Sunday, October 17, 2010

Remake of a Remake - Riviera: The Promised Land

Expect a post on Capcom's Devil May Cry from me soon. I want to make it a little further in the game before writing up my thoughts on it, but rest assured I do have plenty to say about Dante's adventures, and not all of it good.

While I'm plodding through that, however, I decided to delve into my handheld collection to help pass the time at work. My PSP library being less than 10 games deep, I figured now was as good a time as any to start whittling away at it, and I began my endeavor with Riviera: The Promised Land. This little jewel was originally a GameBoy Advance title by developer Sting, ported over to the PSP with the help of the good folks at Atlus.

They should probably just change their name to "Niche."

I picked this one up right after taking the LSAT in June.  It was a grueling test, and when I got out of the exam room I felt I needed to reward myself somehow.  Fortunately, there was a GameStop on the way home, and I stopped in to find this on the shelves.  It was an impulse buy; the artwork on the cover looked good, I recognized the company that published it, and it was an RPG.  That was enough for me.  Unfortunately, being the impulse buy it was, it was destined to sit on the shelf while I occupied myself with Pokemon: HeartGold  By the time I'd gotten bored with that, Riviera's existence had been all but forgotten.  Until I decided to bring my PSP to work with me one day, and this was the lucky title I popped in.

Let me say right off the bat that I have kind of fallen in love with this game. It's a charming little classic RPG with some distinct characteristics that make it unique. The sprites are colorful and the in-game animation well done, giving it a very vibrant feel which makes the game easy to get into. Stylized animation and voice acting for every line give the impression of playing through an anime.  What really shocked me, however, was the first 90 seconds of the initial tutorial battle of the game.  I was paralyzed with inaction while I tried to figure out how I was supposed to move closer to the monster so I could hit it.  That's right - after Final Fantasy XII, Arc the Lad, Devil May Cry, Monster Hunter, and all the other games I've played recently, I forgot how classic turn-based RPGs work.

Completely beyond me.

In my first attempt to play this game, my PSP died on me about fifteen minutes in.  This was actually my faithful handheld system looking out for me, as I hadn't yet saved my game and thus had to start over from the beginning - giving me the opportunity to switch the language voiceovers from English to Japanese.  Take my advice if you pick this one up and do the same - don't even play around with the English, the voice work on this one shows about as much effort as a fat guy who can't find the remote.  He doesn't want to watch The Home Shopping Network, but dammit, the TV is all the way across the room and he's not walking all the way over there.  

Although getting right down to it, the Japanese voices aren't much better, just more tolerable because (unless you speak Japanese) you can't understand enough to realize how much they're phoning it in.  Anyway.
You play as Ein (or Ecthel, in the original Japanese), a Grim Angel of Asgard.  It's the job of the Grim Angels to get rid of the demons which plague the Golden Realm, because apparently Thor can't be bothered for something so trivial as the coming of Ragnarok.

"Look man, whatever."
Accompanied by fellow Grim Angel Ledah and his talking cat, Rose, Ein sets out to rid Asgard of demons by destroying Riviera, which the demons are reported to have taken over.  Occasionally, a veiled guy in black robes named Hector shows up to remind them their job is to slaughter everything.  It was around this time that I got the impression these Asgardians might not be on the up-and-up.

So before long, Ein and Ledah encounter a mysterious woman with great power who speaks in the Asgardian language.  She tries to stop you from entering Riviera, but you beat the monster she summons only to find that she herself is untouchable.  Ein is struck with some kind of magic whammy, and the next thing he knows he's waking up in the house of two girls he's never seen before, with no recollection of who he is or how he got there.  Whether this all actually happened or the entire first chapter is supposed to be some kind of metaphor for the lead designer's bachelor party is anyone's guess, but this is where the story really begins.

Leading cause of magical adventures.

