Gameworld & Story
Since the game is based on Das Schwarze Auge, the game world is detailed and full of history. This game is only focused about the city of Riva and its closest regions so you will not get any more informatin about the surrounding regions or deep history about the land or anything. You will, however, receive detailed information about the Holberkians, the orc tribes and the pirates and what´s going on in the city. The storyline of the games is what makes this game shine though.
It is quite original and with some unexpected twists, just as it should be. The game gives you both the feeling of an detective more investigative approach to things and yet mixes that with traditional RPG elements. It is a very good mix. You start out pretty weak and with no information whatsoever on what is going on. You have to question each citizien to get information about the Orcs, Pirates, Halberkians etc. Added to that are the different rumours in the beginning, like that of the crazy mage, the haunted watchtower or dwarven mines. The good thing about the story is that it surprises you along the way. Nothing can be taken for granted. For example, in the beginning I thought the guild was a strange organisation that I would have to deal with as an obstacle. I did, but as an ally to them. They where indeed crucial for my success.
Also, I never got the answer to the vampiress I was looking for. Where is she ? What were her mission ? It now seems she had nothing to do with the mainplot at all but I thought her to be quite central. Anyone who knows the truth about it ?`
You are taken to several different environments. The city is of course the core but you also have to take on the dwarven mines, an island with a wizard conducting hideous animal experiments, the pirates, both floating and sunken ships, the underwater harbour, the sewers, the castle and a few other places as well.
After you´ve advanced past the middle of the game you gain nothing by talking to citizens anymore which is a pity. But at that time you are also prey for the town watch so you cannot move above the sewers without risk of meeting them.And that is a combat you cannot win since they god reinforcements that never seems to end.
The story texts is both detailed and atmospheric and at important points you get cutscenes with voice over. Story is what stands out in this game. The plot is suited for a good book.
In the beginning you don´t have much gold and the shops have a lot of items. There are many different weapons and armours, herbs and miscenllaneous items. It doesn´t take too much time for you to get enough gold to buy anything you want (around 1/3 into the game). You also get - in my opinion - a little too much by perfoming like dance, play insrument or steal. And it is enough to learn only one of these good enough.
But here the concept fails. Why ? Because almost all shopkeepers have the exact same types of equipment and you cannot buy any magical items. When you have the best armour and weapons there is nothing to spend the money on. Sure you can buy healing or magic potions (which are extremely expensive) but it takes up valuable store slots in your inventory. The last 1/3 of the game I never visited a shop and in the middle of the game I stopped gathering items to sell for gold. I couldn´t find anything useful to buy for it anyway. That is a major miss because the game already have so many items. I find no reason to look for other merchants in town for all of them had about the same items anyway and the difference in damage is not by much.
Overall it works out ok but you never have this special smile on you when going to the market to shop, knowing you can pick one special item more to equip your group with after a hard day fighting the evil.
NPC and Interactions
There are a lot of NPC:s with their own names and portraits in the game. You have to talk to almost all of them to get a complete picture of the events unfolding in Riva. Most of the time it is just pure information and very, very seldom are you able to choose what to say. That is pretty bad since you do have to make a lot of other action-based choices in the game. Normal NPC:s can only be questioned about certain - already discovered - topics. Sometimes you have to return to previously visitied NPC:s just because you have a new topic to discuss. This could get quite tedious. The text delivered or the dialogues are of high quality though so that more than makes up for it but in regard to true roleplaying this game don´t bring any advancements on what was already possible at least 5 years earlier when talking to NPCs.
Interactions with the environment is another matter entirely. Here the game shines. Items and the environment you examine bring up numerous different approaches how to solve problems. From how to climb or descend a certain are, to how to open something or pick up an item etc. This is quite new and add a lot to the atmosphere.
Monsters and Tactics
The variety of monsters are small. Most of your enemies are humanoids or even humans. Very few of your encounters are with monsters, except for all the big-boss combats who always is with monsters of some sort. There really aren´t any particular difference in tactics used by your opponents, unless they are spellcasters. Then the combat could get interesting due to the large arsenal of spells. One thing which must be credited is that monsters/humanoids could actually flee from combat when loosing a moral check.
The end fights are very good. Although the tactics used for them is almost the same, the graphics is good and it is accompanied by cut-scenes. Unfortunately most of the combats are in very tight areas which means you seldom are able to fire more than one ranged weapons which maked those less important for me at least. However, at some points I would be able to use my two mediocre elf-warriors with ranged support. Overall the battles with bosses is too easy. It is much harder to survive swarms of opponents for example.
The enemy A.I is not very good. They attack randomly and don´t gather up on a single character. The problem lies in numbers. Some combats are with 8-12 enemies and since the combats are so slow I usually always use computed combat. That works very well. It´s not worth putting 15 minutes to a single fight if it´s not important. At end-battles you cannot use computed combat which is good.
