"So tell me, Me. After I spent eleven of the most agonizing hours of my 2012 on Pier Solar, bitched about it on my site on three separate occasions, then abandoned it for over a year and a half, you seem to think it's nigh time I finished what I started. Why should I try to reattempt it now, when I could be spending my time on, I dunno, Pandora's Tower, or Mass Effect, or Etrian Odyssey, or something else that I actually have a chance of enjoying?"

"Well, maybe once the plot finally gets moving, it gets really good."

"I seriously doubt that, especially when I've been given plenty of reason to believe one of the most prevalent team members is a clueless dimwit who doesn't understand, among other things, that there's at least three reasons this makes no goddamned sense. And even if I was one dungeon away from a life-changing epic of such depth and complexity that it makes Vagrant Story look shallow, the game cartridge would still have to pop open and release a live kitten when beaten to even begin to make up for how wretched everything before then was."

"Have you already forgotten about Blaster Master Overdrive and Super Meat Boy? And how much you hated those games the first time you tried them? And then you gave them a second chance, and they actually turned out to be pretty okay, right?"

"Yeah, 'okay' at best, when I solved my issues with the controls. But playing Overdrive was mostly about finding ways around the dodgy control choices, and even when I changed my approach from trying to play it like the first game, it was still marred with other problems like dull, samey environments and a retarded final boss. Super Meat Boy became somewhat enjoyable when I got a controller that actually worked and yeah, the soundtrack was friggin' sweet, but that game's sense of humor was still a real turnoff. With that in mind, I do not see any way I can reapproach Pier Solar that destupids the dialogue, lets me fight more than two enemy configurations in a given area, and makes the story move faster than a beached whale with another, heavier beached whale on top of it, aside from playing the game completely smashed. And besides, I'd only put a few hours each into Overdrive and Meat Boy when I originally trashed them, which even I'll admit was unfair. I gave Pier Solar eleven hours to impress me, and things only seemed to be getting worse."

"And you made it through, what, a third of the game? Isn't that a bit like blowing off Weird Al for his Polka Party album?"

"I equate it more to if I'd blown off James Patterson for the first third of Daniel X and his 'thrillingest thriller writer' comment."

"You gave Phantasy Star III another try!"

"Phantasy Star III just bored me to tears. When I gave up on it, playing Pier Solar was starting to feel like eating a bowl of rusty nails."

"Okay, look Codie, you haven't written a full review for this place in three years, and somebody needs to gut this game."


"... wait, you still haven't played Mass Effect?"

"Or Skyrim."

Nice of the developers to provide me such an appropriate screenshot.
But let's start this story from the beginning for the new readers. Pier Solar began its life as Tavern RPG, a game based on the members of some online community, but eventually progressed into a full-fledged homebrew game. Tributes to retro RPGs aren't unusual these days, what with games like Black Sigil being a Chrono Trigger float with a big scoop of Final Fantasy VI foaming away in it, Cthulhu Saves the World playing like Phantasy Star IV with more Mystic Quest-esque music and battle graphics, and the whole Guadia Quest segment of Retro Game Challenge. But what makes Pier Solar unique is the developers actually released it for the original system, meaning they went through the trouble of burning it to Genesis cartridges and printing manuals and cases for it. Although that and the way it utilizes the Sega CD peripheral are really the only things I can call "unique" about the game.

Pier Solar takes most of its cues from Lunar which, despite recognizing the Working Designs inspired writing, never actually crossed my radar during my initial attempt because I hadn't played it. But taking a look at Pier Solar after playing Lunar the similarities are staggering. There's the aforementioned writing where all the characters talk like they learned English from GameFAQs console war threads and Family Guy reruns, the anime graphics, the full screen images at key moments in the game (although Pier Solar mercifully spares you the bad voice acting and animation that looks like it was done in MS Paint), the whole thing getting started when three friends agree to sneak off to a nearby cave, that annoying control scheme where the characters automatically turn corners which was also in Phantasy Star IV but Pier Solar actually does something right for a change and lets you turn the damn thing off, a school of magic where every applicant's first test is clearing a dungeon, a subplot about a plague, the race of anthropomorphs, the lack of enemy variety, the cliche story where nothing happens until the first major plot twist several hours in, and the game being called Pier Solar. Blimey WaterMelon, why not just call the Dreamcast remake "Pier Solar: Great Architect Story Complete" while you're at it?

So Pier Solar pretty much crippled itself at the outset; Lunar was a game that didn't have an original bone in its body, and seeing how much you can rip off that is aiming for new levels of creative bankruptcy.

The hero of Pier Solar is a botanist named Hoston. And since you're probably wondering, no, I did not typo "Houston", his name is actually Hoston, so I guess he comes from the Legend of Heroes school of character naming that gave us names like Avin and Michel. Joining him is Alina, whose presence confused the hell out of me for the whole game. She's clearly an elf, what with the long ears and using a bow and whatnot, yet at no point in the game does anyone comment on it, nor give any indication that there are other elves in the world. It's like if a person with green skin walked into my workplace one day and everybody else acted like it was normal, and I can't figure out if I'm the only person who notices, or if nobody wants to say anything for fear of being labelled racist. The third party member is a 13-year-old blonde-haired genius inventor who in battle can attack enemies by lobbing explosives at them named Jeff... sorry, Edessot, which sounds like somebody couldn't decide if they wanted to call him "Edison" or "Elliot" and chose to compromise instead of just flipping a coin. Okay, I'm being facetious when I call him a Jeff Andonuts knockoff, because unlike Jeff, Edessot has a ponytail, attacks with tools including a chainsaw and a drill, lives in a dumpy workshop at the outskirts of town, and uses Fire-based magic. So he's not so much a knockoff of Jeff and as he is a mashup of Jeff, Edgar Figaro, and Lucca.

But instead of a dragon turd, Hoston is after an herb to treat the illness of his father Rudy, a name that I thought was atypically normal for this game until I remembered that was Chaz Ashley's Japanese name. Oh, and he has a spell called "Rock 'n Roll" which I took as more of that Working Designs "wit", not realizing how close to home I was hitting until I played Lunar and saw the same thing in Ghaleon's spell list.

