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"Riven'" Fun But Lacks "Myst"-ique

Blast Los Angeles Bureau

I bought "Myst" well after the initial furor died down, so I missed out on the cult surrounding the game. Which was probably just as well. I thought of "Myst" the way people think about first dates -- "Nice but, gee, I don't know. There was something missing." There was no "spark." I liked the game well enough, but I wasn't obsessively staying up until 4 a.m. to figure out the puzzle.

Ambivalence didn't stop me from checking out "Riven: The Sequel to Myst," although I didn't go so far as to pre-order it to ensure I got a copy.

My first thought upon opening up the package: "Five CDs? Good heavens. What on earth is on all these CDs?" Even the graphically impressive "Final Fantasy VII" came on what now seems like a paltry three. OK, it's probably not a good idea to judge a game by the number of CDs, but admittedly, five seems a little daunting.

The graphics account for most of the disk space, it seems. And they are very well-rendered graphics. They don't look great on my laptop for obvious reasons, but on a desktop monitor they're stunning. The worlds are rich in detail; ambient sounds (which can be turned on and off) add to the other-worldly atmosphere.

"Riven" picks up where "Myst" ends, and you are urged by Atrus to rescue his wife Catherine and to capture his father Gehn, whose megalomania had plunged many worlds to destruction. A simple, linear objective with puzzles and exploration pad the way.

I enjoyed the game thoroughly and finished it without too much hair-pulling on my part. The puzzles weren't that difficult (especially if you've played "Myst"), but a couple of them had me checking the official guide a couple of times, and only out of impatience. Were I more blessed with the virtue of patience, I probably would've figured them out.

A nice little feature is zip mode, which allows you to travel directly to another spot on the screen if you're sick of looking at lush landscaping and just want to get to Point B already. It's also difficult to completely screw up and get stuck without an alternative means of escape.

The only gripe that I have about "Riven" is the lack of interaction with any other living creature. Beasts swim away if you get too close. Natives are too frightened to approach you and snatch their kids away at the first sight of you. Even the brief moments where you can do something about your situation are too fleeting. Consequently, you end up feeling lonely, especially seeing houses that are shut up tight, or an abandoned lab, or other evidence that someone was there.

The brothers Miller are quick to point out that "Riven" and "Myst" are not traditional RPGs (role-playing games) and should not be approached as such. The point, they say, is to immerse yourself fully into the environment and explore.

All well and good, but although RPGing is a solitary activity for the most part, one still maintains ties with one's humanity. That is what party members, townsfolk, even animals, are for. While exploration in a strange new world may have its aspects, we still crave companionship in our solitude. We want our characters and their parties to be successful in saving the world, and the victory's that much sweeter when someone's there to share and witness it.

But if you don't mind being alone, "Riven's" a beautifully done game that's a worthy successor to "Myst." It's no "Tomb Raider" or "Resident Evil," but it's good for a mellow time.