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Old 02-01-2011, 03:15 AM   #1628
Joe Redifer
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Join Date: Dec 2002
Location: Denver, Colorado
Posts: 20,144
Pier Solar
Sega Genesis

The packaging is astounding, truly.
Yours may vary, but it will still be awesome.

"Pier Solar and the Great Architects" is a brand-new, made from scratch RPG for your Sega Genesis/Mega Drive video game console. It was made by some guys who call their team "Watermelon". Basically, a couple members of the group learned them some code, recruited a few others from various game forums to help and made this game. That's pretty much the entire story of the development from beginning to end. The game exists as a real cartridge playable only on real systems (not cheesy emulators) at this time. Despite being made by amateurs with no budget, I was often fooled into thinking that this was a real game released by a high-budget company back-in-the-day as I played. It's that good! You'd think it's a real, official game made by professionals as well… most of the time. Oh, and this game has 64 MEGA POWER. That's twice the size of any US-released SNES game and the biggest cartridge game ever released on a 16-bit system outside of the Neo Geo.

Here is a typical battle scene. You will ruthlessly murder many baby turtles in your quest.
I'm surprised you don't murder kittens and puppies!

Story: 8/10
Typical RPG fare here for the most part. You don't start out with the intention of saving everything that could possibly exist, you just want you some plants for your sick dad. But as you go out to get the special plants to get rid of his chronic diarrhea, you stumble upon some shit (not literally, though you do wander through the woods). One thing leads to the next and before you know it you need to kick some serious ass in order to set things right. While the game doesn't begin with a clearly set goal that you must carry through to the end, you never lose sight of what you must do. In other words, it's not vague like the first half of Chrono Trigger is. I didn't have any issues with the story, the writing or the individual characters. I sometimes had problems remembering certain character's names when pressed to do so since they aren't your typical Bob, Jim or even Jimbob. But whenever a character was mentioned onscreen, I knew who they were talking about so I'm not completely hopeless. Another plus with this game is that our lead character, Hoston, is not mute! He has plenty to say. He has an actual personality whereas lead characters in RPGs that remain mute do not. This, in my opinion, allows for much better character development of the entire party as well as other characters in the game. I did not notice any typos in the game at all.

Well drawn cut scenes appear periodically, though the main character in the game looks like two different
people at times compared to his battle avatar. The writing has its moments of humor (not seen here).

Graphics: 8.8/10
I really don't know where to start here. I guess I'll start by saying that this is an RPG for a 16-bit system and those are the types of graphics and effects you can expect. That said, the graphics are mostly wonderful. There is a ton of detail, both IN YO FACE and subtle. A couple of the maps can look a bit tile-ish in appearance, but they really only stand out due to the excellence with the rest of the graphics. The sprites look and animate very well, and this includes the enemies of which there are many cool-looking ones. The battle scene graphics and menus couldn't be laid out better. The characters all have their displays at the bottom of the screen and it is easy to see anyone's status in battle. Colors are used very well in general. Characters get darker in the shade and brighter in the sunlight through the use of new space-age technology. There could probably be a slightly larger variety of enemies, but that's really only a minor quibble for me. It may be a bigger issue for others. There are some palette-swapped enemies here and there, but not so much that your very intelligence is insulted. There are some really cool effects here and there when you use special attacks and magic. And of course there is the obligatory MODE 7 stuff thrown in just like you'd expect with any SNES game… yet this most definitely isn't a SNES game. There are a decent amount of well-drawn cut scene stills which look impressive because anime-style artwork usually looks horrible when handled by anyone outside of Japan. This stuff looks legit. There are no animated cutscenes, though.

A town scene! This bitch is complaining about being only one of two women in a town
full of alcoholic men. The other woman is straight and has a kid so she is a milf, not a lesbo.

Sound: 8.5/10
The sound effects for this game are standard fare, perhaps even a tad below average. Nothing special going on with the effects. In fact I was kind of disappointed that the team substituted a stock white-noise sound effect for the noise made when going in and out of doorways compared to the excellent footstep like sounds that existed in the demo of two years ago. The music, on the other hand, is fantastic for the most part. It fits the game very well and really sets the mood. The battle tunes are particularly good and that's a good thing because you'll battle more than a couple of times throughout the game. The music doesn't sound as good as it could, however. The instruments chosen sound kind of abrasive in places and not on par with better-sounding Genesis games. The sample rate of the drums seems very low. Don't let this discourage you as you won't be plugging your ears by any means. It is very well done for the most part, but I think the Genesis can sound much better. If you have a Sega CD attached to your Genesis, you can download and burn a CD-R which features streaming versions of the music plus a few ambient sound effects here and there. The music sounds extremely professional and and raises the enjoyment of the game even more. It's not redbook audio, but streaming data processed internally by the Sega CD itself. One caveat about doing it this way is that the sound is shifted towards the left speaker. It is not balanced properly. It's not a deal-breaker by any means, but it is a bit distracting. I have noticed this same effect in other people's Youtube videos of the game, so it's not just my setup. I have heard, however, that there are a few models (like the Sega CDX unit) where this does not happen. I have not investigated this myself, but if this is the case, then there is a flaw in the program that was written which runs the PCM audio as it should be the same on all systems. There are no voices or vocal effects in the game.