In case I haven't made it clear enough, I am not a fan of Working Designs humor. I know some people find it refreshingly light-hearted, but it always makes me want to garrote somebody with the controller cable. Not just for being as imaginatively humorous as a football to the groin, but also for convincing a generation of fan translators and game writers that a script with personality means a deluge of idiocy, smartassery, vapid pop culture references, gross out humor, Internet memes, and head scratchers like this:

Screen courtesy of AtticusMJ @ YouTube, because like hell I'm replaying the first eight-odd hours of the game to get back to this part.

Long-time viewers of Zero Punctuation might recognize that as the way Yahtzee described the manual of The Witcher. Aside from the issue of regurgitating jokes from popular Internet comedians, although yeah, I've nicked my share of vocabulary and phrases from him myself (then again, I stick to the generic stuff like "tosser" and "pack it in" and I'm not charging people $50 plus shipping to see me do it), somebody should have informed WaterMelon that a JRPG really wasn't the best place to pay homage to an avid hater of JRPGs.

Anyway, after the overprotective adopted sister Luna... sorry, Alina forces her way into the party, the two go get Edessot because the cave with the herb is a labyrinth and they'll need his Exit Mouse robot, Lossa, to lead them out of the cave when they inevitably get lost. Except the cave is completely linear, and I had way more trouble finding my way around the first town. Moments like that make me wonder if Pier Solar was meant to be satirical, but if that's the case I'll say the same thing as I did about NIER's plot twist: satirically bad is still bad.

In Pier Solar's world, the top movie monster crossover is "Foreigner vs. Carnivore".
Since I just spoiled the ending of this review, and because this has been pretty vicious even by my standards and is only going to get worse, I'm actually going to take a moment to look at some parts of the game that aren't completely terrible.

If there's one thing you'll see mentioned about Pier Solar, it's that in screenshots it looks like a million bucks. Of course, the same thing could be said of Shadow of the Beast, and both games have issues when you actually play them. But while SotB's visuals fell apart because bosses were frozen in place and common enemies animated like their had a stick in their ass, Pier Solar has a problem with repetition that I'll get to in a minute, outside of battle the environments look cluttered, and it makes some truly baffling mistakes. First of all, I thought JRPGs left 90-degree coastlines behind with the NES Dragon Warrior games. There's also Hoston's completely fucked up portrait that earned him the affectionate nickname of "Down Syndrome Hero" over at Port Saiid as well as Edessot's looking like his body and head are disconnected, trees that look like slides with roots, and the way several of the game's towns appear to be overrun with lemmings, which upon closer inspection are supposed to be NPC children. Breath of Death VII did the same thing, so let me give a blanket statement here: when you're working with humanoid sprites, and particularly very small ones, don't give it a blue body with green hair. Whether it's supposed to be a child, a vampire, or Doc Samson painting himself up for a Blue Man Group audition, it is going to look like a lemming.

Before I played Pier Solar, my favorite soundtrack on the Genesis was Elemental Master. And after playing Pier Solar, that has not changed. But the music might actually be the aspect of Pier Solar I have the least issue with, although it was a lot like Lunar in that it sounded alright while playing, but as soon as I shut the game off it quickly evaporated. Okay, that may have had more to do with my wrapping up each session by sitting at the computer to bang out some thoughts while blasting a Binding of Isaac song. But there are some pretty decent songs, and there's nothing as hideous as Lunar's Weird Woods song.

Take note of this screenshot, it's going to come up later.
But I would like to rag on the enhancement disc. The first run of Pier Solar came bundled with a disc you could place into a Sega CD that would play higher quality music, and while the reprints didn't have it you can either burn one from an .iso provided at the old WaterMelon forums or buy one. I burned mine and couldn't get it to work right. I don't know if the disc itself was defective or what, but the music kept stuttering, dropping out, and starting over, and I finally ditched the thing when I got into a battle and it played the wrong song. But I don't consider that a lost cause, because it sounds like total shit compared to the cart version.

Here's five songs from the cartridge: the title screen, the battle theme, the first area theme, the boss theme, and the final boss theme. While I've heard better title themes (cough), battle themes (ahem), first area themes (sneeze), boss themes (hack), and final boss themes (yes, maybe I will marry Cthulhu Saves the World's soundtrack, shut up) those songs are kind of catchy, although they tend to alternate between strong melodies and noodling, especially the final boss theme which has an awful lot of filler. Now here's the enhancement disc versions. I can't be the only person who thinks the "enhanced" versions all sound completely dead, can I? Or that the boss theme sounds like somebody needs to retune their guitar? Or that the final boss theme sounds like somebody fed the original through a GYM to MIDI converter? Or maybe I just set my expectations too high when I thought it was going to be something like the Earthworm Jim Special Edition, or the synth rock from Ys Book 1&2, and not this faux-orchestral crap that even Sony Sound Forge thinks is wimpy.

Combat features some mechanics that, in the right hands, could have made for some fun boss battles. The most promising of them is Gathering. In battle you can have a character sacrifice a turn to charge themselves, which powers up their attacks and lets them access higher level spells. This can be done up to 5 levels on each character, and characters can transfer Gather to one another. But they lose gather if attacked while above level 2, adding a layer of channeling and protecting resources. Unfortunately, due to either an oversight in game design or somebody's idea of a sick joke, this mechanic just ends up being a massive pain in the ass. But I'll talk about that later.

Pier Solar is also one of the only RPGs I've seen besides 7th Saga where there's actually a reason to Defend - if an enemy uses a physical move on a character who's guarding, the character will usually counter attack, and often avoids the enemy's attack altogether. Defending can also be used to protect a character from losing some of their Gather. Additionally, airborne enemies cannot be hit with melee weapons, so they have to be hit with a projectile weapon, a spell, or a counterattack. Although if this sounds like a groundbreaking innovation to you, I'd like to remind you that the game was not actually released in the early 1990s but in 2010, after Paper Mario was released in 2001 and Mega Man X Command Mission in 2004. And while I'm not going to criticize any game for not coming up with a particular idea first as long as it makes good use of it, if your idea of innovation is trailing six years behind a Mega Man game, you might want to reassess you standards.

