After downloading Pier Solar and starting it up, I immediately got a sense of the journey that I was about to embark on. Many of us gamers who grew up in the late 80’s and early 90’s have travelled and adventured through these types of RPG’s time and time again with games like The Legend of Zelda and Chrono Trigger. Watermelon Games is well aware of this and hits you in the face with nostalgia right from the start with everything from the circa 1983 soundtrack, the world layout, the low bit graphics, the dozen one-liner dropping NPC’s roaming about, to finally, the protagonist Hoston. He’s a young boy who wants nothing more than to leave his hometown in search of adventure with his friends Alina and Edessot by his side(the Frodo Baggins comparisons are aplenty here). Soon the children get their chance when Hoston’s dad becomes ill and is in need of a rare plant that only grows in the dangerous caves outside of town. From here the story explodes and the kids are off on a dangerous journey to their own Mount Doom. Pier Solar is a cute homage to all the old school RPG’s that came before it, filled with jokes and references galore. Watermelon Games clearly has done their homework and aims to please the older fans of the genre, which they do….. sometimes.
For all the nostalgia that instantly made me smile when the game booted up, when it came time to actually play i was left with more of a half smirk. It started when I took control of Hoston and quickly realized the movement reaction in this game is way off, sending me into walls, hugging corners i was not trying to hug, and spending ten seconds just to line up to grab a chest or to talk to a NPC. I went from using the toggle stick to the D pad for movement almost instantly because it was so bad which barely helped but it was better than nothing and I had a long game ahead of me.
The world the developers have created is humongous and filled with life, unlike the games that this game desperately wants to be. RPG’s back then suffered from a lack of population, it always felt like you and the characters that inhabited the world were the sole survivors of a plague or natural disaster. Pier Solar rectifies the situation with tons of villages, caves, forests, farms, and ocean piers teeming with life to explore. You most certainly will get sidetracked from time to time as there is a good amount of side quests to fulfill and puzzles to solve in each area. Watermelon mostly made good use of the square acreage in the game to which i applaud them. My only real problem with the world is some of the level layout is just flat out pointless. You will spend five to ten minutes figuring out how to get to this one room only to find that there is nothing of value and have to make the same few minute trek back to where you came. I understand rooms with nothing in them are a part of RPG’s, but Pier Solar does this so much I wonder if they’re trolling us or they just got flat out lazy at certain parts of the production.
The game also has a wonderful sense of humor (and also an obsession with fruit) aimed at both kids new to the genre and veterans such as myself. The writing goes anywhere from silly fart jokes, to abilities such as dropping a giant avocado on your enemies, to poking fun at the RPG genre itself, which I really enjoyed. An example of the latter would be when you die, Hoston and the characters roam around in the dark game over screen, debating whether or not to load the game back up and give it another shot. The story in and of itself is nothing that we haven’t seen before. When each plot point unfolds, you can almost immediately guess what is going to happen next. I normally don’t play video games for story telling but this stuck out really bad to me which says something. For me, these types of games live and die during the combat. Having to manage your characters wisely in the heat of the moment is where I get my bang for my buck in RPG land, and this game fails miserably at it. The combat is so slow that even fighting a couple of low level minions will take a few minutes due to each characters action animation. Not only is it slow, but there literally is no sense of urgency when it comes to character and item management. Alina comes with a healing spell as soon as you acquire her and that is literally all you need through three-quarters of the game’s content in terms of getting your guys back in the fight. Healing potions were simply there for me to trade in for cash, nothing else, and Alina is far from the only character that has these abilities so as long as you have MP potions, you’re in business for a vast majority of the game. All the extra trinkets you pick up along the way are not needed as well. I never used an elemental damage buff in my fifteen hours. The bosses in the game do not pose much of a threat either, as long as you keep leveling up new weapons and gear as you come across new villages and towns. I lost to one boss the entire game and that was the first one. As soon as you figure out the “gather” ability that allows you to harness your power into a more deadly attack, you’re yet again in business.
For all the problems that Pier Solar has, it was still a great bit of fun since it was the first game of its kind that I have played in quite some time. The nostalgia, the characters, and the writing all brought me back to my days as a youngster playing A Link To the Past for the first time, it’s just too bad that i probably won’t remember this journey at all.