Does this game look familiar to anyone? Well, all the Atlus fans out there will no doubt know what this game is, as well as any fans of Sting. Riviera was released in the U.S. in 2005 (courtesy of Atlus U.S.A.), but this enchanting RPG was originally on the WonderSwan Color (also works on the SwanCrystal) almost three years earlier. Besides being the first version of Riviera, its characters and settings sparked many fans and several ports of the game, including a port for the PSP. While the general premise of each conversion is the same, you can probably guess that each
version is going to be different (such as character names, extras, and the like), so considering that the WonderSwan is the weakest platform that Riviera was released on, how does it hold up? Is it worth getting?
The story of Riviera is clearly inspired by Norse Mythology (as well as other mythologies) by the naming of characters as well as the settings and environments. Long ago, an epic war between the gods of Asgard and the demons of Utgard (known as Ragnarok) erupted, and the world was thrown into a state of chaos. Asgard, overrun by demons, was on the brink of destruction. In desperation, the gods broke an ancient taboo to give them great power. Sacrificing their very lives, they created black-winged reapers that came to be known as Grim Angels. Each wielding a godly weapon known as a “Diviner", the angels entered battle and through their fierce resistance, the angels brought the war to an end. The demons were sealed away, but the gods used too much power and faded from existence.
However, the gods were able to leave behind their remaining power in the heavenly isle of Riviera before they passed away...and they entrusted this promised land to the inhabitants to watch over until their return. One thousand years have passed and with signs that the demons are returning, fear has risen in place of peace and prosperity. Without the protection of the gods, Asgard was not ready for another war...and so, "The Seven Magi", proxies of the gods, made the decision to unleash the divine power of Riviera by actuating “The Retribution". The Magi selected two males wielding Diviners...two Grim Angels. Ledah, a man who received the powerful diviner "Lorelei" in exchange for his emotions...and Ecthel, a wingless Grim Angel who wields the most powerful Diviner, "Excelion" (or "Ekuserion". The other ports called his sword "Einherjar"). Ecthel received the Excelion in exchange for his wings. While the game starts with Ecthel, Rose/Rothe (a catlike familiar that aids Ecthel), and Ledah, Ecthel will eventually end up with four young women. He, Rothe, and the ladies will shape the fate of Riviera.
The WonderSwan version of the game shares most of the same dialogue and the general plot of the game is the same as the other ports, so how is the game visually? Well, the game no doubt looks good for a WonderSwan title and the game holds up surprisingly well even compared to the GBA and PSP revisions. The artwork in this version is a little different, and as such, the characters you may have come to know such as Ein (Ekuseru/Ecthel) and Ledah also have a different appeal to them. Of course, this isn't saying they look bad. In fact, I personally think Ecthel in the original version looks a little more mature and cooler than in the GBA and PSP games. While the graphics aren't as good as the other versions, they are still fairly close to their newer brethren. The enemies are still detailed as are the characters, the animation is still fluid, and the special attacks are still magnificent in every respect. The backgrounds are beautifully drawn (though often reused) and the anime cutscenes are wonderfully drawn as well.
The audio isn't as good as the other versions, but is very respectable for a WonderSwan title. While the sound effects are less than stellar, Riviera more than makes up for that shortcoming with an outstanding soundtrack that features some delightful battle tunes that are among some of the finest battle themes that I have ever heard from a WonderSwan title. The game also provides players with different tunes that are appropriate for different situations. Some are dark and foreboding, some are adventurous and upbeat and some others are light and subtle. The game has a fine balance of music and I feel that there is something for everyone. It should be noted that the WonderSwan game has no voice acting, the GBA game has partial voice acting (mostly in battle, which is still very impressive for a GBA title), and the PSP game is fully voiced.
The gameplay for Riviera is interesting to say the least. As stated earlier, Ecthel will eventually meet four girls: Fiaa, Cierra, Serene, and Lyuri (I am going by the Japanese names) and they each have different abilities, items that they are proficient (and not so proficient) with, and statistics. Navigation is done in a click-and-pick fashion (with two modes: Move and Quest). Quest mode is when you stop to analyze your surroundings and depending on the area you decide to click and search, you may activate traps or startle monsters. When this happens (depending on the circumstances), you will be prompted to do certain things. One example is to press the buttons the game tells you to press to avert danger. You gain strength by learning various abilities and you get ranked after battles. The better your rank, the more you can explore during the Move mode. Why? Movement around the dungeons costs "TP" or "Trigger Points" and depending on how good you do in battle, you score more TP. Items (most of them) have durability, and you can use just about anything you find in battle. The sweet thing is that characters learn different abilities depending on the items they use. Even if two characters use the same item, the ability they learn may be different. They may not learn anything at all! You may use up to three fighters at a time (and you can change formation depending on the situation) in combat and you can only bring four items with you into a fight. You also can't choose who to attack in combat since positioning determines this as well (attack front row, back row, etc).
