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Low-Spoiler Guide to Realms of Arkania: Shadows Over Riva

Shadows Over Riva--"Schatten über Riva" in the original German--is the third in a trilogy of Realms of Arkania CRPG's based on the popular "Das Schwarze Auge" roleplaying system, put out by Wizardry producer SirTech. These are underrated little games; maybe they got more attention in Germany (lord knows the English text is less than polished).

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Gameplay is quick and the dungeons, some of the quests, and the character advancement system are great fun; downsides are a lot of pointless dull areas, problems with the mouse, tedious combats, and irritating inventory and other interface micromanagement. Hopefully this guide can help you minimize the latter aspects of Shadows Over Riva, and make the most of the former.

Realms of Arkania Review
Shadows Over Riva Hints and Tips
Shadows Over Riva Walkthrough
Shadows Over Riva Cheats/Links
Shadows Over Riva Magic Items
Shadows Over Riva Easter Eggs and Optional Actions

Shadows Over Riva Hints and Tips

Shadows Over Riva is a very straightforward, self-contained game. The character advancement system is well-done and extremely detailed, leaving you enough flexibility that you can win the game with any configuration of characters you like. Here are my notes on the more annoying/problematic elements of Shadows Over Riva, as well as caveats on the things you might want to know in advance.

Bugs and Gameplay Problems: Fortunately, the mouse problems and automap crashes of Star Trail have been eliminated in Shadows Over Riva. This is actually a very smooth-running game with few bugs. The only hitch is... you MUST have a Windows 95 or Windows 2000 operating system to play it on. This game absolutely, positively will not work on XP. I have never seen another game so stubbornly resistant. None of the usual tricks (disabling audio, running in 2000 compatability mode, changing the memory allocation, etc) have the least bit of effect. When I replayed Shadows of Riva for this walkthrough, I had to use my old computer which I had given to my young son to play "Blue's Clues" on. For real.

Continuity: Shadows Over Riva is the third in a series of three games, and since they come bundled together on one CD these days, there's no reason not to play them in order. The first two games in the series, Blade of Destiny and Star Trail, are quite similar to this one, but less polished, so it's definitely easier to go from Blade of Destiny and Star Trail to Shadows Over Riva than vice versa. Plus, of course, you can import your characters from Star Trail to Shadows Over Riva. In Star Trail, using imported characters wasn't necessarily a good choice, since they were inevitably overpowered for the game. Shadows Over Riva, however, was definitely written with an imported party in mind, and while you can solve the game with a new party, it will be significantly more inconvenient (you won't be able to opt out of the lousy combat interface with the "compute combat" option, for example, since orcs will be able to beat up your party if you're not right there using tactics. Not to mention that you need the magic food and water bags they'll be carrying to avoid having to individually feed each character all the time.) There are no new portraits or character classes available in Shadows Over Riva anyway, so there's little temptation to start over with a new party.

Classes: If you play on Advanced, you won't need to worry about classes very much, since you will be able to give any character any skill. The exception is magic--only mages, elves, druids, or witches can learn spells, and they will not be able to master more than a few spells from mismatched classes, so if you're the sort of gamer who won't be happy without access to every spell in the game, you'll need four spellcasters in your party. Otherwise you can easily go without a druid, a witch, or both. Going without a magician or elf is harder, since the teleport spell and automatic lighting of the magician and healing spells of the elf eliminate unpleasant inconveniences. (The magician also comes with an unbreakable weapon--a welcome relief!) Unlike many CRPGs, you don't really need a thief; a dexterous fighter-type can learn to handle locks and traps just as well, and your lockpicker needs to be in the party lead to be valuable anyway. Ignore notations in the manual about special magical abilities possessed by ice elves--they have exactly the same spells as other elves. Combat action sprites are not customizable. Different elven races all look identical, so if you want two kinds of elves, consider making one male and the other female so you can tell them apart easily in a fight. Be warned: all male druids look like wizened old men in combat, and all female witches look like a caricature of Cyndi Lauper circa 1982. I believe it is impossible to solo Shadows Over Riva, since you will occasionally need to have characters in more than one place at the same time (it would be a shame to miss out on all the fun and quirky intraparty interactions anyway.)

