A Solid B- in Theology – Super Nintendo – Actraiser – 1991

Actraiser
1991
Enix
Genre: Platformer/Simulation

Ah, Enix.  Before they merged with the super power that was Squaresoft, they had a large library of games that they released.  Most people know these games, but unless you were a super fan of the company, you might not have realized you were playing their games.  One popular game that seemed to drop off of the Earth’s face once the Super Nintendo was obsolete was a now classic called Actraiser.  The game tried a lot of new ideas to the North American gaming market.  How many of them succeeded, though, and how many hold up now?

The plot of the game is somewhat simple, and the game comes off as a religious allegory, which is somewhat surprising given Nintendo’s staunch ‘anti-religion’ stance on content in games.  You take on the role of ‘The Master’ who, along with his angelic devotee, has to renew faith in him and his abilities to the people of the world, as evil and monsters have begun to attack.  Through the angel and a reanimated statue, you instill faith into those that once believed in you to stop the evil Tanzra (named Satan in the Japanese version) from overtaking the world.

The game itself is comprised of two play modes.  The basic platforming mode is where you play as an animated statue, destroying monsters and purifying places that have been tainted by Tanzra and his mythological demons.  These modes play in a fairly straightforward manner, where you have special abilities that you can use at a cost and a sword to slash with.  At the end of each of the levels, you battle a creature or demon to finish the purification of the area.  These areas can be difficult, though with a little practice, they don’t pose much of a problem to the average player.
The second mode of the game, however, is where Actraiser defines itself.  Before you can purify the areas, you play as the angel, clearing land for houses, defeating monsters, and helping pave the way to the area that needs to be cleansed.  You have control over natural occurrences like lightning and the sun, and you also have a bow so that you can kill monsters that would threaten your flourishing population.  As you make roads and clear paths, people begin to thrive, giving you experience to strengthen yourself and use better ‘miracles’ that will help you progress.  Once the population reaches a certain number, you gain access to the side-scrolling areas.

 

Really, the game shines in the simulation areas more than the platforming areas.  While there is obviously more action in the platforming section, it is fairly banal and not terribly noteworthy.  It’s not bad, but it’s nothing special.  The simulation section of the game, while plodding at rare moments, is a something that was not seen as often and kept things interesting with enemies that you could attack while you were playing.  This, more than anything else, could certainly be my opinion, but I found that I was trying hard to get through the platforming levels just to see what challenges awaited me at the next barren wasteland.

To its credit, the whole game’s pace is actually very satisfying.  You never feel like you are spending too long doing one thing or another, and with the clear instructions on your next step at all times, it’s hard to get frustrated or lost while playing.

Another part of the game that I appreciated was that, while it could easily be identified as a religious allegory of sorts, it did not preach (pardon the pun) so much as give an entertaining story that could be related to any deity thanks to the translation to North American audiences.  While I certainly have no problem with most content that can go into a game, I didn’t find myself thinking that this was a religious game so much as a decently crafted game.

So far as graphics are concerned, the game is basic at worst, slightly more than basic at best.  Again, there isn’t much that you didn’t see before in this game, though certain backdrops do conjure up a more artistic feel than others.  Being basic isn’t necessarily terrible, however, as the colors are crisp and blend well together, and everything looks like it should.  The more visually appealing set piece is the end boss, and that’s probably how it should be.

Then, there is the music.  While I don’t remember as much about it now, I do remember that it was the high point of the game for me.  Each piece feels well crafted and fits right into the game’s tone.  Sound effects are unobtrusive, for the most part, and the game showcases its score well.

Actraiser, while a good game all around, especially for a launch title for the system, is more of a history lesson and a notch for the headboard than an absolute must play.  There are a lot of great ideas, but the game doesn’t excel at one half of what it does.  It hasn’t left much of an impression on me after a bit of rumination, though I remember enjoying the game as I was playing it.  If you want to check it out, it wouldn’t be a waste of your money to nab it on the Wii’s Virtual Console, but don’t be surprised if a few weeks later, you forget you even played it.

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