ActRaiser – Cupid at day, hardcore stone statue at night

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This was my first-ever playthrough of ActRaiser, so this review is written through the eyes of a complete newcomer. I am, however, familiar with pretty much every other game made by Quintet. I am also highly familiar with one of the two genres, being the 2D Platformer. Not so much with the Simulation genre as I am not a fan of these games, but I will try my best to describe the simulation aspect in detail. Just keep in mind that I might say stuff that veterans of the genre might disagree with. While I have technically not 100% completed the game due to some mechanics that I will talk about in the review, I have made sure to at least do everything the game has to offer, including an almost finished playthrough of Professional mode.

Also, it is important to note that this review is based on the American version of the game. Aside from the usual censoring in terms of religion, the differences between each regional variant mostly have to do with difficulty. The Japanese version is by far the most difficult, with the American version being far easier in comparison. Furthermore, the European version has added multiple different difficulty modes.

People who have been a fan of my works or have known me for longer, know that I take any opportunity I can get to talk about specific developers and the games they’ve made. The most common developer I talk about is Nihon Falcom, but I also occasionally bring up Quintet, a now-defunct developer that had its golden age during the SNES, having a close relationship with publisher Enix. SoulBlazer is a game I covered before and that may be re-reviewed in due time, and it’s absolutely one of my favourite SNES games of all time. Illusion of Gaia/Time, despite its *ahem* ”unique” story, felt just as good, and I haven’t even mentioned Terranigma yet. But when people talk about Quintet, this trilogy of awesome games is usually not the first one that’s brought up.

That honour goes to ActRaiser, one of the more well-known games from the SNES due to it combining two completely different genres into one: the action-platformer, and simulation. And while I hate to admit it, the simulation part is also what made me afraid of starting up ActRaiser despite having owned it for years. While I enjoy some games like Rollercoaster Tycoon, it’s usually a genre that I am not a fan of. But still, Quintet is one of my favourite developers, and I can’t go through life without having played what may be their most popular game. So I overcame my slight fears and booted up the game on stream, so my viewers could see me go through the game completely blind. The full playthrough is archived by the way, and can be found over here!

We wake up after a nice beauty sleep just to see the world being taken over by the equivalent of Satan, who has gotten a different name (Tanzra) in the western releases because this was the 90s after all. Our main controllable character called The Master, who is the equivalent to god, actually lost to this demon and retreated to bed as a result. People were screaming at their TV screens and stopped believing in The Master which weakened them as a result–but not weak enough to stay in bed, so that must mean he’s still pretty powerful. We all know how tough it is to get out of bed for work.

So our objective is easy, right? Just walk up to people, show them a magic trick and cause them to believe in us again. Well, it would be easy if humans were actually still around. This oddly-shaped world that is just a small continent, surrounded by an ocean many hundred times its own size, has been divided into six places and is now ruled by monsters. Miraculously though, we just have to beat these monsters and people will start reappearing again, as they are apparently not dead but sealed away.

ActRaiser has a pretty simple story, and doesn’t really go beyond ”beat evil, restore humanity”. In-game, Tanzra and The Master never even really interact with each other, and nor do the monsters. What’s slightly more important here is the ”hidden message” behind the story about the cry for help. This is more prevalent in the final half of the game, but it’s not something we necessarily haven’t seen before. The world is a wasteland and humanity is few, thus their only option is to pray for help from their god. But if God helps them out and bring their life back on track until they are satisfied, how much will their faith persist? It’s not a story that will blow you away by any means, but it does the job it was meant to do. Furthermore, it’s also incorporated into the gameplay, which I’ll come back to later.

But if God helps them out and bring their life back on track until they are satisfied, how much will their faith persist?

Of course, what’s more important in a game such as this is the gameplay itself. Before we can have people to impress with our magic tricks, we need to beat up some monsters. Fortunately for us, our first adversaries are waiting in the iconic land of Fillmore.

Wellbeknownst to most people is that ActRaiser’s gameplay is split up into two parts: 2D Action Platformer, and Simulation. Both are used interchangeably, with the platformer sections being at the beginning and the end of an area, and the simulation part being in-between- and after the evil has been culled. We descend from the heavens and make a body double out of a statue, then make our way through a platforming level with a boss waiting at the end.

ActRaiser Platforming

The emphasis in this game is more placed on sword combat than the platforming itself, hence why I consider the platforming to be good enough but not the main appeal. Platforming itself rarely gave me trouble, even with the classic retro tropes like knockback and no air control. The only trouble that I seldom got with platforming would have to do with enemy placements, and while there were certainly some moments in the later levels where I had to deal with annoying placements- or off-screen enemies, it’s mostly irrelevant as the amount of bottomless pits also isn’t that high.

