I confess, when I first heard about Pier Solar back in 2008, I was both excited and cautious. On one hand, the prospect of playing a new game on my Genesis sounded like an awesome proposition. On the other, I simply didn’t believe the game would get done. As the originally announced release date faded into memory, I assumed the game had simply gone the way of many a Dreamcast indie project, and forgot about it.
The game surpassed my expectations though, and has actually made it all the way into my Genesis. Even as I ordered it, I had my doubts about the game being anything more than a stereotypical role playing game that just happened to be on the Genesis. Has the game been able to surpass my expectations again?
Yes. Rather anticlimactic, I know, but I want to make one thing perfectly clear: Pier Solar is a really good RPG. It will typically take me at least several hours to truly become invested in a turnbased RPG. Whether it’s a lack of moves, a slow start to the story, or simply a battle system that needs time to reveal all its tricks, a turn based role playing game very rarely grabs me in the first few hours.
Pier Solar, however, managed to grab me before I even reached the first dungeon. The game can be a little confusing at first: you need to find all your weapons and find the third member of your party before you can do anything, and the game’s direction was a little too vague for me to find everything as quickly as I might have liked. Once you find everything though, things really hit their stride, because you can now start your journey!
The first thing about this game that will immediately stand out is the battle system. This is not your standard turn based game. Right from the outset there is strategy involved, and the effectiveness of your strategies will determine how well you do in a battle. For one, you can move your characters either forward or back on the battlefield. The way you have your characters placed will determine who the AI attacks. This allows you to play a constant game of defensive/offensive, pulling back weaker or damaged characters and allowing you to move other characters forward to draw the enemies’ attention from the other combatants. This works hand in hand with another unique part of the battle system, gather.
Gathering allows your characters to gather power, making their attacks stronger. Much like “focusing” in Skies of Arcadia, gathering requires a combatant to use their move for a given turn, leaving them open to attack, and wasting a chance to deal much needed damage to the enemy. Strategic use of gathering can completely turn the tide of a battle. For instance, you can use one damaged or weak character to gather power while the more effective fighters are moved forward to take enemy damage. The weaker character can then send the gathered power over to a more powerful fighter to allow them to dish out a much more devastating attack. Alternatively, to gather up a lot of power quickly, all the characters in the party can gather at once for one turn, and then send that gather into one of the combatants to deliver a decisive blow. Gather can also help even the odds against enemies that your characters are not yet powerful enough to kill effectively. Gather is, in many ways, the true core of the battle system.
Finally certain enemies can only be killed by certain characters, changing each character’s strategic importance with different enemies. For instance, flying characters can only be damaged by the team’s archer, Alina. I’ve no idea what happens once you lose the strategic character in battle, though I imagine the only option from that point is to run.
I personally cannot wait to see what else the battle system has in store, once I’ve unlocked more moves and spells as the characters level up. Though, as it is, I’m already pretty happy with the battle system itself. It is a very surprising highlight.
Another thing about this game that has surprised me is the quality of its writing. The storyline has proven to be pretty engaging so far. The dialogue is well done and effectively shows the unique personalities of each character, and the story can be both dramatic and humorous. Hoston, Alina, and Edessot are all very likable characters, while Alina’s father proves to be a suitable dick early on in the game. The game even pokes fun at some of the genre’s conventions with some really funny scenes. Head over to “Headquarters” and explore the building there…you’ll see what I mean. Anyone who plays RPGs for the storyline, you will not be disappointed!
The graphics and sound are both on par with some of the Genesis’ better releases. My only real complaint about the graphics is how small the character sprites are. It can be hard to see the details on each character as a result, and you’ll often be telling the different characters apart by their hair color. This was apparently done because the game was originally being built for SEGA CD, and small sprites were required. When it was moved to the Genesis, enlarging all the sprites would have taken a significant amount of time to do. Regardless, the enemies and backgrounds in this game look great, and the environments have a nice amount of detail. Furthermore, wild life and elements like falling leaves add to the atmosphere of the game nicely.
As I said before, the music is on par with what you’d find in the Genesis’ better games. It’s catchy and it sounds nice, though I wouldn’t really put it on the same level as what you’d find in a Sonic game. What makes this game really stand out from the other Genesis games is its use of an optional music CD to enhance the sound. No other Genesis game has ever done this! Unfortunately, the reprint edition doesn’t come with the CD, and I have not been able to get the officially available burnable CD isos to work as of this writing, so I can’t give my impressions on the quality…yet. Hear the difference in the title screen music in the video below! Personally, I think both versions sound pretty good.
I am only three hours in at the moment, but I’ve been wanting to write this article since the first hour. While this isn’t technically a review, my experience with the game so far has been a stellar one, and I can’t recommend this enough to either Genesis or JRPG fans. The game is sold at cost for $45, and this includes shipping. The game comes with a really nice, (almost) authentic looking Genesis case, a full color manual, a region free Genesis cart, and even a set of stickers! You can buy it on the Pier Solar website. Please do not buy the $165 copies currently being sold on eBay as “rare”, as they are a severe waste of money.
I can’t wait to play more.Ad: