For those reading one of my SNES review blogs for the first time, here is the basic concept:
"While the SNES was a constant presence in my childhood, I never had a large collection of games for it. In fact, many of the games I played I still don't know the names of. It wasn't until I say the uproar over Breath of Fire 6 that I knew I played Breath of Fire 1 in the SNES.
After reading the excellent top 100 SNES games list by IGN:
I decided to go back and play those 100 games and review them. Well, as I looked closer at the list, I realized that there are many genres that did not age well from the SNES (racing, sports) and many other genres that I am simply not good at (shmups, arcade shooters) and others that I need other players to play against for an accurate representation (fighters). Also, I played many of the more well known games such as Final Fantasy and Super Metroid."
We finished with the legacy reviews, so we are beginning with the reviews after my hiatus. Please feel free to give me advise on my reviews, as I always look for improvement.
Also, here are a number of extra rules for Destructoid:
-If you have any suggestion of a game that is not in the IGN list that I should review, please suggest it.
-Make a bet on each game to check whether Chris Charter played it or not.
Without further ado, here is:
Genre: Action Platformer/ God Game.
First things first, I am changing my rating system to better rate different genres according to their own rules. It will still be from 50 quality points, but every title will start from 25 and earn/lose points according to criteria important to the titles and genres themselves.
ActRaiser is one of the more unique games in the SNES library. Half a traditional Action Platformer, and half a god genre simulator, its a game that surprised many in the early life of the console. Also, it acts as the spiritual inspiration to Enix and Quintet's creation trilogy which features the excellent Terranigma.
There is no doubt about ActRaise being an important game. However, outside its unique gameplay and influence, we find it a a difficult game to assess. Taken on its own merits, I understand player's love for the game, and yet I find many ways in which it is lacking.
By no means a bad game, and actually one I would recommend playing. Yet, ActRaiser does not reach enough to be one of the SNES's timeless classics. Instead, it reaches just enough for us to wish for a sequel that never truly was.
"Master, your people are waiting for your salvation"
Before succumbing to US censorship, The Master who is your playable character was more clearly referred to as God, or kamisama in Japanese. Other than that name change for your main character, and the head demon who is no longer Satan, it is obvious that you are a god in the game.
As god to the people of this land, you are required to defeat the monsters that plague them and help them develop their cities. This constitutes running around as a statue (possessed by you) defeating enemies and bosses, thus clearing the land for human habitation. Afterwards, you control your trusty angel and help this newly found human settlement to expand against all odds. Finally, their expansion will trigger some event which will demand you go in again as a statue and face the town's boss.
Every "level" in the game will follow this formula.
However, you are not locked into rails once you visit a city, and you can easily switch between cities and finish them in a somewhat non-linear order. I say somewhat because the advantages offered by one city might be pivotal to seriously advance in another. Also, as more people grow and the cities develop, you gain levels and also some magic points.
Other than the obvious novelty of playing as a god, the plot rarely delves deeper than the monsters you are killing over and over. Yet, we see glimpses of intelligent remarks about human nature and religion. While the story of most towns is an uninspired tale, one settlement actually stops worshiping you and start worshiping the demons. It wasn't required for me, and actually set me up quite a bit, but I launched and earthquake against them before I proceeded to cut the fool they bowed down to instead of me.
Unique Gameplay: +3
Unique Premise: +4
"Let us work towards peace"
With two modes of play, ActRaiser is a game that feels fresh by variation, not by the depth of its gameplay. Indeed, both the action and simulation segments lack a certain polish but are satisfactorily addictive. The process of preparing a settlement, helping it grow, then liberating it from a boss might be formulaic, but is oddly satisfying.
The action segments are straightforward Action Platforming, with solid jumps and the ability to duck. Neither the enemies or the levels themselves demand much attention from the player, and the ability to summon some magic spells should be saved for bosses. Nothing fancy, but nothing special either.
