So, I recently finished Actraiser Renaissance (you can find my review of it on Destructoid), and I needed something to unwind with. I started up Actraiser on the SNES, and figured I’d play one level. Then it became three levels, but after the third level, you people get stricken with a plague. So, I thought I’d play another level to get them the cure, but then I beat that town and figured I’d just finish the game.
If you read my review on the SNES classic’s remake, Actraiser Renaissance, then you already know my thoughts on Actraiser. It is two games that are much too simple to stand on their own mashed into one. But since I just freshly played through the entire damned thing, let’s take a closer look.
WHAT IF GOD WAS ONE OF US?
Actraiser is the story of a world that has gone too long without divine intervention, and now a bad dude has wreaked havoc on it. It’s done. Totally destroyed. Good job, God, you maybe couldn’t have shown up sooner? Better late than never, I guess, so you play as God who has returned to Earth to root out evil and rebuild civilization, but not necessarily in that order.
Actually, in the English localization, you play as “Master” and fight against “Tanzra,” but the Japanese version isn’t so coy. Over there, you’re literally God fighting Satan. I once theorized that the game was actually about the Christian God obliterating all other religions in order to restore monotheism. Each of the bosses you fight is modeled after creatures from various religions, which is probably on purpose.
TEETH LIKE GOD’S SHOESHINE
The game is divided into two parts. The action stages, which are the most standard sidescrollers you could possibly imagine, and the “sim” stages, in which you build a town to grow your power. Don’t get too excited, though, the sim parts are extremely simplified. You tell the people where to build, clear out obstacles with miracles, and protect your followers from monsters. It’s pretty hands-off. The townsfolk build everything themselves, you just kind of… facilitate their growth.
The main goal is to seal off all the monster lairs by guiding your peeps to them. Every so often, they come to you with a problem, but most of the time, it’s just using the right miracle on the right spot. Your reward for helping with their petty issues is upgrades for your Godliness. The civilization will also upgrade as you close lairs. The townspeople won’t update their buildings, however, so if you want to maximize the population, you have to smite the crap out of them. Just hit them with an earthquake and level their little huts so they’ll build proper houses.
Don’t let me make it sound like a drag. It can involve a lot of waiting, but they generally have a decent flow to them. They also go by rather quickly, so it doesn’t really have a chance to get boring.
GOD LOVES HIS CHILDREN
The sidescroller portions are less easy to defend. There are honestly worse games out there, but the gameplay is so basic, it’s almost comical. Your God has exactly one sword swipe, and most enemies die in one hit. There are magic attacks, but you’re better off saving them for the boss. Also, some of them suck.
The main strategy is just figuring out where the enemy hitbox starts and where your sword swipe ends. There is some platforming, but none of it is that taxing. If you die, it will probably be at the boss, because you haven’t learned its pattern.
That’s not to say Actraiser is easy. Oh, wait, yes it is. Extremely easy to cheese, as well. However, the boss rush at the end caused me some grief. But that was only because it forces you to fight six bosses in a row and then take on Satan, whose attack patterns you haven’t had a chance to learn yet. It’s doable, it’s just kind of a pain.
ARE YOU THERE, GOD?
It all works, though. It shouldn’t, but it does. The flow of the game just ties everything together and makes it an enjoyable experience. It’s about 4 hours long, which kind of sucks, but it doesn’t overstay its welcome. There’s also an awesome soundtrack by Yuzo Koshiro, which helps ease the more mundane parts.
When I first played Actraiser, it was around the time I was starting to take collecting and retro gaming seriously. It was a memorable experience, something unique trapped in the primordial days of video games. One of the first gems that I encountered, a sign that my exploration would yield similar treasures. And it’s still worth playing today. Maybe the final product isn’t the most exciting, but the concept was ambitious and hasn’t been matched since. Well, unless you count Actraiser Renaissance.
Sadly, Actraiser 2 dropped the city-building aspect of it. It has its fans, but I’ve never been able to get into it. Partly because the difficulty curve starts you at a brick wall, but also because, what is Actraiser without its sim segments? Certainly not the same gospel.
This review was conducted on an SNES using a cartridge copy of the game. It was paid for by the author.