Pier Solar and the Great Architects HD is a remastered version of an RPG by the same name that released for the Sega Genesis in 2010. No, that’s not a typo. As a role-playing game that pays homage to games like Phantasy Star, Lunar, and classic Final Fantasy titles, it was only fitting that Pier Solar would release on a 16-bit console.
The history of the game’s development cycle is enough to fill its own article, as it began in 2004 and was initially slated to release on Sega CD. However, at the end of September, Watermelon Games gave Pier Solar an HD facelift and released it on more modern consoles like the PS3 and PS4, as well as OUYA and PC, with Dreamcast, Xbox One, and Wii U releases scheduled for later in the Fall.
If you’re a fan of classic 16-bit RPGs, then you’re bound to fall in love with Pier Solar HD. From its beautifully drawn pixel sprites, to its creative combat system and 30+ hour world-saving story, it’s a blast from the past that will either whisk you away to your childhood, or remind you why you don’t play these types of games anymore. Although the story doesn’t tread any unfamiliar ground, it does a solid job throwing back to the simpler times where character development and quirkiness were all we needed to get sucked in.
You start off as Hoston, a young botanist who lives with his parents in the town of Reja. With a sick father in the house and the only cure being a mysterious herb that lies deep within a dangerous cave, he goes against his mother’s wishes and begins his quest. As is typical RPG fashion, what begins as a simple fetch quest morphs in to something much larger that puts the fate of the world at stake. Hoston isn’t alone either, as he’s accompanied by his childhood friends Alina; the “big sister” type, and Edessot; the younger “boy genius” with a penchant for tinkering and gadgets. With seven playable characters altogether, you’ll have plenty of time to get to know one another; but each seems to fill one RPG niche after the other. You’ll come across some memorable NPC’s as well, like a bounty hunter who questions why it’s okay to just walk in to someone else’s house in an RPG. It’s a valid question, is it not?
As was the case in many of the RPGs that inspired Pier Solar and the Great Architects, the game features a turn-based combat system. The main difference, however, is the game’s Gather command, which allows Hoston and company to skip a turn by powering up, and then either unleashing the gathered power for increased attack damage, or sending it to another character to use instead. This strategic form of combat, combined with elemental defense trinkets, is key to overcoming the game’s brutally difficult boss encounters. There are other rules to combat as well, like flying creatures only being vulnerable to ranged attackers like Alina, and having all cast members represent a specific elemental affinity–a la Chrono Trigger–but aside from the Gather command, it’s standard turn-based fare.
Graphically, Pier Solar featured fantastic sprite work on its Genesis release, but the HD remaster offers brand new updated character models and environmental textures.. if you’d like to use them. To appease both crowds, Watermelon has included the option to use the game’s original 16-bit layout, the new HD facelift, or a combination of both; using new backdrops with classic character sprites. The 2010 release has also had its soundtrack remastered for Pier Solar HD as well, offering up some memorable tunes to hum along while you dungeon crawl and partake in the game’s many, many side-quests.
I feel it’s important to reiterate that Pier Solar HD is an homage to the RPGs of the 16-bit era, and even if you were a fan of the genre many years ago, it’s not a game for everyone. For starters, the game’s high spikes in difficulty and lack of hand-holding as to where to adventure next may deter some who may have just started to delve in to RPG’s thanks to their increasing popularity on the 3DS. I’m really not the type to jump back and forth between the game and a strategy guide online, but Pier Solar HD had me coming back to my PC quite often (or using the game’s Notebook command), as I had absolutely no idea where to go.
As an RPG diehard in the SNES, Genesis, and PSone era, I still found the game testing my patience with its frequent random encounters, and the overall slow nature of turn-based combat as a whole. That’s no fault of Pier Solar‘s design, but rather my own tastes and preferences, and I’m sure that RPG purists will find my own cons in their pros list instead. And although the game itself is pretty lengthy, the world felt fairly small due to its use of a point and click world map system. Rather than traversing on foot and seeing what lies between towns and dungeons, you simply select your destination on the map and appear at its doorstep. Then again I’ll always appreciate the game’s well designed environments over fluffing out content with a mediocre world map that I can walk on with my own two feet.
It did a lot to remind me of why I really enjoyed role-playing games back then, but also why I’ve veered from the turn-based nature of more modern RPG’s like Bravely Default and Etrain Odyssey. Although I may not have enjoyed the game as much as I would have liked, I have absolutely no hesitation recommending it to any fan of the games mentioned in this review. It’s a fantastic throwback that stands miles ahead of most RPG Maker clones that litter the indie section on Steam, and it’s definitely something Watermelon Games should be proud of.
Recommended for fans of: 90’s turn-based RPG’s like Lunar, Phantasy Star, Chrono Trigger, Breath of Fire, or Final Fantasy.
*This review is based on the OUYA and Playstation 4 versions of Pier Solar and the Great Architects HD. It is also available on PC and PS3, with a Wii U version slated for November 6th, and Xbox One, Xbox 360, Dreamcast, and Android releases coming later in the fall. Unless we find significant differences between each version, consider this our definitive review.
Bradley Keene is the Executive Editor here at What’s Your Tag?, generally handling news, reviews, public relations, and our social media communications on Facebook and Twitter. He’s an aspiring video game journalist, Baltimore native, and on again/off again WoW player that blasphemously favors consoles over PC. He’ll always have a soft spot for Nintendo, and his favorite game is the original Metroid on NES. As a Marylander he naturally puts Old Bay on everything, loves the Orioles, reads a lot of Poe, and says “son” too much. Contact him by e-mail at the address above, or follow him on Twitter.