Riviera: The Promised Land
If handhelds were girls then Riviera would have a port in every girl.
Nope, that doesn't quite work. There's definitely a sweet pun in here somewhere though. Anyway, the point is that Riviera is a cute, weird little RPG that started life on Bandai's WonderSwan before being ported to the GBA in 2005 before being ported to the PSP in 2008. It's been around a bit. Nevertheless, as this is the first version of the game to appear in Europe and to enjoy a sizeable print run, there's cause for both notice and celebration.
It's pushing it a little bit for 505 Games to call this an 'enhanced remake'. Aside from an extra dungeon, a few bonus scenes and, of course, upscaled graphics to fully furnish the PSP's widescreen, this is pretty much the same game that first wowed a tiny group of RPG nerds when Atlus brought it to America a few years ago.
It's an interesting game though as, despite the cutesy Japanese sprite work, it plays out more like a pen-and-paper desktop RPG than the traditional videogame representation of the genre. For instance, you don't take direct control of your character's movement with the analogue stick. Instead, movements, exploration and battles are all executed using menus. In each screen your character Ein finds himself on, there are one or two arrows pointing off in different directions and selecting these arrows moves Ein in that direction.
There are two modes to examine every location you find yourself in: 'move' and 'look'. The second of these modes allows Ein to spot objects of interest that aren't otherwise visible. These items show up as red menu items and if you want to examine the item and pick it up you'll need to spend 'trigger points' to do so. Trigger points (TP) must be earned through fighting monsters and, as soon as you run out, you won't be able to examine environments until you've earned some more. This is a neat idea that rewards methodical players with bonus treasure chests and items. However, not every 'look' item rewards you with an item. Some simply trigger a line of prose describing your surroundings so every time you spend TP it's something of a gamble as to whether you'll see a meaningful return.
Battles are more straightforward. You're allowed to choose four items to take into battle including weapons, spells and restorative items which must be shared amongst your squad. From here it's simply a case of picking the right object for the right job and trading blows with enemies in a war of attrition until one of you falls over. Special moves can be learned through repeated use of items and you're awarded grades for how quickly and efficiently you dispense of your foes and, the better you do, the more TP you'll earn in that turn.
Animations are sparse so the game looks better in screenshots than it does moving but nevertheless it's a pretty game that presents pleasant places to explore. The story goes Norse for its mythology but you're essentially on a mission to save your island (Riviera) from imminent destruction, same as it ever was. The PSP version boasts extensive voice acting and, almost every screen and scene seems to have bespoke dialogue recorded for it as commentary. This technique certainly builds emotional attachment to the world and its characters and the voice acting itself, while neither poor nor exemplary, isn't offensive enough to be turned off.
Overall, it's a solid and unique JRPG which, thanks to some brave and interesting design decisions is worthy of attention, even if it will do nothing to convince genre detractors of that fact.