Thought I'd write about this neat little GBA RPG I've been playing recently. Created by Japanese company Sting and localized by those amazing fellows at Atlus, who appear to be leading a one-company campaign to release all the awesome Japanese RPGs that the western market missed the first time, Riviera is a RPG with a turn-based battle system and cute anime graphics. But that's pretty much it for the cliche stuff. The rest of the game is very different.
For starters, the main game outside the battle system (known as the Quest Mode) is very much in the style of a "Choose Your Own Adventure" novel, where you can make decisions to explore the surroundings with various consequences or just walk on past. You may be asked to perform a reaction-based minigame to disarm a trap, or come across hidden treasure in otherwise mundane background dressing. Since you have a limited number of TPs, or Trigger Points, which are necessary to search or explore background icons, you have to choose wisely. Or simply remember which choices you made the first time and explore a different group of objects on the next playthrough. You gain TPs from the battles, with particularly well-fought battles gaining you more TP (for a maximum of 4 per battle).
As well as this intriguing Quest Mode, the battle system offers many interesting features also. For instance, all the weapons in the game bar the Angelic weapon your hero comes with has a durability limit. Though horribly constricting in earlier applications of this system (thinking of the GB Final Fantasy Legends in particular), it actually works much better here. You won't run out of 50 charges for a basic weapon any time soon, since you'll only be in about six or seven battles before something better comes along, and the super-powerful game-spoiling items have a very limited lifespan which is more than fair. A great little addition is that all five of the characters can use items in different ways. A large sword, for instance, can only be used effectively by the main fighter (this sword being his prime weapon type), though it can be used to a lesser extent by three other characters. The fifth can only throw it at the enemy, causing low damage with a low chance to hit. Other items, like magical artifacts or armour, can also only be used by certain characters. Things like potions or food tend to be usable by all five characters, though occasionally one character can do something special with them, such as turning healing herbs into a potion.
In fact, it's these different applications that present the game's level-up system. You don't gain XP for winning battles, but you do gain weapon points for using weapons continually, which eventually levels up the weapon and gives you a much more powerful attack you can perform with it. At the same time, the character gains hit points and stats like a regular level-up. This is where the game's Practice Mode comes in: A random battle system that won't use up a selected weapon's durability, allowing you to level-up weapons in peace without them breaking away from the main game.
If I have to give the game a list of cons, I guess one would be the Love/Trust system the game uses. Since all the player characters bar the hero are female, you can get one to like you more than the others by treating her better (or treating the others worse). This will effect the ending, as you will end up with your chosen girl at the end. It's a bit harem-ish and Dating Sim for my liking. Practice Mode can get a bit repetitive if you have to level several weapons at once, which can often take a while. It's necessary grinding, unfortunately, because enemies can start to get tough if you don't have the HP to survive their special attacks (called Break Outs, which occur when you've sufficiently pissed off the enemy side with constant attacks and fatalities). Otherwise, this is a fantastic game with a lot of humor and exploration elements (which I adore) and is sufficiently different to pretty much any other RPG I've played to keep me interested. The longevity is boosted by wanting to try all the things I didn't on the first playthrough, due to a lack of TP, so I imagine I'll be playing through it a few more times before I'm done with it.