For every Super Mario Bros. or Legend of Zelda, there always seems to be a game that gets brushed off in favor for more popular franchises. To worsen the situation is the fact that the game may actually be good! ActRaiser is such a game. Every SNES fan may have had a conversation with others about this game in one point or another, especially since there’s currently only two games in the series.
ActRaiser was created by Quintet, a lesser-known, now defunct game company that brought to life Soul Blazer, Illusion of Gaia and Terranigma. This game was published by Enix of Dragon Quest/Warrior fame, giving the players a chance to play as God in the epic battle against Satan. Naturally when the game was released overseas, it went through Nintendo’s policies and numerous things had to be changed. Most notably the protagonist and antagonist, the Star of David marks into generic symbols, and the difficulty being tweaked to make it a little easier for the Western audience. For instance, spikes that were instant killers in the Japanese release only took off health in the Western versions. Trivia aside, ActRaiser was eventually re-released on the Wii’s Virtual Console, so it must’ve been a heavenly masterpiece!
You play as the “The Master”, a god-like deity who oversees the world and the people living in it. After an epic battle with the evil Tanzra, you wake up to find that you have no powers and Tanzra and his minions are running rampant! With the help of a little cherub, your job is to restore order by not only fighting the monsters that devastate your land, but restore your former strength by having the people place their faith in you.
The gameplay is twofold. The first part is to rid the land of monsters by hovering your Sky Temple over certain areas which will commence levels- called “Acts” – and jump and slash your way through using your trusty sword. You have a health bar, lives, and a time limit that you need to keep an eye on. And you must do battle with the end boss to clear the level. Of course, there are little statues that you can slash to gain extra health, scrolls (to use magic once you acquire it), and extra points that will aid you.
The second part is where you’ll be spending perhaps two-thirds of your time: rebuilding the population. You’ll use your cherub friend in a SimCity-esque scenario to guide the population and shoot down any monsters that fly around. One too many hits will temporarily disable you from attacking and protecting the people from famine, houses burning down, or people getting taken. The population must be guided to seal the lairs where the monsters originate so the population won’t suffer anymore.
During this feat, the priests will constantly bug you with information, “offerings”(like bombs that will destroy even the strongest airborne enemy), scrolls, new magic, etc., or inform you of incidents that will trigger access to the second act. You must fill a section with as much people as you can; the more population, the more you’ll level up. The more you level up, the more you can endure during the action segments. Adding population and killing enemies will restore SP which will allow you to use natural wonders (lightning, wind, earthquakes, the sun, etc.) to clear land for more people. Of course, you can also use your wonders to kill the populace, but you’re better off not doing that.
You’ll also use your wonders to solve puzzles that will advance the story. To be honest, I’ve had more fun with filling the land with people than the actual action segments. The hard part of the action is that you’re not the fastest sword-swinger in the world and the controls are quite tight. You’re not the fastest arrow-shooter, either, and the monsters are pretty fast! Also, all the main bosses you fight during the game will return before you even get to the final boss. I found this rather cheap on Quintet’s part. On the bright side, you can save data whenever needed so you won’t lose all your progress.
As with any game in the early life of the SNES, ActRaiser is notable for its use of the Mode-7 chip. This allowed parallax scrolling the system is famous for. Perhaps the most popular example is the sequence from your Sky Temple to a Stonehenge. It’s like the game is revving you up for battle. It’s also fun to just move around the map, zooming in and out just to get a lay of the land. The areas from the woodlands of Fillmore, to the deserts of Kasandora, to the chilly front of Northwall, all have their own unique charm thanks to detail and care put upon by the ward work of the creators.
The sprites and obstacles practically take lore from other civilizations like Egypt or ancient Japan. At one point you’ll fight a dark-looking Ra-like monster in an ancient pyramid. In another Act you’ll be slicing a Tengu in the mountains. You’ll even find yourself chopping the head of an evil wood sprite. The hero reminds me of Marvel’s Thor with a sword instead of the Mjolnir! It’s also funny to see the hero’s walking animation.
Even though this game was released in the year 1991 in North America, music wizards already perfected the soundfonts that the SNES is so famous for. And this game is quite notable for its epic choreography. This is accomplished by the great Yuzo Koshiro. He is the electro and trance king that Sega Genesis fans who played Streets of Rage, The Revenge of Shinobi, and Beyond Oasis are familiar with. In addition to the aforementioned games, Mr. Koshiro has also delved into other genres and ActRaiser really shows it.
Some great examples are the famous Fillmore level, to the epic clash of Bloodpool, to the ominous temples of Marana’s Pyramid, to the quiet forebode of Northwall. In some of the soundtrack I can even picture the London Philharmonic Orchestra at least doing a medley for the game. The soundfonts used were perhaps a prototype of the SNES’s potential for the kings of RPG games to follow. As a matter of fact, there was even an official soundtrack released in Japan and a short medley was performed in the second annual Symphonic Game Concert in Leipzig, Germany. It’s that good!
Also worth noting is the music filling the populace. It sounds like it came from the medieval times and is quite relaxing. As for the sound effects, there’s nothing manlier than hearing the iconic “Haw! Haw!” every time the hero attacks. The caws of the monsters and hearing your sword cleave into the enemies are also very satisfying.
The boss-fest near the end of the game and the somewhat oafish gameplay of the action sequences are the only things holding ActRaiser back from a 5-star review. But ActRaiser is a toast to the gods, with its lush graphical details in the sprites, the use of the Mode-7 graphics when entering the Acts, the epically symphonic soundtrack fit enough to be in a blockbuster movie, and the population sequence that was enough for a spinoff. ActRaiser is as worthy to anyone’s SNES collection as the mighty sword your hero wields. This game is perhaps a perfect excuse to quite literally play God and smite evil with holy radiance almost all in one sitting!
4 out 5 Stars.
ActRaiser. (2017, October 10). Retrieved October 26, 2017, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ActRaiser
Yuzo Koshiro. (2017, October 21). Retrieved October 26, 2017, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yuzo_Koshiro
Quintet (company). (2017, October 12). Retrieved October 26, 2017, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quintet_(company)
London Philharmonic Orchestra. (2017, October 24). Retrieved October 26, 2017, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/London_Philharmonic_Orchestra
Thor (Marvel Comics). (2017, October 22). Retrieved October 26, 2017, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thor_(Marvel_Comics)
Ra. (2017, October 23). Retrieved October 26, 2017, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ra
Tengu. (2017, October 22). Retrieved October 26, 2017, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tengu
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