I had the luxury of reclaiming my gaming time over this year’s summer holiday. After being out from the field for five years from the last RPG boom in PS2 to the rise of next-gen handheld, I had been severely behind the major titles. As such, I’d decided to instead wrapping up unfinished business before moving on conquering new lands. I first played the GBA version of Riviera in an emulator way back around 2008, got as far as the sixth of seven chapter before quitting due to accidental deletion of my save data. Now, seven years after, I’m four chapters in the PSP version.
Riviera is one of those quirky games in my compendium, the niche, oddly-charming games in contrast of those AAAs like Final Fantasy, Kingdom Hearts, or Tales of. Sitting alongside it is my other understated favorite Rhapsody (aka Marl Oukoku no Ningyou Hime). It’s fun, coloful, light, and humorous, an aversion to the mass despite being also totally stereotypical. The type that can be utterly addictive to extremely annoying.
The battle of the gods, Ragnarok, took place a long time ago. Utgard suffered major defeat and now a part of Asgard. Riviera, a place inhabited by Sprites, now overrun in demons and suffered the fate of being in the crossfire of the messy political warfare of Asgard. The Magis of Asgard created and summoned the Grim Angels to destroy Riviera, a solution they thought fit. Ursula, the protector of Riviera, saw hesitation in the heart of Grim Angel Ein (Echtel in JP). She erased his memory and had him awakened in a village in Riviera, to let him know that the land definitely worth saving…
Yeah, your standard save-the-world story. In Ein’s happy bunch are six girls each with different abilities and personalities, and like Thousand Arms it’s your choice as a player to save the day and woo the girl of your choice. Typical harem JRPG? Nah, that’s where normal ends and everything’s turned around. For starter, Riviera does away all mechanics you would usually expect. There is no level up, no monetary system, no random encounters (in fact, all battles are scripted) and the game limits you to fifteen kinds of items in one time (including equips). All are to be equipped in battle and last for that battle only, so you have to bring and equip said item in the next brawl if you insist.
Story-wise, it’s ridiculously linear to the point that all place aside of the HQ village is one-time visit. Every dungeon is made to ensure the farthest you can backtrack is two or three screens. Yet, you can play it multiple times and had things go differently than you had before. This is where Riviera truly shines and completionists get their prides handed on a silver platter (no). Six different endings, abundance of character interactions, numerous extra scenes, cornucopia of collectible items, there are more options than one could possibly hope for and most of them actually matter. Do you want to check the ground before moving on? Oh sigh, a hole! Falling off and not bothering give you different path. Seeing and not seeing the Spring scene yield you different CG. Searching the rubbles on your own or asking your party member to do so give you different Key Items. Even choices made for mundane comments are written so each response is worth reading. I used to play with three to seven save states at once and juggling them all to get the most of one playthrough. The message is clear: life is full of choices, you can’t get everything, and there’s no wrong path to explore. Kinda get one to muse on the different turning points IRL.
All members of the harem are surprisingly likable, both in and out of battle. The system is balanced enough so everyone can be useful at some point, and in most cases you can just use whoever you like. The many, many interactions allow each character to be fleshed out. The story may be grim, but the group definitely has talent to be part in comedy show if they give up adventuring. Again, reminisce of Marl Oukoku series. Drink everytime you feel like facepalming and before one chapter is up you may have the ambulance ready. Two times I play, I never aim for anyone specific. Anyone is good.
Well, not all sunshine and daisies though. As the exchange, the NPCs are bland. Not in sprites, where the party suffers a much shoddier job, but they had no progression or anything. They’re basically just there so you can obtain items and subquests. Also, the game’s inventory management mechanic being what it is, there are too much interesting but useless items in the roster. Also due to the battle system, healing is almost unneeded, marring Fia quite a bit.
If you need a breather from the overarching conspiracy and development hell, take a look at Riviera. It’s the first entry to Sting’s Dept Heaven series, but even among them it’s decidedly easier and lighter. You do not have to know or play the other titles in order to enjoy this.
“The angelic plume shall be the knife of justice.