Health Care Issues: These are less aggravating to deal with in Shadows Over Riva than either of its two predecessors. For one thing, unlike Blade of Destiny, your characters' portraits change when they become ill or poisoned, so you don't have to check them repeatedly every few minutes to stop them from keeling over dead. For another, there's no overland travel map; many players lamented this, and I did miss the overland encounters, but it was a welcome relief not to have to change all the PC's in and out of winter coats and snowshoes every time the weather changed. (I believe you can just sell the snowshoes, which have no particular use in this Riva, and the winter coats can be worn throughout the game without giving anyone heat exhaustion.) Perhaps most importantly, now that your characters are higher-level (even a brand-new party starts out at level 6, and an imported party will be at least level 8,) preventative medicine is no longer critically important. It isn't necessary to stop after every battle and treat each character's wounds to stop them from developing gangrene, you can simply cast "Cure Disease" if they come down with it. One new and not entirely welcome addition is hygiene, however. There's a public bathhouse in Riva, and whenever you become dirty (as frequently happens in dungeons) you need to go back there and take a bath, otherwise your charisma is impaired and you're likely to keep coming down with diseases.

Equipment: One blessed improvement over previous games is that using a whetstone once sharpens ALL the weapons in the party, so you not only don't need to keep repeating this chore six times, you can throw away all whetstones but one. Snowshoes are no longer necessary, and neither is a second pair of boots for each character. The PC's are usually pretty good about passing tools around as needed (a shovel can still be used even if the first character in line isn't carrying it), but there are still a few points in the game at which individual characters will need a rope, so make sure each character has his or her own. Each character also needs a sleeping bag for optimal regeneration. There are many tools available in the game (mattock, shovel, hammer, grappling hook, etc.) and most of them did not appear to ever be necessary -- certainly the crowbar, shovel, pliers, and grappling hook were useful. Cutlery and tableware don't seem to have any effect other than being sellable. A crystal ball can increase your danger sense a little, but the leftmost character has to actually be holding it in his hand for it to work, so it's pretty useless. Never pay for healing potions, since it's cheaper to buy whirlweeds and they take up less space. You don't really need an alchemy set, nor any herbs other than whirlweed, loneberry, tarnele, thonnys, and gulmond leaves; you can use the other herbs to brew potions (see Alchemy below), but none of them are really worth the effort and expense. If you can afford it, buy expensive poison and put it on your weapons before entering heavy combats; it makes them MUCH more effective. You will need to 'use item' to read a scroll, book or note, and remember to use a character with high literacy. A key, tool, or quest item should be used automatically if it's in your party's inventory, but it doesn't always work that way--try putting it in your first character's inventory if you're being stymied.

Magic Items: One of the most frustrating things about the Realms of Arkania series is the indistinguishability of magic items. A magical sword may look exactly like a non-magical sword and be named only "sword," and its name will not change once you've identified it. There's no way to mark it yourself or remember what it does. In fact, in most cases, there's no way to even tell what it does at all--the "Analyze" spell and supposedly expert identifiers frequently make useless remarks like "It's magic all right, but I can't tell more than that." Here's my list of Magic Items in Shadows Over Riva and what they do to the best of my knowledge.

Money: Money ran tight in Star Trail, but in Shadows Over Riva there's no shortage of it. The only things you're likely to want or need to buy at the store are expensive vials of poison (magic-restoring potions are useful, but at only 10 astral points a pop, they're too aggravating to spend all the time buying and applying them.) If you ever find yourself low on cash, simply having your characters use their skills at bars usually yields 5-10 ducats apiece, so you can rack up as much money as you need very quickly.

Time: There is no time limit in Shadows Over Riva. As far as I can tell there's no penalty whatsoever for holing up and resting for a month straight to get all your AP's back.

Save Your Game: I can't imagine anyone who is playing an old-school CRPG like Shadows Over Riva really needs to be told this, but save early and often. This is a game with a lot of random misfortunes in it, including instant-death scenarios, and the annoying copyright-protection that required you to look stuff up in the manual every time you saved the game has been done away with (mercifully), so there's no reason to stint.

Skills and Spells: PC's with high intuition or knowledge-based skills, such as Ancient Tongues or Geography, will pipe up from the back of the party if they have information to conrtibute, and the game will often let you select which character you want to attempt a more physical feat. Sometimes, however, the first character in line will automatically try things himself, which can result in, say, your lead fighter attempting to disarm a trap and setting it off. If you notice your lead character automatically attempting to do something and failing at it, try it again with a more dexterous and-or skill-appropriate character in the lead, and if it won't let you try a second time, reload and try again. You will want to specialize each character in one hand-to-hand weapon style (sword, pointed, edged, two-handed, axe, or polearm) from the outset so as not to waste leveling points; however, which style of weapon each one uses is largely irrelevant (except for Magicians and Witches, who have default weapons--wands are polearms, brooms are 'edged'.) All two-handed weapons and all the really good 'edged' weapons (mace, morning star, war hammer, etc.) can be used only by fighters and dwarves, so don't waste other characters' skill points in those proficiencies. Basically, characters can have a weapon that deals 4-9 points of damage in any of the categories, but if they want one that will do better than that, they will have to be a fighter or dwarf, use a sword or an axe, or fire a bow or crossbow. Make sure you have the Transversalis and Banish Spirits spells.

