This classic GameCola article was originally published in January, 2006.
If you’ve been keeping tabs you know I don’t like intros; so lets just dive in, shall we?
The first thing I noticed about Riviera was that it does not play like most other RPGs. This can be a bad thing if done stupidly, but in this case it turned out to be very good. The battle system is something of a mix between an RPG and a strategy game. There are no random battles, and for each battle you get into you have to pick a party formation for three members (as in, two in the front and one in the back), and then pick which members you will use in which position for the particular battle. This leads to a good deal of strategy for each and every battle, which is always a good thing. Though, in all honesty, the game is rather easy and you definitely won’t need to form “perfect” parties in order to get through it.
The level up system is also very unique, in that your weapons level up and give stat boosts to the people who level them up, rather than people leveling up on their own. And yes, multiple characters can level up the same exact weapon. The one downside I can see about this is that weapons have a durability, and they will eventually break. In addition, there is no way to buy or repair weapons. This sounds bad, but there are waaaaaay more weapons than you’ll ever be able to carry that you’ll find in the game, so it doesn’t really matter. And trust me, if I, the guy who despises games with weapon durability and no ability to buy or repair them (I’m looking at you, Koudelka), don’t care, then you don’t care.
Aside from the battle system, which I very much enjoy, the story is also rather engaging. You get to make your own decisions on how you act and how you treat your party members, which is always a good thing in my book. Also, this means that you won’t be stuck having an ending with some annoying bitch you can’t stand.
The music in this game is enough to have me leaving the sound on, which is quite a feat for a portable game, where I usually watch TV while playing and turn the sound off. I believe that’s enough said, other than the sound effects being neither annoying nor godly amazing. They fit with whets happening, and really the only thing I care about with GBA sound effects is that they don’t annoy me, so whatever.
The controls are easy to use, but somewhat hard to get used to. The world is divided into stages, and instead of walking around freely you select various triggers on the particular screen. For example, if there is a path to the right of the screen, you can press right on the directional pad to go that way. Also, pressing a button on a particular screen allows you to bring up a sort of search menu, where the triggers are no longer “go left,” “go right,” etc, but rather change to “look at the shiny thing above you,” or something like that. Once you get used to this, which should take a minute at most, it is very easy to use. It also saves time since you know what is there and don’t have to explore every single spot of ground looking for hidden missable junk.
The part of the controls you may have less fun getting used to is in battle. You cannot select which enemy you want to attack. Rather, each type of weapon attacks what it feels like. For instance, some weapons attack the closest enemy to you, some attack the furthest, and some attack random enemies. You have to make sure you choose the right weapon for who you want to attack. I personally don’t have a problem with this, but you might.
This is another game that uses my favorite style of graphics of all time: the old SNES overhead RPG look. In my opinion it really doesn’t get much better, and if you are going to make an RPG on GBA you damn well better use this style. Everything else tried on GBA is rather ugly…like 3D crap. In addition, during cutscenes there are very cool looking drawings of the characters doing whatever it is they do…like taking baths and stuff. That’s right, for all you who like rather naked anime girls (they cover their interesting parts, don’t worry parents and Lizo), they have some nicely drawn scenes of your party members taking baths. Though I should warn you they don’t get happy when they find you spying on them.
This game further strays from the traditional RPG in fusing in some high scoring, almost arcadish aspects. You get a certain number of points for how well you do in battle, in various minigames and for the decisions you make. You get scores for each level, so you can compete with yourself or others to see how well you can do in various playthroughs.
In addition the party member who likes you the most will be listed for each level, so you can track who you were hitting on when you got the highest score…not that that matters for anything. In fact, the high scores don’t really matter for anything. As far as I know, there’s no super ultra bonuses for getting ultimate high scores, it’s just for your enjoyment. This is very good, because I despise it when games force me to do certain things, like play it really fast to get a high score, when I prefer to take my sweet time. In addition to this high score business, there’s also an ending for each character, and an extra secretish ending for one of the characters. This in itself is reason enough to play the game over again, but mostly I’ll wanna do it cause the game is fun.
To sum it up, Riviera is an interesting new twist on RPGs, but doesn’t screw things up like many things do when they try to do something “innovative” with the genre. Apparently it is hard to find, but I’d say it’s worth looking for.