are willing to reload games constantly (speaking of which, you can't load a game without quitting completely) before opening chests, you could end up with all of the same piece of equipment that only advances one or two party members for that entire stage. The savegames are also console-style, in that you can only save at the beginning of a stage (but luckily most stages are not that large).

To add more insult to the injury, the treasure chests are all trapped, and the trap avoidance is one of four twitch/reflex minigames. The make matters even worse, you have only one chance, and if you fail, you take PERMANENT hit point loss for everyone in the party! The big problem here is that the trap caused hit point losses are percentage based (usually 10%), whereas your advancement hit point gains are fixed. So... starting midgame when your total HP is 500+, you potentially lose more from traps than what you can gain from equipment advancement, which is in the 20-40 HP range, and only affects an individual.

But wait, there's more!? When you fail to avoid/disarm traps, 50% of them destroy the equipment completely. This was just ridiculous.

The randomness also applies in battles. It's normal to expect your attacks to not always hit, and also that the damage dealt would be somewhat randomized. But Riviera takes it to another level, where often you don't even know which enemy you will hit with your attacks, which can really crimp your strategies.

The Bottom Line

Despite all the bizarre design choices, this is still a fun game. For one thing, it's quite forgiving even if you don't take the time to max our your characters' abilities (i.e. major boss fights can be retired if you get your butt kicked -- the boss becomes weaker and as a bonus, you get back all the used equipment from the initial battle). That's not to say the game isn't challenging; I would rate it on a moderate level that's quite tolerable even for those impatient with console style RPGs.

Riviera is worth a try for fans of the genre and a good run for your money (took me a good 30-40hrs including all the reloading tedium to get the right equipment). Even though there's supposedly some replay value here to see all the different relationship endings, all the battles are the same so it's only for the diehard fans.

Lastly, this would be considered a fixed/linear adventure game in my book with some trivial RPG elements, but that doesn't make it any less appealing.