Rivera: The Promised Land
Game Boy Advance
Reviewed: 07/22/2005


With more and more games being published all the time, being really original gets harder and harder. A game coming along and truly feeling like a new product is not nearly as common as one being released that puts a twist on one or two things, but you’ve essentially played it before. Riviera: The Promised Land is thankfully one of the former, with a unique feeling and plenty of innovation to go around.

Movement in Riviera is somewhat comparable to Unlimited Saga. The onscreen character Ein stands in position and players are presented with a few options to take, all represented by arrows on the D-pad. This method is used in both Movement and Look modes, and using the two together is crucial to success. When in Move mode, the player sees the room and directional arrows much like they are in Sesame Street–places to go. When in Look Mode, the arrows represent things that can be examined. For example, an up arrow might be pointing to a light coming from above, the examination of which may result in many things, raning from a simple line of dialogue, to stats being increased, to something falling from the sky, or a myriad of other possibilities. That said, the player naturally wants to check everything out; however, one must be very careful in choosing what to investigate. Checking things costs one TP. TP are gained after battle, with the better score gaining you more points. Since breezing through a battle carelessly will have an effect on your dungeon exploration, it’s best to pay attention to what you’re doing in Riviera‘s combat.

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Excitment at every turn

Heck, you’ll have to do that anyway, because Riviera packs quite a challenge. There is no powerleveling available in the game, for one thing. While you’ll get experience and items after victorious fights, you can’t freely walk around fighting battles just to get stronger. A “Practice” mode is available to hone your skills and get marginally stonger, but the greater purpose of that mode is to let the player get a better feel for new items the party obtains and new enemies they may face. Monsters in practice are from just below the level of the current dungeon, so there’s room to work. To exclude milking the system, TP and EXP are not obtained in practice mode. Outside of that, the regular battles in the game are pretty tough. What makes them tougher in an unnecessary way is the targeting. Your target is selected depending on the item you use; that’s fine in itself, but many, many items are programmed to select a random target in a certain row. For example, a bow might target an enemy in the back row by nature, but when there are two enemies in the back row, the bow will be deciding who gets shot–not you. This works some necessary strategy into the game, but also bring in way too much of a luck factor. One might see an enemy that only has 5 hp left, want to hit him, only for the weapon to decide it would rather hit the guy with full HP standing next to him. Old-time fans of our RPG ancestors might see this as a fun inclusion, but some people will get frustrated with this (especially when that would-be-dead enemy then unleashes a powerful attack on the party).

This also ties into the small item inventory, which some will love and some will hate. Similar to old-time dungeon crawlers like Rogue and Nethack, you’ll be getting new items all the time from battles and exploration, but can only carry 14. This means a constant process of decided what to throw away will be going on; some will call it “strategic,” some players will say this is actually closer to “annoying.” It’s yet another reason that Riviera is solid for its audience, but players should be aware of these things before heading in.

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The characters and story are fantastic

All this comes alongside a very anime-like story. It’s told so well, with a varied cast that the player can really become attached to. And it’s always being told; everywhere in the game, characters are interacting with each other, little scenarios in towns and dungeons are occurring, and all of these things are shaping the ending you’ll see. It’s great to see this kind of attention to plot in a handheld game. There have been decent stories on GBA before, but never so delightful as that of Riviera, with its perfect balance of serious themes and lighthearted feel. It’s also much more interactive than the usual story. The aforementioned scenarios in dungeons keep the gameplay rolling so well and give the player a reason to look forward to each new room. Needless to say, the story-only segments of play are still highly entertaining. There’s never a dull moment with this cast. Furthermore, there are a few dating sim elements in Riviera. All of the female characters (meaning everyone except Ein and Ledah) have two emotion-based stats: “Mood” and “Trust.” Mood is just what it says, and the mood someone is in can affect her battle performance. Trust is slightly more important in the long run because it measures how much the character trusts Ein and will affect the ending. The level of Trust and current mood are expressed on screen by an icon such as a musical note, heart, and others. These stats will affect the ending players get, so there’s some replay value with that incentive.

The graphics are just plain awesome. The character sprites, the backgrounds, the anime still shots, everything–it all looks great. Even when fighting one of the lackluster battles, players can at least enjoy the good-looking spell effects. On the other hand, sound isn’t anything to brag about. The music is of about average quality and the sound effects are just what someone would expect from a GBA game.

Riviera is a hard game to review. In the departments of graphics and story, it’s a top contender for the best on Game Boy Advance; in others like the battle system and interface, there is so much left to be desired. Most folks who place RPGs as their favorite genre will enjoy it, for the most part, but casual RPGers will want to find something else; the frustrating random-targeting of the battles system and small inventory drag it down too much to make it enjoyable to that crowd. In fact, that’s still a huge downfall, even to the most seasoned RPG players. So many things went right for Riviera, but it’s almost like the developers took things a step too far and tried to make it TOO innovative. It’s a good game, but not without its darkside and most certainly not for the mainstream crowd.

-Eric Emerson

Score Breakdown
Out of 10
See our Review Criteria
Gameplay Below Average
Story Excellent
Graphics Excellent
Sound/Music Below Average
Replay Value Great
The Verdict: Good