"Given the promise of an ActRaiser successor, I was really excited to see what new stuff ACE Team would bring to the table, but the answer is absolutely nothing."
It's long been a wish among RPGFan staff that ActRaiser would become the inspiration for a wave of indie titles. The unique blend of god-game mechanics with action platforming and stat building was so much fun and posed a fair challenge. Even the sequel didn't dare repeat this. But in 2019, we don't have to wait any longer. SolSeraph was a surprise post-E3 announcement, and it was released with little fuss or fanfare just a few weeks later; why no publicity for a spiritual successor to a game that's so beloved? Because it's simply not very good.
In SolSeraph, you control Helios, Knight of Dawn, child of god and man, and a kind of guardian angel if you will. Helios comes down to Earth to save its inhabitants from the Younger Gods, who are jealous of humans and cause them to suffer. Throughout the game, you visit five different tribes, each with different cultures and takes on life, love and religion, but their stories are peppered so thinly throughout the action that I felt I had little time or interest to take anything in. The story isn't meant to be the highlight, but it just feels tacked on here.
Before you get to meet your first tribe, you're thrown straight into one of the game's platforming segments. These are easily the weakest parts of SolSeraph, and that's really saying something. The goal of these segments is to make it to the end, kill either a boss or a group of enemies and upgrade your health or mana. These levels are lazily designed, with enemies dotted all over the place that almost always appear out of nowhere, often right in the way of where you need to jump to. Their animations are either very staggered or very sudden, so I sometimes struggled with knowing when the enemy was going to attack. Jumping from platform to platform is painful too because your jumps feel so floaty and loose. I could never tell if I was going to safely land on a platform, or dodge an enemy, until the very last second. And things normally ended in frustration, made worse by the fact that most of these levels don't even have checkpoints. The amount of times I had to redo a level because I died was infuriating, and some of these sections take a good 5-10 minutes.
You can attack with your sword, but enemy hitboxes are seemingly random. Some enemies require you to stand right next to them to hit, but others you can damage while barely touching them. Your sword swings look incredibly stiff too, and there's a slight delay in attacks and breaking out of your attack animations. You also have a bow, which consumes mana and allows you to snipe enemies from a distance. You gain other abilities as you progress through the game, but the bow is by far the most useful, along with a healing spell. However, this spell only restores one health point, and while you get it early in the game when you have around 10 HP, by the end it still
only heals one HP out of 20 at the cost of 1/5th of your mana. Honestly, the best thing to do is speed through the level and try to avoid getting hit as much as possible. It's a terrible recommendation, but it saves a lot of hassle, if you manage to make it through without dying.
Then there's the other half of the game, the city building, though to call it that would be too much. In SolSeraph, your goal is to expand each tribe out to these dark, clouded areas, build a shrine, purify the clouds and then infiltrate the base hidden underneath, all while your tribe is being attacked by waves of enemies. You need to build houses so you get more villagers, then build farms for food, barracks or archery towers to defend the village, and lumber mills to farm more wood to build more stuff. Once you've purified all of the clouded areas, the boss' lair opens up so you can defeat them and move on. These sequences play out much more like a tower defense strategy game than a god-mode, and the waves of enemies are slow and unexciting.
You can also build paths out from the village, and this is the quickest way to progress through these stages. In fact, it's incredibly broken because you can easily expand out to all of the shrines within the first couple of enemy waves. As a result, these building sections are extremely boring and repetitive because you can adopt this same strategy for every single tribe you visit. Just plaster your village with archery towers and barracks, tell the villagers to man them, and let them loose. There's little to no skill involved. If you do get into a pinch, you have a variety of abilities on hand, but these are incredibly overpowered and make these sections even easier than they already are.
I've already talked about how bland I found the platforming sections, but actually SolSeraph is a pretty clean-looking, if unimaginative, game. The water effects look great, and watching enemies crawl into the fray from the foreground or background was really cool the first time. In the building segments, Helios can fly through clouds, and they part gently as he makes contact with them. Otherwise, for a game with a lot of reused assets, it sometimes struggles to run at a decent framerate. If it's raining in a platforming level, the game looks choppy and blurry, and if you've constructed a lot of buildings on your overworld, the game grinds to a halt for about five seconds when you place a new structure or when an enemy wave starts.
Now, credit where credit is due, ACE Team did manage to bring back the legendary Yuzo Koshiro to compose the title theme. Koshiro composed ActRaiser 1 and 2's legendary music, and SolSeraph's title theme is full of power and grandeur. It's really good. Unfortunately, the rest of the soundtrack doesn't live up to the majesty of the title theme, with uninspired and forgettable tunes that are reused over and over again. I think I only counted around seven unique tracks in the entire game, and I couldn't tell you what any of them sounded like because I've already nearly forgotten all of them.
Overall, SolSeraph is a huge letdown. It's the lack of variety, the terrible platforming levels, and the forgettable building sections and music that makes the game so frustrating and dull. Given the promise of an ActRaiser successor, I was really excited to see what new stuff ACE Team would bring to the table, but the answer is absolutely nothing. In the process, they've managed to strip away the magic of what made the SNES classic so fun, while doing nothing to evolve or develop the formula. Despite this huge misstep, I really hope we do get a solid ActRaiser-inspired game in the near future.
This review is based on a free review copy provided to RPGFan by the developer. This relationship in no way influenced the reviewer's opinion of the game or its final score.