It’s true – I suck at puzzle adventure games. Always have. I would have never finished a single King’s Quest without a Sierra hintbook, and yet I still love sitting down and playing them over once I know all the answers. Why is that? Well, they are colorful, fun, and in a roundabout logic sort of way, the puzzles in these games make sense. When I played Myst back in 1995 or whenever it was, I found it challenging and definitely cheated a few times, but after a little gamma correction, the most difficult trial of the game (namely navigating the Channelwood Age), I was more or less able to complete the game on my own. It left me with a slight but deserved sense of satisfaction and I would often venture back into Myst just to hang around and take in the serenity and spookiness of those islands again.
Riven, however, is a son of a bitch, and I despise it. I will venture to say that from a gamer’s point of view, it is the shittiest puzzle adventure game I have ever played. Riven is a convoluted mess that gives you no sense of direction and requires the player to be a psychic with a master’s degree in engineering from D’ni University. Where Myst was very image driven with distinct symbology that linked hint to puzzle, the mechanical buggery of Riven is such that you literally have to pull a bunch of levers and try to figure out what the shit they do. Buttons, levers and cranks everywhere. Fucking maddening transportation systems with the express purpose of making you feel lost and frustrated. Doors you have to close in order to open up doors. Searching in the dark for (surprise, surprise) a fucking lever to open another goddam door where the reward is passage to a place you’ve already been. If this is puzzle solving, children would read blueprints instead of comic books. I hate it.
Back in 1997, maybe, I got Riven on CD-Rom and gave up on it pretty early on because not only were these “puzzles” too obtuse, but you would have to change discs each time you traveled to another island, and in a game where you spend 90% of the time running back and forth between islands to try out some new harebrained theory (that won’t work), changing the discs took up so much playing time it was ridiculous. In 2016, it still takes a computer about half a minute to read a disc, so imagine a 1997 Dell desktop trying to do it. It took ages (huyuck), after becoming disgusted with the thought of another disc change on another endless ride on the stupid little rocketship train to go try out another mouseclick ultimately resulting in nothing, I more or less said, “This game fucking sucks,” and never played it again.
Those who beat it, either by cheating or their own psychic prowess, praised Riven for being not only a great game, but superior to Myst if not the best in the entire Myst series. I wondered if there was something about this game that I may have overlooked, and when I noticed that it only cost $5 to have the whole game on my iPhone, I decided to give it another chance. After all, there would be no disc switching this time, and with the power of the Internet, I could be a psychic, too.
I didn’t set out to look up all the hints online. In fact, I made very respectable notes in a brand new notebook about everything that I discovered in my initial re-adventure into Riven. I was ready to enjoy the game and see what everyone thought was so goddamn great about it that they’d rather play this that Myst.
Now it’s going to get spoilerific as fuck up in here, so if you haven’t played the game, first of all, don’t read this, second don’t play it on an iPhone, and third, maybe don’t play it at all. You’ve been warned and stuff.
First, navigating is a bitch as ever. It’s worse than trying to get around this blog and its damnable entries. There is way too much commuting about the islands of Riven and even without having to change discs it still takes too long. It takes too long even when you skip the gratuitous quicktime animation that every conveyance just thought they were so great in showing off 20 years ago. So many repeated sequences, and not all of them are skippable. There’s a place early on where you have to push a button to rotate a room with five exits and only two open portals that change configuration with each push of the button. One instance of this button is very straightforward. It is located right beside the door and pushing it activates the rotation animation. The other doors, however, have this button off to the side, and you have to stare at it for half a minute each time you push it because there’s no superimposed quicktime animation to skip. It’s very aggravating to have to use contraptions like the dumbass revolving door after you’ve already been to the other side a thousand times, but the game really wants you to put up with mundane bullshit like this all the way to the end.
The iPhone version makes things especially shitty, because the animation and sound themselves are fucked up. One puzzle early on teaches you the numerals you will need to know by animating a doll that drops a certain number of times when the digit is displayed. The choppy transition into animation however, will never reliably animate the correct number of drops because it’s using that same old lazy animation technology that causes it to occasionally burp and fart through the frames. I worked on this for over twenty minutes and number that I had logged as 6 was now 5. 3 was now 2. Fuck this, to Google images I went and never looked back. It’s a clever way to present information, but unfortunately, the arcane mechanism implemented makes it entirely unreliable.
Another technical fuckup is missing sounds. There are a couple of buttons that you should be able to press, but no sound will be made even though upon further inspection, you will find that the buttons actually did their work. This is fucking terrible, because no sound – not even the click of a depression – is supposed to be reserved for non-functional items, decorations, and other red herrings scattered around Riven. That’s a shitty thing, but not nearly as heinous as the puzzle that requires you hear a sound that doesn’t play. There are a series of wooden eyeballs that when rotated show a symbol and play a sound that you absolutely need to keep track of for later reference. Two of these eyeballs do not play the sound, and only one of them is not supposed to. The other one (off the beaten path with blue fungus to be precise) simply does not play the sound because the game is buggy and badly ported. That is a serious fucking problem because if you don’t know that sound, you cannot solve a major puzzle of the game.
Speaking of shitty port, nothing has been done to soothe the harsh transition from the original CD-Rom game’s graphics to the HD display of the iPhone. Yeah yeah, first world problems, I know, but have fun getting migraines and going cockeyed trying to read the journals you pick up in this game. It’s fucking atrocious. The other particularly awful thing about these graphics on the iPhone is that when trying to read a particular 3D topographical display, the spots of interest that you are to catalog cannot be easily discerned by the human eye. When I looked at some of the pictures of solutions later with the target area marked by a big friendly circle, I exclaimed, “Really? I was supposed to find THAT?” Admit it, you all cheated to get the solution for that one. Okay whatever, liars.
After I finished the game, I thought about how much I’d like to come back to the islands of this Fifth Age and chill like I used to post-game Myst style, and realized that I would not like that at all. Getting around is a pain in the ass enough, and there’s really not all that much in Riven I feel like sentimentally gazing upon once more. And since I’m bagging on everything, I might as well mention that the music in this game is completely mediocre, and doesn’t have one memorable melody. Myst used a very limited number of musical pieces but I can still hear them all in my head, and I remember getting excited about having to go to certain rooms because I knew that I’d get to hear a certain song when I went there. The plot of Riven is decent enough, but the silent protagonist thing feels super forced this time around. I know that I’d be telling the English speaking characters a thing or two if I were in the protagonist’s shoes. Mostly to go fuck themselves.
Contrary to what you must think by now, I really like the mythology of Myst, and playing Riven was basically a chance to progress the story for my own understanding of the places and characters in the game series. I may have “ruined the gaming experience” by going online for hints, but even with the solutions to the puzzles, they can be extremely difficult to apply, and in some cases, the hints themselves cannot be uncovered in the game, so what the fuck is the point of trying to beat this one on wits alone? Seriously, it’s all a bunch of levers, tedious travel, and bullshit. Fuck Riven, I’m going back to Myst to do the whole thing over from the beginning. I’ve still got plenty of space in my new adventuring notebook.
Oh Yes and fuck Atrus.