Your own ability to use tactics is limited due to the small areas most of the battles occurs in. In a corridor for example you have limited room for maneuver and even outdoor areas bring your opponents to close combat in just 1 or 2 rounds.
Level design in the game is very good and varied. Rooms and places have their purpose. Nothing is built in any random fashion. Most places and items could be examined and you are given through explanations of what you see, hear and experience and the dynamics between the group is also showing. The automap feature works very good.
Graphics, sound and interface
Graphics is in VGA which even in 1996 is quite bad. You actually have to be some distance from the computer in order to see what the 3d-world tries to convey to you. The tactical combat maps is very small and when there are a lot of enemies it is hard to see where each and everyone are. Other than that, the graphics is functional and the characters show different faces according to wether they are sick, poisoned or just weak.
The sound effects in the game is quite sparse and nothing special. They fill their purpose but nothing more. The music, however, is a another thing entirely. The music composer Guy Henkel does a tremendous job of creating just the perfect atmosphere for each levels there are in the game. Most of the tracks are gloomy and frightening and very dark but they are good as hell. I remember I even wrote an email to them in 1997 to give my thanks for the music which they very well appreciated.
Just for your enjoyment I´ll give you some chance in the end to listen to a few of the tracks.
The interface of this advanced and complex game is not very good. It is both mouse and keyboard driven but you have so many options in every submenu and few keyboard shortcuts. It is especially clumsy when trying to use items or add points to spells/skills. Combat is very slow with menus of about 10 action choices for every character without any shortcuts. Luckily there is a repeat function of the last rounds action.
You get used to it though. The inventory for each character is very limited and the second half of the game I had to drop most of my items except weapons and armour. To try to have an herbalist in the game is hard since you must have at least 10 slots for ingredients.
I had fun with this game. No question about it. The story is very good, there are just about right amounts of random encounters (few that it) and all other encounters are scripted with attached texts which makes them more interesting. The graphics is functional and the music excellent. One should never underestimate the music of a game. Personally the music goes far to make an enjoyable game. As an example, I can´t think of Faery Tale without the music and I still whistle on two of the bard´s tunes in Bard´s Tale 1 from time to time. And I haven´t even heard them for over 20 years. So the music sticks and creates atmosphere and increased game value.
Shadows over Riva features a lot of different items. Too much actually. It is not very clear how and why you must use shoes, clothes and other items without getting sick. You do have to use certain tools to complete some tasks like rope or crowbar but most of the time it is quite obvious what you need.
Combat is very slow and luckily the random encounters are very few. I used A.I combat in 90 % of the fights and only when fighting very important battles or very few enemies I controlled them myself. I think the A.I does a good job however.
- One irritating thing about the game is the lack of magical items and how hard it is to identify them. I found a few magical items but far from what I am used to in RPGs. The problem comes when you try to identify them. There is no spell that accurately could tell you exactly what an item does. It is no fun wearing a magical sword and not knowing in what way it will improve your combat. Rings could be put on and you would see a change of a characteristic but to tell if anything affects any skill or spell is hard to tell.
- The other thing to complain about is the sheer amount of skills and spells you never have any use for. When creating the characters you have no clue of what skills/spells you need and many of them sounds interesting on paper. I let one of my characters excel in each skill/spell so that we together where strong in everything. Some skills is never used and some only one time in the game which really limits your options when levelling up. Only combat skills/spells are sure to be useful. There are a lot of situations in which your character needs to use a certain skill like climb but it is not enough to cover the sheer amount of them. What use to you have for skills like Tactics ? Drive ? Lie ?. I don´t know.
There are places in the game you have no clue of what to do next. In such places it could be good just to pass a few days and then hope for a scripted event to unfold. Or you must look out for your contact person to have found out something new.
If you have read my blog from the beginning you know I started this blog while also playing Drakensang - River of Time which is also based on the pen and paper rpg Das Schwarze Auge. That game is from 2010 and yet I would say I had more fun with Shadows over Riva. River of Time was too simplistic and not as dark and grim. This game is much more mature. I am sure that is not a coincidence. Todays RPGs tends to go to the more simplistic and easy approach.Worst example was the so called Gothic 4 (Arcania) last year.
I bought this game from http://www.gog.com for 6 dollars and I strongly recommend the game for such a low price. The music alone is worth it.
Summa summarum this game comes up to 25 points. Dragon Wars was 13.5 and Demon's Winter 17.5.
These links helped me when I got stuck in the game or just gave me some inpiration or tips about how to create my party or if there where any spells/skills that where useless. Yes, I did have too look into them a few times during my playthrough.
Some good selection of musical tracks from the game:
Track 5 - OST
Track 11 - The Graveyard