Despite the main character being quite fast even though he’s technically just a stone statue, it’s recommended to go slow while taking your time to assert enemy movements anyway. For example, the first time you come across some kind of weird exploding monster that jumps out of the lava, you’re still in a safe place so you can see what it plans to do. Observing it–or killing it, depending on your preference–shows you how to deal with upcoming confrontations with this monster, and anticipate when they appear. This is generally good design and one that is built upon, with more difficult scenarios featuring this monster later on. The only level where I would argue the placements are truly off the mark would be with the very final one in Frostwall, but at that point, you most likely have enough hitpoints to tank through them anyway.

And I say that because ActRaiser is considered a difficult game but… I have trouble agreeing to that. This is probably very much true for the Japanese version, but the western versions were pretty easy if you just take your time. This also applies to the bosses, with all of them following a pretty obvious pattern that doesn’t really change over the course of battle. Nothing against these bosses by the way–quite on the contrary, as I really had a good time fighting them and discovering the best strategy to defeat them. These were pretty much all fun fights, with a special mention going to the Serpent boss, Kalia, and the iconic Arctic Wyvern. But like I mentioned before, the hitpoints bar ends up so big that you can take quite a lot of hits and just tank through bosses like no one’s business.

ActRaiser Boss

Or, y’know, just use magic. Magic is seriously overpowered and even though you have limited usage of them per level, one successful cast of the Magical Stardust spell pretty much guarantees that half of the boss’ health bar is gone. I mentioned the Arctic Wyvern before which I consider to be a fun boss, but the Magical Stardust completely annihilated it.

That said, most of what I described that makes the protagonist stronger assumes you even have access to these upgrades to begin with. If you don’t then yeah, the game might be slightly more difficult. Funnily enough, making yourself stronger generally has nothing to do with beating the platforming stages or defeating monsters. Divine gods do not get stronger through experience after all, but through the number of followers they have. And as you may expect, that’s where the simulation part comes into play.

So as I mentioned before, I am not much of a simulation guy. Like, not at all, unless it’s intentionally made for inexperienced gamers or as an extra mode or something. As a result, I’m more than satisfied with how ActRaiser handled the simulation aspect, as it was very easy for me to understand, and there also wasn’t really any punishment for failure or experimentation. It also helps that you are constantly taught what to do with the environment whenever some new terrain pops up that you haven’t seen before. And when I say constantly, I mean it; these humans pray to you every second of the day to ask- or tell you something. I swear they don’t even sleep.

I’m more than satisfied with how ActRaiser handled the simulation aspect, as it was very easy for me to understand.

Once you’ve beaten the first boss in the platformer part, the simulation section automatically starts. Only a few humans have been saved, and they ask you to help them close four monster portals scattered across the land. While you could just wait for about 200 monsters to come out of the portal and kill them yourself, it’s easier to instruct your villagers to build a road to the monster lair and have them seal it, expanding their village at the same time and reproducing at rates that should not be humanly possible. I don’t know why they’re even fearing Tanzra; overpopulation will be their downfall.

Leading the humans to their destination is as simple as just pointing them towards it, with you only having to make sure that they can actually travel there because of the environment that you may have to change, or that they aren’t abducted by the monsters that are still roaming around the map. That’s definitely what I like more about this simulation part than most actual games of the genre, as you aren’t just watching numbers go up and planning your next move, but also taking out monsters with your little angel creature shooting arrows. And to further change up the simulation part, you sometimes also have to do ”missions” for them, like calming down the villagers with a song or saving them from a pandemic.

ActRaiser Simulation

So overall, it’s pretty easy to understand really. The humans ask you for help and almost directly tell you what to do and when, and give you offerings that you may use elsewhere or in the platforming stages. It’s the more advanced tech that isn’t really told to you in-game, such as killing your own population for the sole purpose of having them advance further. Though the one I personally thought to be stupid was limiting the number of bridges you make because it can affect the maximum amount of population. The latter doesn’t matter too much in the end unless you want the complete maximum population, but I missed my final health point due to it so I’m mad and I will complain about it. Sue me.

