Ultrasonic’s Retro thoughts: Actraiser

Mixing genres when creating a video game can very tricky.  Mostly this is because when the attempt is made, the end result either turns out mixed or just downright awful.  However, every now and again a game comes along that takes the aspects of more than one genre and melds them in a way that it doesn’t feel tacked on or artificial.  And in the case of the game Actraiser, that idea was made a reality.  Only more so when one considers that the game was released early in the Super NES’s life.

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The premise of the game is that you the player take the role of the protagonist known as “The Master” and you are battling an enemy named Tanzra (also called “The Evil One”).  It turns out that a long time ago The Master and Tanzra fought and the former was defeated.  As such The Master retreated to his sky palace and went into a deep sleep.  However, during all this Tanzra divided the world into six lands for each of his lieutenants and turned the people to evil.

Fast forward several centuries later, The Master awakens and finds that all his power is gone due to the lack of faith people have in him.  With only his angel to assist him, The Master sets out to destroy Tanzra’s minions and restore the people’s faith in him by building their civilizations and communicating with them via prayer.

On the surface, the game wouldn’t seem that compelling but this is where you’d be wrong, for the developers at Quintet were able to combine action-packed platforming with city-building/simulation gameplay to provide a game that stands out among the crowd, for while you still have your side-scrolling swordplay action, you also have a top down sim where you control an angel and ward off flying monsters, while also encouraging population growth (and by extension their faith in you) by road planning, and using the weather (rain, lightning, etc.) to perform miracles.

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In addition to the aforementioned miracles, the big thing that needs to be done in sim mode is guiding the population to the lairs the flying monsters spawn from so they could seal them off.  This in turn increases the civilization level and allows more advanced structures to be built as well as increase population potential.  There’s a total of four lairs in each level, and all must be sealed to progress to the next level.  However, right when you seal the last lair in the area you will have a platforming action sequence where you will fight monsters and ultimately the boss of that action stage.

There are a total of two action sequences in each area.  The first one happens before sim mode, and the other occurs after.

With the platforming you don’t just have a sword to fight with, but you also have magic spells that can help even the odds in your favor.  However, in keeping with any kind of magic, you lose power each time you use it, so use them when you need to.

Once you finally reach the final area, it is an action sequence boss marathon, all culminating in a final fight with Tanzra himself.

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As with most games during the 90s, there were some tweakings/changes done in localizing the game for U.S. audiences.  For example, the original Japanese version was essentially an allegory for Christian monotheism, and as such your main character was God himself and the big bad in the game was Satan.  Since Nintendo of America had a strict policy on game content at that time (namely towards overtly religious themes/plotlines), the main protagonist was renamed “The Master” instead, and the big bad was named “Tanzra”.  But even with those changes the allegory was still pretty obvious.  Not only that, but the final bosses are based on real-world beliefs and mythology, namely from Hinduism and Greek mythology.

Plus the monster lairs were changed from having a Star of David-like symbol to skull symbols, and the action sequences were changed to where the level design was much easier, enemies were given new attacks, spells didn’t require more energy to use, spike pits didn’t kill you instantly (unlike Capcom’s MegaMan games), and you had a lot more time to complete the action sequences.  However, the trade-off was that sim-modes were a lot harder and getting to the maximum experience level was very difficult.  If you managed to complete the game you would unlock “Professional” mode, which is nothing but the action sequences and the level design being much like the original Japanese version but with other changes from the main mode.

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The European releases also modeled themselves after the American version but with “Professional” mode available from the word go and being called “Action” mode instead, with three difficulty settings.  The beginner setting is even easier than the normal mode which is a carbon copy of the Professional mode in the U.S. version, while the Expert mode pretty much exceeds all versions of the game where it restores the Master’s new attacks increases damage dealt by foes, and reduces the damage you can inflict on them.

In all, this is a game that is worth having on your Super NES library due to its distinctive gameplay and gives you variety and in such a way that hadn’t really been done up to that point in time.  Again, the fact that this game was released at an early time in the Super NES’s life showed the potential of the system as well as combining gameplay mechanics that on paper wouldn’t work, but if done right actually could.  Plus the fact that it is still available on the Wii’s Virtual Console (Wii Shop Channel) only makes it more enticing.

So if you’re looking for a type of game that isn’t your usual fare, then Actraiser is definitely one to check out.  You’ll definitely be using your noodle for more than just simple platforming action, and you’ll definitely be having a lot of fun with it.

So as the Nintendo Power article said best once upon a time, “Raise your sword and free a mystical land from evil forces!”

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