Actraiser Renaissance‘s arrival came as a total surprise. This full-blown remake of the 31-year-old Actraiser simply descended from the heavens without warning, but there’s no reason to worry about placing your trust in Actraiser Renaissance. This glorious game feels remarkably fresh thanks to its surplus of surprising depth, both mechanically and narratively. The mechanical depth in particular results in a highly strategic experience where each players’ approach will be as unique as the game’s blend of genres.
The gameplay loop of Actraiser Renaissance is a satisfying synthesis of side-scrolling action RPG, settlement simulation, and real-time strategy. The game opens with an action level, in which you take control of a deity that has been reawakened after a long slumber. Controls are simple: one button allows you to jump while another lets you swing your oversized sword. And your weapon isn’t just for show: the sword’s sweeping hitbox arc allows you to make the most of distance and elevation, ensuring you aren’t completely helpless when an enemy has the high ground.
You can execute special moves by combining your swings with a directional input, which adds a layer of complexity to how you approach each level and keeps things from devolving into simple button mashing fests. Striking to the sides, for instance, makes you briefly invincible as you slice through an enemy and reposition yourself on their other side. Utilizing attacks as repositioning tools makes traversing the action levels strategic and intentional because your moves can’t be used without a mindful approach. This is especially true of the downward strike: you leap up then strike downward with a heavy, strong attack that your character puts all their weight behind. While it’s a guaranteed kill against a lot of basic enemies, you must be willing to commit to it because you’ll plummet straight down until you hit solid ground. The risk-versus-reward nature of this move, combined with its positioning possibilities, make it a powerful piece in a clever arsenal of attacks that turns the game’s numerous combat segments into a perfect blend of action and tactical thinking.
The only element of combat that doesn’t feel quite as strategic are the magic spells you collect throughout the game. The very first spell you unlock, Radiant Fire, is already immensely powerful and can hit enemies, including bosses, multiple times due to the nature of their hitboxes. Aside from one or two enemies that are resistant to fire, there isn’t much reason to not spam fireballs during boss fights; if an opponent can withstand Radiant Fire, you can instead quickly deal with them by using other spells, such as Penitent Ice or Retributive Aura. Level design and enemy placement ensure magic use is more strategic while you’re exploring a stage, but most boss fights can turn even the most casual of players into speedrunners with how easily magic can be abused.
The silver lining is that when a boss fight does turn out to be a bit tricky, players are encouraged to thoroughly explore the entire level. Defeating enemies—and sometimes breaking rocks—drops crystals that fill a meter, which bestows bonuses as it increases, from an boost in physical damage to potentially doubled magic damage and even a revive. This system is a surprisingly simple but effective way to reward those who seek out and vanquish enemies rather than avoid them.
Players are also encouraged to explore levels—even those long since completed—through the promise of scrolls. Levels are sprinkled with silver and gold angel statues. Silver statues hold health and MP restoration items, while golden ones may hold either more potent restoratives or a scroll that permanently increases MP. Each level has multiple scrolls to find that allow players to unleash more magic upon their enemies.
Boss fights themselves make up a very small portion of Actraiser Renaissance, so the issue of magic spamming is easily forgotten. This is especially true when building and defending settlements. Action-based levels are sandwiched between segments in which players control the deity’s right-hand angel as they populate different areas with humans. As each settlement grows and their individual narratives unfurl, they come under siege by monsters, shifting the game into real-time strategy territory. Players have to carefully consider where they build and move forts and palisades to protect the settlers’ farmlands and workshops from the hordes of incoming monsters. The angel can use spells called miracles to affect the landscape and man-made structures while the settlement is being constructed; during sieges, these spells can also be used to damage and otherwise adversely affect monsters. However, the angel’s MP is especially limited, meaning miracles can’t be mindlessly spammed.
During these sieges, it’s crucial to conserve MP and leave the crux of the conflict to the newly added champions. Each area introduces a champion that defends the settlement when it’s under siege. They can later be summoned to fight in other areas once their main quest line has been completed. These champions have unique abilities, such as decreasing the damage taken by forts or increasing their attack range, forcing players to strategically consider which champions can provide the best response to each siege.
If it feels like a champion is lagging behind, players can choose to return to prior settlements and engage in more quests or wait for a random enemy siege, both of which bestow experience to that area’s champion. The option to freely roam the world—starting new settlements, finishing up older quest lines, and even descending into action levels to seek out scrolls—gives players a generous amount of freedom in progression. Actraiser Renaissance throws a lot of obstacles in players’ paths, but it also provides them with a wide array of problem-solving tools.
Amidst the myriad of gameplay conflicts, narrative turmoil also emerges. Each area has its own narrative theme and tackles issues such as faith, courage, and the nature of good and evil. The distinct storylines of each town add depth and appeal to the champions players unlock, elevating them from mere gameplay tools to memorable additions to the game’s roster. The lengths Actraiser Renaissance is willing to go to in order to address these topics are striking and a welcome addition to the bountiful layers the game already provides.
There’s nothing like Actraiser Renaissance‘s seamless genre-blending, and the surprising depth in each facet makes the game all the more timeless. The extensive main campaign is followed by newly added post-game content that keeps the surprises coming, including an additional area to develop and a score mode. The ways to approach Actraiser Renaissance are as boundless as the content it provides, making it a revival that is well worth experiencing.