Right, I'm done with that. Now I'll give you all a moment to get your ponchos on while I get ready to go Gallagher on this sucker.

When I first heard about this game and snagged a copy when it was reprinted early 2012, I was hoping for something that may not have been on the level of even Cthulhu Saves the World but would have still been a nice way to spend some time as a fan of retro RPGs. What I got was one of the most painful, tedious, cliche-ridden, pleased with itself games I have ever slogged my way through. And I don't even consider myself that impatient with games. Hell, I didn't even mind the constant loading delays in Blaster Master: Blasting Again so much as having to stare at the main character's ass during them. But even my patience has its limits, and Pier Solar's attitude towards all its design choices seems to be "THIS will never get old."

Is that troll on the left taking a piss?
You want to know something? I don't even remember the last time I played an RPG with only two enemy formations a dungeon. It might have been four years ago when I played Legend of Heroes: Tear of Vermillion on the PSP, but I can't remember if that was every dungeon or just the last part of the final one. And yeah, 7th Saga could have benefited from more original enemies and fewer palette swaps. But even Lunar had the courtesy to throw together several formations with the handful of enemies in each dungeon, and more importantly use different enemies in the areas outside of the dungeons. Not only is this aesthetically boring, it creates unintentional hilarity when the characters comment on how even their most skilled hunters avoid Reja's cave, and then you enter the cave and find it inhabited by the same creatures as the forest outside.

As for the "fun boss fights" I said those battle gimmicks could have been used for? They don't exist. Let me reemphasize that when I quit with 10:10 on the clock (and closer to eleven hours factoring in time lost to a couple of game overs), I had only beaten two bosses, the second of which was fought maybe four hours in. The next two "bosses" were unwinnable fights against the same prick, one of which was right after the Giant Enemy Crab. Do you want to guess what the clock read when I finally encountered the third winnable boss, against a robotic knight? 14:02. And when the game finally starts regularly throwing bosses at you, beating them is less about finding ways to break the game in your favor ala Final Fantasy V and its Job system, and more about equipping all your characters with the item that resists their attack element so they can't do shit to you.

So yeah, Pier Solar is just about the biggest misuse of a few interesting ideas I've seen since Phantasy Star III. You can't just throw a few toys into combat and let the player use them if they feel like it, you have to do something with them. And for all the strategy Gathering might have given the boss battles, during the parade of random encounters all it does is add unnecessary actions and turns to battles that are already too drawn out and repetitive. And that's not even the most grating thing about Gathering. Even higher level healing spells need to be charged, and the Gather level for a given spell still applies on the field, where you can't charge the characters. If you've already figured out where this is going, you're thinking this through better than the developers did.

Pier Solar sure loves its slimes, doesn't it.
If you want to heal a character with magic, first you have to go into the Inventory to see how much health each character has. Then you go back to the main menu, select magic, select the healing spell, select the character, and sit through a drawn out spell animation. The menu then closes down, and to recast the spell you have to reopen the menu, relocate the spell, and resit through the damned spell animation. The entire process from opening the menu to when the spell animation finishes takes roughly ten seconds. The only healing spell you have access to outside of battle recovers either 100 hit points or 1/3rd of the character's total HP, whichever is greater, and you can have up to five characters in your party. So depending on how much your team gets slapped around, you have to go through all of this up to fifteen fucking times, for two-and-a-half fucking minutes, AFTER EVERY FUCKING BATTLE. Did somebody at WaterMelon play D and have their mind blown by that part where you spend several minutes spinning a wheel or something?

Oh, and it gets better. Instead using a sensible list of names to choose who you're healing you have to highlight their field sprite. So if your characters are hidden under something, you either have to guess which one you're healing, or risk getting into a battle (that you're probably not ready for if you're trying to heal your characters) to move them. And if they're bunched together, you can't move the cursor and are unable to heal anyone but Alina. Funnily enough, you can use healing items of any tier, instantly, repeatedly, and through a direct character selection that shows you how much HP everyone has, so at least you have a choice of watching dots fly around the screen dozens of times, or grinding for money to keep a stock of healing items provided you have the space in your less than generous inventory. Your third option is to leave the weakest enemy alive in a battle and restore your characters with a stronger spell then, but good God people, there's a difference between challenging your audience, and just wasting their time.

Although the spell might not have meant to be as long as it was; when you cast the spell the framerate drops and the music stutters. Actually Pier Solar has quite a bit of lackluster programming. There's chunks of sprites disappearing when too much stuff is on on the same horizontal plane, enemy formations with more than six or seven enemies are fought in slowmo until you knock off a few of them, large or multiple enemies practically freeze the game when they disintegrate, and when in-battle spell effects aren't killing the framerate they still usually cause the music to stutter and crackle. There's also flashing bars on the screen every time it blacks out when you walk through a door, and the game frequently pauses for a split second at certain parts of the map, as if it's loading the next area. I'm not holding any of this against the Genesis itself - I mean, I've seen the VR boss in Contra: Hard Corps. But you'd think people with such a stiffy for the 68000 would take the effort to code their game so it doesn't choke on a crappy special effect. Guess it wasn't just the guys who made Exile and Mortal Kombat who weren't capable of using all the Blast Processing at their hands, eh?

I wasn't making that thing about the lemmings up. And bonus points if you noticed the acid lemming.
My first attempt at this game ended in March 2012. After I received the Witcher manual from this motherfucker who looks like Sigma from Mega Man X with a petite goatee and exudes "secretly evil" so hard it's barely a secret anymore, I had to run in circles around a desert area until the characters finally noticed, and the game let me complete a piss-easy puzzle to open the way to the next area. After buying a shovel and digging up a rock, I entered a forest area where the enemies Ambushed me practically every fucking battle. Then there was some asinine banter about how fast hedgehogs are, which might have been relevant back when Sonic was considered the apex of awesome but just comes across as laughable in an age when he's mostly about crap games and Internet fetishes. The combination of that ordeal burning through the last of my patience with the game, no indication of what I was supposed to do next, and finding a replay of Final Fantasy VI vastly more fulfilling, I bailed before the characters could start making Weighted Companion Cube jokes and telling each other they fight like a cow.

