I know what you’re thinking. It’s been a while. Well, you’re right. I posted part one of the Pier Solar and the Great Architects HD Review Journal in November, and stuff has jumped in the way since then. Holidays, staff meetings, Super Smash Bros., other regular grown-up life stuff.
But you know what? That’s sort of the point in reviewing Pier Solar HD this way. There are those of us, myself included, that really enjoy RPGs, but find it hard to commit given the surprises and demands of life. The challenge for the RPG developer would then be keeping gamers like us engaged all the way to the end of their game. How are things faring thus far?
Picking up an RPG after an absence of several weeks always means risking losing your place, much like a book. However, Watermelon Games has given you a digital bookmark, so to speak, in the form of a handy-little-dandy pause screen option telling you what your next mission is. While “We need to talk to Sasheer” is little help if you don’t remember who Sasheer is (me), once combined with a modern convenience like the internet, I was up and running right where I left off.
Leave no drawer unopened! …Or not.
I should mention how exploration works in Pier Solar HD. In most RPGs from the 16-bit era, you would find extra items or hidden dialogues by examining anything and everything. But there really isn’t much of that in Pier Solar. I found next to nothing by examining painting, barrels, crates, etc., so much so that I thought initially that the developers at Watermelon were intentionally trying to discourage exploration.
What I found though, was that there were actually quite a few hidden items, but you have to find them rather than click aimlessly on pots and cabinets. Many of these secrets are found in hidden rooms that are found when you pass through invisible doors, although at one point I found an entire hidden town where I picked up a couple of pretty nice items. There are also plenty of references to other retro gaming franchises, like Zelda and Alex Kidd, though some are subtler than others.
I also tinkered with the traversal options a bit more, and found that the “easy walk” method really helps you navigate the world. Essentially, turning it on means that you will automatically navigate around corners and small obstacles. It’s not novel by any means, as several RPGs have used a similar mechanic in the past, but it’s cool to have the option to tailor the game to your own preference.
Despite not having the ability to freely traverse the full extent of the world, I find traversal in Pier Solar HD to be mostly a delight, and I haven’t encountered too many annoying moments of not knowing what to do. That is, other than a slight detour in an area known as Meho Rocks, where I found myself wandering around in an inescapable maze-like pit for nearly three hours before somehow triggering a sequence where my party realized I was going in circles. Nope, nothing other than that.
The Wii U Divergence!
For much of my last several sessions, I’ve spent a lot more time playing with the Wii U’s gamepad. When playing on the TV, the gamepad will display a radar which is actually pretty helpful depending on the situation. Otherwise, you can use the gamepad for off-TV play. Everything works well in this mode, and being an RPG, any lag or communication hiccups won’t affect your experience much.
One thing that I did notice while playing on the gamepad is that during a battle using 2 out of the 3 visual filters, your characters onscreen are blurry. The enemies look just as they do on a television screen, but your party is indistinct. This only occurs during battle scenes on the gamepad, and the image doesn’t seem to be affected if you’re playing using the HD+ filter, but it’s still odd.
The off-TV option lends itself to grinding quite well, though. I was very easily able to traverse, battle (especially when selecting the “AI” battle option, which allows for all of your moves to be automatically selected), and level up fairly quickly, all the while watching a show or keeping tabs on my kids.
One particular annoyance is that you will find yourself fighting the exact same enemy configurations. A lot. So much so, that even my daughter noticed. “Daddy! Why do you just keep doing the same thing over and over again! You just fought these guys!” Yes, dear, I know. One baboon and four monkeys, again… Or one large flying squid thing, two small ones, and two jelly things… again. I noticed this even before I started the level-up grind, and it makes for some dull strategy when you are repeatedly faced with the exact same task.
Right now, I’m a bit more than twenty hours into Pier Solar HD. I expect that part three of this experimental review will cover the game to its ultimate conclusion, so stay tuned for the final verdict and overall thoughts on the game. However, despite not having come to a final score for Pier Solar HD, unless it goes really off the rails, I think at this point I can at least recommend it to fans of retro JRPGs. How strong will that recommendation be? We shall see, eh?