With the release of Pier Solar HD on several modern gaming systems, I figured now would be a good time to review the game so you might see what it’s all about before you take the plunge. This review focuses mostly on the original Sega Genesis/Mega Drive version. But the gameplay on the HD version remains the same.
The HD version adds revised artwork and lots more colors
Now, on to the review:
The packaging of the original Genesis release is astounding.
The reprinted edition came in a plastic clamshell with the
words “reprint” all over it so you knew that it wasn’t the original.
Pier Solar and the Great Architects was a brand-new, made from scratch RPG for your Sega Genesis/Mega Drive video game console back at the end of 2010. It was made by some guys who call their team “Watermelon”. Basically, a couple members of the group learned them some code, recruited a few others from various game forums to help and made this game. That’s pretty much the entire story of the development from beginning to end. The game exists as a real cartridge playable only on real systems (not cheesy emulators) at this time. It has recently been released as “Pier Solar HD” on platforms like Windows, Mac, Playstation 3 and 4 and will soon be released on Xbox 360, Xbone and the Sega Dreamcast with upgraded graphics.
Despite being made by amateurs with no budget, I was often fooled into thinking that this was a real game released by a high-budget company back-in-the-day as I played. It’s that good! You’d think it’s a real, official game made by professionals as well… most of the time. Oh, and this game has 64 MEGA POWER. That’s twice the size of any US-released SNES game and the biggest cartridge game ever released on a 16-bit system outside of the Neo Geo.
Here is a typical battle scene. You’ll ruthlessly murder many baby turtles in your quest.
I’m not sure what they did to you. I’m surprised you don’t murder kittens and puppies!
Typical RPG fare here for the most part. You don’t start out with the intention of saving everything that could possibly exist, you just want you some plants for your sick dad. Like all RPGs, plants will heal nearly any ailment. But as you go out to get the special plants to get rid of his chronic diarrhea, you stumble upon some crap (not literally, though you do wander through the woods). One thing leads to the next and before you know it you need to kick some serious ass in order to set things right. While the game doesn’t begin with a clearly set goal that you must carry through to the end, you never lose sight of what you must do. In other words, it’s not vague like the first half of Chrono Trigger.
I didn’t have any issues with the story, the writing or the individual characters. I sometimes had problems remembering certain character’s names when pressed to do so since they aren’t your typical Bob, Jim or even Jimbob. But whenever a character was mentioned onscreen, I knew who they were talking about so I’m not completely hopeless. Another plus with this game is that our lead character, Hoston, is not mute! He has plenty to say. He has an actual personality whereas lead characters in RPGs that remain mute do not. This, in my opinion, allows for much better character development of the entire party as well as other characters in the game. I did not notice any typos in the game at all.
]Well drawn cut scenes appear periodically, though the main character in the game looks like two different
people at times compared to his battle avatar. The writing has its moments of humor (not seen here).
I really don’t know where to start here. I guess I’ll start by saying that this is an RPG for a 16-bit system and those are the types of graphics and effects you can expect. That said, the graphics are mostly wonderful. There is a ton of detail, both IN YO FACE and subtle. A couple of the maps can look a bit tile-ish in appearance, but they really only stand out due to the excellence with the rest of the graphics. The sprites look and animate very well, and this includes the enemies of which there are many cool-looking ones. The battle scene graphics and menus couldn’t be laid out better. The characters all have their displays at the bottom of the screen and it is easy to see anyone’s status in battle.
Colors are used very well in general. Characters get darker in the shade and brighter in the sunlight through the use of new space-age technology. There could probably be a slightly larger variety of enemies, but that’s really only a minor quibble for me. It may be a bigger issue for others. There are some palette-swapped enemies here and there, but not so much that your very intelligence is insulted. There are some really cool effects here and there when you use special attacks and magic. And of course there is the obligatory MODE 7 stuff thrown in just like you’d expect with any SNES game… yet this most definitely isn’t a SNES game. There are a decent amount of well-drawn cut scene stills which look impressive because anime-style artwork usually looks horrible when handled by anyone outside of Japan. This stuff looks legit. The cutscenes are not at all animated, though.