Fast forward to November 2013. That's when I finally decided to get the thorn of not having finished this out of my side, if only so I could turn around and shove it through the game's right eye. Of course, I had also downloaded Phoenix Wright Dual Destinies, and then Aeon Genesis had to audacity to translate Ys V, but I knew I had to keep going with Pier Solar or it would wind up back in the scrap pile. So, it was back to grinding through repetitive battles, idiotic dialogue, and a sluggish story, unable to decide which was the most tedious, all the while knowing Phoenix and Apollo were watching me through the 3DS camera, shaking their heads in disappointment.

I did not start the game over from the beginning. I was not going to play this game for 10-11 hours more than I really had to, I knew trying to go through that monkey desert again was just going to make me give up again, and it was easy enough to recount what happened storywise (fuck all). According to GameFAQs the next stop is something called the Cave of Evil, and not ten minutes later the game was already finding ways to piss me off.

I'll forgive you if you have trouble believing me, but I did not alter that screenshot next to the character introduction paragraph. Yes, Pier Solar wasn't content to just use two enemy formations a dungeon, now it's using the two enemy formations from another dungeon.

Turns out, the Cave of Evil was optional and the solution to the lake was a lot simpler than I thought, it's just that the game never gave me any indication that it had given me the option to use the compass when I was near the lake, and only when I was near the lake. Then I finally find this "Point Zero" place everybody's been telling me about, and...

... God, I hate this fucking game.

And since I brought it up, Pier Solar can't seem to decide if it wants to treat me like I'm clairvoyant, or retarded. So on one hand, there were moments like when Cult Leader Sigma gave me a key to unlock a tunnel but forgot to tell me where the tunnel was leaving me to bumble around town while scratching my head like a chimp, or when I was told to find some information on an ancient library and then set loose in a town that seemed to have been laid out by MC Escher. (And since I brought that up, why are the towns in this game more confusing than the dungeons?) Also, I'm not ashamed to admit that I never would have figured out what the Master Keys were for if I didn't look it up in an FAQ. But then there's other moments like an old man making startling revelations that anybody who's into 16-bit RPGs enough to give a crap about this game should have already figured out, and when you first meet a character named Zellini...

... who gets the group a boat ride to the next town, where they have a run-in with a mysterious bounty hunter.

All I'm saying is the answer is somewhere in between, people. And what the hell is going on with her boobs? It's like she has a pair of baseballs vaccuum-sealed under her skin.

But something happened about halfway through the game. I ran into a shop that sold all four of the accessories that resisted attack elements, so I bought a full set and had pretty much beaten the game. I no longer had to grind levels or constantly cast the healing spell after battles, because every enemy (and boss, save the last three and Cult Leader Sigma) in a given area is the same element, and with the correct item their attacks are so badly crippled they're barely worth registering. The items say they halve damage, but I'm pretty sure 74 is less than half of 300. Later, I found a book that gave all my characters 1 Gather at the start of each fight, so I was free to pelt the enemies with area of effect spells to end the battles in one turn. And even though the game still wouldn't let me use Kruller's Heaven Blow spell outside of battle, it at least increased the amount of HP Alina's Heal spell restored. So did this mean the pacing was going to pick up?

Nah, it just meant Pier Solar was brewing up new bullshit to waste my time with.

A shitty knockoff of a shitty game within a shitty game. Pier Solar truly is layers upon layers.
So, the manual mentions on one of its pages something about pushing boxes. Want to know how many times in my 25-hour run of the game I actually had to do this? Twice. Once in the monkey desert, then again during some sliding block logic puzzles at the magic school. Then the game just shrugs its shoulders, abandons the idea, and you never see it again.

After the magic school's sliding block puzzles, you're thrown into a battle royale with three other students, using exploding frogs in a maze full of destructible blocks in an attempt to toast the other three and let's just stop beating around the bush now, it's Bomberman. And just when I thought Pier Solar couldn't dig any deeper below the barrel, in come the slippery bridges. These are winding paths where the characters keep sliding until you change direction, but if you don't turn in time they fall off and have to start all over. So these are less the ice dungeons in Blaster Master and more brief sessions of DDR minus the music, lights, or satisfaction of feeling like you got your workout for the day, and you have to restart the song every time you miss a note. They don't appear again until the final dungeon where somebody thought they were upping the ante by adding a water current that washes you away if you screw up, only thanks to a hilarious oversight the current just makes them stupidly easy. Hey guys, remember what I said earlier about the difference between a challenge and a waste of everybody's time?

Sad part is, they're still not as asinine as the blacked out rooms in Brain Lord.

Then there was the second jungle area. After realizing it looked an awful lot like the game's earlier jungle, right down the slide-trees, I was mentally prepared for more battles against the same turtle and tentacle enemies. Only this time it culminates in a boss battle with some kind of giant insect thing. Not a hard battle, especially with some towels equipped, but after you knock it down the game makes you backtrack all the way to the beginning of the area on foot. This is because during your backtrack, the boss ambushes you twice for rematches fought in exactly the same way. I almost would have given the game credit if the third battle was cut short by your dragon friend, but nope, she just sits there a few feet away, twiddling her dragon thumbs while you spam spells for another five fucking minutes. I got pissed off at Okami for pulling that shit and I actually liked that game, though it at least had the courtesy to spread out the fights with Orochi (and make him look different the second and third times).

But surely there will have been some extravagant, twisted enemies saved for the final dungeon, right?

... thanks, Pier Solar. For a minute there I was afraid you were going to disappoint me. Honestly, I'd be surprised if this game even has as many enemies as 7th Saga.

