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Video Game / Riven

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Thank God you've returned. I need your help. There's a great deal of history that you should know, but I'm afraid that... I must continue my writing. Here. Most of what you'll need to know is in there. Keep it well hidden. For reasons you'll discover, I can't send you to Riven with a way out, but I can give you this. It appears to be a Linking Book, back here to D'ni, but it's actually a one-man prison. You'll need it, I'm afraid, to capture Gehn. Once you've found Catherine, signal me, and I'll come with a Linking Book to bring us back. There's also a chance, if all goes well, that I might be able to get you back to the place that you came from.
Atrus, explaining the plan to the Player Character in the intro.

Fully titled Riven: The Sequel to Myst, a 1997 PC-Mac game that is the sequel to the world-famous PC-Mac game Myst. The story of Riven continues exactly where Myst left off.

In the previous game, a man named Atrus is part of a splintered civilization called the "D'ni" (pronounced "Duh-NEE"), who have the ability to create portals to alternate realities within special books, simply by writing the description of the reality in the book. Atrus was trapped in a stone hall prison by his two twisted and evil sons, who in turn trapped themselves in separate Ages by accident. However, an unknown character only known later as "The Stranger" appeared on Atrus' home age of Myst. The Stranger pieced together the clues of what happened on the island of Myst, and rescued Atrus by freeing him from his stone prison.


But now Atrus's wife Catherine has been trapped on the Age of Riven by their sons. What's worse is that the Age was created and is ruled over by Atrus' twisted and deluded father Gehn, who sees himself as a god, and who has now imprisoned Catherine.

At the beginning of the game, you meet Atrus again who assigns you to the age of Riven with the goal to capture Gehn in a book that was specifically designed for this task, and to rescue Catherine. Atrus opens the descriptive book to Riven and it soon becomes apparent that Riven is unlike the previous ages you have visited. The gateway image is badly distorted and it turns out Atrus is stuck writing in corrections to Riven's book to delay Armageddon due to Gehn's abysmal writing skills.

The instant you link to Riven, you trigger a trap and become stuck in a booth behind bars, and lose your trap book after a nearby guard demands it. The guard in turn ends up being hit by a tranquilizer dart and falls asleep. A rebel scout takes the trap book, frees you, and runs off. Now, stuck in Riven without your trap book, you must regain the trap book and find a way to lead Gehn into it. With Gehn safely in the prison (and Catherine free), you must then signal Atrus who will come with a linking book to bring everyone back home.


A fan-made Updated Re-release is in the works to recreate the game in a fully 3D engine, called The Starry Expanse Project. Unlike many large-scale fan works, this one has the blessing and cooperation of the original creators, so it has a better than average chance of eventually being released.

This game provides examples of:

