Pier Solar and the Great Architects HD
WaterMelon reimagines their 2010 retro-RPG game for the Sega Genesis with updated graphics in a multi-platform port, including availability on Steam.
Content Warning: Fantasy violence; cannibalism; blood; language; suggestive themes; partial nudity; drug, alcohol, and tobacco references; spiritual content; crude humor; comic mischief; homosexuality reference; questionable romance.
By Christian review, I have determined that Pier Solar and the Great Architects is absolutely not a game that young, impressionable Christians should play!
Pier Solar and the Great Architects (hereafter referred to as Pier Solar), is the story of Hoston, a sixteen-year-old botanist from the small, peaceable town of Reja. When his father is struck with a debilitating and mysterious illness, all hope seems lost. The town’s only doctor is away on business, and won’t return anytime soon. Left with no other options–and against his mother’s wishes–Hoston teams up with his two childhood friends to embark on a quest to find the cure. They seek a rare herb that only grows in a cave deep within the Reja Forest.
In the fallout from their impromptu adventure, they stumble upon ancient artifacts, along with a secret plot that could very well destroy their entire world. Traveling from continent to continent, the unlikely heroes chase unknown foes, and discover things about themselves they could only have dreamed of.
The story is unique and raises a few deep philosophical questions that may well have some players continuing to think long after they’ve defeated the final boss. The characters are dynamic, each possessing their own distinctive personality, along with quirks. My only grievance is the lack of character development. There are many points for opportunity to help the characters evolve within the story that are noticeably squandered.
One example is the arrival of the party in a village from which one the party members is found out to have been adopted. This new knowledge doesn’t have a meaningful effect on the narrative, nor is it ever mentioned again. I felt this could have been an opportunity for this character to experience an emotional crisis in order to grow as a person.
Additionally, Hoston’s expertise as a botanist doesn’t play a significant part in the game once the initial quest to cure his father is finished. The fact that his being a botanist is noted as a part of the story’s description would suggest that his knowledge of flora would play some key role in the plot, but it doesn’t. In fact, he only shows his stripes a couple more times throughout the game. On the other hand, Edessot, the party’s gearhead and mechanical expert displays his prowess with nuts and bolts at regular intervals throughout the story, including the game’s climax.
Pier Solar’s gameplay is without a doubt its biggest pitfall. There are so many glaring design flaws that I simply cannot describe them all here. This review would end up being over 4,000 words long. So, I will only outline what I believe are the most noteworthy developmental missteps here.
The most egregious feature by far is the insidiously mind-numbing combat. It’s not so bad at first, but once you’ve finished the prologue, the enjoyability of battle takes a major nosedive. This is especially true once you start learning abilities that require a certain amount of “gather” to use.
The Gathering system is what makes Pier Solar’s combat distinct among RPGs (Roleplaying Games), and what makes it so incredibly terrible. Each round you spend gathering is one more round the enemies, who never have to gather, get to spend clobbering your party. Each use of the Gather command increases your gather gauge by one, and goes all the way up to five. Each character has an ultimate ability that requires five gather to use, in addition to an MP (Magic Points) cost.
However, the likelihood of getting any one character to five gather is quite laughable. For one, you cannot maintain five gather between rounds, and it will automatically fall to four. Additionally, if your gather is at three or higher, any hit from an enemy, whether physical or magical, will reduce your gather by one.
Furthermore, you do not maintain your gather between fights. Each and every encounter, you have to build your gather again. Finally, while there is no such thing as an “easy” fight in this game, most can be won more quickly by simply attacking all-out, with little to no gathering.
Quite honestly, I used the Gather system very little, save for against bosses. I instead engaged in the time-honored RPG tradition of rigorously grinding for XP (Experience) until I was certain I could handle whatever came next. However, even if you power-level your party, you still will not defeat the majority of enemies in a single hit, unless you critically hit. Also, you will encounter certain enemies in more than one area, but they are stronger the second time you encounter them.
The other profound disappointment in this game is the graphics. When I think of a what a classic RPG might look like if remastered in HD, I do not envision 16-bit assets being left in the game. However, Pier Solar does just that.
There are many hand-drawn, highly-detailed elements, all of which correspond to the environment. Trees, grassy fields, stonework, and even certain incidental objects are rendered beautifully. The HD backdrops for all battle settings are gorgeous. Unfortunately, these impressive images clash woefully with the remnant 16-bit pixel-art.
Of all the things WaterMelon remastered, why were the heroes’ sprites not included? Of all the graphics in an RPG, the party is the only thing that remains in view of the player for almost 100% of the game. It would have been nice to have had some pretty HD sprites to admire while running around and fighting. Instead, we’re left with low-quality 16-bit characters that do absolutely nothing to enhance the experience.
The other blunder in this refake is the animation that accompanies spells. They tend to be overlong and of exceptionally poor quality. In fact, many of them–most regrettably the healing animations–aren’t even acceptable by 1993’s standards. Why in the world would you tout your game as an HD remake if all of the lousy animation is completely untouched?
If it wasn’t bad enough the animation is sorely lacking in quality, particularly the healing animation is about five seconds long. That means when you heal after combat–and I say “when” because there will be nary a fight you will not have to heal after–you have to sit through this boring animation for as many times as you need to use it, which will probably be several.
The other thankfully bright spot in an otherwise venomous, gloomy mire of death, decay and despair is the music. The creators of Pier Solar may have dropped the ball regarding gameplay and graphics, but they certainly outdid themselves when composing the game’s soundtrack.