So the final section of the game was battle after battle with recycled enemies I beat by mashing Attack over and over and making my way through a dungeon that looked like somebody was trying to figure out how to get bloom in a Genesis game, all the while imagining myself violating the cartridge care instructions. The final battle is made up of two bosses with two forms each, and the second and third phases aren't shy about spamming a fuck-you instant death spell. As final challenges go this is only slightly more creative than a final boss that spams confusion spells (yeah, I'm talking about you, Guard Daos). The final final boss is a giant monster scorpion with a woman's face, which I have absolutely never seen anything like before. Eh, at least she's more colorful. I lost the first time when she bust out a laser attack that ripped my party to shreds, but with a poison immunity item on Alina and the correct elemental resistance item equipped on everyone else, the only difficulty in the rematch was staying awake long enough to finally kill her.

And it only took Genesis programmers 20 years to figure out how to pull this off!
Well, the battles are a bust, but what about world exploration? For one thing, Pier Solar doesn't have much of an overworld. When you exit a town, you're instead taken to a map and select your destination, and even that vanishes at the 1/3 mark. There aren't any teleportation spells (save one you lose very early in the game) nor vehicles to travel the world in, and even if you were patient enough to foot it there's no way to get back to older areas once you cross certain points. So progression feels less like wandering around a mansion and rummaging through the dressers for WMDs and more like walking through a series of rooms where the doors keep slamming shut and locking behind you, making the game feel restrictive. The only time the world at all opens up is towards the end when you warp around a Mode 7-esque world that screams "Haha! See, the Genesis CAN do Mode 7, but the SNES can't do Blast Processing, proving the Genesis is superior once and for all!", except it's limited to spinning around seven or so predetermined points and is nowhere as elaborate as flying around in Final Fantasy VI or Secret of Mana, and Blast Processing is still bullshit. Also, you still can't access about half the game world and you're sealed off from this when you move on to the penultimate chapter.

The game frequently boasts about being 64 "ultracompressed" (whatever that means) megabits in size, but what with the lack of enemies and claustrophobic world, I'm left wondering what WaterMelon was using all that space for. I really hope they weren't saving the enemies' animation frames like a sprite sheet. Maybe all that ROM space was going towards those full screen pinups? Or translating the godawful dialogue into two more languages?

There's a third reason I dislike the Working Designs style of writing so much, and that's how I can never figure out what tone the games are going for. In Alundra there was a part where a disaster strikes the town and somebody reacts by asking why they can't get cable TV which didn't so much alleviate tension as make the character look like he was suffering from dementia, in Albert Odyssey an emotional reunion between two lovers was interrupted by a snarky comment about the two "getting horizontal", Lunar SSSC's ending and its cheesy attempts at melodrama would have been hard enough to take seriously even without lines like "If this thing were any uglier it'd be my butt", and amateurs imitating that is taking things to a whole new level of terrible:

Oh, okay. So the writer of this diary is sad about the treatment of the Goaman, but still found the motivation to word their entry like a trashy novel, apparently about bestiality since the Goaman are goats (oh, "goat men", I get it). I also couldn't figure out what any of these characters' personalities were supposed to be. Partly because the game is so tight on releasing information that even motivations and driving forces are withheld, but mostly because of how inconsistent everyone's actions are. Hoston flits schizophrenically between mouthy teenager and well-spoken biologist, and Alina? Are you supposed to be an energetic protective big sister, a polite young lady, a fragile flower who just wants to feel appreciated, or a spunky, short-fused fireball?

You know what? Forget what I said about the game's soundtrack. Kruller is my favorite thing about Pier Solar, if only because he was the only character I could at all relate to as he also seemed to be struggling to maintain a level of reason while knee-deep in idiocy, as well as having the only remotely amusing lines in the game, including one moment involving a loaf of bread and a tooth. Although I did find it a tad strange that everyone treats him like an old man despite him appearing no older than 40, although there was one scene that made me think he was going senile. Or more likely, he's in violation of CTNC #698.

Still, I'd be kinder to the game's attempts at humor if it was actually funny...

... instead of making me want to deep fry a leather-bound copy of the game's transcript and ram it down the author's throat. I mean, who the hell other than Beavis and Butt-head would hear "Mazooca" and think it sounded like a rectal disease? If anything, it sounds like something a kid on a playground would make up to counter his friend's rocket launcher.

Let me make my stance on toilet humor and pop culture references clear right now; I'm not automatically outraged by them, and even I'm not above finding them amusing when done right. If you want to throw in a butt joke for a cheap laugh or throw a bone to fans of some obscure game then knock yourself out, but you gotta have something else. Think of them as the junk food of humor - something quick and easy to reach for when you're desperate enough, but ultimately insubstantial. It's okay to have them once in a while, but try to live off them and you'll just end up with a stomachache at best.

Any jackass can drop the name of a book, and you don't even have to have read Harry Potter to know what wizards call non-magic users. But the references that are actually funny are the ones that require some thought and understanding of the material, both on the part of the person making the joke and the audience. Basically what I'm saying is the joke needs to be a little more than "The Soup Nazi, AMIRITE?"

But keep in mind that unlike Working Designs translations this is the original script, meaning the story was built from the ground up to sound like an amateur fan translation. Granted, the story might have been written by somebody who, through no real fault of their own, just didn't know how to write English comedy. I can't pronounce half the names on the manual's staff page, including two of the three people credited with the story, so it's entirely possible this game's dialogue wasn't written by a native English speaker. That's the only reasonable explanation I can think of for moments like this:

I did not cut any parts of that dialogue, and I only doctored one image (I'll let you figure out which one). Oh, that's not the clunkiest conversation I've ever seen in a game, but it still reads like something out of a badly subtitled anime. And I'm still trying to figure out what the hell it means to escort somebody out of a home "in shifts". The best I can gather is he meant "in splints". If Arekoll is suggesting the others are going to be taking turns cleaning up Hoston's pulverized remains, or that he's going to leave Hoston in such a bad state that he won't even be able to remember his own sex and walk out in women's underwear, there are much clearer ways of conveying those ideas. I even looked "shift" up online to see if there was some other definition of the word I've somehow missed all these years, and thanks Pier Solar, I could have gone the rest of my life without learning that "shift" is a slang term for masturbation.

On a side note, does the facade of that bakery and font "BAK-RY" is written in remind anyone else of Earthbound?