Ein finds himself in Riviera, brought there by the mysterious woman, who turns out to be a powerful entity named Ursula.  Specifically, he's in the town of Elendria, which is populated almost exclusively by anthropomorphic girls I'd imagine cater to the target audience of the game, including a cat-girl, a mermaid, and a harpy.  

Damn that's hot.

The two girls, Fia and Lina, want to investigate another area they've lost touch with since the demons invaded their land, but the village elder forbids it.  So after a few sequences, you're recruited to help the two clandestinely get where they want to go and help protect Riviera from demons.  Wait a second, wasn't Ein supposed to be destroying Riviera to protect Asgard from demons?  Holy Conflict of Interests, what's gonna happen now?  In the middle of all this, we get some scenes of Ledah moving into Riviera, being reminded that he's by himself now since his worthless companion is gone, and so he's got to butcher enough people for two now.  What follows is Ein going on quests throughout the various regions of Riviera, moving ever closer towards that confrontation with his old life.  The game isn't a tension-builder, but it certainly makes you want to know what happens next.

Now let's get into gameplay.  While I wouldn't go so far as to call it unique, Riviera combines several aspects I've seen in other games to create an experience for playing all its own.  Each screen constitutes a different section of a map, and several sections add up to create an area.  You can move through sections as much as you want, but once you move to a new area you can not revisit the old one unless the storyline takes you back through it.  New sections are often marked with either dialogue between the characters, an enemy encounter, or both.

In combat, you square off against the monsters by pre-selecting four items before the battle starts.  Here's where it gets interesting.  Each character has potential to gain skill in an item, at a rate of one point for each use.  If they reach the maximum amount of points possible, they gain access to a new OverSkill attack.  OverSkills range from level 1 to 3, and are executed by using a charge in a meter which rises every time you get attacked or attack someone else.  The entire party shares one meter, so you have to put forethought into whose skill you're going to use.

Tentacle Rod is exactly as terrifying as it sounds.
Now, after learning these skills, the character gets a stat boost, so it's to your advantage to let them learn as many as possible.  Fortunately, Riviera includes Practice Mode.  Items all come with a set number of times you can use them, and all the battles in the game are pre-planned, meaning there will never be a random encounter.  With Practice Mode, you're allowed to revisit earlier fights and use your items with impunity without fear of them running out.  You can also get rewards based on your performance and obtain new items to learn skills from.  You can enter Practice as many times as you like, giving you ample opportunity to whip the characters into shape.  

Preferable to other options.
Furthermore, in the regular storyline fights, you get ranked for your performance on a scale of D through S.  S-rankings net you better items, including ones you can gain skills off of, so it's in your best interests to fight hard.  Items aren't the only reason, either - almost every section of a map lets you investigate objects on the screen, but it will cost one Turn Point, or TP, to do so.  The only way to gain more TP?  Get high ranks in battle.  Performing well throughout an entire chapter of the story will also gain you bonus TP to carry over into the next one.  If you run out, no investigating for you, and you miss out on potential hidden scenes, items, or battles.

I like the system, though this has presented some frustrating moments where I know I can get a good item if I S-Rank a battle, and can't get beyond A or B.  Since you can only save in-between areas, getting caught up in grabbing the best loot can lead to some anger-filled resetting.  However, that case is the exception rather than the rule this time, since it's made clear early in the game that there's no way to get everything the first time through, and more items will become available on subsequent playthroughs.  This has led to me actually being able to enjoy the game a lot more, knowing that if I can't get something now, I can always come back around again.

At present I've reached the halfway point in the game, playing it mostly during the slow hours at work. Thus far Riviera has given me no reason to stop, and I can easily see taking this one off the backlog in the next week or so.  Also, since it's played primarily at work, it doesn't interfere with my uphill march against my PS2 backlog at home.  It was a nice exercise in time management for me, and I think in the future you'll be able to look forward to more handheld games being written on.  

Anyway, I'm at work now, so I better get back to the game.

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