ActRaiser is a first-generation Super NES game that looks and sounds a lot better than many games that came out later in the system's life. It is also one of the more unique games available for the system. In it, you play the role of a god who is trying to reclaim the earth from evil beings and make it habitable for people. It combines action with simulation like no other game does.
First of all, there are two distinct portions of this game - the action sequences and the simulation scenes, and they look completely different. Let's begin with the action scenes: These sidescroller areas have some of the most impressive 2D graphics I've ever seen on the SNES, or any system, for that matter. The backgrounds are incredible, and have a good amount of detail. The forest in the background of the first level looks so real! I remember how impressed I was by that years ago when I first saw it. The lighting effects used in the pyramid level are eye-popping, especially the way some objects are shaded to look like they are farther in the background than others. Who could forget that room with the Anubis statues? Other levels support the same level of high detail, and they encompass a wide variety of areas - everything from temples, caves, and forests, to castles, volcanoes, and jungles. Some even have impressive Mode 7 effects used in the backgrounds, which usually consist of rotating starfields. The bosses are big and beautiful! Many of the bosses are taken from mythology, like the centaur, minotaur, and manticore. But you also battle dragons, wizards, and some indescribable monsters. The Arctic Wyvern, a flying dragon made of glowing ice, is my personal favorite! The normal enemies look pretty good, too, and there are many that are unique to each stage. There is very little palette-swapping except for the little red and blue imps that appear in many of the stages. The animation of the hero and most enemies is a little stiff, but there are exceptions. (Check out the animation on those Eaglemen that are in the pyramid!) The simulation scene graphics are a different story. They look nothing like the action scenes, and everything appears really tiny, because you have a bird's-eye view of the world below. The people and animals running around are miniscule, but it's a nice touch to sometimes see farmers working in the fields, horses galloping around, or a boy walking his dog. There are several different kinds of trees, and many different kinds of houses, ie, pine trees and log cabins in the forests, palm trees and adobe houses in the desert.
All I can say is...wow! You'll swear there is a symphony orchestra in your TV set when you play this game! ActRaiser has some of the best music I've heard not only on the Super NES, but in any videogame. The music, by famed game music composer Yuzo Koshiro, is well-composed and very exciting, and always fits what's going on. There is "Egyptian" music in the pyramid. The music in the ice cave sounds chilling. Some of it even sounds like real instruments, such as the cymbal clashes, harp, and drums. There are times when the music hits a crescendo, and you'll practically expect Valkyries to ride over your head! The simulation theme is almost the same in every area, so it might become annoying after awhile. But even that theme is a very good one, and it changes briefly when you get a certain item in Kasandora. The sound effects in Act Rasier won't disappoint, either! The explosions, clanging swords, thunderbolts, and other effects are all top-notch, and many would later be reused in other Enix/Quintet games. The scream of the Arctic Wyvern is enough to chill you to the bone.
The play control in both the action and simulation scenes is very good. In the simulation scenes, you control an angel who you move around to direct your actions and shoot at monsters. To have the angel direct your actions, you will select a command from a menu, then move the angel to where you want to use the command. For example, if you want to use a lightning bolt, you will select from the weather commands on the menu, then a yellow square appears next to your angel. Move the angel so that the square goes over the area of land where you want to use the lightning bolt, then press the button to use it. It's very simple. You will also move the angel around to direct the growth of your town, and to shoot arrows at the monsters that appear. In the action scenes, the control of the hero is very good, too. Moving left and right, jumping, swinging your sword, and ducking are all easy to perform, and magic is used with a push of a button. The hero's jumping control may take some getting used to, because he doesn't jump very high or very far, but it's not that big a deal.
In ActRaiser, you are a god trying to reclaim the earth from a demon named Tanzra and his minions. Upon awakening in the Sky Palace, it is your duty to clear the land of monsters, and make it habitable for people. By defeating monsters, their souls will be reborn as humans, who in turn, will populate the many towns you create. While the towns are being built, you'll have to solve a number of problems and issues that come up, such as dousing fires, stopping fights, and curing plagues. Once a town is near-completion, it will become threatened by an evil monster, which the hero must come down to earth to destroy. While this plot is basically "hero vs. evil monster", the town creation aspect of the game adds a lot of depth to it. It's fun listening to the people and answering to their concerns. The plot may seem a little flat to people who are used to the epic sagas in traditional role-playing games, but it held my interest very well.
This is the game's only major flaw. It is ridiculously easy to complete! The simulation scenes are nowhere near as complex as any single simulation game, such as SimCity. (Although, I found this to be a good thing, since I'm generally not a fan of simulation-style games.) ActRaiser's sim scenes keep you very busy and stress fun and diversity, as opposed to SimCity, in which you mostly sit around waiting and balancing a budget. The action sequences are not too difficult, either. They play similarly to Castlevania, only much easier than the average game in that series (excluding CV4). There are a few tricky spots, but nothing to keep even a novice gameplayer down. The spells you get from the simulation scenes make beating the bosses a cinch, and most of them are very easy even without spells. There is a Professional mode for those who have mastered the game (Press Down twice on the title screen). In this mode, you only do the action scenes, without the simulation in-between. You cannot use magic, there are no continues, and many of the enemies take extra hits to defeat. However, it's still not that much more difficult than the normal game.
ActRaiser is one of the most addictive games I've ever played. Each area is divided into two "Acts" with a simulation scene in-between. The "Acts" are the action sidescrolling areas. The simulation scenes are fun and addicting, and this is coming from someone who generally dislikes most simulation games. In ActRaiser, you do more than just watch during the sim parts, so there's more interaction. You'll have to clear out obstacles such as trees and rocks with powers like wind, rain, lightning, sun, and earthquakes. You will also need to destroy monsters that are trying to destroy your town while you're directing it to grow. The action sequences are fun, too, with a good variety of levels. There's a lot of platform hopping and sword-fighting, and a few areas have multiple paths. However, some of the Acts are much shorter than others and the challenge level is relatively low, especially if you use magic.
ActRaiser may not be all that challenging, but it's fun and addictive while it lasts. It has great graphics, sound, and control, too. It is also a very unique game and there is no other quite like it (not even ActRaiser 2, which was sorely missing the simulation scenes.) The only thing that drags down the overall score a bit is that the game is a bit too easy, and most gamers with average skill will have it completed within a few hours of playing time. But the Professional Mode does add some replay value. I highly recommend it, especially if you can find it cheap!
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