Rivalia is an action dungeon crawler game with a simple, DND-like concept: what if 4 adventurers were trapped in a rougue-lite loop by an evil jester during one of their quests?
After the brief tutorial of the game (in which you fight but do not defeat Ciceron, the aforementioned jester), the protagonist (Ashelin) awakens in a sanctuary and is fed a large helping of exposition by Halmor. Through this you are told that Ciceron has warped the castle into a series of easily generated, cookie-cutter levels which you now have to trek through in order to finally defeat him.
All 4 characters venture into levels together and all can be played as: Ashelin is the typical sellsword/ leader, Halmor is the archer and dagger enthusiast, Yhorm is the hammer-wielding strongman, and Evanya is the sorceress.
Everything I’ve just said is effectively all the story the game gives you. This is fine, there’s no reason that a game, especially one which is marketed as a rogue-lite should have to have any trenchant or immersive story. But what about the characters?
All of the characters are very generic, not only given their token roles as ‘adventurers’ but even in the moves they have. Every character has a basic light attack, as well as 4 ‘unique’ abilities which can be activated by holding L1 and pressing a corresponding face button.
All of these abilities are exactly what you would expect, from AOE damage, to party shields, to healing circles, to flurry attacks. This is all fine as no one expects the starting loadout to be anything amazing, but this is ALL you get for the entire game. Sure, you can level up, but that only upgrades your health and damage, and there are no weapons to equip or gear to unlock outside of runes, which are just flat stat upgrades anyway.
At this point, I at least expected for the game to lean very heavily into each of these characters personalities. Sure they look generic, but there must be something beneath each of their bland exteriors. Well, maybe there is, but I would have no idea of knowing because all dialogue in the game isn’t voiced, only subtitled in the top right corner, and a lot of it is during combat, so good luck trying to read any of it.
Even in the hub area, your safe-haven, you still can’t speak to any of them. They’re there, and they can even help you craft runes and items, but you can’t ever interact with them.
The game has 6 levels. There are only 6 levels. Man, these must be some wonderful levels, right? Well, it’s really just 1 level which is re-themed each time until the game is over. I suppose there is a degree of modularity here as each dungeon is randomly generated each time you play, but these are not grand quests, they are just 5-15 minutes levels of similar looking rooms wherein you fight the same enemies, with the same set of characters, who all have the same moves for the entire game.
It may have been better if each level was just an actually designed level as the modular nature of them, and how obviously rooms are slotted into one another means that after a level or two you find yourself tuning out a lot of the environments which, while admittedly nice to look at, don’t have anything in them that warrants searching or requires any keen sense of awareness. Essentially: if a room has 1.) no exits but the way you came, and 2.) no chest, then just don’t even bother.
Even some decisions made regarding the enemies are strange. All the enemies are the typical DND fair you would expect from this kind of game, but enemies don’t spawn in rooms unless you walk into that room first. This baffling decision only serves to makes each area feels even more artificial than they already did. It’s not even as though they’re teleported in by the boss, or by the final boss to come and test you, they just appear when you walk through a doorway.
The modular nature of these randomly generated levels only serve to hurt the experience as there seems to be no line of code which keeps the boss room a certain number of “squares” away from the starting room. I’ve started several levels (2 of which in my initial playthrough) where the boss room was just a single room away.
Okay, let’s assume you don’t care about the story, or the repetitive levels, or the lack of progression. Are the characters fun to play as? No. The gameplay is bad. Not terrible, but disappointingly bad.
Each character has this strange issue where their walk cycle is seemingly not matching the speed at which they’re moving. Every character should have a higher base movement speed based upon their walk cycle, they just don’t. The only way to alleviate this problem is by ‘running’, I put it in quotes like this because it should just be your base walking speed so far as I’m concerned and there should be no reason I have to spend stamina to use it.
As for the combat, it’s nothing. Every character has standard attacks as well as a dodge, but the dodge is almost always useless as there’s no way to cancel any moves into said dodge. This mean that if you’re using a character with even moderately heavy swings in a later stage, you’re going to get hit for far more damage than you’re putting out, or better yet, you’ll to be staggered out of your move, so you may as well have not pressed anything at all.
Worse than that however is the fact that there’s no lock-on, nor can you re-aim your attack mid animation. This is already terrible, but when so many of your ‘combos’ or L1 abilities are multi-hit/ ‘powerful’ moves that can’t be manually directed or re-directed to hit any kind of moving enemy, then they become almost useless.
All of this is worsened by the fact that the characters have no synergy with one another, the game only tricks you into thinking they do because everyone attacks at the same time, so enemies, at least early on, often don’t have the health to effectively counter anything you’re throwing at them.
Assuming you buy this game (don’t buy this game), who should you play as? Evanya is the sorceress and healer who you would at least expect to have some interesting variety in her ranged moves, she doesn’t. Every move Evanya does is some colour of orb, the effects of which are largely useless. Next.
Okay, how about the main character Ashelin? Ashelin has heavy sword strikes and a berserker mode which allows her to hit harder. This is so negligible an upgrade that it in no way makes up for how often you will get staggered out of her normal attacks in the last 2 levels. Next.
Yhorm could be cool? You’re right, he could be, but he isn’t. He’s far too slow, has no good power moves, and gets staggered just as much as everyone else despite being twice their size. Next!
Play as Halmor. Obviously don’t buy this game, but if you already did then just play as Halmor. He has the fastest attack speed and is the only character with two weapons (a range and melee option). There is no reason to play anyone else.
Are The Bosses Any Good?
To the game’s credit, the bosses do often look quite nice, and while they’re often easier to beat than the rooms of enemies leading up to them, they are a surprising breath of fresh air as their small intro cutscenes remind me of boss encounter intros from early 2000s 3D JRPGS.
One of the bosses is even a very clear nod to Orntein & Smough from Dark Souls, something that, along with the relatively giant character who is actually named Yhorm, convinced me that these devs were clearly fans of FromSoft’s work.
I wish they could have taken some better gameplay lessons from that studio however as each boss ends up as a straight up DPS race as opposed to any sort of interesting or memorable battle. The last two bosses are especially tedious and turn what could otherwise be remembered as decent spectacle bosses into slogs which take longer to beat that the levels leading to them.
At Least It Looks Nice
As I mentioned before with the boss intros, the game, while very rough around the edges, definitely has an otherwise ineffable early 2000s JRPG charm to it. The 3D models are often very good, especially for the four main characters and the bosses. The levels, while bland, do at least have somewhat distinct themes, and even the music, while there are only 8 or so songs in the entire game, does at least sound nice (even though I’m almost positive that 1 or 2 of them are just facsimiles of already existing songs).
As for everything else, I do have a few more small gripes:
- The game has an odd feature where the camera can be moved with the touchpad and you can attack by clicking it. I thought this was some remnant of porting it from mobile, but it was never on mobile so I have no idea why it’s here.
- The game has no real ending. Not to spoil anything, but it effectively just pulls something out of thin air and forces you immediately into new game plus.
- I beat the entire game in 2 hours. I got the platinum because I felt compelled to and my total playtime was still only 3 hours.
- For some reason, the English localization slipped up in one section and anytime I was using a potion on a character it was labelled in Spanish. So far as I could tell, this was the only item affected by this.
This is a somewhat charming game, but with the overwhelming number of gameplay, balancing, and design issues, there’s not enough charm in the world to save it. It’s a 3/10.