Another battle scene, though slightly overexposed (all pictures were taken directly off of my TV).
The menu above rotates around for quick selections among battle options. Here you murder plant life.

Gameplay: 8.7/10
It's a JRPG. Your goal is to advance from one place to the next while fighting battles in between. You know the drill. Pier Solar doesn't venture very far from the 16/32-bit JRPG norm in this case. The menus are all handled very well and you get a description of what each item in your inventory is for or what it does. I greatly appreciate this as it can be very useful during battles. The control of the characters is also done very well. You can move at a typical RPG pace or you can hold down a button to make your characters run! I love that! You can even set it up so that your characters are always running unless you hold down the same button to walk. Everything moves and feels very smooth aside from some tiny slowdown here and there. The game is extremely fun to play and very involving. There are only a couple of spots to get bored and not everyone will get bored at said spots. Usually you are eager to see what every NPC (non playable character) has to say and what every house/building holds inside. There are a few optional side-quests and there are treasure chests that you cannot open unless you revisit them later in the game with newer skillz. The game does a lot to keep you interested. The battles are slightly interesting in that they have a feature called "Gather". You can collect gather during battle by choosing it from the menu. You will not attack, use magic or defend when doing this. Once you have enough gather, your attack strength and magic effectiveness increase. Certain attacks and spells require a set amount of gather to use. You can have up to 5 levels of gather, but you can only sustain 4 (once you get to level 5, you need to use it right away or it goes back down to 4). Members can give other members some of their gather or if you need it for a certain attack, you can take it from another member who has enough gather to give you. There are also items that can give multiple levels of gather in just one round to help you out. It's an interesting concept. Characters take one turn attacking each round and then settle back where they started. Players can be moved back or forth and they will be less likely to get hit when they are in the back. The battles can be fun and they can be tedious, it just depends on what you are doing. The battles are random and the encounter rate isn't too overwhelming, but there is a spell you can get just around midway in the game to reduce the level of encounters for a while. There is also an item which ensures you can run from any battle. But despite the developer's comments to the contrary, I find that grinding helps a lot.

The game knows how awesome it is to have a COMPLETE package.
Who are the dicks who throw away the boxes and manuals, anyway?
Now we know where they end up...

Parts of the game are diabolical, though. As a result there are parts which can be extremely frustrating. There is one part fairly early in the game where you are clicking switches to activate floating transports. You click a switch and you see two transports go somewhere. Unless you chase the second one, you will never know that it hides itself behind a supposedly solid wall and the game cannot progress until you find it. There are also a few puzzles that resemble the box-moving game Sokuban midway through the game. I hate Sokuban-style games, but they give the developers a giant hard-on. The part most people complain about is slippery blocks which you can slide off of if you are not careful. I found this part to be very easy because I am super 1337. However there are other parts of the game where there is no chance to rest your characters and you must go on and on and on before you get the chance. They went out of their way to make certain aspects hard instead of challenging. There can be a fine line between the two. One aspect that boggles most players is how the game saves work. You are allowed to save at any time, but you will be placed right outside the last doorway you came through. If you get a chest in that same room and immediately save (which the game lets you do), you will not have that chest when you load the game from that point. You have to walk through a doorway again before the save will take effect. It is explained a bit in the manual, but I am of the belief that the game should be mostly self-explanatory in regards to such things. Those are my quibbles with this otherwise excellent game. My playthrough clocked in around 27 and a half hours, but in reality it was more because I restarted from previous saves a few times and the final boss encounter (which is long) does not calculate into that time. I also had my characters run everywhere, so my time was reduced as a result.

There are a few minigames you can find/unlock as well.

Wrap up:
I would complain about certain things, like "just another anime character" and whatnot. But the thing is that this game was made by amateurs basically all living in different countries who have never met face to face. This game is an AMAZING achievement. The fact that this original game exists is one thing, the fact that it is so well made is another altogether. Also keep in mind that this is the first game ever made by Watermelon. I've never seen such a professional first effort by any developer even when they had official Sega dev kits. This really is worth your time to play if you have a working Sega Genesis or Mega Drive system (it's region free). As of this writing, it is currently sold out, but a new batch will go on sale soon over at Pier Solar's web site (don't worry, these guys are legit). Basically what they do is ship 'em out in giant batches. So you buy the game (which is basically just pre-ordering your copy) and wait until it ships. The game has sold in the vicinity of 3,000 copies so far which no other homebrew has ever matched that I am aware of… certainly not for game consoles, anyway. Anyway, this is a great RPG and a great game, period. I am proud to own it. Go get it and love your Sega!

A couple of years ago, there was a public beta released of this game that could be played on real hardware via a flash drive or on any functional emulator so people could try out the game. There have been significant changes to the game since the beta. For one, the screen now scrolls much more smoothly and the battles (and enemies) have been 100% revamped. From what I can see, very little remained the same. They weren't just sitting on their asses all this time, they were making the game as good as they could. Here are some comparison shots:

They changed the font (thank Holy Science) and made Hoston's mom look like much less of a bitch.
Most importantly, however, is the addition of a giant, out of control tree growing inside.

The first town has changed graphically for the better. The version on the left is a virtual eyesore in comparison.
The townspeople also took advantage of the extra time the game delay caused as they built an addition onto their house (right).

Guess who got a boob job?

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