I had just completed NIS's exhaustively satisfying RPG romp, Atelier Iris, only days before tearing into Riviera: The Promised Land, so Atelier Iris had still left its impression on me. Two fantastic original RPGs, playing off each other's strength in my head as I advanced through the plot, so forgive me if I judge Riviera off of one source rather than a general criteria. Though really isn't that what everyone does on some subconcious level, hold it up to some heavenly idealization? Well, let's cut the pretense and label me a pioneer in honest criticism, then!
Though the connection isn't totally spurious: Atlus distrubited NIS America's early games and at this year's E3 NIS conducted their operations from within the Atlus room. But whereas Atelier Iris was a reasonably normal effort that massaged the kinks out of old-school RPG design, Riviera is a progressive beast, brandishing a total defiance of RPG convention, becoming as unique and exclusive as an indie board game tucked in the corner at your comic shop.
So Ein wakes up in a woodland village in a land called Riviera and he has no idea what's going on, just that he's never been here before, he's really good with weapons, and he's surrounded by anime babes. A typical entry point to the story, except for one thing: this is not the beginning. Already breaking a cardinal rule (how rare is it that something plays its cards about the world-rescuing amnesiac right away?), this is actually the third hour of the game. Prior to his memory erasure, Ein was a Grim Angel, sent by God to atomize Riviera, quickly becoming a spawning ground for demons, monsters, and other ghastlies.
Here lies a potential setup: how will Ein and his party of women react as the truth uncovers itself? Being a partial dating sim, what kind of damage control will Ein exert to justify his past and prove his worthiness to the women? Unfortunately, the story doesn't quite unfurl this way. Though it presents a lot of conversation options about this topic, the answers you should pick are obvious, and the ones you shouldn't even more than that. It's not like any player or the game ever doubts Ein's intention to be good and to save Riviera rather than join the bad guys who still propose to destroy it.
The other conversations and how to respond to them, however, are less obvious and have real gravity to them. And unlike other dating sims, they're seamlessly fitted into the environment and mindful of context, rather than being showstopping numbers that utterly kill the momentum of the game (e.g. Atlus's equally risky Thousand Arms). Finding jewelry and having to give it to a girl in the party; choosing whether to listen to a girl who warns Ein from opening a suspicious chest (Ein appears sensitive to her concerns but misses out on a potentially good item); and one ingenious, funny segment where Ein has to pick the girl heavy enough to stand on a switch that will open a door, and in the process sacrificing all of her dignity and good standings with Ein. An icon in the status menu shows you who adores Ein and who looks like they're going to feed him to the wolves in battle.