ActRaiser
  • Genre:
    • Platformer
  • Platform:
    • SNES
  • Developer:
    • Quintet
  • Publisher:
    • Enix
  • Released:
    • JP 12/16/1990
    • US November 1991
    • UK 1992
Score: 80%

This review was published on 09/25/2015.

ActRaiser is a video game published by Enix and developed by Quintet for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System and Super Famicom. It was released in Japan on December 16, 1990, North America in November 1991, and Europe in 1992. Several modifications were made to the game between its different regional releases. Firstly, the North American and European versions of the game were censored. The original Japanese version of the game contained a lot of religious subtext in it, and at the time, Nintendo of America had a strict policy of censoring anything that could be potentially considered offensive, with religious references being at the top of their list. Honestly, it's a wonder this game made it out of Japan, because even with the censorship, the religious stuff is still exceedingly obvious. Besides the censorship, there were other major changes, such as new modes being added, new enemy attacks, difficulty rebalancing, and more oddball stuff. In any case, this game is unique in that it combines the game play of a side-scrolling platform game with that of a SimCity-like builder. Individually, the two halves of the game are merely average, but together, they form something substantial.

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The story to ActRaiser is an allegory for monotheism, specifically of the Christian kind. In the Japanese version, the protagonist is God and the antagonist is Satan. You can't get much clearer than that. However, due to the censorship of the North American and European versions of the game, God was renamed "The Master" and Satan was changed into a demon named "Tanzra," who is also referred to as "The Evil One." According to the North American instruction booklet, The Master was severely injured by Tanzra in an epic battle. Wounded, The Master retreated back to his grandiose palace in the sky, known as the aptly named Sky Palace. There, The Master fell into a deep slumber to recuperate from his injuries. Unfortunately, Tanzra used The Master's absence as an opportunity to conquer the world. The Evil One then divided the world into six lands and gave one to each of his dreaded lieutenants. As a result of this, the people were corrupted by evil desires. Hundreds of years later, The Master awakens fully healed, but quickly realizes that he lost most of his powers due to the people's dwindling faith in him. The Master must now regain his strength by rekindling humanity's faith and eventually punish Tanzra for his sins. It's like the Book of Genesis all over again, and this isn't even the Sega Genesis!

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In this game, you play as God. I'm not kidding. As the creator of all things, you travel the Mode-7 rendered world map aboard the mighty Sky Palace as it flies above the land. Before you can begin creating creations, you need to clear the immediate region of monsters. To do that, you fly the Sky Palace to the desired destination on the map, bring up the menu, pick the proper option, and off you go. A shining light will then appear from the heavens and touch a statue on the ground, bringing it to life and granting you direct control over it. This animated statue, which resembles a knight, is your avatar for all the side-scrolling portions of the game. The avatar can walk, jump, duck, swing its sword, and cast currently equipped magic. In regards to magic, you have a limited amount of points to cast spells with, so you have to ration it. Despite the fact that you're an immortal being, the avatar itself isn't indestructible, as it will die if too much damage is sustained. If all the avatar's lives are lost, you'll be kicked out of the stage and forced to try again. The controls for the side-scrolling bits are a tad stiff, but they're simple and precise.

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During the side-scrolling action segments, your objective is to merely reach the end of the stage and defeat the boss. It's here where you'll experience the best of the amazing soundtrack by legendary composer Yuzo Koshiro. This is where the game shows off its best graphics, too, though they're rather primitive when compared to later SNES titles. You'll venture through forests, caves, poisonous rivers, and more. These side-scrolling sections are obscenely simple, as it all comes down to jumping and slashing. The level design is a little bit like early Castlevania games, because enemies and hazards are positioned in strategic locations to get a rise out of you. Further adding to this is the Castlevania-like controls; you have limited movement during jumps, there is a slight delay to your sword swing, and you briefly pause when landing on the ground. All this forces you to be very deliberate with your movements, as you need to carefully survey your surroundings before advancing. Expect a few cheap deaths. Some stages also have branching paths, which can be frustrating if you get lost and run out of time. The bosses also aren't terribly good in this game. Similar as it may be, the action in ActRaiser doesn't come anywhere near Castlevania's in quality. It's still decent, though.

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Once you've vanquished the boss of a given region, you'll be taken to the aforementioned SimCity portion, which allows you to build a town from an overhead perspective. For these segments, you'll take control of a tiny flying angel that is apparently God's number one assistant. While in this mode, you can issue commands to have the villagers build roads. Eventually, houses will automatically be built near the roads you've constructed, allowing new people move in. Your goal for this part is to increase your population as much as possible while sealing off all the monster lairs. In order to seal a lair, you must direct the villagers to build over it. Construction takes time, however, and during that time, monsters will come out of the lairs to attack your citizens. When this occurs, you use the angel's bow to shoot arrows at the beasts, defending the townies from danger. This prevents you from getting bored while you wait for stuff to happen, in addition to providing some challenge. After all the lairs have been sealed, you'll have to beat a second side-scrolling stage before moving on to another region and repeating the whole process anew. Building towns in ActRaiser is engaging, though it obviously doesn't have the complexity of a real simulation game like SimCity.

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On top of guiding your citizens and mashing monsters, you may need to perform other tasks to ensure that your towns flourish. For example, the townsfolk can't build roads or houses over certain terrain, such as areas covered with bushes, sand, or snow. This is where miracles come in; using miraculous power, you can shoot lightning to burn bushes, make it rain to put out fires, create sunlight to melt snow, cause earthquakes to shape the surrounding continent, and other cool stuff. You can also mercilessly kill your own citizens by obliterating their homes, if you were that kind of person. Miracles do cost points, but these are replenished over time. The thing about miracles is that the angel will explain their effects every single time you use one, and most can only be applied to a single spot on the map at a time, so it's annoying when you need to affect a large area. The interface does work pretty well besides that minor annoyance, however.

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Other matters that require your divine intervention are special events that occasionally occur. These events will stunt your population's growth and include things like conflicts breaking out amongst the people, villagers being too cold to work, or even the plague. For these, you generally need to get certain items from other towns to solve the problem. As your towns grow, your citizens may invent new things, like bridges or music, and this knowledge can be shared with neighboring villages. So for instance, you can use the music of one town to sooth the angry souls of another, ending all internal conflict. All these events are scripted, though, so they're one-time occurrences that have very specific solutions. In most cases, the solutions are extremely obvious, and merely require the development of another town. Therefore, you've got plenty of things to do when managing towns, but it's straightforward enough that it never becomes overwhelming.

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So what's the point of all this town building? Well, increasing the population will level up your avatar, permanently adding to your maximum life energy during the side-scrolling action stages. In a way, the total population of all your towns functions as experience points. You'll also occasionally receive offerings from your people that include new magical spells, scrolls that permanently increase your maximum magic points, and other helpful items, most of which are used in the platforming bits. Basically, the idea is that almost everything you do in the building portions of the game will indirectly aid your efforts in defeating monsters. Also, level caps prevent you from entering any area willy-nilly, so leveling up by increasing population is an integral part of the game. This RPG-like level progression system is really neat, but it does have the drawback of introducing some minor grinding to the mix. It never takes too long, though.

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Do you like playing God? Then this is your game. ActRaiser is essentially two games in one, featuring two distinct modes of play that are connected via a cool progression system. It's that very connection that gives this game its edge. With ActRaiser, you've got access to a decent side-scroller and a decent SimCity clone all in one. Neither portion of the game is strong enough to stand on its own, but they form a complete experience when combined. This game adds up to more than the sum of its parts.

Word Count: 1,639

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