There are plenty of games which try to blend genres, but very few manage to do it well. ActRaiser is one of the rare games that not only manages to mix city-building and combat, but manages to do it well and creates a cohesive experience that is fun for gamers of all ages.
As one of the earliest titles launched on the SNES in America, ActRaiser was a fantastic testament to the power of the new console and demonstrated the kind ofgraphical and musical prowess games could now muster. 16-bit graphic goodness filled the screen, and the fantastic soundtrack played a great second fiddle to the exhilarating combat and massive boss fights. Yuzo Kushiros’s score for this game is one of the benchmarks in video game soundtracks and really raised the bar for the kind of music gamers expect from their video games. The game has since been relaunched on modern consoles, and it still holds up.
ActRaiser puts you in the shoes of a deity that must destroy all the monsters in the world and usher in a glorious new era for the human race. There are six different areas in the game, each of which has a city-building section and two levels of platforming action. The side-scrolling action will be immediately familiar to fans of 2D platformers, as you journey through the world with a giant sword, hacking away at eerie creatures of all kinds until you finally reach a boss fight. Once you’ve beaten a boss (also called a guardian here) you can build a temple which spawns some followers. Then, the simulation begins – you must guide these followers to do your bidding and construct a habitat. They will clear terrains, build different structures and cultivate crops on the land that you’ve cleared up for them. You can also guide their progress by invoking a nifty natural disaster to clear away some rocks so that you can start building.
The simulation portion is like most other games of its kind. You basically make a few moves and then sit back and watch as your followers live out their lives, building homes and growing their families. You will also have to shoot some monsters once in a while before your people can close away the lairs they’re spawning out of. Once these monsters have been dealt with, you can go back in and hack-and-slash your way to the other guardian in the area. An interesting mechanic to take note of is that the better your sim land does, the more health and magical abilities you have in the combat sections of the game.
Your followers will occasionally come up to you with stories about what’s been happening or things that they’ve found during their explorations. As a god, you can then choose to either perform a miracle and take care of things, or sit back and watch how they play out without your interference.
In the combat portions, animations are quite basic but still make you feel like a badass as you’re plowing down monstrosities. The levels are well-designed and contain a lot of visual flair. Watching a gigantic waterfall in the background as you’re doing battle with a group of goblins and demons is a lot of fun. The bosses are great too – they are usually gigantic demons, dragons, goliaths or some other mystical demon and they keep getting bigger as the game goes on.
As we’ve mentioned before, the musical score in this game is absolutely top-notch. Composer Yuzo Koshiro is well-known for his stellar work on the Streets of Rage games, but ActRaiser might be his best work, and definitely deserves a mention as one of the better video game soundtracks of all time. The themes running through the game really give you a sense of the melancholy and ecstasy that your character is feeling. The music that leads to the title screen itself is really memorable and stick in your mind for a long time after you’ve played this game. Important events in the game, such as a death are accompanied by haunting, sad melodies. When the combat starts, the score transforms into a bombastic march of rage, spurring you on your epic quest. There are very few games in the SNES library that come close to ActRaiser’s level of musical brilliance.
Whether you’re a fan of 2D platformers or not, ActRaiser is something you should definitely take a look at. Even if you missed the game during its initial run, it still holds up as an enjoyable experience. The campaign will last you around 6-8 hours, but you’ll have plenty of reasons to take the ride all over again once it’s all said and done. The unique gameplay, beautiful graphics and the smashing soundtrack make ActRaiser of the best SNES games of all time.