Note: This is the same review as the one I submitted to Eurogamer. Not much has changed, though a few things were taken out...
Game - Riviera: The Promised Land (PSP)
Ports eh? You either love them or hate them. For some, they can't stand them. For others, a chance to reflect on the past with hopefully new content. There's also a few who like them for another reason though. Namely, the newer gamers around who didn't get the chance to play the games that others have and loved.
One of the games that passed me by was Riviera: The Promised Land. This game came out on the Wonderswan in Japan (so the West knew little about the game's existence). This was followed a few years later by the GBA port of the game, with added CG scenes, a new art style and added events along with voice acting. This game was released in the US as well as Japan. Now, the game has received it's third remake on the PSP.
Riviera didn't just come out of the blue though. 1000 years have passed since demons from Utgard last overran the gods of Asgard. These demons were defeated by the grim angels sent by the gods. Ein (your character for the whole game) and Ledah are Grim Angels, sent to Riviera to activate the Retribution, a hidden power which would destroy the demons, but would also lead to the destruction of Riviera. Ein has his doubts, and when he reaches the gate to Riviera, Ein is captured by Ursula, who upon finding out Ein's potential good, entrusts him with guarding Riviera and stopping the demons, before the Retribution takes place...
Obviously, the journey won't be easy. For one thing, you don't move Ein as in a normal RPG. Instead, you choose from 4 different directions to get from one side of a sub-area to the other. This is done in "Move" mode. You also get the chance to investigate your surroundings in each area by switching to "Look" mode and again choosing from one of the 4 directions. Some of these include opening chests, examining a ledge, or looking inside a well. At certain points, you might be asked to play a very quick mini-game where you have to hit the x button at the right time, or put in a password, or hit the right buttons at the right time. Most of this won't matter though. As you will need "Trigger points" for most of the game.
Trigger points are needed in order to view most of the area's surroundings (the red points of interest). These trigger points can only be obtained, either at the end of a chapter, or by winning a battle with a good evaluation of your skills.
This makes battles in Riviera that much more important as doing badly in a single battle, can lead to a shortage of points, and potentially make decisions later on harder to make. Do you take the chest or the alternative route?
It's easy to understand once you get further into the game, but it can be a little difficult to begin with. Thankfully, your faithful familiar Rose and your female companions (lucky guy) will help you throughout the first part of the game to get you customised with the system. It feels different despite a tentative link to Unlimited SaGa's system in moving. That said, the game makes you work to be able to explore and makes your journey harder if you mess up. It's a little dull not being able to walk through the world and walk into trees though!
No RPG is complete without monster fights. They're not random, but set at different points of the area. After a quick bit of dialogue, battle begins (unless you run...).
Battling in Riviera is thankfully different as well. At first, it looks like a version of the Final Fantasy 7 ATB (Active Time Battle) system. Each player has a wait gauge and when it's empty, you execute a command. Sound simple? It is.
Well, at least until you know that you can only use items in battle. Four of them to be exact. Before battle, you must select the items that you will take into the fight. Nearly every item has a set number of times it can be used (called "Endurance points") before it disappears. Your choices here can win or lose the battle which adds a bit of tension to the game. I always had to make sure I chose the items I wanted, and even sometimes chose my items, before deciding on an almost different set of items before the final confirmation.
Some items allow a character to use a special skill aside from the normal use of an item. These can help turn battles in your favour and is one of the key factors of the battle evaluation at the end of the fight. If you were in desperate need for trigger points, you have to plan even more carefully about what items to take into battle, making the choice more tactical than you would think. Use that uber powerful weapon now? Or save it for the bigger enemies?
To unlock a skill, you need to have the character gain experience points with the item by simply using it. Training battles can be used (from a certain point in the game) at any time to gain the experience needed as items won't lose endurance points unless the enemy uses certain skills.
This method of training isn't for the easily bored gamer though as it can lead to a huge amount of grinding, which will put off some gamers. Even worse is that the inventory size is so limited, you might want to complete training with an item before it becomes full. This led me to actually train with every new bit of equipment that I picked up and slowed my progress down quite a lot.
All this talk of the skills, don't the enemies attack? Of course they do. They don't use items, but instead use a set skill at certain stages of the battle, depending on how much they've been hit, and how many in their party have fallen. It does make for some tense battles as some skills can potentially knock hundreds off your HP (and before you ask, no you cannot revive characters in battle, or at least I haven't been able to).
That all said, if you do actually fall in battle and retry the battle, you will have a slight advantage added on which can help you to finish the battle off. I never had to resort to this advantage myself but it's nice to know that the game allows this.
The way of moving your characters and a fresh battle system all makes for an interesting game. There's numerous endings to get (depending on which of the all female party (minus Ein, of course) likes you best, which is based on your decisions in the story) and a sense of charm that certain games lack along with it's own laugh out loud parts. The game is fairly standard for the PSP, clocking in at 30 hours (with full training). This increases if you want to get every single item and CG scene in the game (which includes getting the different endings). There's also the added ability to choose between Japanese and English voice acting, which will please the ones who hate American VA.
The battles will grate a few people though, especially those adverse to grinding in RPG's. Therefore, it's not the beginner's choice for an RPG. The game also lacks additional side-quests and is fairly linear. That limited inventory also irritated me (but does make for more decisions that can decide how the game goes on).
Unfortunately for me (I'm not aware of any other reports like this), as I played it through to it's conclusion, the game had some technical issues as well, which really marred my experience. The sound was skipping more than Skippy, the Bush Kangaroo and worse, sometimes my load files would not open. One time, I actually thought the game had managed to break the PSP altogether as I couldn't switch it on after 3 failed attempts to get my file loaded until I plugged it into the mains. I persevered because I liked the game itself and was able to overlook the issues I had. However, many gamers won't be quite as forgiving.
Which is a shame really. However, if you haven't played this before, are looking for an RPG, and are willing to overlook the technical hitches that might occur, this game will do you just fine. It's a good game, but the tedious battles will get to even the most hardened RPG player.