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Let's Play (and snark at) Riviera: The Promised Land!
Shield Of Doom

[table of contents]
My Thoughts on Riviera: The Promised Land
So, now that the game's finished, I figured I should talk a bit about what I think of it. Obviously enough, I don't think Riviera a flawless masterpiece or anything like that, but I do enjoy it (otherwise I wouldn't have chosen it for my first liveblog).

Anyway, in the interest of not sounding increasingly pessimistic about the game as this goes on, I'm going to discuss the most problematic parts first, then go from there. That way, I get all the complaining out of my system before the time comes to hand down my final verdict (hopefully).

Now, you've probably already guessed that this means I'm going to talk about the story first, given my complaints about it in the main liveblog. It's a decent 16-bit plot, and it's certainly been done well before, but this is not one of the better examples of the formula.

The biggest issue with the plot is its lack of internal consistency. Past events are often forgotten entirely, or retconned into being completely different. Of course, the most obvious bit is Ein knowing Malice's name despite never actually learning it, but there are other examples. Witness Fia's assumption that she dragged Ein into her conflict, despite the fact that Ein was the one who forced himself into it. Also note the lack of any explanation related to Seth, who is supposed to be antagonistic despite being portrayed as a vegetable.

There's also the issue of characterization. Simply put, the entire party consists of one-dimensional stereotypes, and the other characters don't get off much better. The Elendians could have been interesting, if not for the fact that someone apparently forgot to actually give them personalities. What little characterization they get comes entirely from their professions. Chappi is a blacksmith, so of course his entire life revolves around making things for you. Soala's an apprentice mage, so naturally she's clumsy and lacks self-confidence. Ladie's a guard, and thus always speaks in an overly formal manner and is constantly talking about protecting Elendia.

Then you get to the ones like Meute and Rebecca, who literally have no personality.

The antagonists, at the very least, get off somewhat better. Sadly, this is largely because they're antagonists, and thus have to act in an antagonistic manner. Hector is the most blatant, with the sort of stock "bad guy" personality you'd think would have been completely forgotten about by now. Ledah, meanwhile, is supposed to have no personality, but ironically ends up with more characterization than the entirety of Elendia as a result. Simply put, there is a reason for him to be the way he is, and it is explained in-game. Even if they did a terrible job at writing it.

Really, though, I can't go on without talking about the utterly absurd number of dead-end plot points. Some of it's obvious (like Serene's revenge for the deaths of the Arcs, which is suddenly ignored by the time Malice returns), but there's plenty of stuff that honestly looks like it was supposed to be part of the plot, but was simply forgotten about. This, of course, includes stuff like the moon being an ancient superweapon, which led to little more than a cheap Darths and Droids reference. The bit with the book of Valdes, meanwhile, is just dumb.

For those of you who don't remember, the party found the book of Valdes in a library in Tetyth. Supposedly, it contained the entire foundation of magic in its modern form, which you'd think would be pretty important. Instead, though, it was completely ignored, along with everything else that happened at Tetyth.

This, of course, is before we get into the various dead-end ideas in the main plot itself. Seth, of course, is obvious, being a supposedly powerful and evil being that was sealed away, but who is never properly explained. What was she supposed to be, anyway? Why was she sealed? Was she some sort of demonic general during Ragnarok or what?

Also, what happened to the other six Magi? They're mentioned a couple of times, but they never actually matter. Did Hector pay them off or secretly murder them or something? If not, then why wouldn't they realize that one of their own has gone rogue? After all, if they are supposed to relay the gods' will, then they'd have the ability to confirm said will, right?

And then there's Malice. I understand that she supposedly has some sort of tragic backstory that's supposed to make her sympathetic, or something. Unfortunately, none of it is explained in the game itself, so instead of being a tragic antagonist who could've been a decent person under different circumstances, she instead comes across as a colossal idiot who should've realized that Hector was lying to her the moment he said she'd sacrificed her future.

I mean, come on!

