It’s pretty rare for videogames to let you play as yourself. Even in first-person games, you’re typically placed in the role of an actual character as opposed to playing as yourself. In this regard, the Myst games are unique. Despite being labeled as “the Stranger” is plot summaries, you are You, somehow sucked into the strange world of Myst. It’s interesting to consider, because doesn’t that imply that our world is just another world like Riven?
Riven follows immediately after the events in the original Myst. After helping Atrus trap his power-mad sons in books, the man asks for your help in saving his wife, Catherine, who has been imprisoned in a dying world by a man named Gehn. Once you arrive in Riven, it’s up to you and your wits to explore the various islands, solving mechanical puzzles to unlock the next area. Ultimately, your goal is to free Catherine & trap Gehn in a prison book before returning to your own world.
As with the previous title, Riven is a point-&-click adventure game based heavily around exploration, observation & puzzle-solving. You’ll explore the different islands in Riven organically, hopefully making note of the clues scattered about and working out solutions to the strange mechanical contraptions through experimentation. There’s no in-game journal, so I highly recommend keeping a notepad handy.
Narrative: Open & non-directive, the pacing of Riven unfolds largely based on your own skills of observation. The game does a good job of immersing you in this strangely primitive yet advanced society. A lot of what you learn about the plot comes through direct observation of the details around you. It feels very authentic, because I know that if I were trapped in a strange world, I’d probably wander aimlessly touching everything. The second way the plot progresses is through reading diaries, which I have to admit I didn’t enjoy. I have no problem with reading in games, but there’s a few times you’re given a full-length journal to read, which gets tedious, especially since you have to read it all to have some idea of what you need to do next. I know it’s probably more realistic for a person’s journal to be all together, but I’d have preferred if they spread the entries out over the islands so I didn’t have to read so much all at once. The entries are interesting, & provide a lot of context, but it broke the flow for me. I also have to say that I felt like a bit of an observer in the story. Like, the Stranger comes into the picture after everything’s gone to Hell & gets things ready for someone else to fix things. So overall, the story is interesting, & I liked that it’s told mostly through the world itself, but I would’ve liked to have taken a more active role. Score: 4
Mechanics: Unlike realMyst, Riven hasn’t received a more modern update, so some of the mechanics are a bit dated. Travel between screens is jerky, though you can adjust the transition speed if it bothers you. There’s no journal, so you have to keep track of everything yourself. And I would’ve liked if there was some sort of indicator for when you can interact with something. Sometimes there is, like when you hover over a lever, but other times there isn’t, like when you can travel in a direction. Also, be warned that this game is challenging. The puzzles, while themselves not being difficult to solve, require a lot of observation & experimentation. You have to explore everything thoroughly & write every little detail, even down to the sounds the animals make. All the clues connect, though initially you might not realize it. Mess with everything. This is not a game for people who want to fly through. I genuinely got stumped on the puzzle that involves learning the D’ni number system using a children’s toy & had to just look up the answer because I could not figure out what it wanted from me. Also, I had a lot of problems with the game crashing on me. I know it’s expected when running an older game on a newer system, & the game is quick to load & reload, but it’s something to be aware of. Score: 3
Aesthetics: Despite being over a decade old, Riven still looks pretty good. Most of the screens are stills, but there’s enough motion to make it look like the graphics are in real-time. Riven is a pretty game to look at, thanks in large part to the interesting architecture & sparse use of colors. The world has a very unique feel, with a mixture of iron and stone. The lighting is pretty inspiring at times, adding the right amount of sheen & texture. Strangely, my game graphics had this odd grain to them, which doesn’t appear in images I found online. I’m not sure if its from running on a different system than the game was originally designed on. The scenes with the actors are FMVs, which are notoriously terrible, but they didn’t seem so bad here. The actors blended naturally with the backgrounds, as far as I could tell. It’s hard to judge some of the acting because it’s in a different language, but the rest is sort of… hammy. Not bad, but not quite natural. But the music in the game is quite nice, & fits the mood properly, & the ambient sounds hit the right notes as well. Score: 4
Replay Value: Moderate. There are several endings depending on your actions toward the end of the game, but you can save before them, so you don’t need to replay the entire game. Aside from potentially a few codes being altered, nothing changes. Score: 3
Final Word: Despite it’s age, Riven is a great example of an immersive adventure game. However, its difficult puzzles make it hard to recommend for anyone who doesn’t enjoy a challenge, & may turn more casual gamers off. If you’re willing to persevere, I think you’ll find an enjoyable, reward experience.
Console: PC, PS, Sega Saturn, iOS
Publishers: Red Orb Entertainment, Acclaim Entertainment & Sega
Release Date: October 31, 1997