To get really good ranks in battle, you want to use "over skill" attacks. The more you fight in battle, the more the "overdrive" gauge at the top of the screen fills. The overdrive gauge has four stages: Level 1 through 3, and "EXL". You all share the same overdrive gauge, so if you make Fiaa use an over skill ability, the other two characters will have to wait until the gauge fills up again...thus adding strategy to the fight. There is an exception though. The overdrive bar fills up at level 3, so what is "EXL"? EXL (Execution Level) attacks are the most ultimate of attacks and while they can be used at anytime (even before level 1), they will only be at full power when the gauge is full. However, EXL attacks "break" the overdrive gauge...which means that once a character does one, you can no longer use over skill attacks during the fight! However, to ensure high ranks in battle, you want to use level 3 and EXL attacks as much as possible. You must be cautious though since enemies can counter with powerful attacks when their rage gauge reaches its peak (when you deal damage to the enemies) as well as other abilities. The game also uses an "active gauge" system where different attacks cause you to have a different waiting period before you can attack again. Using low wait cost abilities allows you to react sooner. Besides all of this, the WonderSwan port even has the "Extra Content" mode in here. Very impressive.
Another thing that makes Riviera interesting is that the game is every bit as much of an RPG as it is a graphical text-adventure dating sim (some use the term "Ren'ai"). The game is heavily text-based and as you explore the various areas of Riviera, you will encounter a ton of events where you talk with your beautiful female companions (one guy...four chicks...kinda obvious). At these events, you can put your smooth moves on the ladies or embarrass yourself when they scold you or reject you. As you might imagine, the game has a crapload of dialogue for each girl and various events can be unlocked depending on how you please the girls. Doing well with the girls not only makes you feel warm and fuzzy on the inside, it also effects your ranking when you clear a chapter. Depending on how you did, you will start the next chapter with bonus TP to help you tackle more areas. While there are other games that have combined romance with RPG-style game mechanics, few have made it as interesting and worthwhile as Riviera has and it does help to differentiate itself from other RPGs that use stale and traditional RPG formulas.
The game is not without flaws though. Learning abilities to boost stats is cool, but it can become tedious over time. In order for certain characters to learn abilities, you may be forced to use items that are useless and make battles longer and much more difficult. Speaking of difficulty, Riviera is quite challenging due to the way the game is played (and when girls die, it lowers their affection towards the hero) and the game starts off very slowly which may turn people off. Since items have durability, they will eventually break when used too much, though you do gain stats and you can enter practice battles to learn abilities without breaking your tools. Strangely enough, the game doesn't have the typical shops to buy items (as most items are found and there is no currency system) so that too may come as a turn-off. The game also greatly restricts the # of items you can carry which may force you to get rid of items often. As stated before, you cannot move freely in the game and the idea of a click-and-pick RPG will take getting used to since you can search nearly everything, thus making the game seem even slower in pace. It felt like it took FOREVER for me to actually do anything exciting and simply clicking through menus to navigate through areas gets more repetitive than some are probably used to. Also, you can run away from fights, but all that does is delay the inevitable encounter as enemies are placed at particular points where you must do battle with them.
What's the verdict? Riviera is an excellent WonderSwan game, with a unique gameplay engine, an interesting story, multiple endings through the relationships that you forge with characters, and an art form that truly brought out the real potential of the handheld. However, if you don't understand Japanese, then you probably don't want this version. On top of
that, this version is far rarer than the GBA and PSP versions (and often demands a higher price), so you should probably just stick with the GBA game or the PSP game. The other ports of the game also have a little bit of different content from each other so the WonderSwan game has the least features in comparison to the other games. The WonderSwan game is nice, but it's mainly for diehards of this handheld and collectors at this point, though I will say it's a good game too, not just a showcase item or a piece of eye candy. While the Game Boy Advance and PSP received ports of this title, one must acknowledge that this innovative RPG was originally born on the obscure WonderSwan Color/SwanCrystal and it's one of the handheld's finest games that doesn't bear the Squaresoft logo. It starts slow but is rewarding to those willing to brave its unorthodox style.- Written by Vyse the determined -