Alchemy: Alchemy is close to useless in this game; the few recipes require many ingredients to produce mediocre concoctions. HYLAILIC FIRE fire makes a good missile weapon, but each vial can be used only once, hurts only one opponent, cannot be stacked, and requires 6 non-stackable ingredients (plus the recipe and an alchemy set, all eight items carried by the same alchemist--so you have to do major inventory shuffling every time you want to create one vial of fire). I've never found this to be worth it. Of more use are VOMIC and EXPURGIC, which you can use to poison your weapons; this requires only two non-stackable ingredients and two herbs (plus the recipe and set), so you can brew up several at once. If you're short of cash for some reason, this is cheaper than buying poison. STRENGTH POTION is completely useless, since raw gulmond leaves can boost your strength on their own without any of the rigmarole. POTENT MAGIC POTIONS are extremely useful, but making them yourself requires thonnys blossoms, which are expensive, rare, and more useful to your spellcasters as meditation aids. And HEALING POTIONS aren't worth the trouble they take to make; raw whirlweeds are nearly as effective and can be stacked.

Miracles: It's really not worth your time begging for miracles at Riva's temples. The miracles have little if any effect -- Travia will feed the party, Tsa may heal a small amount of damage, Phex gives you a temporary boost to your dexterity, haggling, or thief skills, Rahja gives a temporary boost to your dance or seduce skills, and Firun and Efferd give you generic blessings whose effect was undiscernable to me.

Combat: There's no two ways around it: combat sucks in this game. It's slow, it's tedious, the PC action sprites are uncustomizable, don't even vaguely resemble their portraits or equipment, and in many cases look identical to the action sprites of other PCs (making it hard to plan combats.) If you have imported your characters, the best thing is to simply choose the option "compute combat." Rather than handling combat yourself or watching the AI try to do it for you, you can just tell the computer to shake the dice, skip to the end and tell you who won (after a little movie of two silhouettes fighting, which you can't skip; it still takes up much less time than actual combat). This frees you from the tediously mediocre combat sequences (I never did get used to the awkward diagonal movement patterns, and the combat menus are terrible). It does tend to be hard on the spell points, but since there are no time limits in Shadows Over Riva, there's no reason not to hole up and recover them every time they get low anyway. It's too bad that the combat sequences in these games are so crappy that I'd just as soon skip them, but rest assured that there's plenty else in this game to keep your attention.

Interface: You can rotate and move freely in Shadows Over Riva (including looking up and down.) The part that's hard to get used to is examining or using things. Almost every object you can see in the game can be interacted with, but it's easy to miss that fact, because you need to have your face mashed up against it as far as you can go (until the object fully pixelates and is no longer recognizable) before you can use it by pressing the space bar or double-clicking. Since this includes doors, you'll get accustomed to that oddity quickly enough whether you want to or not.

NPCs: Party NPCs are of limited use in Shadows Over Riva, since they may leave you without warning to pursue their own goals. Don't let any NPC carry any item you really need (they're good for carrying loot back to the market for sale, if you're so inclined.) Unlike the PC's, who react garrulously to various events and to each other, the Riva NPC's do not have any interactions with the game or with you once they have joined you, but if you cast "respondami" and "sensible," you may learn a thing or two about any NPC you have with you at the time. Thorgrim, a dwarven warrior you can find in his house near the marketplace in Riva, is a solid fighter you can take along on missions within the city; other NPC's can only be added during specific quests.

Conversations: Thankfully, dialogues have been tweaked slightly in Shadows Over Riva -- in Star Trail, NPCs would end the conversation and leave after three or four topics, so you'd have to keep reloading if you wanted to see whether they had anything interesting to say (and most did not.) In Shadows Over Riva, NPC's will put up with six or seven questions, enough to exhaust all topics of conversation if you're careful, and the few NPC's who have actually important information, like Tarik, will keep talking to you indefinitely. There is no longer any need -- or more precisely, any temptation -- to reload old games to complete conversations.

Visiting Dungeons: The cool dungeons are the best reason to play this game; unfortunately, there are not many of them compared to Blade of Destiny (only the Crypt, the Dwarven Mine, the Sewers, the Sorcerer's Tower, the Pirate Ship, the Castle, the Underwater Areas, and the Hive). Explore them thoroughly, as there are tricks, traps, and little ambience bits sprinkled throughout; I'm not going to mention them in the walkthrough unless there's something confusing or special about them.

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