Riviera: The Promised Land

RPG's weren't always my genre of choice. Restricted movement for characters, occasionally less-than-clear menus, and of course, the inability to walk across the room to a save point without being jumped by a thirty-foot goliath you somehow managed to not notice in the 40x40 room. And yet, in indulging my love of the Gameboy Advance, I can't get enough of the micromanaging and power-leveling. Maybe it's just a bonus of their portable nature. It's a lot more fun to kill 18,000 identical goblins to gain a slight upgrade in power when you're on a long bus trip than it is when saddled in front of the Playstation waiting for something to load. FF Tactics for example, I would've had trouble sitting down and staring at for as long as it takes to get the good stuff, but FFTA I could sneak bite-sized rounds of in between classes or on break at work.

Now don't get me wrong, I can get behind a solid game, like let's say... Disagaea. But I'm not going to be as sorely tempted to squeeze every last hidden skill and character out of it because 1) Josh would probably have to kick me out of his house if I was on his PS2 that long, and 2) I like to indulge in things like sunlight now and then. So, when I heard Atlus had a similarly (artistically anyway) made game coming out for GBA... I bought Sigma Star Saga instead expecting it to be worthy of all the "It's like TGL!" praise I'd heard. Of course, less than a week later I was back in GameStop clawing over the counter for Riviera: The Promised Land after some deliberating and Googling. So how is it?

Riviera is a different kind of RPG. And I mean that in a good way. Instead of watching little fat versions of your characters run around generic towns, mashing the A button in hopes of triggering plot points or hidden items, the entire game is in a 3/4th's view, with all your conversing and exploration done via menus. TP (Toilet Paper, or Trigger Points) gained in battle are spent so you can search treasure boxes or examine things in your current area. You play a wingless Grim Angel named Ein, who carries a freaky divine sword and amasses a party that's somewhere between being an army and a harem. There are loads of dialogue prompts and choices that almost throw a 'dating sim' aspect into it all and affect the ending. Of course, having had the game about 24 hours now, I have no idea what said ending is, but I imagine he hooks up with one of the girls (in an E-friendly, non Hot Coffee way. Everyone's drawn underage anyway.)

There's plenty else to like about the game interface. For instance, the room-by-room exploration makes for convenient chunks to quick-save from. There are no random encounters, or even actual leveling- you increase your stats by learning new skills by practicing with an item x number of times. You can battle a handful of enemies in a penalty-free free training mode to make sure you know all the skills and thusly get the most out of your limited inventory- weapons and potions alike are expended with repeated use, except for your hero's Diviner blade. And since you can only take four items into battle at once, there's definitely an element of strategy to be had in planning each fight. And lest the menu-fest gets too slow for you, there are plenty of reflex-based minigames to save your ass from boobytrapped chests or sneak attacks.

Riviera's probably not going to be as beloved as Disgaea, Chrono Trigger, or FFVII, especially considering the limited run it's supposed to have, but believe me, it's worth your time. Rush to the mall with a blunt instrument to ward off everyone else racing to it. Send videotapes of the savage beatings to the address below, too. I like savage beatings.

-said Manna