Saturday, 1 July 2017

Snes Review 125: Actraiser

Now what if I was to tell you that there was a game which took the core ingredients of something like Castlevania and Sim City and mixed them together? Sounds a little bit strange doesn't it but that's exactly what Actraiser did, it was 1 half action mixed with 1 half god sim now usually I would string things out and try to wait to the end to give a verdict but I cant help but turn around and instantly say that the game is overall amazing, I wanted to give myself a treat to play for my 125th SNES Review but I also wanted to talk about a game which I feel is missing from the upcoming Mini Classic SNES and this firmly ticks both of those boxes (I will also touch upon why I think they didnt look at putting this game on the system).

ActRaiser known in Japan as Akutoreiz─ü) was developed by Quintet. Now this is the first time I have touched upon Quintet in my review series so I just want to stop and talk a little bit about them. Actraiser was actually there first game, they were a Japanese video game developer, founded in April 1989 with there name being taken from musical terminology. In the world of music a Quintet is a group consisting of 5 members it was used here as there name referring to the 5 elements of game design which they laid out as being  planning, graphics, sound, programmers and producers. They were at there most active during the 1990s, when they had a very strong relationship with Enix (Who are not part after there merger of the company referd to as Square Enix), and really are best known for the games Soul Blazer, Illusion of Gaia and Terranigma, which is often referd to as  "Soul Blazer Trilogy", one of which I own and will be reviewing at somepoint. The current status of Quintet is unclear but evidence suggests that it rather quietly died around 2000 to 2002 which is a cracking shame, one would imagine that SquareEnix hold the rights to this game although with only one sequel which was released a very long time ago I wouldn't hold out for any more entries to the series.

OK so lets start with the plot, the story in Japan follows God, altered in America and Europe to The Master in his fight against Satan which was altered to Tanzra in Europe and America. These alterations were done because Nintendo of America had a strict policy regarding game content in the early 1990s which prohibited things which might be considered offensive including religious themes and plotlines. The game and its story is so seeped in religion though that this papering over things doesn't really alter anything you might be called The Master but when you travel the globe in a palace situated on the top of a cloud, accompanied by your little angel companion slaying demons, performing miracles creating life and hearing the prayers of your followers you would have to be pretty dumb to not work out who you are and whats going on. The basic story is that you had your behind handed to you by Tanzra and his lieutenants (all of which are based on real life religion or mythological creatures) so you retreated to your sky palace to tend to your wounds but now after several hundred years your back and you need to beat Tanzra's lieutenants one by one to free the people, then you need to answer the people prayers to power up enough to wipe the evil from the land. This is probably why the game wasn't chosen to be put on the Mini Nes Classic, after all we are at a time when people seem to be even more easy to offend particularly when it comes to religion, so it was probably a much easier and safer route picking something not so grounded in the biblical.

With there being two different types of gameplay in this game I guess I need to look at each of them on its own and then talk about how they feel sitting side by side each other. I will start with the platforming combat based sections. The easiest thing I can say is that they are very good, the weapon-wielding combat and the platform jumping feels very straightforward with good clean responsive controls and tight gameplay, you never feel like the controls are letting you down or that your being asked to do anything which is not possible you feel totally in control and you feel powerful. You run, you jump and attack your way through forests, caves and castles and you just simply feel that your right there in the game. There are apples which refill your life meter, and 1ups to grab and at the end of every stage there is a boss battle against a beast and like I said before there mythical so your going to see things like Centaurs and Minotaurs all in all its not to dissimilar to Super Castlevania IV a game I have previously praised.

So what about the god sim part of the game how does that play? Well its fun, simple and kind of laid back. It controls easily, its obvious what you have to do, its fun to play but compared to the above platforming and battling its just really chill, you control a little angel character who controls the direction you build in, your attacked by little devil characters as you build but you can shoot them with your angel they will however keep coming back, to stop this you have to guide your villagers to the lair they are coming from and then they will seal this. Once all the monster lairs are sealed and you have made the people happy they will ask you to banish the evil from there land and you will go back to a platforming level. The two styles of play mesh really well together as one is more frantic and the other is more relaxing, going from one to the other really breaks up the flow and stops things from feeling repetitive. In a lot of games were they tried to do more than one game type at a time   it led to you just getting a game which didn't really have any strengths but both parts of this game could stand perfectly well on there own, infact Actraisers only sequel (on the SNES as well) decided to get rid of the sim part and just try to build on the platforming.

Something I need to talk about with Actraiser is the sound or to be more precise the music. The games score was composed by Yuzo Koshiro, yes that Yuzo Koshiro famous for his work on the Revenge of Shinobi and the Streets of Rage series. The game came out within six months of the SNES's launch and in my opinion it proved more than any other game the audio potential of the machine, with a Soundtrack CD being released in Japan. A medley of the music from Actraiser arranged by the original composer was performed live at the second annual Symphonic Game Music Concert in Leipzig, Germany, yeah its that good, I would say its right up there with the likes of Zelda A link to the past.

Just a quick note about graphics before I some things up, although I will admit that your main character sprite is quiet basic I think overall the graphics present in this game are rather good, you have lots of rich colours with multilayers backgrounds and large bosses, the game has a very good style to it and although its not the best looking game its very functional and I feel it has aged well. The thing is everything within this game just gels together so well, when you have frantic levels you have frantic music, when things are calmer the music is calmer, everything just blends together perfectly and this is why I have to do something you wont see me do very often and that is to give this game a solid 10 out of 10. The copy I have is actually from my own childhood, its a Pal copy and its still got its box and manual, if you want to try it the bad news is the game does tend to demand a price, its usually around £30 for a loose pal cartridge you could get a Japanese cart only copy on the cheap but there are quiet a few diffrences with the game from region to region in terms of difficulty but also you will miss out a bit with the language barrier but you could possibly muddle your way through. This is one game though where I would say sod it its worth every penny, its worth noting the game did make its way on to the Wii Virtual console so it could raise its head again for either the New 3DS or Switch and that would be a cheaper way of experiancing it.

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