One of Quintet’s earliest creations has, somehow, remained their most well-known, despite the greater depth and experience offered by later titles (i.e. the Soul Blazer trilogy). But there’s something special about this genre-blender that captivated gamers worldwide. Is it the concept of a dethroned God as protagonist, having to fight his way back to top spot against demonic powers while winning back the hearts of the people? Is it the welcome reprieve from lengthy Sim-style gaming to do some mindless skull-bashing in the platformer mode? Maybe the visual qualities, or the awesome soundtrack that could go toe-to-toe with Castlevania any day of the week? Of course, it’s a combination of all these things. Take any one away, and ActRaiser wouldn’t be as special. This was certainly proven by ActRaiser 2, which cut the Sim element and suffered terribly for it.
When you start this game, you are greeted in your floating palace by a cherub (you know, those cute little naked baby angels?). The English localization renders you, the protagonist, as “The Master,” but come on, we all really know they meant God. Or a god among many, at the very least. Whatever the case, you give yourself a name, and you head on your first mission. After clearing your first platform stage, you are introduced to the Sim aspect.
Here, we are almost immediately introduced to my favorite game mechanic in ActRaiser: living human beings equals experience points. That’s right! To level up, you need people to reproduce and acknowledge you as the true “Master” of their world. How will you do this? Fight off demons in real-time with your cherub while the humans cultivate the land and build towns. Also, a variety of mini-quests are offered, many of which require picking up an item from the townspeople in another region, then backtracking to deliver that item (or use it on the map) so that whatever obstacle faced is overcome.
Each region has two “Acts” (platform stages), and a unique storyline with the townspeople. Sometimes there’s a famine, or an illness, and in one zone there’s an evil cult springing up amongst the people. It’s up to you, and you alone, to help the people. And the presentation is excellent. For the dialogue, you enter a temple, and you stare down at the people as they kneel before the altar and pray to you. Sometimes, they bring offerings: items to clear enemies on the map, as well as magic scrolls that can be used in the platform levels. Some of these items are hidden, and thus optional for you to acquire. Other than these items, however, the game is rather linear.
Being one of the earlier releases for the SNES, the graphics are dated, even for its own generation. The Sim element is especially bland, looking only slightly more interesting than the Super Nintendo port of Sim City. The platformer portions are on par with Castlevania IV graphically, except for the lack of animation. The Master just doesn’t do a whole lot. Swinging your sword is, from what I can tell, a four-sprite animation. Nothing too impressive there!
Yuzo Koshiro’s soundtrack, however, holds up as one of the best for its time. The ActRaiser soundtracks (both the original soundtrack and the symphonic album) are considered extremely rare collector’s items now, and not just due to their obscurity. The quality of the music is really something special. Most gamers, if you played the first battle track (Fillmore, or “Filmoa” in the Japanese rendering of the word), would say “hey, that sounds familiar.” And the knowledgable gamers would give you a high-five on the spot for playing something totally awesome. You know I’m right.
In summation, there are plenty of great Virtual Console titles to download, be they RPG or not. ActRaiser sits on the fence in terms of genre, but there’s no question in my mind about the game’s quality. You’re almost guaranteed to enjoy playing this game, regardless of past experience. It’s short, and it’s not too complex, but it’s appeared on many a “Top 10 SNES games” list. That ought to tell you something.