  • A God Am I: Most people who write linking books believe the Ages to which they link already exist, and they are simply providing a way to access them. Gehn, however, believes that the act of writing a linking book actually creates that Age out of whole cloth. Therefore, since he wrote Riven, he believes himself to be its god. The stained glass spyholes in the pentagonal "Gate Room" make this painfully clear.
  • Alien Geometries:
    • The Star Fissure. Gehn mentions in one of his journals that he doesn't understand how a cleft in a rock leads to a field of stars. When the player enters the Fissure in the finale of the game (or for one of the bad endings) it is revealed from the other side as a crack in a swirling black cloud, floating in the middle of a starry expanse.
    • One piece of evidence that Gehn wrote a link to an unstable age is a continuity error on Survey Island. The golden elevator installed here travels a considerable distance up/down, but on each floor, you are always about 10 - meters above sea level. This anomaly alone may be a large portion of the instability on Riven. (Maybe the heat-hating bacteria in the waters of Riven have something to do with this.)
  • Air-Vent Passageway: The Stranger uses such a way to access one of Gehn's offices and it appears to be high off the ground implying some acrobatics.
  • All There in the Manual - A lot of the backstory and character motivation is explained in the prequel novel The Book of Atrus, which is never fully explained in the game. The novel also acts a prequel to Myst, in that it ends with Atrus jumping into the Star Fissure with the Myst book and linking himself to safety — the last entry in his journal ends with the very same monologue that opens Myst.
  • And I Must Scream: Gehn is trapped forever in "the dark void of the Link" if you do things right.
  • Arc Number: 5. Too many examples to list, but most notably the title (Riven has five letters, the full title has five words, the game in its original format came on 5 discs, and the V is made prominent.) Its use is prominent because Gehn believed 5 was the important number in D'ni civilization. It wasn't. (See Ignored Epiphany below.)
  • Artifact Title: Myst is only mentioned on its game box, in the subtitle "The Sequel to Myst", as Myst Island is otherwise nowhere to be seen in this game. This subtitle does not appear in the game itself.
  • Artistic License – Physics: After smashing the plate of glass in the iron plating covering the Star Fissure, the vacuum pressure of space manages to bend and suck in all of the metal surrounding it…but leaves the player and all other characters around the Fissure standing upright with only some wind blowing their clothes around. Then again, this is an unstable age we're talking about.
  • Beautiful Void: Played with compared to the previous game. It's obvious that there are people living on Riven, and some of them are keeping careful watch on what you are doing, but all of them, for various reasons, avoid direct contact.
  • Bilingual Bonus: In a fictional language no less. When the player first arrives in Riven, they're confronted by a native guard who addresses them in an unknown language: "Tahgemah b'soo rekoah." He's expecting Atrus, so he's trying to communicate in broken D'ni. What he's trying to say is "Tahgemah b'zoo ah rekor." - "Give me the [linking] book [right now]!"
  • Bittersweet Ending: Gehn is trapped and the people of the Age freed in Tay, the Stranger goes home, and Atrus and Catherine are reunited. But the Age of Riven itself dies, along with all of its animals, and it seems unlikely at that point that the Stranger and Atrus' family will meet again.
  • Black Comedy: Multiple:
    • The morbid children's game in the school.
    • And the fact that Gehn uses juiced frogs as...inspiration in his writing.
  • Bookends: The good ending has dialogue that directly mirrors the opening to Myst.
    • "The Age of Riven is closed forever, but the people of Riven are free. And now, I am at rest - understanding that in Books, and Ages, and life, the ending can never truly be written."
  • Cardboard Prison: After Catherine is fooled by Sirrus and Achenar into linking to Riven, she is imprisoned just as Gehn because, barring the intervention of Atrus, there's no linking book to leave the age. However, by the time the events of the game are set in motion, both Catherine and Gehn have successfully written another functional age to seek refuge into from the impending collapse of Riven, even though they are still trapped as much as before because the destruction of Riven would mean the loss of any descriptive book created there, and at that point Atrus would never be able to reach them again.
  • Chekhov's Gun: The telescope is one of the very first things you encounter. Near the end of the game, you figure out how to open the latch underneath it and remove the safeties to break the glass between Riven and the Star Fissure, allowing you to escape from Riven and beat the game.