Just one of the many locations you can't explore.
Even if you stripped out the retarded dialogue and cleaned up the English, that wouldn't save Pier Solar from having the most inept story I've seen in a game in years, and no I'm not forgetting about Blasting Again. Now, I'm going to start ripping into the story which means there's going to be spoilers galore, but because the game is so rare and very few people are ever going to play it, I really don't care. But if you're that bothered by it, feel free to go back to the File Cabinet or head over to my forum to tell me what a dick I am.

If I wanted to go easy on the story, I'd say it's clearly being made up as it goes along. But since I don't, I'd like to point you to this wonderful post Flying Omelette made: The Twelve Deadly Sins of Video Game Storytelling. The only two Pier Solar doesn't commit are the sequel ending and, surprising for this genre, a character with amnesia unless the ending counts. Let's do the rundown:

#1: The Big Reveal
Pier Solar's story takes so long to unfold not because it's such a complex epic that anything less wouldn't do it justice, but because it uses the age-old tactic of withholding as much information from the player as possible for as long as possible so it can blow their minds with a shocking twist just before the final boss. It became painfully obvious that this was going to be the case when, after beating the Giant Enemy Crab for a compass and getting my ass kicked in an unwinnable fight, the three kids are reunited with Rudy. The goat man told them to destroy the compass, but Rudy says not to. When Hoston asks why, Rudy says he'll find out soon enough. The only reason Rudy doesn't explain what's going on right then and there is because that would mean sharing it with the player, and that information needed to be saved for later. Later on, Arekoll starts to muse on what the genocide of the Goaman means, but before he can finish his sentence Edessot cuts him off, lest anything as significant as a plot point slip through to the player.

And of course, about twenty hours in the game starts hitting you with plot twist after plot twist after Odin-buggering plot twist. Even when you get to the final boss, the game is still throwing plot twists at you, and the story gets twisted so hard that it basically snaps and they start contradicting each other. If Kleoneo is the son of Rudy and Bethina AND Rudy helped the Architects build Pier Solar and is really hundreds of years old AND Kleoneo was conceived after the battle of the Architects, that means Rudy would have had to betray Bethina three times, not just twice as Kleoneo says; once when he sold her out to Arekoll and Cliboe, once when they got back together and then he ran off to Hoston's mother after knocking her up, then the final time when Bethina and Kleoneo are trying to rebuild Pier Solar and Kleoneo thought he could trust him since he'd loved Bethina before. Maybe Bethina's never heard the phrase "Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. Fool me three times, and goodness me this is some terrible writing."

#2: The Scooby-Doo Unmasking
I already mentioned this one. Okay, it's not that integral to the overall story, but really, Zellini could have just accompanied the group on the boat instead of being all sneaky for half an hour, and it would have changed nothing.

#4: Plot Alzheimer's
Hooooooo boy. Believe it or not, Pier Solar is even worse about this than The Big Reveal. Hoston's botany skills go unmentioned for the entire second half of the game, after conveniently leading the group to the Angel's Altar Lossa is mentioned a whopping one time before the ending, the Goaman are so inconsequential that they feel like somebody drew a picture of a couple anthropomorphic goats and kept pestering the other team members to put them in the game until another person finally agreed to do it just to shut them up, and the entire middle third of the game is made up of locations and characters the game pulled out of its ass then shoved right back in after they'd played their parts as traffic barriers between you and the end of the game. The thief town. The voodoo lady who looks like she got lost on her way to the Monkey Island auditions. The ancient library and some war between two kingdoms. The magic school. Something about a mad scientist. And what the hell are the "Modareign"? Are they the dragon race Mossae belongs to, but seems to be the only one of?

And what was the deal with the hidden garden and the Angel's Altar? Were they Goaman ruins? And if the statue in the garden and face on the altar were supposed to be Bethina, how did Alina recognize her? Is it somehow related to that whole being an elf thing? But Alina doesn't say anything about it when she sees Bethina later, so if she's not Bethina who was that woman? Well, don't hold your breath for an answer, folks.

#5: Anime Cliches
Well, cliches in general. But I'm not the world's biggest patron of anime, and even I know a character having a tentacle beast tear out of their back while the shell of their human body dangles limply is something that happens in anime. And Resident Evil 4.

Then there's the revelation that the big baddie isn't really evil, she just sees the world as impure and wants to recreate it as she sees fit. Time to call back to Legend of Heroes again.

My, that game sure is coming up a lot, isn't it?

#6: The Final Boss Out of Nowhere
Or rather, "other characters that come out of nowhere halfway through the plot". For the majority of the game the two major villains are Ironhart, a knight in blue whom I once said was wearing gold, confusing the color of his armor with that of his troops, and Sasheer, the aforementioned Sigma lookalike. But you kill both 20 hours in, one right after the other, to make way for the game's real villains, Bethina and Kleoneo, who are basically the SSSC-versions of Ghaleon and Xenobia with their genders switched and a bit of an Oedipus thing going between them. Bethina was only briefly mentioned once at the very beginning of the game, and Kleoneo maybe an hour before he appears.

Apparently Hoston can be sixteen and ten at the same time.
#7: Weird for Weirdness's Sake
Just before the final dungeon, there's a scene that was not at all lifted from Lunar SSSC where Bethina plunges Hoston into a hallucination where he's attacked by his greatest fears and doubts while mirages of his friends talk in riddles.

I'd say the ending counts as well, but since it commits an even greater deadly sin, I'll talk about it then.

#8: Gratuitous FMV
Hey guys, maybe if you'd taken out those worthless full-screen images of the characters sitting in a circle, or lounging on the back of a dragon, or staring at the camera, you wouldn't have run out of ROM space for enemies halfway through the game.

#9: Show, Don't Tell
Very little actually happens in Pier Solar, and what plot there is is mostly backstory told through tedious infodumps. The manual references the titular Pier Solar and the Great Architects and a lost paradise, but in the actual game, these things aren't so much as mentioned until around sixteen hours in. Sure makes Lunar waiting several hours to bring up the Magic Emperor look reasonable, huh? But then it takes a few more hours until a character explains what Pier Solar actually is:

The universe is a collection of millions of random events. All occurring simultaneously. All in tandem with one another. At the best of times it produces the most incredible phenomena. Oxygen. Carbon. Life. At the worst of times... disease... death... ourselves. But what if you could reach inside the universe? That's what Pier Solar did. It allowed us to see inside this grand machine.

