It’s been six long years in the making, but finally Pier Solar has been released to the masses of fans who supported its development. Originally dubbed Tavern RPG, this one-time mini adventure was based on an online Genesis RPG fan community called The Tavern. Now it has been transformed into a grand adventure of its own, featuring a whopping 64 meg cartridge, sweeping CD score, and a hefty 40+ hours of gameplay. Pier Solar is no mere diversion for retro console diehards, it is a labor of love by true fans of 16-bit adventures, looking to give their beloved console one last hurrah.
Passion can only take you so far without a plan. The folks at WaterMelon clearly have vision, but have they managed to create a solid game around their aspirations? From my first few hours with the game I can confidently say they have.
Pier Solar begins with you in the role of Hoston, a brave young boy who is trying to find a way to cure his father’s grave illness. Like so many adventures before this, Hoston sets off with a ragtag group of friends to find the cure for his father’s illness, and is thrust into a much broader quest to save the world itself.
While the opening story is a bit cliched, it’s easy to overlook with the excellent writing, which strikes a fine balance between deadly serious, and downright hysterical. Much of the game’s writing is just as witty as some of Working Design’s Sega CD era translations, which to me is a welcome treat.
During the first few hours of gameplay you start off on your trek to find a rare herb in the heart of an ancient cave (which of course, is populated by nothing but monsters hell-bent on devouring any unwelcome visitors). When you first take control of Hoston and begin exploring the town of Reja, you’ll immediately notice just how colorful and detailed the graphics are. The sprites may be a bit on the small side, but characters are generally very well animated. Colors pop off the screen, and there are plenty of details littered throughout the village.
As good as it looks, the sounds are superb as well. Using the enhanced soundtrack CD you will be treated to some excellent PCM music accompanied by some impressive sound effects. During my trip through town I even noticed the sound of construction on a building actually got louder as I approached the house that was being worked on, and faded into the distance as I got further away. This same effect was used in a bustling town market adding some nice atmosphere to the environment.
When you’re not exploring the many towns of Pier Solar you’ll spend quite a bit of time in combat. Battles are handled in similar fashion to other turn based RPGs, but there are a few unique twists which make Pier Solar’s combat system a bit more complex than other games in the genre. For starters, the defend option is actually useful here. Choosing to defend actually makes that character defend a character of your choosing. Got a tank of a character but find your healer to be a bit squishy? You can have your tank protect her with his life. This tactic proved necessary in a few boss battles which were particularly unkind to my healer.
Another twist comes in the form of the Gather gauge. Choosing to gather allows you to forfeit your turn in order to charge the gauge one point. More powerful attacks and spells can be used when the gauge is full. Handily enough characters can share their stocked points, so you won’t necessarily have to skip attacking with your strongest character in order to use his highest leveled spells.
These features are especially helpful considering the tenacity of the monsters you’ll face in your quest. In my roughly five hours of playtime I’ve spent quite a bit of time grinding to defeat some of the more challenging bosses and some menacing denizens of the first few dungeons. The encounter rate is certainly manageable, but leveling is a slow process, and if you choose to rush through some earlier areas you’ll easily find yourself getting overpowered in no time. This may sound like a gripe, but in reality I’ve enjoyed every minute of the action. Combat is fast and exciting, and there is plenty of loot to be found by anyone willing to uncovered all of the secret passages in the dungeons.
As it stands Pier Solar has surpassed all of my expectations. It’s easy to try to give extra credit to an independent team for not having a product quite as polished as an official release. That said, I’ve spent more time praising Pier Solar for doing tricks that professional development studios never thought of. Pier Solar is an extremely polished labor of love that could easily stand side by side with some of the role playing powerhouses of the 16-bit era. If the rest of the game matches the quality of what I’ve played so far, it could easily very well be one of the top three best role playing games on the Genesis.
Be sure to check back soon for the full review of Pier Solar.