  • Circle of Standing Stones: There's a circle of stones with animal symbols on them on Jungle Island. The stones must be pushed into the ground in a specific order to access the Age of the Moiety, Tay.
  • Cool Chair: Gehn has many types of chairs around Riven, each of them fitted with buttons or levers for one purpose or another.
  • Covers Always Lie: The Age of Tay is shown on the box art, but in-game, your only exploration of it is the shoreline, and a small prison cell, where you can look out into the Age's inner village, but never explore it.
  • Crazy-Prepared: Gehn prepares against people who might link into his Ages with special holding cages. There's the one you find yourself in at the beginning of the game, and there's also the one in Age 233.
    • On a larger scale, Gehn wrote Riven (and every other Age he ever Wrote to) to contain the technology, manpower and raw materials to allow him to produce more Linking Books, just in case he ever found himself trapped in an Age without a book to get out.
  • Death Glare: Gehn does this when he becomes annoyed or outraged by you. Make some specific choices in the game and he stares you down and will promptly shoot you with his musket, leading to a bad ending. Gehn does not tolerate being pranked away from his geology on age 233.
    "Alright then, once, more...The only path open to you now is through this book, take it!"
  • Developers' Foresight: Some of the details in the game can really go unnoticed. For example, on Jungle Island, knocking on the one accessible village door five times will rouse a response (albeit a frightened one) from the house's occupant.
    • The combination to the telescope hatch is found in Catherine's journal, which you pick up on Tay, and if you use it and trigger the ending as soon as you get it, Gehn shoots both you and Atrus. However, if you take that code back in time via an earlier saved game, another version of the ending is played where nobody turns up.
  • The End of the World as We Know It: When you get a special hatch combination, access to a steam-powered activation lever, and the ability to lower a telescope too much, you can trigger this. However, there is only one correct time when you're supposed to do it.
  • Even Evil Has Loved Ones: The backstory in Myst: The Book of Atrus has Gehn truly grieving the loss of his wife. Not to mention his other diary in-game, which you find after trapping him, next to a recording and a photo of her.
    It's late and I cannot sleep.
  • Everything's Better with Spinning: The pentagonal rotating room.
    • Gehn's fire marble domes spin as an external security measure, unlocked by timing its color symbol with a viewer.
  • Extradimensional Emergency Exit: You end up having to make use a rare non-linking book example of this in the finale: with the eponymous Age collapsing around you without constant repairs and the linking book back to D'Ni having fallen into the void, you take a dive into the Star Fissure - thus following the path of the Myst book all the way back to your home world.
  • Fission Mailed:
    • The very second you arrive in Riven, you're caught in a trap, then approached by one of Gehn's hapless guards who takes the trap book that you need to capture Gehn. Luckily, a member of La Résistance happens to be in the area and frees you.
    • If you enter the trap book when Gehn asks you to, the screen goes black. And stays black for the better part of a minute before something happens. The development team apparently wanted to make it longer, but the testers thought their computers had crashed.
  • Foreign Ruling Class: Gehn is a dictator who forces the people of Riven to worship him as a God and learn his language, D'ni, or else they get fed to a whale-shark hybrid called a wahrk.
  • Gaia's Lament: A very small-scale example. It's difficult not to see parallels to islands on Earth that were devastated by a combination of human exploitation and external changes such as climate shifts.
  • Go Back to the Source: The Fissure on Temple Island.
  • God Guise: One of the best examples out there.
  • Guide Dang It!: Multiple:
    • Riven in general is seen as much harder (and, in some cases, more obtuse) than Myst, so there are several spots in the game that could qualify. The most well-known, however, is the notorious "Waffle Iron" puzzle, where the player must correctly place five coloured marbles on a 25x25 grid, with very little indication as to what the marbles or the grid represent. And yes, the colour of the marbles does matter, yielding a total of 93,850,000,000,000 (that's ninety-three trillion eight-hundred-fifty billion) combinations, according to the behind-the-scenes coffee-table-book "from Myst to Riven: the Creations and Inspirations".
    • Listening to various animals throughout the game and remembering their noises is required. Two sea-dwelling animals are particularly annoying because if you approach them too quickly, they run without making the noise you need to hear. In order to hear them properly, you have to wait until their animation finishes before moving forward.

