Wednesday, July 28, 2010

ActRaiser (SNES) Review

AKA Actraiser [JP]
1990, 1991 Quintet/Enix

I have known about this classic for several years now. I cannot recall if I heard of it for the first time on FlyingOmelette's website or in one issue of Game Informer (not that I read it much). I think it may have been the former. Anyway, one of the reasons I got a Nintendo Wii was so I could catch up with classics via the Virtual Console. The first summer I owned the Wii (2007), I have downloaded many games, including this one. While I haven't downloaded a title on the Virtual Console in over a year, I'm glad I got a chance at ActRaiser. It's quite a unique game, and an interesting one at that.

The story of this game is that you, the Master, have awaken from a long slumber caused from the defeat from Tanzra. The cupid alerts you that Tanzra and his minions have taken over the world, and that it's up to you to take it all back. So as the Master, you will have to traverse through locales like forests, temples, buildings, volcanoes, caverns, marsh lands, pyramids, and snow-laden lands, to name several of them, slaying monsters and once succeeded, creating cities and managing them. Eventually you'll have to fight monsters again to completely eradicate said city of them all. There are six cities in total, and you can visit them and revisit them via the Sky Palace. First you'll have to fight monsters, then manage a city, then fight monsters again. Rinse and repeat, until you complete the Northwall city; when you'll unleash Death Heim, where you attempt to oust Tanzra once and for all and save the world. Even though it doesn't mention it, due to Nintendo of America's strict "No Mention of God or Religion" rule back in the '90s, it's obvious that the Master is God and Tanzra is Satan. The ending is quite good, though I found myself very confused by the very last part of it before the end credits rolled.

ActRaiser's gameplay is two-fold: one part is 2D platformer and the other part is town simulation. In the platformer acts of the game, you move your character around with the left or right buttons, you duck by pressing down, you jump with B and swing your sword with Y. If you have any MP scrolls, you can unleash any of the game's four magic types by pressing either the X or A buttons, but you can only use one magic in the stage, so choose wisely, and use them only when you feel it's necessary. As for the town simulation acts, which is the better gameplay element of the two, you can manage cities and lead them to the direction which you please. However, you (as the cupid) have to shoot arrows at the monsters that will try to swoop down and steal away the inhabitants, destroy houses, spoil the crops, and/or cause earthquakes. But, should you lead the people to the Monsters' Lair, they will seal it forever. There are also moments when you'll have to use any of the five weather elements; lightning, rain, sun, wind, and earthquake. When you seal the last lair in a city, you will have to come down to Earth and fight off the monster threatening the city, which is a Monster Lair all its own. The order of how you play is like this: platformer, sim, platformer. The bosses are pattern-based, and sometimes you'll have to use magic (should you feel like it). While in the town simulation acts, you can try to see how long it'll take before you max out each city; one easy way to make that happen is to use the earthquake after you finish off the final boss of each city (you'll lose a few houses and/or buildings (Level 1 and 2 types), but the people will still build until they can no longer build anything anymore). You can also gain levels depending on how many people you helped create in total. Some people are under the misconception that this game is an RPG, which is not. If you look at certain spots, or wait awhile, there will be times when you can either accept or use items which are called "offerings" (one can be a life, or an MP (both of which can help on your adventure), or an item that is mandatory for a certain city). There are also moments which you'll have to help the cities: whether it be to help them escape from a plague, or to stop a fight, and more. Managing the cities is very fun, and slaying monsters is equally as exciting.

This game's got a very impressive soundtrack, despite the fact that it's one of the very first games ever made for the SNES console. Composed by famed Yuzo Koshiro (Ys Book I & II, Super Adventure Island, Streets of Rage), the songs are very well-done. The music that plays in the platformer portions of the game give off a good sense of mood and atmosphere. The music that plays inside the pyramid is both mysterious and enchanting, the volcano theme is menacing, and the music that plays in the second act of Northwall is epic and sounds similar to something from Star Wars. The final boss theme is very dramatic. The simulation themes are decent, but can be quite repetitive when listened to for too long (one is cheery, one is sad). The title and ending themes are fantastic. There is even one song that is relaxing and laid back. The sound effects are also spectacular; you will hear shield-clanging sounds, shooting arrows, the sound of falling stars, to name a few. These sound effects are so well done, that Quintenix (Quintet/Enix) decided to use them again in their other SNES games.

Like the sound, this game also sports very great visuals, despite being a very early SNES title. They look very impressive for a game made in 1990. They are both very colorful and detailed at the same time, and you will notice many details like: the moon's reflection at Bloodpool, the multi-layered mountains scrolling at Aitos, and the snow effects that are present during the fight with the Arctic Wyvern at Northwall. I mustn't neglect to mention those Anubis statues looming in the distance in the pyramid portion of Kasandora; they are that amazing to look at. The bosses are huge and beautiful. The Master and the creatures look good as well, except for the fact that their animation is stiff, save for the Eagle men. The simulation graphics are a different story: the houses and buildings are small, but it's amazing 'cause as the more you manage the city, the more said architecture will grow in variety. Not only that, but you can see the people constructing the buildings. It's also neat to see details like a ranch with a horse in it, or a boy walking his dog. The cupid is nicely drawn, and his shooting animation is nice.

Sadly, the challenge is the low point of the game. The game is very short and easy to complete, and I didn't realize that until the last time I played the game. Though that doesn't have to make it a bad thing, as the game has a lot that makes up for it. The platformer acts aren't very challenging, save for the final act of Northwall (those darn orange ogres). There are few bosses that may seem like they pose a threat, although many of them can easily be beaten without magic. The final boss, Tanzra, used to be challenging to me at one point, until I figured out his pattern (which is easy to predict). Even so, the longevity of the game, though brief, was tolerable for me because I enjoyed playing the simulation acts. Of course, I'm talking about the version of the game that I played (NA); I looked up that the Japanese original, Actraiser, was highly challenging, though I'm not gonna compare. At least it's fun while it lasts. If you beat the game for the first time, you will unlock Professional Mode!, which puts you on all the platformer acts of the game; only there's no magic, no town simulation acts, and no continues, and the enemies take more hits. I looked up that Professional Mode! is practically the Japanese version of the game, but again, I'm not gonna compare. Though it is interesting how some bosses are slower than they are in the Normal Game. It'll take some time and practice before you'll be able to beat Professional Mode! and get the message "You're the best player!"; at least it implemented a bit of challenge.

Despite its shortcomings in difficulty and longevity, it's still a fun game to play. The gameplay is nice, and the town simulation acts are addicting. It's very fun to manage cities (I think this may have been the first sim game I ever played), and it's fun to try to prevent the monsters from disrupting the peace of the towns, and there's barely any moment of tedium. The visuals and soundtrack are both equally stunning for its time. The Good vs. Evil plot is well-done, though I wish the final part of the ending wasn't confusing (for me, that is). I like trying to see how fast I can beat Professional Mode! (the fastest I've done it was fifty-two minutes, sans the two-minute long credits). ActRaiser is a very unique game because it implemented both platforming elements and town-making elements in the same game. It's a very good title, and one I recommend for those looking for a decent sim game.


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