i’m always on the lookout for games that have a reputation for being a bit offbeat, and somehow i’d heard about the GBA RPG riviera: the promised land which has been remade for the PSP and incidentally is the current together retro game club pick over at racketboy.com.
i don’t remember where i first heard about this game, but i’m guessing it was from reading about one of its successors knights in the nightmare, on DS, which has an equally strange premise. that game mashes up a “bullet-hell” shooter with an RPG, while this one has an oddly streamlined approach to battles, inventory, and exploration. this entry at gamespite goes into the game’s unique mechanics in detail and is a good introduction to what the game is about.
i agree with that writer’s assessment that the game’s battle + inventory system is “taut”, and that practice mode (i.e. unlimited level grinding with no penalties) completely destroys any of the balance the game might have had. the natural question that follows is: how does the game hold up when you completely ignore practice mode? unfortunately, there are a lot of problems with just plowing through the game without level grinding, and my opinion based on my single playthrough is that i don’t think they’d be easily surmounted even on multiple playthroughs. one problem is that when you don’t train outside of battles it’s difficult to score well on them (each one is graded), and as a consequence you’ll earn a smaller number of trigger points (i.e. outside-battle actions) and equipment, making it harder to gain more equipment and score well on the next battle, which means you’ll continue to have a smaller number of trigger points, and so on … it’s a vicious cycle. if you stay afloat then you probably can survive this pretty well, but if you start going under you can easily get trapped in a whirlpool of low-scoring battles with no new equipment in sight.
also, one thing that annoyed me about this game and annoys me about others like it (such as the gamecube RPG baten kaitos), is when you have a certain number of possible characters to use but you can only take some fraction of them into battle. in this game you have four supporting characters (all female) but you can only use two at one time, so as usual i ended up completely ignoring some people, in this case, cierra and to a lesser extent serene. this annoyance is complicated by the fact that the majority of equipment is at worst only usable by certain people in your party, so if you’re going the no-practice-rounds route then, due to the random nature of equipment found in treasure chests you’ll often wind up with equipment that’s only usable or much more optimally used by people you’ve been ignoring. there just aren’t enough battles to make it possible to train up all four of the supporting characters, so this gets to be a significant problem in the later chapters of the game. also, due to the random nature of what equipment you acquire and when, in the no-train mode just as you’ve finished mastering a weapon (unlocking its best moves) it’ll break with no replacement available for the rest of the game. frustrating, to say the least.
i’m not a fan of what little i’ve experienced of dating sims in general: they always seem faintly misogynistic to me, although it’s probably because only the male-centric and none of the female-centered dating sims make it to the US. but in any case, fortunately in this game those parts are fairly minimal (although there are two gratuitous “bathing” scenes). it’s also annoying that all the extras, like an in-game soundtrack archive and a record of high scores, are only accessible if you come across certain in-game items.
battles themselves are a mixed bag. i really liked that all the battles are self-contained and you don’t have to heal your party after you finish each one, and i like how the game takes a final fantasy tactics-esque approach to levelling up in that skills (and stats) are gained after using certain weapons. the super skills are fun and flashy, although the game’s apparent emphasis on keeping the enemies’ super skill meter level down (theoretically forcing you to better balance offensive and defensive moves) is oftentimes fairly pointless since a few rounds of strong offense and healing after the enemies’ counterattack pummelling will usually win you the battle anyway. it’s also annoying that you don’t actually get to see what the enemy movesets are until they execute them, and that instead the game just offers a couple of sentences for suggested “tactics” before each battle. and while i appreciate the ability to replay lost battles with a built-in handicap, it would’ve been great if you could manually select to use the handicap or not as using it lowers the highest possible score you can get for that battle. it’s also annoying that you can’t combine items of the same type, especially when one of them has only a few uses left. and also, why isn’t anyone else complaining about how incredibly small the font of this game is? i know i can’t be the only one who found myself constantly straining to read the text.
even with that long list of complaints, this was a fun game overall and unique compared to the mountains of cookie-cutter RPGs out there. it definitely drags near the end, and there are two sections in particular that are extremely annoying (the forest and the maze of ankhs, as i’m sure people who’ve played the game already know), so even though it’s not really a classic for the ages it’ll be interesting to see how it holds up on a second playthrough. it would’ve been great if there had been a sequel, but i’ve already ordered its only-tangentially-related followup, yggdra union, also for GBA. all in all this was a decent closer for games i’ve finished in 2010. and now that i’ve finished my last review for last year, the full 2010 recap is coming next. stay tuned …
promising riviera links:
– a slew of faqs at gamefaqs.com inc. this one that lists all the possible weapon effects
– some good screenshots, wallpapers, etc. at the official site of the GBA game, the official site of the PSP game, and the official japanese site of the GBA game
– review and screenshots and character art at rpgfan.com
– entry at wikipedia