Atlus has always had an underdog reputation in the world of gaming, their games are always low key and on short print yet always carry a special something that makes them an enjoyable and often sought after piece of gaming. Riviera: The Promised Land is no exception as it is a fabulous GameBoy Advance RPG that is probably the best title in its genre since Mario & Luigi. Riviera follows a very linear pacing and breaks a lot of convention when it comes to the RPG game play style, but it is thoroughly engaging thanks to its colorful cast of interesting characters, colorful graphics, and a great soundtrack.
With all the whiz bang technology that goes into today’s RPG titles on PS2 and Xbox and GameCube it’s nice to play a game that goes back a few years. Riviera has all the design elements of an early PS1/SNES title, colorful, well designed characters, simplistic exploration and battle, and a cool gimmick that makes the game fun to play. This is all evident from the first ten minutes you spend watching the opening cinema which is comprised of anime still shots and SNES quality music that brings back memories of games like 7th Saga and Final Fantasy. Couple that with some above average voice acting and you’ve got all the aesthetics you need for a great GBA RPG.
The story of Riviera follows the tale of the Grim Angels a select group of angels who are tools for the gods of Asgard. One select angel, Ein is on a mission to destroy the land of Riviera to prevent it from becoming a festering world of war and destruction. But not everything is at it seems (it never is… really it isn’t) as Ein loses his memory in a battle and is asked to save Riviera after seeing that the world is not beyond saving. Along the way you’ll be recruiting an all female cast of playable characters (I think there is only one other male in all of Riviera…) each of which have their own specialties and abilities, which is nice because it means you will be making use of each character and each has a great personality that borders on candy cute to terrifying ditzy to paternal grace.
Exploration in this game breaks a lot of convention when it comes to playing an RPG. Normally you’d expect to be able to go to any area that is within the game. In Riviera you are present with directions you can go and you will move on to the next screen. Exploration is done with a press of the A button and things you can view will be presented on screen. In order to view everything you will need to make sure you have enough points that you earn in battle. The Time Points that you will be earning in battle will help you get new items, advance the story, or give you a chance to win points with the ladies as relationships will have a major factor on the story.
The battle system of this game is where people are either going to have the most fun or the most frustration. You build your stats for battle by learning new skills through the weapons that you pick up. When you acquire a new weapon then you have to use it a certain number of times before a character learns a skill from it. The kicker is that you can only bring four items or weapons into battle at a time. The other little snag that you are going to run into is that the weapons have durability and will break after a certain amount of uses. If the weapon is going to break before everyone can learn a skill from it then you’re best of going to the Practice Mode. In practice the weapons do not suffer from any durability loss which will allow you to earn all the skills you need. The good part about this is that you can end practice at any time, so if you earn enough experience on a weapon in the midst of battle you can quit the practice mode which will save a lot of time.
Once you get past that annoying little bit then comes the fun part. Battle goes by the wonderful active time system that we’ve all seen before in Final Fantasy, characters are given their turn and can make a move. There are two meters to take note of when fighting, first at the top of the screen is the overdrive meter, this determines the special abilities that you can use in battle. Each character has a level three skill that will do massive damage, and it would do you well to save it for the finishing blow. But be careful for the meter on the bottom belongs to the enemies and will fill up as you attack them, so sometimes it is very much worth wasting a turn to keep an enemy from dealing excessive damage to the party. Depending on your performance in battle, the time you took, the finishing blow and such you will be graded and awarded with an item and some TP to help you find more things on the field. Make sure you save up your powerful attacks for the end since you’ll want to get an S Rank as that will net you the best items and TP.
Leave it to Atlus to release another sleeper title, thankfully in the middle of summer so that everyone can take notice of it. I fear to think of what would have happened to this title had it gotten lost in the Christmas shuffle. If you own a GBA or a DS then be sure to check out Riviera if you can find a copy, you’ll find a very fun and challenging game underneath its cutesy exterior, and clocking it at well over twenty hours for the first play through you’ll be long entertained, even into your second time around when you seek out all the stuff you missed the first time. Can’t really say anything negative about this one, quite simply, don’t miss it.
Atlus has delivered a nice sleeper hit for the GBA that's well worth picking up if you are a fan of the genre