So, Pier Solar is a Large Hadron Collider?

We tried it on smaller universes. Creating, shaping, collapsing them over and over again. The results were remarkable.

That's the Large Hadron Collider, Arekoll mate.

Pier Solar is a machine with power only the most brilliant minds can grasp!

You're still describing the Large Hadron Collider.

We created organisms. Life. But it was life... perfected. No aging. No death. Even in its most minute form, Pier Solar could harness unimaginable energy. We could make the most complex machinery run on... on nothing itself. The need for any consumable resource for... well... for anything was gone, vanished in the puff of a single idea. This was going to be our parting gift to humanity. An Eden. Paradise regained.

Oh, that sounds more like a tool for hacking reality and... waaaaait a minute, is Pier Solar the game cartridge? With the "universe" being the Sega Genesis, and the story one big arrogant metaphor for the development of the game itself?

We are products of this universe after all, not the one we were building. And so our opinions... differed.

Yup, sounds like a team of squabbling game developers to me. And look, here in the manual it says "The completion of the Pier Solar project was the final chapter in a tale that began with man's writing of Genesis." Gee, could "Genesis" be referring to something other than the book of the Bible?


Or I guess it could just be a bullshit plot-driving MacGuffin somebody scavenged out of a 90s anime.

... I'm not talking to you anymore.

And before anybody complains, yes, I know the "machine with power etc." line was actually the first thing he said.

#10: The Irrelevance Twist
So, when you meet back up with Kruller a little while after he saves the kids from their first encounter with Ironhart, it turns out he's looking for a stone called Zephyr to cure Ironhart after some accident that's never elaborated on shattered his sanity and I guess made him invulnerable? But when you get the stone and Kruller tries to use it, it doesn't do anything, and then Ironhart reveals that he'd never been brainwashed and was always aware of what he was doing. Apparently his admitting this also makes him vulnerable again because you then wipe the floor with him, and the Zephyr is never mentioned again. I can only imagine what the planning meeting behind that was like:

A: "Wait, isn't this going to sound an awful lot like we substituted Rune, Zio, and the Psycho Wand for Kruller, Ironhart, and the Zephyr?"
B: "Well, yeah, isn't that the point?"
A: "But if the player wanted to see all this happen again, couldn't they'd just, you know, replay Phantasy Star IV?"
B: "Hm, good point. Hey, I've got an idea! Let's make the player think that's what we're doing, then surprise them with a twist!"
A: "Brilliant!"

Also, if Ironhart was serving Bethina from the start, and the Goaman were Bethina's bioweapons, why did he kill the last two Goaman?

Later on, Arekoll suggests finding the third Architect, Cliboe, and getting his help in defeating Bethina. Only when they get to his dimension, they find he's been brainwashed by Bethina. Arekoll kamikazes himself to take him down in what I guess was supposed to be a heart-wrenching display of self-sacrifice but wound up being the fucking funniest thing in the whole game. If he could do this, why did he even bother with Cliboe? Why didn't he just go straight to Bethina and zap her?

12. Improper Use of Subtext, Theme, & Symbolism
You'd probably be surprised to hear this about a game where a lemming asks you how many times you've farted in your life, but towards the end Pier Solar's story takes on a massive levels of pretentiousness. There's something about how even a villain's life shouldn't be taken which I'd seen covered more competently just a few months ago in a superhero comic from April 1992, and something about how forcing people to be happy is slavery, and how Hoston killed more than Bethina ever did, and it's delivered with all the subtlety and elegance of somebody trying to punch out a pig (and fucking hell, when your writing is at a level where the Hulk could teach you a thing or two about subtlety, maaaaybe that's a sign you need to seriously think about what you're doing).

I know I said I wasn't going to worry about spoilers, but I'll be nice and avoid spoiling the ending, as much as it deserves it. Ordinarily I'd pounce on something like that for breaking the Game Ending Golden Rule of "Don't make the player feel like everything they did was for nothing", but the rest of the game had already made me feel that way. Also, I was too busy trying to decide if it was the most laughably manipulative attempt at some deep profound meaning since Shadow of the Colossus ended with the protagonist getting turned into a baby, or the most unintentionally cathartic ending to a shit game I've had the pleasure of watching since Lufia 2 ended with Maxim and Selan getting killed. If the message was supposed to be "Hoston and Bethina really ARE the same thing!" then well, good for them. But what am I supposed to take from it? And I'd say "There's no such thing as a perfect world" and "The road to Hell is paved with good intentions" count as "fish in a barrel" themes, especially when the latter is a common English proverb.

Also, a character asking Hoston if he's really the hero of "this story" furthered my idea that "Pier Solar" is really the game cartridge, and this is trying to be some mashup of Bioshock and Omikron: The Nomad Soul.

Giant Spider, or did Kraid really let himself go?
I know what many of you are thinking: "This is a small indie developer, they didn't exactly have the budget for something like Vagrant Story." But (A) I'm not so jaded I can't tell the difference between "not as good as Vagrant Story" and "total garbage", and (B) I think the Star Wars prequel trilogy proved that writing a compelling story doesn't take a multi-million dollar budget - it takes one person who knows what the hell they're doing, and preferably can write humor by employing wit and observation instead of sounding like they learned everything they did about English comedy from their roommate's collection of Robot Chicken DVDs.

Well, that or "You just don't get it!" In which case, get on a bus and go to Hell.

I once compared ideal story development to watching somebody knit a sweater. Pier Solar's story is like somebody sitting you down in front of a repetitive, meandering puppet show while they go knit the sweater behind a door. Occasionally he'll come back out holding some yarn of the next color he's going to incorporate into the sweater, stop to assure you that, no really, this is going to be awesome! and then retreat back into his room and leave you to the puppet show. After many, many hours of this, he busts out of the door, throws something that would baffle the Once-ler in your face, then runs away while you try to decipher what you've just been handed. After much pondering, some people will then decide it can't be a piece of clothing and call it a work of abstract art. But all I'm seeing is the work of somebody who didn't know how to knit a damn sweater.

