Friday, August 28, 2015

ActRaiser- 12/16/90



Released December 16, 1990
Published by Enix
Developed by Quintet


ActRaiser introduces a multitudes of first for the Super Famicom: the first simulation, hybrid-genre, instance of US censorship, and the first game from Quintet and Enix. ActRaiser has been critically lauded for its hybrid gameplay and symphonic soundtrack by Yuzo Koshiro. As an early release for the system, ActRaiser situated itself comfortably among Nintendo's "console" games. In this era, Nintendo enthusiastically pushed for software that couldn't be played in an arcade or on a computer and was not simply a watered down port of either platform. As a logical step between computer simulation game and arcade platformer, ActRaiser couldn't help but become an instant Super Nintendo classic.

Rooted in Judaic mythology, the story of ActRaiser unfolds as The Master awakens after a long sleep in his sky palace to find the his world no longer believes in him after he was defeated by Tanzra and his six lieutenants. After Tanzra divided the world among his six lieutentants, The Master returns to his world to rebuild civilization, regain his powers, and defeat Tanzra and his lieutenants once and for all.


The three main contributors to the creation of ActRaiser were Tomoyoshi Miyazaki, as writer, Masaya Hashimoto, as director, and the Koshiro siblings, Ayana and Yuzo, as character designer and composer, respectively. Miyazki and Hashimoto, who were also the founders of Quintet, worked for Falcom on the Ys series as scenario director and programmer, respectively. Yuzo Koshiro also started at Falcom, beginning as a composer at the age of 18! Yuzo and Ayana Koshiro would go on to form their own game development company with their mother, Tomo, Ancient, which would go on to work on ActRaiser 2 and the much adored Shenmue.

ActRaiser was Quintet's first release and a predecessor to their much beloved Soul Blazer Trilogy on the SNES, which include: Soul Blazer, Illusion of Gaia, and Terranigma. The overarching conflict of the trilogy always features a conflict between a creator and destroyer entity, which one could say is present in ActRaiser as well with The Master (God) and Tanzra (Satan).

Published by Enix, ActRaiser shares the ranks with the most popular game series in Japan, Dragon Quest. Most now only know of Square-Enix, the two RPG publishing giants merged in 2003, but Enix was responsible for publishing not only all of the Soul Blazer trilogy, but also some of the most unique RPGs on the Super Nintendo like Star Ocean and EVO: the Search for Eden.


As a hybrid god-game and platformer, ActRaiser gives each genre its separate space, allowing symbiotic exchange of events between the two. In other words, what happens in the God Sim affects the platforming levels and vice versa. Though this is not the extent modern games keep track of your decisions to screw you over towards the end of the game. Rather, the story flows linearly between acts (get it?) I and II of platform and simulation, so a certain goal must be reached to in one to proceed to the other. 

ActRaiser has seven areas of the world to divide and conquer, each with two platforming and simulation sections each, except for the final stage. You start at each area clearing all the monsters from the land in the platforming stage and then rebuilding your civilization in the subsequent stage.


I hesitate to call these levels platforming since they are not built to challenge your platform jumping abilities, rather your hacking and slashing skills. It reminded me a bit like Castlevania in how jumping from place to place was much less important than surviving the enemy onslaught. Throughout the sim levels, you will attain more HP and magic through a rudimentary leveling system.  As you attain magic, you will be able to use it sparingly throughout levels according to your magic scroll amount. Using magic is less like casting a spell attack and more like a moment of invincibility and mass destruction. The fire ball is the most useless, damaging only enemies on your level, while the star and blue orb have a larger effect and can make boss fights very easy. In the first platforming stage, you will fight a mini-boss, while on the second stage one of Tanzra's lieutenants must be defeated. Bosses are quite easy and did not take me more than five tries to defeat. Slashing with the sword repeatedly while taking some damage is the best way to defeat most of the bosses. The boss I struggled with the most was the giant plant creature and its invincible moving vine.

Overall, I found the platforming levels do be much easier than other similar games like Super Castlevania. Jumping is not very fluid for platforming, but luckily there are not many tricky jumps. If ActRaiser were just these stages (which is what the arcade and sequel were), it would just be a sub-average hack-n-slash platformer. There is a level of difficulty across the six different areas which require higher experience levels, but there are no new skills to hone or weapons to use. Despite its simplicity, the levels were enjoyable and completely fair. 

City Building:

After you complete the first act (by the way you aren't fighting as the Master, but as a statue controlled by him), a town will emerge with some people who will ask you to kill even MORE demons from the land. Once you enter the simulation act, you begin to control cupid to guide the spread of civilization and the destruction of flying monsters.

As cupid, you will do four things: kill flying monsters, guide the city growth direction, manipulate the environment, and use/accept offerings. Compared to NES computer ports which emulated mouse cursors with the control pad, controlling cupid to essentially do the work of a sluggish control pad cursor is actually quite amazing. Cupid, in essence, helps bridge the gap between the steep learning curve of a computer sim and the simplicity of a console adventure game. Additionally, Cupid provides a nice distraction for the player while the city grows (I wish I had something like that when I wait for 15 civilizations to take a turn in Civ5!).

While a game like Sim City or Civilization can have a multitude of variables and unpredictable AI, ActRaiser has only a fraction of that. In the first sim act, Cupid's main goal is to guide the city to close off demon portals in the area and manipulate the environment to increase city growth. Cupid can dry marshlands and snow with the sun, connect land masses with earthquakes, create arable land from deserts with rain, and clear forests with lightning. When all monster lairs are buried, the citizens find a bigger lair where the lieutenant is hidden. This is where the second platforming stage begins.

After a area is devoid of monsters, you can still increase city growth by spreading the city across all suitable land and introducing offerings to other cities. Moving across cities and increasing growth will increase your HP and magic power. In certain areas, your citizens will discover your lost spells. At this time, it feels like it gets complicated, but the cities will not change after they hit their maximum population. You never have to worry about a natural disaster or new demons terrorizing your towns.

While the city building simulation of ActRaiser cannot compete with Civilization or SimCity in its complexity, it does provide a very solid beginner's introduction to god games especially for a console gamer. It's very easy to learn and really fun to play around with Cupid as the city grows. The most annoying part of the city building levels is the annoying text sounds after you make Cupid do anything.

Once you have spread civilization across the continent, a mysterious volcanic island appears containing Tanzra and his lieutenants. I know you're asking yourself, "but I just defeated all those guys, what are they doing here?". Well, we all know how much the Super Nintendo loved boss rushes, well here's the first one for the system. Battling all the bosses again can be tricky, especially since you will have limited use of your magic. I have found spamming the first four bosses with your sword in the right place even while taking damage will allow you to use magic on the last two bosses and have at least one life left for Tanzra. The fight with Tanzra is not too difficult and shouldn't take an average snes player many tries to defeat him.


ActRaiser's unique hybrid pedigree allows it to have great replayability value. Although taken by themselves, the sim and platform levels would be too simple and average for a console player. When paired together, the genres really begin to complement each other. Having cupid for the city building instead of a sluggish mouse cursor just adds to its replay value today. Just imagine playing Civilization 5, where instead of having quick battles on the map, you would descend onto cities into a game like Shadows of Mordor. That's what ActRaiser feels like. 

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