Monday, July 16, 2012

Riviera: The Promised Land Impressions

So as I previously lamented, there is an Atlus sale going on at the moment (Set to go til the end of the month, I believe, so there's still time to jump on it) and suggested that I was going to go on a buying spree.  And I did.  Oh lord, how I went on a buying spree for games that I don't need with money I don't have, but I don't really regret it at all since I have quite the respectable PSP library (digital-wise) in the makings.  Seeing as I don't anticipate PSP support, in digital form at least, is going to drop off the face of the Earth anytime soon, it's an investment into the future clearly, not not something that is incredibly irresponsible whatsoever.  I mean, come on, they're Atlus games.  Well, Atlus-published, at least, since I'm learning the difference between a game that comes -from- Atlus, as compared to a game that Atlus published rather quickly.  The lesson learned, of course, is in quality and while it's not so much that the games are bad, it's just that they're not really on the same level as what I've been exposed to, in terms of Persona and such, which was something I had not quite separated in my mind.

In today's post I'm going to talk about is the above-pictured Riviera:  The Promised Land.  Developed by Sting initially for the GameBoy Advance, Riviera is...quite a unique little RPG, to say the least.  Not quite to the point where it's, ahem, 'too' unique, I would say, but it does skirt that line a little bit.  I will say that the game was clearly designed to be a portable game, at the very least, since you cannot go too far before tripping over the next save point which helps, but also does sort of negate any sort of challenge the game might pose.  Not that it -does- pose much of a challenge, but I could certainly think of an instance where it -would- which...doesn't help matters.  Because it's less "challenge" in my head and more "you done fucked up" thanks to the way the actual game mechanics work.  Which is a crazy, zany story to tell to be sure, since there are some mechanics here that you might know already, but probably haven't encountered them like this.

I guess the place to start is the somewhat defining aspect of the game.  You see, in Riviera, you don't 'level up' per se, but rather 'Skill up' which confers onto you all the bonuses of leveling up (i.e. stat gains) as well as a skill.  You know systems in which you have to equip an item for a while before you learn a skill off of it?  Well, think of that, but more that it simply counts how many times you use the item.  Some just require two or three uses, some require as many as ten before giving you the skill.  Of course, the issue that crops up with that is that items only have a certain amount of uses before they shatter into nothingness, disappearing from your inventory.  And I haven't encountered a 'store' or anything of that sort where I can re-acquire any weapons or such that I might have lost in this manner, so it encourages you to use your items wisely which is a nice sentiment of course, but it doesn't really feel like there's any safety net, so to speak.  Well, there is -one- weapon you get that has infinite uses but it doesn't really -count-.  Because nobody learns a skill off of that except sometimes one of the characters does but I don't know, okay.

So how are you supposed to learn the skills without utterly breaking an object in the process of simply doing so?  Well, quite simply, actually.  To compensate for this style of stat-increasing, the game does offer you a mode in which you can use weapons and items without expending their charges.  It's simply called "Practice" in which you just train against monsters that apparently wander along (of which you can pick, taking the randomness out of it) and for some reason, nothing actually gets 'used', so infinite potions, infinite sword strikes, etc.  Using items and weapons in this mode does not preclude you from learning the skills and is, in fact, the suggested method of acquiring them, so you can actually use the weapon/item 'charges' to make good use of the skills they confer.  One per item, and not everybody gains a skill from every item.  Things are simply tailored to each character.  For instance, one of the characters, Lina, seems to get skills off of clothing items, ribbons, cape, etc. whereas nobody else really does.  Similarly, she doesn't really get skills off of swords (both broad and rapier), where the main character and another character, Fia, do.  I really can't explain it much better than that, so I hope it makes sense.

I find that it unfortunately causes you to either over-value an item or under-value it, however, since I have a weapon in my inventory currently that I literally cannot bring myself to use because it's only good for one hit.  Nor can I throw it away because maybe it'll be useful.  It -won't- of course, since it isn't as if I could sell it, and you only have a very limited inventory space, so it's not doing me any favors by keeping it.  Conversely, I pick up and keep items that I simply have no use for (Clothing mostly, since you don't equip things so much as just get to pick four items before battle to use) since I can learn skills off of them.  And you never know when you're going to get a new party member.  Personally, I would hate to have tossed that one-use weapon before I got the fourth member of my party because surprise she could learn a skill off of it.  Being that skill ups are the only way to raise stats, they are, by that measure, fairly important.  So as I might've implied, it sort of breeds a little distrust for the entire system, considering shit breaks and you never know when you'll get another.  (So far, I've only found basic weapons in chests.  And they're randomized.)

The rest of the gameplay is similarly mixed as a bag, since it incorporates quite a few different themes into one single game.  It's fairly Visual Novel-esque, despite the moving sprites and battles, since the 'world' is divided into cells that you move to and from with a mere command, rather than actually moving about and exploring.  In said areas, you can also make use of the "Look" function, in which certain things might be pointed out to you that you can investigate for the cost of a Trigger Point which are earned from battles.  (Non-practice ones)  Most actions in dungeons require a Trigger Point, making it essential for your prowess to be unmatched; God help you if you walk into a room with a chest and don't have a point to spend on opening it.  (Despite the very real possibility that it will be trapped.)  In the non-dungeon area, you can simply freely walk about and talk to people, which is nice, even if the bulk of them want something, most of which you can only give them if you succeeded a glorified QTE in the previous dungeon with only one try at it.

Something else decidedly visual novel-esque about the game is the fact that it's also partially a dating sim.  Yeah.  You read that.  That is a thing you read.  The game is partially a dating sim.  But not....really in the obvious sense of it, from the experience I've put into the game.  More like sometimes you pick something and one of the girls you're traveling with likes you a little more because of it.  Supposedly, the level of love a girl feels for you by the end of the game will influence the ending, as you might expect, and I suppose I'll see when I get there.  I just don't know exactly how I'm supposed to influence the stats very much aside from the obvious parts where you can agree with Lina or Fia.  Guess which one'll make which one happy!  Again, I'm supposing that I'm not entirely too far into the game, so I hope eventually it'll make it a little more apparent on how I can influence the game and, in essence, the ending.  Seems kind of a basic thing to have in this type of game, at least.

All in all, Riviera is a pretty decent game thus far.  It's definitely an RPG with its quirks and the voice-acting is....not....absolutely horrible.  The fairies, as they normally are, are definitely grating and terrible to listen to, but everyone else does a fairly decent job in their roles.  Not to mention, there's dual-audio for all of you 'dubs suck' folks.  I haven't jumped into it, because I generally leave dubs on when available, but I might switch them on for a session or two (the game asks you when it loads up, which you want, I assume it loads the game differently depending, since you can't switch mid-game) just to see how they compare.  Not that I can -tell- beyond "hey, that certainly sounds like japanese", but hey, it's all fun.  As for whether or not it's worth the $7.49 that's currently being asked for it?  I could certainly think of worse ways to spend the money.  But unless you're looking for an RPG that has a lot of quirks, perhaps too many even for most folks, then you might want to hold back.  I don't regret it, but then again, I rarely regret my purchasing decisions as is.

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