As for the unique attraction of the game, the god simulation aspect, it doesn't quite deliver a really unique experience. You control your angel sidekick, who shoots arrows at the monsters who are attacking the town. Also, you can direct the building direction of the town as well as help them around with miracles. In theory, it should be more interesting that it really is, but the game is somewhat limited with it. For instance, shooting the enemies with arrows is mostly busy work, and the miracles are rarely used. For instance, on city wants you to use rain to get rid of the desert around them, another asks you to melt the snow with the sun. Few cities ask for combinations of these miracles, and the whole process seems like an extended loading screen.
Both modes are fun, but neither are particularly well-made. In fact, it is the combination of the two modes that saves them from being too harshly judged on their own. Essentially, the game holds on for a first play-through but the lack of any complexity and the linear style of gameplay works against replayability.
Modes are Lacking: -3
Variety Helps: +2
"Create Order From Chaos"
In the last few games I played, I was treated to some really good boss battles, and the trend continues with ActRaiser. Even though the action part is not that deep or engaging, the bosses themselves demand your best use of it. Equally slug-fests and pattern based battles, each boss plays differently and is engaging. Their fantastic design only adding more to the battles. Unfortunately, the boss battles are only found in action segments, as the simulation game offers no big bad boys to take care off.
One thing I found weird however is how magic completely obliterates some bosses, to the level that using it feels somewhat cheap. Similar to the way a Robot Master's health plummet after being hit by a weakness in some Mega Man games, and Ice Dragon's cry of anguish as a third of his health bleeds out after a magic attack is not at all awe inspiring.
Unfortunately, this aspect probably balanced for the final stage only, where we get a disappointing boss-battle Marathon. Only in such a marathon would you need to conserve magic instead of blasting the boss with it from the onset. It is disappointing that the final level is only a boss marathon, and is only made worse by lackluster final stage design (consisting of only one cool background image).
Good Boss Battles: +4
Disappointing Final Level: -2
"In the haunted land of Dearth"
One thing I noticed in Quintet games is their clean graphics and simple yet effective animation, which is followed through in ActRaiser. Obviously, the game demands two graphical styles, and the larger sprite work of the action sequences is much better than the overhead look of the God simulation parts. Each level has its own unique look, as well as its set of enemies. And other than the disappointing final level, the graphical design of each stage is unique and personable.
One aspect that is never disappointing is the boss designs, which are varied and suitably menacing. Being a God game, I was delighted to see the design of bosses taking a lot from religious myths and superstitions.
Not taking any inspiration from the spectacular graphical design of the game, the soundtrack is one of very few tracks. Consequently, what tracks there is grow to be tiresome because they feel juxtaposed into unrelated scenes, and you see a huge lost opportunity in track variation.
For instance, all the simulation parts have the same theme, which might as well be non-existent. Having a different theme or just a basic remix for each city is another way to give those cities some personality. Music is a storyteller's tool, and its not used at all in ActRaiser.
Graphical Design: +5
There is a class of games that introduce characters, concepts, and all around provide a solid infrastructure for future great games without being great themselves. Take the first Crash Bandicoot game and compare it to the second one. ActRaise introduces us to this great concept, and it just can't pull it off. It does however show that a sequel that irons its creases can be truly wonderful.
Unfortunately, ActRaiser 2 went into an all together different direction, and as a result we are forced to deal with the first game as the single culmination of a great idea. We realize that this game is a unique gym that should be cherished, but we really wish they went to the same mine again.
1- Use the shooting star magic.
2- Earthquakes destroy the entire city, so use them before building anything.
3- Lives restart each stage.
4- Magic Points don't refill when you lose a life.
5- Search around the levels for health and more Magic Points.
6- For maximizing your level, keep a monster lair active in the city and farm the monsters as they spawn.
As a game on its own merit, I wouldn't put ActRaiser in the top 20. However, as a game that is the inspiration of the really solid creation trilogy, I see the rational in doing so.
My next game is a story of underdog vs. the world, none other than Super Punch-Out!! which sits at number 17.
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