Riviera: Final Thoughts

I know the title of this post leads you to believe I'll be talking about Riviera: The Promised Land, and I will. But I first I have a short diversion.

After finishing Riviera at the end of vacation last week, I reached a mental state I'm very familiar with: I didn't know what game to focus on next. Although I have many games I need to finish, I'm always racked by indecision right after completing one. I also like to play 1 console game and 1 handheld game at the same time. I know that my Wii time will be devoted to No More Heroes, but I was torn between starting a new game of Riviera, or reacquainting myself with or Final Fantasy III or Fire Emblem: The Sacred Stones. I played 1 chapter of FE, and think that will be my portable game of choice for a while. Which brings me to my point.

In FE, you always face overwhelming odds. Your group of 10-12 troops often faces 20, 30, or even more enemies. If you level up properly, the enemies should be at or slightly below your level, with the exception of the obscenely powerful boss. But this army imbalance was taken to a ridiculous degree on a mission I played a couple nights ago.

In this mission (#5x) you are only allowed 4 units (really 3, since the game blatantly marks one as a soon-to-be traitor) with which to attack and seize an entire castle, annihilating the 20 or so guards within. The odds are about 7-1. Of course, my forces prevailed. But what this really points out is how most RPGs (and many other types of games) rely on a horde of relatively weak, simple enemies and a vastly overpowered boss to provide a sense of challenge.

What's different about Riviera (aha, back on topic), and 1 reason I love it so much, is that not only are there no random battles, there aren't battalions of weak enemies to wade through either. As far as I know, the vast majority of the battles are pre-planned and unskippable. Any single encounter could potentially wipe out your party if you aren't prepared. And you certainly won't do very well in these battles if you don't exploit enemy weaknesses, which is an integral part of the game. Every enemy is a threat, and must be treated with caution, and some degree of respect.

Unlike my FE example, where 3 people slaughtered an army, if you invest your imagination in Riviera's world, you could reasonably expect the protagonists to actually fight the included number of evenly-spaced battles. While the bosses are a little tougher than their underlings, the same tactics apply throughout: fight fire with ice, and you'll be fine.

That being said, for me the game play is the primary reason to play. The plot is OK, but generally boring with an obvious ending that has little...gravitas. The dialogue is cheese-tastic, although the characters are all distinct from one another. There are 5 endings (I think), 1 for each party member plus a "true" ending that's much harder to achieve. As much as I like finishing games 100%, I would only earn any different endings as an indirect result of being drawn back into the addicting game play in a few months.

In the end, I can forgive the weak narrative and ham-fisted characters in exchange for invigorating game play mechanics, which allows for a great deal of player decision-making despite the illusion of linear narrowness. I highly recommend Riviera as fun, unique, quality RPG. It really stands alone as a unique entry in the genre.


Daniel Primed said...

I'm uncertain about which style of play I prefer, I think that the army of weak enemies always adds a sense of scale and drama. It exploits the RPG sense of making you feel like you have achieved a lot of work with little effort.

Mission 5X, you mean in Sacred Stones right? I haven't actually played that level, its one of the secret levels. So I likely didn't fulfill the objective in another mission to unlock it.

I haven't played any levels like this in Sacred Stones yet but, of course there are plenty of levels like this near the end of the original game. Even though it is ridiculous the number of units that the game throws at you, I always feel like I have conquered the world once I complete these missions, they are incredibly satisfying.

BTW congrats on the link out by N'Gai. :)

Korey said...

Yeah, that was 5x, although I don't know what the requirements are. I don't think fighting through an army of weaklings is necessarily a bad thing. And you're right, it does make you feel really powerful. In fact, I often like those situations the best, because it's often just fun and simple to plow through enemies. Plus, if every encounter was super difficult, all you would have is boss battles. But that can also be a nice change of pace, in games like Shadow of the Colossus.

I mainly liked Riviera for providing a different approach to enemy encounters. Although by the end of the game, when you've internalized the intricacies of the battle system, most of the regular battles are pretty simple.

I was really surprised by N'Gai's link. It caused a huge spike in traffic. I can only hope a couple of those people decide to stick around and check out future posts.