      In this case, this can be mostly avoided. You need five specific animal noises to figure out a code based on stones resembling animals. But when finding five stones that give away the noises you are looking for, you can also see shapes that resemble the animals. That leaves you with only finding the one remaining animal.
    • Book Assembly Island throws a curve ball by relying upon the player noticing the only doors that don't close automatically like most doors. Given that this game doesn't have full 3D exploration to let you notice the passages behind the open doors, this may be surprisingly easy to overlook because no other doors, besides one more close by, have this feature.
  • I Did What I Had to Do: Gehn.
  • I Have No Son!: In the bad ending where Atrus is signaled before trapping Gehn.
    Atrus: Father.
    Gehn: I am no longer your father because you are no longer my son! *shoots Atrus*
  • Ignored Epiphany: Gehn is obsessed with thinking the number 5 is the key to making linking books... even though all the physical evidence and Gehn's own research points to six as the true number. And if that isn't enough, the D'ni numbering system is base 25, but Gehn didn't know that much about the D'ni.
  • It's a Wonderful Failure / Multiple Endings: Many. Some involve Nonstandard Game Overs.
    • Opening the Star Fissure before going to Tay: falling into the fissure with an immediate Non Standard Game Over. It should be noted that technically this would produce a happy ending for the player character as they are returned to their home, as they are in the canon ending.
    • Opening the Star Fissure after going to Tay but before trapping Gehn: Atrus shows up but is shot (along with the player) by Gehn.
    • Opening the Star Fissure after trapping Gehn but before rescuing Catherine: Atrus shows up but is dismayed to be without Catherine. His closing monologue mourns her unknown fate, trapped in Riven.
    • Refusing to use the prison book when offered by Gehn three times: Gehn shoots the player out of distrust/frustration from wasting his time for doing research.
    • Using the prison book on Riven: Gehn uses one of his minions to free the player from the book (he wants to test it to see if it is a trap), then shoots them, nonchalantly monologuing about your "brilliant idea to trap yourself in the book", while the poison from the dart kills them.
    Gehn: My one wish before I die, would be to see [Atrus] assume some responsibility for his actions. Perhaps it will happen some day. In the meantime, you have my sympathies. *screen goes completely black*
    • Having your first meeting with Gehn without possessing the prison book, then recovering it, only to trap yourself in it on Riven. Similar to the ending above, but with new dialog.
    Gehn: I see you found the book. Thank you for returning it to me. It seems however circumstances have changed. *Gehn shoots you*.
    • Using the prison book on Riven or Age 233 after Gehn is trapped in it: Gehn is released, stunned at your stupidity, gloatingly thanking the player before closing the book for good.
    • Using the prison book on Tay after Gehn is trapped in it: The same speech, but Gehn is now holding his rifle, intent on killing off the rebels in their home age.
  • Late-Arrival Spoiler: Did you play this game before reading Book of Atrus? Guess what: You've got the ending spoiled.
  • La Résistance: The Moiety.
  • Leitmotif: Gehn's appears primarily as a figure on the oboe and is teased throughout the entirety of the game (starting, believe it or not, with Cyan's Vanity Plate at the very beginning). The full song isn't heard until the player meets Gehn.
    • In fact, it's implied that the motif originates with Gehn himself — there's an oboe-like wind instrument in his private quarters, and a music player in his lab with a recording of him playing it.
  • Loads and Loads of Loading: A given, considering the original came on multiple CDs, which the player had to swap mid-game whenever travelling to a different island. Or, in one case, the other half of the same island. This is obviously fixed in the DVD-ROM, Steam and releases. Another trick is to copy the contents of the 5 CD's into the Riven installation directory (if your version is this edition), and alter the configuration file to tell the game to read the files there.
  • Lock and Key Puzzle:
    • The fire marble press requires you to place up to six colored marbles into a 25x25 grid. The number of combinations sits in the range of quadrillions. Technically, any entry with a specific marble and any other marble in their correct positions will grant access to the final stretch of the game, but that hardly makes a brute-force approach any more practical.
      • Knowing a few more of the criteria does narrow the number of possible combinations down from quadrillions to a "mere" 93 trillion and 850 billion possibilities.
    • The animal puzzle has 6,375,600 possible codes (although it's not hard to guess the fifth animal). This is made harder by the fact that some of the clues are encountered out of context, and can only be put together by process of elimination, or a lot of guessing (or resorting to Guide Dang It!).
    • There are 3125 possible codes to unlock the hatch beneath the fissure periscope. The combination is randomized when you begin a new game.
    • There are 53,130 possible codes to unlock the book domes. This combination is also randomized.
    • There are 243 possible codes to unlock Catherine's prison. This combination is also randomized.
  • Never Say "Die": Zigzagged, Atrus assigns you to "capture" Gehn in a prison book but this is to keep The Stranger heroic rather than outright hiring them as hitman, even if the prison book is a similar end result. However, Gehn is very willing to kill villagers and will even explicitly shoot you if your false pretenses are revealed or he becomes upset with you.
  • Nintendo Hard: It's generally regarded to be the hardest in the series, with many clues to the few puzzles scattered across the game world, and integrated into it, rather than signposted as clues.
  • Nothing Is Scarier: Searching through Gehn's study, mainly if you're a first time player expecting Gehn to walk in on you at any second. Bonus points that both his laboratory on Crater Island and his office on 233 have a very unique type of ambient wind sound effect in the background.
  • Oddball in the Series: This is the only game in the series to predominantly take place across one main age instead of regularly flipping between multiple. It is also the only one to deal with Atrus's ancestry instead of his descendents.
  • One-Word Title: As The Place where the game takes place.
  • Palmtree Panic: Noticable first on Temple Island where most of the literal palmtrees reside. There's even Riven's version of a shark, the wahrk, in Survey Island's aquarium and a lush beach on Jungle Island further adds to the theme.
  • The Place: The game's title refers to the name of the Age that 90% of the game is spent in, Riven.
  • Playing Gertrude: Rand Miller as Atrus. To sound older, he attempted to affect a weary sounding voice in Myst and Riven. He reverted to his more natural voice for Exile and Revelation.
  • Point of No Return: At the end, when Catherine is freed. She detours through Gehn's 233rd Age and rips out the page containing the linking panel of four of Gehn's five Riven books, leaving only the Temple Island intact. Similarly, the catwalk in the dome and Mag Lev on the island are locked out as well.
  • Press X to Die: Using the Trap Book from your inventory at any point in Riven nets you a bad ending. There is one point where you do have to use it, but then it's being offered to you by Gehn and it isn't in your possession.
  • Reality-Writing Book: The premise of the game.
  • Ridiculously Cute Critter: The "ytram" frog.
  • Saving the World with Art: Or rather the Art. The world of Riven is unstable and Atrus staves off its collapse by frantically writing small changes into its book in hope of stabilizing it. Riven ultimately falls apart anyway, but he keeps it intact long enough for its people to escape.
  • Scenery Porn: Duh. But unlike the original Myst this game still looks gorgeous. Riven has received praise for aging well with its photo realistic scenes, the main limitation being that the scenes are rendered only in standard definition.
    • Scenery Gorn: It's an incredibly beautiful and detailed game, depicting a world that is literally falling apart and stripped of almost all its natural resources, leaving nothing but a bunch of jagged rocks.
  • Schmuck Bait: Riven presents some interesting twists on the trope. There are at least two major pieces of Schmuck Bait in the game, and by the time you've found them, you should have figured out why they're dangerous. And yet, in order to win the game, you must use them anyway.
  • Sequel Hook: Before Atrus links away, he says "Perhaps we'll meet again someday".
  • Signs of the End Times: Gehn has been monitoring the Age's decay during his imprisonment, and wrote "The end of this world is near" in D'ni, along the perimeter of the Golden Dome.
  • Shoddy Knockoff Product: In universe, Gehn's descriptive books to ages are compromised by poor grasp of "The Art", enabling links to unstable worlds that eventually collapse. His books also require clunky external power sources. Poor quality book materials may be partly to blame, but Gehn's poor writing creates many of the problems. This is assuming a book even works in the first place. The 233'rd age was Gehn's first relatively successful book since writing Riven, though he still had a ways to go in learning The Art since his destination is very desolate and harsh, barely suitable for his new office.