Anyway, that aside, the plot also manages to have pacing issues simply due to the fact that it gets ignored for most of the game. Much of the game is spent in a generic adventure setting with occasional bits of terrible harem "comedy" thrown in. The game even goes so far as to have an entire chapter where nothing plot-relevant happens, despite the fact that it involves a fallen angel whose story could've easily been worked into the actual events of the game. Instead, though, we get the cringe-worthy bit with the Sage and Fool, which goes absolutely nowhere. Heck, the entire point it's supposed to be making (namely, that demons can be decent people) is made again immediately afterwards in a more concise manner with Randy in Mireno.

In short, the plot is a complete mess of poor characterization, plot hooks that go nowhere, and filler.

Now, to talk about the graphics. They are, simply put, mediocre. Area backgrounds, at least, are well-drawn and often quite pretty, but they're often overused to the point of inducing nausea. The most absurd bit, naturally, is Rosalina Island's amazing double moon, but it gets rather annoying when you move between several entirely identical screens, with the occasional treasure chest or other examinable object clumsily pasted in.

(Worth noting about that double moon, by the way, is that it appears on the fountain screen. The fountain, I should note, uses a unique background not found anywhere else, so there's no reason that it couldn't have the moonlight coming from the correct side of the screen.)

There's also the issue of the game's sprite work, which is, in a word, terrible. Several characters have incorrect features on their sprites, which is most noticeable with Ursula and Ein but does appear elsewhere. This is relatively excusable for older versions of the game (after all, the original Wonderswan version did have rather crappy character art, and colour and design issues on sprites are commonplace even on the GBA), but on the PSP, it's just inexcusable. There is no reason that they couldn't go back and fix issues like Ein's hair being deep blue or Ursula wearing a mass of seaweed, but instead they just smoothed out the textures to make it look less pixelly and called it a day.

(At the very least, Sting learned their lesson when the time came to port Yggdra Union, and actually did go back and fix things like Yggdra's nonexistent skirt for the PSP version. So, that's a point for them for learning.)

Even more problematic are battle animations. Riviera seems to be under the impression that it can pull of impressive battle animations of the sort other 32-bit RPGs get away with, and, unfortunately, it can't. Many attacks contain stupidly long delays as characters pose dramatically with no other animation. It gets particularly absurd with stuff like Seth-Rah's Break Out, which has a pause that last about five seconds in the middle of it where nothing happens. It just poses for a bit, assuming that doing so makes it look cool. Instead, it just looks awkward.

By contrast, the character art itself is actually pretty good. The character designs, while somewhat...odd at times (Ursula's bandages come to mind) are good enough, and the portraits for each character are well-made. The various full-screen images that appear are also quite nice, too, and they do a good job of adding some personality to the game (though they do have a few issues—the scene where Ursula recharges Ein's Diviner, for instance, looks at first like it's showing Ein getting hit in the crotch with a lightning bolt).

Now, the audio is pretty good, especially with the music, but it does have one rather significant flaw that's only found in the PSP version: it's fully voiced. Now, no matter how good your voice actors are, they're definitely going to become highly annoying if every single line of dialogue is voiced. This even includes tutorials and the generic lines for random treasure chests, which get old very fast. Also quite aggravating are the lines for when characters use certain items, which in some cases always appear. No, Fia, I don't want to hear you telling your sword to fly like a bird every time you swing it. It just doesn't work.

The voice acting itself is, as is often the case, merely sufficient. Neither voice set has any particularly good or bad voices, though I certainly prefer the English voices, if only to avoid Japanese Ein's total failure to have a male-sounding voice and Japanese Serene's simply unfitting voice. Having characters say something other than "Skill Up" when they learn new Over Skills is nice, too.

Now, for the gameplay. Honestly, I don't know why, but this is actually my favourite part of the game. It certainly has its issues, but I do still enjoy it.

Of course, exploration should be explained first, because it has the biggest issues. As you might have noticed, this game isn't big on things like "returning to previous dungeons", "having side areas to find", or "giving the player any sort of freedom". In fact, the vast majority of areas consist entirely of a straight line to walk across, with little of interest along the way. It feels more like an old-school beat-'em-up than any other RPG I've ever played.

This isn't helped by the often absurd placement of hidden items. You'll note, for example, that I had to intentionally screw up the ankh puzzle in Mireno to avoid being shafted for rapiers and books in the endgame. You'll also note that the option that led to getting the best spear in the game was the least sane of the ones I was offered.

