Once upon a time, there was an era in video games known as the 16-bit era, and was dominated by consoles like the Super Nintendo and Sega Genesis. In this time, many of the most well-known role-playing games were released: Final Fantasy IV and VI (II and III at the time), Chrono Trigger, Secret of Mana, the Phantasy Star series…the list could go on. It sure was a magical time and, with Pier Solar, that’s a time Watermelon Games wanted to recapture.
Pier Solar was originally released in 2010 for the Sega Genesis, but now we have an HD port, all touched up nice and pretty, for all the gaming world to enjoy. Now that we all can experience Watermelon Games’ creation that revisits that past era of role-playing games, how does it stack up?
Pier Solar HD focuses mainly on a trio of friends: the botanist Hoston, archaeologist Alina and engineer/inventor Edessot who, during a quest to acquire medicine for Hoston’s ill father, stumble upon an ancient location that holds mysteries darker forces are trying to obtain. In usual RPG fashion, your characters must help put a stop to it.
Right off the bat, Pier Solar HD really does feel like a game out of the 16-bit era even with the graphics touched up to make it nice and pretty. The music, right from the opening screen, is just marvelous in its own right and very beautifully orchestrated. You can even access the entire soundtrack from the start menu which is a nice bonus. Graphics and music, if you so choose, can be changed during the game at any time to fit the style of the 16-bit era more closely. The characters are also instantly likable, each with their own distinct, if not cliche at times, personalities to bounce off of each other. The story does take a while to get going though which may be a problem considering how you look at it. RPGs, with their longer amount of game time, do take a bit before the story starts rolling, but about 10-12 hours in and I was still not sure what the heck was happening, what the antagonists wanted, etc. Characters often used the old line along the lines of “You’ll find out in due time” about what is actually going on. I don’t expect all the details to come forth quickly, but I feel like there has to be something to pique your interest or to make you keep going and Pier Solar seemed to want to hold the details back instead.
The battle system, which is standard turn-based, uses a method known as “Gather” as its main focus. Each character can “gather” energy, which takes a turn, using the Gather command or items you find in-game to boost their power. Gather is not just about boosting attack as it is required to use certain spells and attacks, each requiring a certain amount of Gather stored. Characters can also use any gather stored on other characters to utilize their attacks so this introduces a unique way at implementing a teamwork method in battle. While it is a slightly interesting mechanic to use in battle, I found that its usage was often impeded by the limited amount of enemies in the game. In my experience with the game, using gather methods usually needed when first encountering a new set of enemies, but after a level gain or two I was able to just beat them back with normal, un-gathered attacks thus defeating the purpose of the mechanic.
The environments also serve to be a big problem in the game as objects you can pass through or not pass through are not easily distinguished. I remember having to pass behind a large boulder that was seemingly blocking off my entire path, yet I can not walk over a certain patch of grass or over and above a tree (over and above as per the 2D plane; it would actually be behind). This makes navigation on the field very frustrating, especially when characters actually get separated and stuck in objects on the field. I don’t know how many times Kruller has got himself in a running loop because he was stuck on a boulder (although I can kind of imagine that happening to Kruller).
Pier Solar HD is okay. It’s not amazing but it’s also not terrible. The game does manage to capture the look and feel of the classic days of RPG yore, but simply looking the part is not enough. While the combat system is a bit interesting, it quickly grows to become something unnecessary once you adapt to the strategies and strengths of the limited amount of enemies you’ll face. The game also suffers from some clunky and frustrating environment designs that can sometimes leave you baffled and stuck. The story, with its refusal to let you in on even just minor details from time to time, can seem rather boring and drawn out for awhile.
The game does have charm though, especially with its characters, dialogue, and that amazing freaking music. If you can power through the negatives, you’ll likely find a decent RPG that you could sink some time into.