But aside from this advanced tech, you could make the argument that both parts of the game are pretty simplistic. And while you are not wrong… I personally don’t really mind it too much. More than anything, I had a lot of fun going through this game, and I would quickly do it all over again. And unsurprisingly, the music done by Yuzo Koshiro keeps dragging me back into this beautiful world as well. I really enjoy going through all of these stages inspired by various countries around the world like Egypt and Greece, complete with enemies such as mummies and the Manticore. People who know me also know that I’m a sucker for mythical inspirations so yeah, this is definitely right up my alley.

Quintet did the unthinkable and grabbed not one, but two completely different genres and combined them into a truly memorable experience. And not only that, but they synergize really well with each other–both through themeing- and gameplay. A weakened God has to restore the world by taking out demons in the platforming stages, while restoring his power by having more believers in the simulation part. Both of these aspects are also easy to understand, as the platforming has a satisfying difficulty curve to it where patience- and observance is always rewarded. Surprisingly, the simulation part might actually be my favourite aspect of the game as it is pretty easy to work with for someone not usually a fan of the genre, and it also has some engaging combat while the digits go up. Due to it being relatively easy to understand, neither of the gameplay are necessarily deep. The simulation part does have some advanced tech to it that you most likely won’t even know about unless you are a completionist, and the platforming does allow for a lot of situations where just whaling at enemies will do the job–particularly when it comes to the fun-but-not-very-difficult bosses. And while deeper gameplay could possibly have made the game even better, I am already highly satisfied with the amount of fun I had playing through the game, which is the most important part to me.

9.0

Nepiki's Rating

Overall rating

Game Score
8.0
Fun Score
10.0
Positives
  • The two different genres synergize really well with each other.
  • The simulation aspect is easy to understand and has nice combat gameplay to it.
  • The bosses, although easily defeated, are very fun to fight.
  • Theme is used well in conjunction with the gameplay
Negatives
  • Platforming section allows for a lot of brute forcing through enemies.
  • There's some advanced tech in the simulation part that you're unlikely to know about.

Thank you for reading! Man, that game was a blast! I know it’s kind of weird to be afraid of booting up a game, but I have that several times, including Yakuza 0 that I reviewed a few weeks ago. Shameless plug is shameless. But with pretty much every game I pick up, I come out with a genuinely good experience, soo… I guess I should be doing that more often. But then again, it’s Quintet; what could possibly go wrong?

I was also looking into playing a randomizer made for ActRaiser which can be found over here. Couldn’t really get it to work though, but in the end, it didn’t seem like something I had to play as it was just professional mode but shuffled. Not to dismiss the work this awesome person has done of course, so I figured I would at least mention it!

Also, I did play ActRaiser 2 right after and… don’t expect me to review that game for a while. To sum it up, I couldn’t bring myself to finish that game. I could definitely see the strong points the game had, but I suffered through some of the platforming challenges quite badly. Removing the simulation part is one thing, but I didn’t even really enjoy the platforming with how abysmally slow the main character is. If you want a game that can genuinely be called one of the most difficult SNES games out there, ActRaiser 2 is what you’re looking for.

What games would you recommend to people looking to get more into the simulation genre?

I mentioned it… pretty much constantly throughout this review so I just keep repeating myself, but I’m not the biggest fan of simulation games. However, the one that I enjoy the most out of all of them would be Rollercoaster Tycoon, and I feel that for many people it already served or could possible serve as a great entry point.

About author

Nepiki

A gamer and writer at heart who wants to combine his hobbies into one. I am 25 years old and I'm from the Netherlands. Having played many games over the years, I wanted to express my love for them, however obscure they may be!

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Aether

Yeah Actraiser! It’s a really great game! Although every once in a while it has you stop playing the game and go hit guys with swords. Weird.
Anyways, as far as good sim games for someone not really into those, I think Cities: Skylines in the big standard here. It can get pretty complex, but it starts really simple and you have to unlock more complexities by increasing your town size, so it’s pretty achievable up front, at least once you figure out how to get your city set up to be economically viable, and it has a pretty natural and self-paced complexity curve from there. Project Highrise would probably be another good one for beginners, it just has you managing a single tower, so less complicated than a lot of other sims, although I don’t think it captures interest for all that long. I also really dig the Tropico games. It has something of a different premise, if it was the general ‘basic lifeyness’ of the genre’s typical offerings that was off putting to you, so that might help with keeping the interest, while it’s also pretty accessible and not too complicated.

[…] ActRaiser – Cupid at day, hardcore stone statue at night (Nepiki Gaming) — A review of ActRaiser, an interesting-looking SNES 2D action platformer/simulation hybrid that I totally missed out on as a kid. Nepiki goes into his usual incisive detail and depth in examining the game. […]