One of the most well-established facts about me on this blog is that I LOVE ACTRAISER. So it should a surprise to nobody that I flat-out lost my mind when the September 23, 2021 Nintendo Direct surprised us all with the announcment of Actraiser Renaissance.
Needless to say, I purchased and downloaded it immediately, and spent the next week playing through a complete remake of one of my all-time favorite games. Much was said at the time about it, by both longtime fans and newbies who had never played Enix’ original SFC/SNES masterpiece, but I really tried to stay away from any reviews because — let’s be honest — I felt more than qualified to form my own opinions on this new version.
Well, here we are, months later, and despite the fact that I meant to write about Actraiser Renaissance shortly after I finished it, time does tend to get away from us, as we all know. In a way, though, that delay is beneficial, as it gives my experience with the game time to settle into my memory and allows me to form a better overall perspective.
At least, that’s my story. It’s my blog, I can spin it however I want.
So. Where to begin…?
Without rehashing what you probably already know (okay I will, real quick once: Actraiser is a combination sidescrolling action-platformer/”god game” simulation that was originally released in 1990 on the Nintendo Super Famicom/Super NES, developed by Quintet and published by Enix), and presuming you know how the game works (the world is divided into several areas, and the gameplay structure goes action stage -> simulation stage -> action stage for each area, until you reach the final stage which is just a boss rush of previous stage bosses plus a final boss), the major idea behind what’s been done with Actraiser Renaissance is EXPANSION. Everything in the game is the same, there’s just more of it, and it’s all fleshed out in ways I wouldn’t have thought of had I imagined a remake of this game.
The first thing that you’ll notice is all of the Master’s new moves in the action levels. Your avatar is a lot more nimble and has a wider range of attack options than the original, which, to be honest, is a bit stiff. To go along with these hot new dance moves, of course, are new boss attacks as well, often completely changing the way a boss is dealt with from what we Actraiser veterans have been used to.
As you enter your first simulation phase, you’ll quickly find that those now boast a host of new elements, as well. In addition to houses, you can now build towers, gates, and other defense mechanisms — which we quickly realize are necessary because the monsters periodically launch raids on the villages. These raids are much more intense battles than the usual act of flying your angel around and shooting down flying demons with his bow and arrow. The raids bring more intensity and complexity to the sim levels. I’ll be honest — I don’t do war simulation games. At all. And when the alleged spiritual successor to Actraiser — a letdown of a game called Sol Seraph, from Sega — came out, it added battle sims to the mix and I absolutely hated them. Here, though, the monster raids actually become quite enjoyable once you get the hang of them — something I never, ever thought I would do. So thanks, Actraiser, for finally getting me to wrap my head around a war simulation!
One of the biggest expansions is a much greater focus on the character development of the world’s inhabitants. Now, your worshipers aren’t always the same little couple of pixel people in each area; they have costuming and features representative of the areas in which they live.
In addition to that, each area has at least one or two storylines that unfold as the area is built and played through. The original had a bit of this, too — think of Timmy who went wandering off — but this time, Timmy has a much bigger adventure. Even the area bosses become characters, with motivations and threats and relationships to the people of the world.
This is a good place to note, by the way, that the writing in this game is excellent.
This leads to the next major addition to the Actraiser formula, which are the Heroes. Each area now has a “Hero” who appears early in the stage, has character development of their own, and is available to help during the monster raids, and become indispensable thanks to their valiant efforts. As the game goes on, you can enlist the heroes from other areas to help in battles, and having a handful of them available is a huge help later in the game when the raids get almost overwhelming.
Back on the action-platforming side, we are still guiding the villagers to seal the monster lairs, but this time around, the Master actually descends into them to physically wipe out their hives. It’s a nice addition that brings a little more action to the game when it gets a little too sim-heavy.
By now, you probably also know that they did, in fact, create a whole new area for the game: Alcaleone. After finishing what was the final sequence of events in the original game, we find ourselves on a whole new island, ready to be tamed. This is one huge sim level, with an action level only at the end, and a new final-final boss.
Finally, of course, there is new music, and it is in fact composed by the original superhero of videogame soundtracks, Yuzo Koshiro. Yes, Koshiro has returned to one of the many games that made him famous — and arguably, it was he and his work that made Actraiser famous — with 15 new tracks throughout the game, including a fantastic new level theme for Alcaleone. The coolest part, though, is that while all of the game’s music is presented in a lush, arranged style, the player can switch to original Super Famicom sound versions — and that included the new tracks, as well!
Even though Actraiser Renaissance is packed with new ideas, it made me think about why they even made this game. This is just speculation, but I kind of wonder if they weren’t initially thinking of making Actraiser 3, and had all these additions they wanted to bring to the game, but perhaps it was too daunting to attempt to come up with a whole new world, new levels, and new enemies, so they thought, why not just remake Actraiser 1? As much as we fans would like it, let’s face it, we’re really just nostalgic for Fillmore and Bloodpool and all the places we love anyway, so why try to invent something totally new that’s not going to make us as happy as the original world? There’s enough here to add lots of freshness to the Actraiser experience, and especially with the game’s 30th anniversary having passed recently, it seemed like an obvious choice.
So as you can see, if you love Actraiser, Actraiser Renaissance is still Actraiser, it’s just WAY MORE Actraiser. And isn’t that really what we wanted?
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