Riviera: The Promised Land is funfzehn (15)

Let's get Yggdrasilly

I don't like RPGs very much, and I am sorry for that. I really, genuinely am.

I have tried so hard to like RPGs, but I can't. There are a few I dig - Chrono Trigger and some of the other popular Squaresoft classics are fitfully good - but as a genre, they're a complete wash by my standards. I hate the towns, I hate the huge maps, I hate how it seems to take forever to do anything. I hate the dumb anime characters. They're my gaming kryptonite, even moreso than sports titles. They are very much Not For Me.

It was therefore a surprise that I enjoyed Riviera: The Promised Land as much as I did, because it is a dumb anime RPG to the max. A 2004 GBA remake of a 2002 Wonderswan Color title (and the first in the sporadic, incomplete Dept. Heaven series), Riviera is almost defiantly unconventional, a trait that would be carried through its follow-ups Yggdra Union and the baffling Knights in the Nightmare. At a glance it's difficult to see what makes it so strange, but hands-on time reveals that it's an exceptionally streamlined adventure. There's exploration, but it largely amounts to "clicking" through rooms, using "trigger points" earned in combat to examine and investigate items or objects. It's not a million miles away from something like Ace Attorney in its screen-by-screen approach, but with everything even remotely resembling a puzzle removed. You move from "room to room" like a slideshow. It's a bizarre and very limiting system, but for someone like me who despises the waffle of most RPGs, it's manna from (Dept.) heaven.

Combat is similarly strange, with protagonist angel Ein and his uncomfortable harem of moe anime archetypes taking a choice of Attack or Magic formations, each prioritising the element in question. The battle system is utterly baffling to me, and I'm not even going to try and pretend I understood it. You pick sixteen items to bring to battle, and everything has a degradation system meaning that you can only use a weapon a certain number of times, ala Fire Emblem. It barely matters, though, because I was able to bash my way through every battle in the game completely unaware what was going on. This is either testament to opaque game design or to my staggering luck. I'm leaning towards the latter because I did win a tenner off a fruitie yesterday.

Riviera is an experience I have deemed bloody interesting, above all else. I don't know whether or not I can call it a good game with any confidence, because I don't understand how it works. I've tried, believe me. I read guides. But in the end I just gave up because I was having enough fun in my ignorance.

So, there we have it. Any game can be good if you're too dumb to understand why it isn't.