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Dreamweaver avatar 12:23 AM on 09.29.2011  (server time)
Obscurity: Riviera: The Promised Land

You know, sometimes the best things in life are the things that you just stumble on to. For example, I've discovered Jet Set Radio Future from that dual disc with Sega GT, Feel the Magic from the cover art at a local Gamestop, and Armored Core: For Answer in a Game Informer magazine. However, while those games have spin-offs (well, Jet Set Radio Future is the spin-off of Jet Set Radio), sequels (The Rub Rabbits), and even both (Armored Core 1-4, Ninebreaker, Nexus, Last Raven, Formula Front, and For Answer), the game I'm going to be talking about today is a little something called "Riviera: The Promised Land."

I've discovered this little gem of a game in a magazine of Nintendo Power. Was there an article about it? Nah. Was there a preview about it? Not that I know of. So how did you hear about it? By a lone, one-page ad. Seriously, that's how I learned about the game aside from an eventually three paragraphed review that they eventually did, but it's still somewhat hard to believe that from one little ad that I've experienced quite possibly one of my most favorite games of all time.

Now, that sounds a bit much when I've experienced games like Shadow of the Colossus, The World Ends with You, Uncharted 2, Metal Gear Solid 4, Peace Walker and many many more, but it's not because it's that good that I love it so much, but rather, that I feel like it's tailor-made for me. I mean, millions of people say that "this video game" or "that video game" is so good, but I never seem to get into it. Chrono Trigger? Couldn't get into it. The Legend of Zelda: Link to the Past? Couldn't get that damn library book down. Ocarina of Time? I could barely get past the Deku Tree. Majora's Mask? Was too put off by the time limit (as well as that freaky ass moon...).

Now you gotta understand something: It's not like I HATED those games... I mean, I've beaten Chrono Trigger at least AND I've watched and enjoyed OTHER people playing The Legend of Zelda (the only one I've beaten was Minish Cap), and it's not like I'm one of those people who hate what everyone else likes (I've bought Gears of War 3 and reserved Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 and Battlefield 3) nor am I the guy who brag about listening to indie bands... I simply like what I like, and I just couldn't like those games.

But I love Riviera: The Promised Land... Oh God do I love it.

"This will be my world"

After tracking down a copy of the Gameboy Advance version of Riviera: The Promised Land (which involved my uncle driving me all the way downtown to get it... I so appreciated it), the minute I got home, because I get motion sickness easily, I popped that sucker in and started playing it. I was so enthralled by the story about Ragnarok, the coming of demons, and demon-slaying angels that hours had flown right by and I didn't even noticed it. Now, at the time, I hadn't really experienced great JRPGs at the time such as Chrono Trigger and Tales of the Abyss, so Riviera's simple story was somewhat of a stepping stone for me to jump into the genre.

The story, in a nutshell, is about two angels who comes to Riviera, a sacred land where beings called Sprites live, to sacrifice it to stop the coming of demons. One of the angels however, Ein, gets "killed" and "revived" by a goddess named Ursula who takes his memories away and have him live among the Sprites in Riviera in order to have him sympathize with the Sprites and stop the angels from sacrificing it. It's that story about conspiracy from higher authories, doing the right thing, and preventing a much bigger problem. Sure, it's no epic, but at least the story is pretty decent, although looking back, is pretty familiar territory.

However, what sets Riviera apart from all the other games is that it incorporates elements of the "renai" genre (you may know it as a "dating sim"): Throughout the adventure, you'll earn the hearts of your lovely teammates (such as the kind-hearted Fia, the childish Lina, the tomboy Serene, and the ditzy Cierra) by winning them over with the choices of dialogue and actions. I really like this element of the game because it's not only something that is seldom seen (though games like Star Ocean and Tales of Symphonia had it) but because it really makes you more attached to the characters, especially Ein, when you yourself are making some of the choices instead of just merely watching the scene proceed.

Not only that, but you'll definitely feel the tension as there are some VERY interesting choices to make. One of them for example, being one of my favorite moments in the game, has you choosing which girl needs to stand on a "pressure plate" in order to open the door, essentially boiling it down to "who do you think is the fattest?" It's very humorous to see the character's reactions as well as Ein's explanations ("Well, I figured since you were the oldest..."), making you enjoy the characters even more. And sometimes, the best moments can even be times when you don't have to make a choice at all, such as when Lina fell into a river, grabbing one of the girls who in turn grabs another, a la the "domino effect." I've played through the game several times and it's still so heartwarming to experience little scenes like this. Sure, there's no betrayal, politics, identity crisis and whatnot, but it's that kind of simple story that you can just enjoy.