    Catharine writes the book for the age of Tay by making corrections to one of Gehn's "dead" books but the book still needs some power due to low quality materials. She specified a particular power crystal in the age description so that she could eliminate the need to use Gehn's Fire Marble Domes after the first link-in and have a power source for books that is extremely portable.
  • Steampunk: Since he doesn't have the materials for proper linking books, Gehn's Riven-made linking books are literally powered by steam.
  • Surprisingly Realistic Outcome: As an important plot point, no less. Because Gehn taught himself the Art of writing ages, as a result his understanding of it is flawed. This is why Riven is falling apart at the seams and Atrus has to make edits to the Riven descriptive book to keep it going while the Player Character is in there.
  • Too Dumb to Live: In one of the the bad endings caused by a blatant act of stupidity, you used the prison book with Gehn trapped in it, and set him free, taking his place in the book. Gehn wonders why exactly you released him (when you had him at your mercy), and gloatingly congratulates you for your act of self sacrifice.
  • Tree Top Town: The village in the Moiety Age, situated in the middle of a giant tree, as seen on the cover art. There used to be a similar tree on Riven where Catherine's prison is now, but Gehn had it cut down.
  • Video Game Cruelty Potential: There are a few opportunities to be a dick. You are punished for one instance.
    • If you lower the Star Fissure telescope to breach Riven's reality, before capturing Gehn but after regaining the prison book, you can signal Atrus early. Congratulations, you got Gehn's attention, causing him appear and shoot Atrus dead. He takes his linking book and you get shot too.
    • You can do the same as above, capturing Gehn but ignoring Catherine's rescue. How does it feel to condemn Atrus to the futile task of keeping Riven stable, with his wife trapped in Riven?
    • You can guess the combination code to the star fissure, or load an earlier save to input the code, before regaining your prison book. Then you automatically jump into the fissure and chicken out of your mission.
  • "Well Done, Son!" Guy: There's a bit of dysfunction between Atrus and his father...
  • Words Do Not Make The Magic: Gehn tries to use the D'ni art of writing linking books without really understanding the full effects of the phrases that he uses to write them, resulting in links to unstable worlds. This causes the ever-looming threat of Riven falling apart during the player's attempt to rescue Catherine, as well as the conflict in the novel Myst: The Book of Atrus.
  • World Tree: The Riven Age was once dominated by a great tree, which the people worshipped, but Gehn's faulty writing caused it to die and he cut it down. When Catherine wrote a new Age for the Moiety, it was dominated by a similar tree.
  • Yet Another Stupid Death: There are multiple ways to proverbially Press X to Die. For example, use the trap book right after regaining it, and a pair of Moiety people get ready to burn the book, possibly discussing your stupidity for trapping yourself in it.

Alternative Title(s): Riven The Sequel To Myst