In Pier Solar HD for the newer systems, the backgrounds have been given a complete workover. They are all hand drawn and look gorgeous with tons of color and detail. Anything that was a sprite, however, retains its blocky appearance exactly as it looked on the Genesis. This was done on purpose as a stylistic choice and I don’t think I like it. The blocky characters on the high-res backgrounds stand out like a sore thumb. To me it looks unfinished and incompetent. The very likely real reason for this “choice” is that they could not hire or did not desire to hire artists to redraw all of the sprites and their frames of animation.
A town scene! This woman is complaining about being only one of two women in a town
full of alcoholic men. The other woman is straight and has a kid so she’s outta luck!
The sound effects for this game are standard fare, perhaps even a tad below average. Nothing special going on with the effects. In fact I was kind of disappointed that the team substituted a stock white-noise sound effect for the noise made when going in and out of doorways compared to the excellent footstep like sounds that existed in the demo of two years ago. The music, on the other hand is fantastic for the most part. It fits the game very well and really sets the mood. The battle tunes are particularly good and that’s a good thing because you’ll battle more than just a couple of times throughout the game. The music doesn’t sound as good as it could, however. The instruments chosen sound kind of abrasive in places and not on par with better-sounding Genesis games. The sample rate of the drums seems very low. Don’t let this discourage you as you won’t be plugging your ears by any means. It is very well done for the most part, but I think the Genesis can sound much better.
If you have a Sega CD attached to your Genesis, you can download and burn a CD-R which features streaming versions of the music plus a few ambient sound effects here and there. The music sounds extremely professional and and raises the enjoyment of the game even more. It’s not redbook audio, but streaming data processed internally by the Sega CD itself. One caveat about doing it this way is that the sound is shifted towards the left speaker. It is not balanced properly and was therefore improperly mastered. It’s not a deal-breaker by any means, but it is kind of distracting. I’ve noticed this same effect in other people’s Youtube videos of the game, so it’s not just my setup. I have heard, however, that there are a few models (like the Sega CDX unit) where this does not happen. I have not investigated this myself, but if this is the case, then there is a flaw in the program that was written which runs the PCM audio as it should be the same on all systems and it was likely not tested thoroughly. There are no voices or vocal effects in the game. Pier Solar HD fixes the balancing issue of the music and lets you switch between the CD streamed music and the cartridge music just like the Genesis version does.
Another battle scene, though slightly overexposed (all pictures here were taken directly off of my TV).
The menu above rotates around for quick selections among battle options. Here you murder plant life.
It’s a JRPG… without the actual J. Your goal is to advance from one place to the next while fighting battles in between. You know the drill. Pier Solar doesn’t venture very far from the 16/32-bit JRPG norm in this case. The menus are all handled very well and you get a description of what each item in your inventory is for or what it does. I greatly appreciate this as it can be very useful during battles. The control of the characters is also done very well. You can move at a typical RPG pace or you can hold down a button to make your characters run! I love that! You can even set it up so that your characters are always running unless you hold down the same button to walk. Everything moves and feels very smooth aside from some tiny slowdown here and there. The game overall is extremely fun to play and very involving. There are only a couple of spots to get bored and not everyone will get bored at said spots. Usually you’re eager to see what every NPC (non playable character) has to say and what every house/building holds inside. There are a few optional side-quests and there are treasure chests that you can’t open unless you revisit them later in the game with da newer skillz. The game does a lot to keep you interested.
The battles are slightly interesting in that they have a feature called “Gather”. You can collect gather during battle by choosing it from the menu. You will not attack, use magic or defend when doing this. Once you have enough gather, your attack strength and magic effectiveness increase. Certain attacks and spells require a set amount of gather to use. You can have up to 5 levels of gather, but you can only sustain 4 (once you get to level 5, you need to use it right away or it goes back down to 4). Members can give other members some of their gather or if you need it for a certain attack, you can take it from another member who has enough gather to give you. There are also items that can give multiple levels of gather in just one round to help you out. It’s an interesting concept. Characters take one turn attacking each round and then settle back where they started. Players can be moved back or forth and they will be less likely to get hit when they’re in the back. The battles can be fun and they can also be tedious. They’re random and the encounter rate isn’t too overwhelming, but there is a spell you can get just around midway in the game to reduce the level of encounters for a while. There is also an item which ensures you can run from any battle. But despite the developer’s comments to the contrary, I find that grinding helps a lot.