Though upon closer inspection, I realize the product is such an inconsistent mess because it wasn't actually knit from scratch, but made by haphazardly sewing together scraps it clipped out of other, more competently made sweaters and yes, I'll stop torturing this metaphor now. Take when Rudy reveals the truth of his illness to Hoston:

Nice of Pier Solar to take a plot point from the first fifteen minutes of Final Fantasy IV and drag it out to twenty hours. Following this is a shocking reveal that one of the major villains is Hoston's long-lost brother, and then you're sent to acquire the crystals the big baddie needs to power a device they plan to dominate the world with. On an unrelated note, did I ever tell you all about that time one of the people on the game's development said the SNES was an "8-bitter in disguise" and that the Genesis was the only true 16-bit console? I did? Well, I'm sure I haven't shown you this before. Hey, want to know what Genesis game I've seen with loading delays? PIER SOLAR.

There's also an easter egg in the game's intro. Normally, when the WaterMelon logo flashes, Edessot will be sitting in the bottom right and will take a bite out of a slice of watermelon, then makes a big smile. Well, once I saw him eating a PAL Super Nintendo instead.

... Phase Distorter?
So it's quite obvious that WaterMelon has nothing but contempt for the Super Nintendo. And yet, Pier Solar spends just as much, if not more time ripping off Super Nintendo RPGs as it does Genesis RPGs, effectively making it to Super Nintendo games what The Incredibles was to the Saturday morning cartoons it ripped off then pissed all over. Yes, it plays like a Lunar hack and makes a few references to Phantasy Star IV through the name of the dad and an inconveniently placed bakery, and Hoston apparently buys his clothes and gets his hair done at the same shops as Nigel from Landstalker. And admittedly if the game references Vay at any point I wouldn't have picked up on it. The game swipes a few plot points from Final Fantasy IV, but the game I was reminded most of after Lunar was actually Earthbound. I already mentioned that either Edessot is a deliberate homage to Jeff or his character designer and I need to have a little talk, but there's even a scene where he has to repair a broken vehicle to get to the next area, the game progresses through a bunch of connected locations without (much) of an overworld, the game over screen depicts Hoston standing in a black void, the Trench area looked uncomfortably like something out of Earthbound, as if Magicant mated with the Cave of the Past, the effect for the Blizzard and Megashock spells looks like an Earthbound battle background, and at the end of the game you're introduced to a spherical object used to teleport to a point of no return. And if the true hero of the game really is the player, that's another thing to add to the list.

Also, the menu interface was ganked from Secret of Mana, the fights with Ironhart and Sasheer wherein your team gets split up and two characters have to fight the knight while another two fight the bald guy in robes did not at all remind me of the fights with Minotaur and Omniscient in Final Fantasy V, and the reveal that the Goaman were creations of a goddess to be used as weapons, but were given free will after a battle among three gods ended reminded a little too much of the Espers from Final Fantasy VI. I'm also told that in the preliminary stages of the game's development WaterMelon toyed around with Chrono Trigger sprites, but I figured they scrapped that until I was wandering around the mining town and saw an NPC who looked like he stumbled through a dimensional portal from 2300 AD.

Or maybe it's just overfamiliarity with those others games. I even had flashbacks to the water canal in Ys Book 2 when I first went into the sewer under the mining town and I find it pretty unlikely that Pier Solar would stoop to referencing a TurboGrafx-CD game, so maybe it's all just a coinci-

Well, never-fucking-mind.

The reasonable me says I'm being unfair in lumping everyone on the team together when it might just be some of them who won't let a petty, decades-old console war die. The cynical me says if that's the case, then the idiots need to be kept on a tighter leash. The extra-cynical me wonders if it's the same line of thinking that inspired the Zero Punctuation plagiarism, or one of them sending me an email telling me the group could never make a game as good as Phantasy Star IV without considering what level of "totally asking for it" it was to say that to a cantankerous smartass who was pretty upfront about thinking Phantasy Star IV is kind of overrated and utterly hating what they played of Pier Solar.

The reasonable me then says the group are just trying to have a little fun with the rest of their Genesis-loving buddies. The cynical me then responds that that just lends credence to the idea that the game had little ambition beyond making a bunch of Genesis fanboys feel like it was the early 90s again (and maybe proving the Genesis was so incredibly amazing it didn't need the CD attachment to handle Lunar), and then asks what the appeal of hyping your game by dredging up an embarrassing 20-year-old console war that the games industry is still paying for is. The extra-cynical me then reminds the cynical me that the Genesis community thinks a game made up entirely of bosses that you're not supposed to actually fight is anything but retarded, then remarks on how it's exactly in line with Sega slamming the competition then ripping it off anyway, but doubts the likelihood of Pier Solar being a satire on that.

Then the sarcastic me chimes in, and wonders if Pier Solar has an F. Scott Fitzgerald thing going where it denounces the other class while secretly desiring to be one of them. Then the condescending me opens her cake-socket and suggests WaterMelon thought they could get away with it, figuring their target audience wouldn't be that familiar with SNES RPGs. Then the reasonable me slams her head on the desk.

And finally...

If that is not the douchiest thing I've ever seen in a video game, it's certainly in the running. You might say I'm not supposed to take it serious, but it's like somebody wearing a T-shirt that says "I should be paid to be this awesome" or "To save time, let's just assume I'm always right" - they may not really mean it, but they're still an assclown.

So after all that (and this supplement reading), I'm sure some of you are still considering tracking down a copy or supporting the HD remake, because there's plenty of people in the Genesis fan community who will assure you the game is a masterpiece that's worth it even if you have to shell out $150 on eBay and I'm just an SNES-playing fake geek girl who "doesn't get it", so here's a simple test: does watching this video make you nostalgic, or does it piss you off? If nostalgic, then you are exactly the person this game was made for, so go ahead and dismiss me as a troll who wouldn't know a good game if it banged my mother. The rest of you, the game could pop open and release a stripper of your preferred sex carrying a whole basket of kittens when beaten, and I still couldn't tell you to have anything to do with it.