There are over sixty tracks that encompass the entirety of your adventure. These catchy tunes run the gamut of emotion and situational appropriateness. Even individual characters have their own theme music. The boss theme is particularly nice, and managed to get my blood pumping, despite the lamentable combat mechanics.
What’s more, the designers included the full soundtrack, accessible from the game’s main menu. That is a standout feature in a time when game companies often charge extra money for collector’s or deluxe editions in order for one to obtain the OST (Original Soundtrack) to a given game.
The writing in Pier Solar is an example of what happens when fans make games. While the dialogue is reasonable enough, the scriptwriters do very little to guide the player through the game. It’s all too easy to fall into the trap of thinking your game has an obvious progression.
However, it only seems obvious because you are the one who designed it. While no self-respecting RPG player expects hand-holding, you’re often told simply to “go here” or “do this.” Very little information is provided on what needs to be done beforehand, how to get where you’re going, or what actions need to be taken once you arrive. The game seems to employ the “wander around aimlessly and hoping for the best” style of adventuring.
In addition to some omitted directional cues, Pier Solar also features some rather off-color humor. I won’t get into specifics, but if you’re easily offended, I wouldn’t play this game.
The writers also take a few cheap shots at Nintendo through veiled references to the ancient Bit War between the two. As if blatantly showcasing your drooling Genesis fanboyism wasn’t the depth of the designers’ lack of professionalism, they also included many references to other Genesis games.
The most infuriating of all of these is the ripping off of the weapon Elsydeon from Phantasy Star IV. It is Chaz’s ultimate weapon, and apparently it’s Hoston’s as well. Let’s pay no mind to the fact that Elsydeon contains the spirits of the heroes who fought to protect the Algo Star System. And that its champion must be hand-picked by an incarnation of Lutz, or that the sword itself must deem the character worthy for him to even grasp the hilt successfully.
Let’s ignore all of that for the sake of putting it in a chest in the vault of some sultan whose guards have nothing better to do than tell SNES jokes. If you honestly believe your game is good enough to be considered a classic, you don’t need to gratuitously and incessantly name-drop characters and objects from the most successful games on the console.
I will try to be as brief as possible here.
Cannibalism – There is a baker you face off against who grinds people up and uses the bones and guts to make pastries.
Partial nudity – During the scene at the magic school, you see a few students in the showers. It’s only 16-bit partial nudity, but partial nudity nonetheless.
Spiritual content – Characters occasionally make references to God. They say things like, “Oh my God” and “God only knows.” Additionally, the notion of gods is also mentioned, suggesting that this world has both monotheistic and polytheistic faith systems.
Also, the town of Oasis is ruled by a sultan, the women wear burqas due to religious law, and one NPC (Non-player Character) mentions a Caliph. It becomes apparent that the town of Oasis is Islamic, in all but name. Finally, the game touches on existential questions regarding the creation and the re-creation of the world, the idea of becoming like a god, and the role of humans in it all.
Homosexuality reference – At one point in the game, Alina and Zellini are alone together, and Alina mentions the possibility of a relationship between Zellini and Kruller. Zellini laughs, and tells Alina that she is “much more her type.”
Questionable romance – In the game’s epilogue, the characters Kruller and Alina are shown to be starting a relationship. Now, insinuations made by NPCs and deductions drawn through context seem to indicate that Kruller is an older man, at least thirty years old. Alina, on the other hand, is described as being Hoston and Edessot’s childhood friend, but her age is never directly stated.
Hoston is confirmed to be sixteen through direct statement in conversation. Alina also styles herself as Hoston and Edessot’s “big sister.” This would suggest that Alina is at least seventeen, or at the very least sixteen, with her birthday several months before Hoston’s. However, she still lives with her father and takes orders from him, but in an event, becomes fed up with him and decides to run away from home, which is a child-like thing to do.
So, I sit here and wonder… is this an example of an inappropriate relationship in this video game? Now, romances are nothing new in RPGs. But it’s usually between the female lead and the protagonist, not the female lead and a secondary character, and the two are part of the same age cohort in every other example I can think of. While I’m not calling Kruller a pervert or a pedophile by any means, his interest in a much younger Alina is suspect.
Pier Solar and the Great Architects HD is by far and away the worst RPG I’ve ever played. The use of the term “HD” is at best misleading and at worst downright fraudulent. The gameplay is horrid, dreadful, and rage-inducing at times. Its only saving graces are the music and the story–besides the scatterbrained script. It’s like being read The Holy Bible and listening to the soundtrack of The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past while playing Shaq Fu on mute.
As a matter of fact, I want you all to help me coin a new video game colloquialism. If ever you experience a game that is remade, remastered, or ported to a newer-generation console, I want you to search your heart. If you truly believe that the remake or port in question has been done poorly, to the point of rage and/or disappointment, I would like for you to say that “it got the Pier Solar treatment.”
+ Five-character party
+ Unique, hand-drawn artwork for cut-scenes and many environmental elements
+ Original, intriguing story
+ Beautiful and memorable music, with entire soundtrack included
+ Likeable characters
+ High level cap
- Tedious combat
- No control over party order
- Very little diversity in bestiary and enemy battle groups
- Enemies drop no items or loot, except for money
- Uneven XP progression
- Unnecessarily labyrinthine and over-sized towns
- Monotonous and limited healing
- HD graphics mixed with 16-bit pixel-art
- No descriptions of spells, and no camp spell menu
- Many permanently missable items
- Minimaps are undetailed and unhelpful
- Very little direction concerning next objective
- Backtracking a hassle
- Cursor memory cannot be disabled
- Story-telling tries at shock value too early
- Unimaginative and excessively lengthy spell animations
- Not enough character development
- Stats only improve every OTHER level, including HP/MP