Battles are more interesting, for one simple reason: they make you think. Forcing you to go with the game's chosen targets for your attacks seems like it should be an issue, but somehow, it works. At the very least, it makes battles more interesting than the standard "hit Attack with everyone to win" issue many JRPGs have.

The big problem with the battle system, of course, is the way experience works. Obviously, a system where your stats are based around your skills seems like it should decrease the amount of grinding you need to do. Unfortunately, this backfires simply because the only effective levels of mastery for an item are "none" and "full". Furthermore, you can't actually use any new items you get effectively unless you master them, and gaining new items requires that you finish battles with sufficiently powerful Over Skills. The end result is that you're forced to master every weapon you come across so you can use them all effectively to remain competitive.

This leads to major issues with the game's difficulty curve. You see, this training is constantly giving you higher stats, and these higher stats allow you to fight much more effectively. As a result, enemies are often unable to do more than a few dozen points of damage to you, and they frequently die to a single Over Skill. The problem does get better near the end of the game, but not by much, and only because you run out of stuff to master.

Just to give you an idea of what this means: the only song I don't have unlocked in the game's sound test is the game over music.

The last big issue with the game is how unfriendly it is to completionists. You often have to do things in a sub-optimal manner in order to get items you wouldn't get normally (like the Sword Hilt, or Reiche's quests). You also need to use every item with every character to light up skills in the Item Manual, even if the skills are just the token "Throw" options nonproficient characters get. There's also images that only appear if you choose very specific dialogue options, and of course you can't choose your ending without going through almost the entire game choosing the right choices, and overall it's not worth bothering with.

Despite these issues, I can honestly say that I like this game. I'm not sure what it is that's so charming about it, but there's definitely something that makes this game entertaining. Overall, I'd say it's worth playing at least once.

Lastly, there's two things I have to say. First, I forgot to mention what the Black Choker does after the second Malice fight because I didn't get it, so I'll say what it does here. Any of the girls can wear it to raise their Strength and Magic by 25 each. Ein, meanwhile, will just throw it at a random enemy for exactly one point of damage. At a point when your enemies have HP counts in the low thousands.

The second thing is this. Way back at the start of this liveblog, I compared this game to Unlimited Saga. By now, you're probably wondering why I did that, given how different the two games are. Well, the answer is that Riviera feels like it's trying to emulate a tabletop RPG campaign, which was one of the goals that Unlimited Saga was created with. Between the various unresolved plot hooks, the generic plot, and the randomly selected loot, Riviera does a better job, even if it didn't mean it.

That concludes my liveblog of Riviera: The Promised Land. In the future I night come back and do the bonus chapter or something, but for now I'm done. I did enjoy working on this, and I intend to do another liveblog in the near future. I can say with absolute certainty that it will be totally unrelated to Dept. Heaven, but for now, that's all I'm saying.

Edit: One more thing before I put this to rest. I wrote this for a few cheap laughs, but maybe someone will find it somewhat entertaining.

Riviera: The Short Version, or: Quack Experimental Plot Summary Ecthel Thaga

Chapter 1: A Whole Bunch of Game Mechanics are Explained in a Really Heavy-Handed Way

Chapter 2: We're Still In Tutorial Land

(Later)

Chapter 3: The Amazing Magic Tree

(At Nelde)

Chapter 4: Absolutely Nothing Plot-Relevant Happens

(Later, at Tetyth)

Chapter 5: The Local Puzzle is Solved by Metagaming

(Mireno-ward the party goes!)

Chapter 6: The Plot Returns From Hiatus

(Within Yggdrasil)

Chapter 7: The Game Ends

(Just skipping the Elendia stuff this time around)

Graphics by some people who were too drunk to care.

Character designs by someone who wasn't.

Music by a really awesome guy who deserves lots of credit.

Story by Dory from Finding Nemo.

There. Now I'm really done.
25th Jun '11 5:50:12 AM flag for mods
comments
Just so you know, yeah, I read the whole thing and also Didja Redo's LP. And my feelings about this game are the same as yours: it was a good time, but with several disappointing moments. Thanks for the liveblog!
kanbabrif 10th Jul 11
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