Shadows over Riva: Realms of Arkania III
Shadows over Riva continues the Realms of Arkania saga and follows on from Star Trail, the last chapter in the series. Technically speaking it is very similar to its predecessor, and this means that it has a similar game system and there is no great improvement in the graphics. This latest adventure, however, is confined more to the city and its immediate vicinity (including some dungeon treks) rather than involving stretches of wilderness travel. Ideally it should have been included in the last issue of Quandary, but I was having enough fun to want to see it through to the bitter end, hence this review is late in coming.
Shadows over Riva is a first person perspective, fantasy roleplaying game with third person perspective combat. You control six characters whose portraits appear on screen along with the usual icons for spellcasting, mapping, and saving etc. This game also includes a diary where important events are chronicled (you can add your own notes if you like) as well as a scoring system. It also includes a feature for splitting your party just in case one character has overindulged in the tavern. You can leave him or her behind and continue your quest, although there are times when this feature is crucial to solving problems. Just as an aside, if one of your characters is drunk, don't let them lead your party or you'll end up bruised and battered from walking headlong into walls.
The story in Shadows over Riva is very well told and it gradually unfolds as you journey along. You begin your adventure in the Temple of Travia where you immediately hear about the Orcish threat that hangs over the land and the strange goings-on in the town. This is your main quest, to discover just who or what is behind these unsettling occurrences and, if necessary, prevent any catastrophes. But not too many people can tell you straight out where to begin. You'll want to interrogate everyone you meet and, along with learning about the haunted graveyard, the ghost in the watchtower, the mysterious dwarven mine, not the mention the guild and its covert operations in the sewers, you'll begin to unravel the mystery.
Not all the quests in Shadows over Riva are essential to completing the game, but you won't know what's what until you look into them. Some are red herrings, but others will gain you the confidence of informants, and their friendship will be useful. Occasionally someone will even join your party, if only fleetingly. During your investigations you'll uncover the deep secrets of sundry citizens of Riva, including their sexual preferences and their social assignations and, if you keep on the trail, all will be revealed. Significant conversations have accompanying voices whilst others are text only. I recall only a couple of occasions when text wasn't available, but certainly not often enough to be problematic for people who rely on this feature.
Shadows over Riva is a game that can be played by both novices and experienced adventurers. It has two levels of gameplay with layers in between, so there is something for everyone.
Character creation is as easy or as difficult as you want to make it. You can go with the six pre-designed characters or take your chances and design your own party. In this latter mode character creation is complex and you could take days to sort yourself out as there are many skill points to distribute and it all depends on the roll of the dice. There are twelve character types available, each with different strengths and weaknesses. As all characters have their foibles you might, for instance, end up with one who is afraid of the living dead (high necrophobia count) and he or she may desert you during crucial battles with any such creatures. My Huntress had this shortcoming and vanished on a couple of occasions but, rather than spoil the fun, these antics add character to your characters and make them feel more real.
There isn't a vicious beastie waiting around every corner in Shadows over Riva in fact combat is relatively rare compared to other roleplaying games, but once again, for much of the time it is your choice how much effort you want to put into it. Combat is turn-based and conducted from an isometric view on a grid system and, apart from a few crucial battles, you can hand control over to the computer and sit back and await the outcome. If you insist on going it alone, however, it would certainly add hours to gameplaying time and, to my mind, you can use your resources more effectively. But either way works. Many of the confrontations in this game are with multiple foes and the combat screen can get very crowded. On more than one occasion I 'lost' specific party members in the multitudes which was a little annoying, but generally, the combat system is very satisfying.
There are lots of delightful 'touches' in this series to keep roleplaying fans well and truly busy. There are heaps of magic spells to experiment with, a myriad of distasteful diseases and lots of herbs to learn about. Some herbs are ingested to improve particular skills, whilst others are useful in the practice of alchemy. This latter study means keeping a recipe book and learning how to concoct various potions.
The game manual is a good source of information for learning most of what you need to know. The spells, illnesses, herbs, etc. are listed in detail. Once again you can make this part of play as intricate as you like. You can stick to a few useful spells, for instance, which does not require too much knowledge, or develop a whole repertoire. Although a few good spells are very handy during the compulsory combat sequences. Also, you can develop an expert alchemist or simply forget about collecting recipes and purchase all your potions. I recommend the former in this last respect as it's a lot of fun, but if you are short on time you can take the easy way out.
Taking into account the depth of character management allowable in Shadows over Riva, together with the above, there is a lot to satisfy the ardent roleplayer. This is my kind of game, although I must admit that I would have appreciated more information on weaponry, armour and various magical artefacts. It would have been great to have had some indication of the utility value of individual objects easily available.
Shadows over Riva is a thoroughly absorbing game even with its basic graphics, they didn't perturb me in the least. However, don't even think about it if graphics are your 'thing' or if you are a real-time hack and slash fanatic. But if you want to experience an interesting journey through an interesting story then it's well worth playing. Riva is a fun place to be, although, not that they felt inclined, my female characters objected to the fact that they weren't offered any services in the brothel ... there were no alluring young men on display flexing their biceps or flashing their thighs.
Copyright © Rosemary Young 1997.
All rights reserved.
MS-DOS 5 or higher, 486 33 Mhz or faster, 8 MB RAM, 2X CD ROM, 60 MB free hard drive space, Mouse, Soundcard.