This is the "Good Life"

However though, no matter how great the story may be, none of it matters if I could never get that far. Thankfully however, Riveria seems to have my horrible playing skills in mind, allowing for an easy to understand battle system: You simply pick which three characters to fight, what formation to use, and what weapons and items to bring. When you go into battle, you can choose what weapons you've brought to use, but you don't get to choose what enemy you target. To me however, that just simplifies things so much, yet makes the battles so much more interesting as you're not making your own plans, but rather working within the limitations of the game since you can't even bring more than four items into battle.

It's also VERY easy, albeit somewhat time-consuming (for me, upwards to an hour and a half though this is remedied somewhat by the PSP's sleep function) to grind in this game. Yeah, remember in JRPGs, to get stronger you had to fight the same old enemies over and over again until you were strong enough to fight the boss to unlock the next part of the story, which contained new enemy that you're going to eventually fight over and over again again (intentional)? Well in this game, although you have limited item usage, you have to use an item by a character repeatedly in order to level them up and learn a special skill with the item, which is TOTALLY easy. I mean, it doesn't matter if it hits or misses, you just have to USE it.

"Sideline Story"

But don't think there's no depth to the battle system because grinding is easy: You still have things like elemental weaknesses and resistence but you also try to manage the enemies' "Overdrive" bar (a meter to use Special Attacks) so that they don't get it filled and demolish you as well as managing your item usage as they are limited like Fire Emblem. Not only that, should you fall in battle, the games not only gives you a boost (a section of your Overdrive meter) but they even start the enemies with their HP down a little, even on boss fights. And should you fall again, they'll take ANOTHER HP deduction as well as giving you even MORE Overdrive meter! And they'll even do it a third time! When I first played this game, I merely chose my favorite characters, my favorite items, and merely mashed buttons until I won, even if I had to lose three times in the row.

Some of you may say that this video game holds your hand too much, like how they simplified walking around... WALKING AROUND is simplified into just pressing the direction of which way you want to go! It's just that simple! No wandering around aimlessly nor any of that overworld junk. You may say that that makes the game way too easy... But you know what? I personally love it when a video game holds my hand. I mean, I love checkpoints, easy difficulty, streamlined adventures for a very good reason:

I shouldn't have to be good to enjoy video games.

I mean, had Ocarina of Time included like a hint system and Ninja Gaiden had a Easy mode, I so would've enjoyed them! I mean, what's the point of making the ending if no one's going to reach them? I still haven't beaten Final Fantasy 13 because I'm still stuck in some boss fight, nor Vanquish because of its relentless difficulty on Normal (Automatic takes the fun away). It's times like these that I just want a invincibilty code or something so I can still PLAY the game, like what Saint's Row 2 did: You can never die but you are have to do the action yourself, which most of the time you wanna do anyway! Riviera may not have that, but at least it gives me an out so that I can still enjoy the game.

Yeah, let's throw a rock at it, I'm in the mood to piss a demon off.

You know, it's been years since the GBA version of this game came out, yet I still pop it in every once in a while to replay it again, doing the same choices as I did the first time (you never forget your first). I may be one of those people who basically play a game once and never touch it again, but there's just something about Riviera that makes it so good... And apparently, I'm not the only one considering that they released the game more than four times:

The game originally started out as a WonderSwan Color game exclusive to Japan (which makes sense considering the nature of the title, more on that later), meaning that it wasn't released offshore for anyone else to play. However, Atlus and Sting must've loved the game enough to remake the game into a Gameboy Advance title to be released overseas into the good ol' United States of America, allowing people like me to play it. Then, a mere few years later, the Gameboy Advance version of the game was ported to the Playstation Portable with new features such as voice acting, though this was AFTER it was ported to cell phones in Japan. And as if that wasn't enough, they took that port (the PSP version), added in a couple of tiny (as in VERY tiny) features and called it the "Special Edition" (also exclusive to Japan). Damn... That's a lot of porting.

But why so many ports? After all, this was a game that got, according to reviews, 6s and 7s across the board... Not to mention much of the action was exclusive to Japan, such as the original WonderSwan Color version, the cell phone versions, and the Special Edition. And, adding on to that, the game was published by Atlus, meaning VERY limited quanities... I still have yet to own a new copy of the game, though I do have three copies of the game though (the Gameboy Advance version and two PSP version when one of them broke). So naturally, low quanities of the game combined with low amounts of advertising equal... a VERY small following of the game, at least where I'm from; From where I'm from, practically no one has heard of it, even to this day. Even on Gamefaqs there's like only a double-digit amount of pages of treads about it... Gears 3 got that many treads BEFORE it even came out!

So that's why I decided to write the blog on it instead of Feel the Magic (because there is a VERY devote following for the Jet Set and Armored Core series)... I felt that this, to me, was a great game that hardly anyone heard about. Sure, there's been a small covering of this game with its scant ads and tiny reviews (I think Destructoid did a review if I'm not mistaken), but I'm sure like 99.5% of the gaming community hasn't heard of it, let alone played it.

But I have played it... And I loved it. And I still do.

"Nothin' But The Beat"

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