ActRaiser – Retro Spotlight

Today on Retro Spotlight we are covering a rather unknown game, such is the nature of the series after all. It’s a game that combines elements from two unlikely sources actually. One part Sim City and the other part is an awesome action platformer that gives you a run for your money despite how skilled you are in the genre!

Yes, I did say that. It’s a god simulation turned action game. In an era that seems to have games combining every type of genre in the world, from Japanese RPGs with Shoot Em Up elements, to Card Games that feature in an Open World 3rd Person Action Adventure game, Sim City meets Mario is not exactly high up on the list of ideas. However back in the 90’s, there was a game ended up using this idea, and used it damn well!

Ladies and gentlemen… let’s shine the Retro Spotlight on ActRaiser.

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ActRaiser is the first game made by a little studio called Quintet. The studio has made various unknown titles for the SNES and a few other systems before going quiet around 2002, it’s not exactly been announced as defunct… but let’s just say they haven’t had much activity for quite some time. It’s a shame as Quintet have made some serious wonderful hidden gems, their titles could be Retro Spotlight segments all their own to be honest! But for now, the focus is on their first title, ActRaiser.

ActRaiser was also published by Enix. The interesting part about this is that Enix is responsible for the publishing of the Dragon Quest series and are obviously part of the merge between Square to become Square Enix. They had a bit of a passion for supporting unknown Japanese studios back in their early haydays.

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Enix was responsible for publishing the game, and after merging with Square to form Square Enix. They now hold the rights to ActRaiser.

ActRaiser was developed and published by the companies in question and hit the scene to a modest fanfare in Japan, and lackluster fanfare outside of Japan. Which is a serious shame, as there was a crazy level of potential and passion packed into the game when it released!

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The story of Act Raiser isn’t overly complicated thankfully. You take on the role of a god like deity known only as ‘The Master’ in his fight against the Evil Tanzra, also known as “The Evil One.” The game throws you into the fray after Tanzra has divided the world into six lands and rules over those lands with his lieutenants. What have you been doing as ‘The Master’? Having a nap of course! There was a big battle and you got rather wounded, so the power nap was needed. But it becomes clear that there were some ramifications of your deep slumber.

So you’ve got to jump up to the task and combat the forces of Tanzra, while also coming back into the lives of everyone in civilization. This is where the Sim City elements come in. You are tasked with making sure they are cared for, they are given the appropriate chances to build upon what they have, and of course, are worshipping your existence! So it’s up to you to basically play the role of God.

An example of protecting civilization from the terrors of Tanzra during the ‘God’ segments.

In Japan, it was actually quite straight forward in terms of the plot. There is no Tanzra, or Master. They didn’t cut any corners. In actuality you are playing as God and fighting against Satan. But it was changed for the Overseas crowd. It’s always interesting to learn about the changes a game gets back during the day, as half of the changes made then would be like nothing today. With the plethora of perverted Japanese games to the gory Hack n Slash games of today, playing the role of God in a Super Nintendo game seems rather fluffy.

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ActRaiser had it all. From Biblical design elements to Egyptian design elements. The design of the game is sometimes overlooked.

There is a bunch of obvious biblical designs going on the game, as you can pretty much pick half of the monsters straight from Greek and Christian mythology. Satan… oh, sorry. Tanzra himself is pretty much a big nasty rendition of the biggest baddie of time to a T. Not forgetting your little angel like servant and the whole worshiping angle, there isn’t much hiding the influences of ActRaiser. That’s fine as well, the game has loads of character that it wouldn’t have if the team dumbed it all down and tried to be ambiguous! It’s a wonderful little love letter to more serious topics packaged in a fun SNES game.

ActRaiser also uses a bunch of Mode 7 goodness. You remember mode 7 right? That effect that F-ZERO used for it’s tracks to make them seem quite 3Dimensional? Well Quintet loved it. Nearly every SNES game they made has some form of scale changing sprite work in play to further set itself apart from the competition, and each time they used the effect it was nothing short of breathtaking.

A fantastic example of ActRaiser’s use of Mode 7 technology on the SNES. Mindblowing at the time.

Which isn’t just a slight plain shift to give a bit of depth, sometimes it’s more subtle such as rotating snow fall, or raindrops in the background. Little attentions to detail like that really set ActRaiser and the games that Quintet did apart from the rest. To be perfectly honest, few studios got design and ambience done as well as the folks down at Quintet.

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So the music of ActRaiser is one of the best parts of the game, it easily makes the game what it actually is. Fans of the Streets of Rage series will enjoy what ActRaiser has to offer actually. Why is that? It’s due to the fact that Yuzo Koshiro was behind the helm of ActRaisers sound design. It’s actually astounding when he did all of this as he was only around 19 when he was working on some of the best games of all time.

But look, don’t just take my text based word for it. Have a listen to the first level music from ActRaiser for proof of the talent that Yuzo put into the project.

You wouldn’t be blamed if you mistook that music for a piece straight from the Castlevania series. The best part was that the whole game had this level of perfection and is easily one of the best things about ActRaiser. From scores that are mellow and dramatic for the more serious segments, to high octane action of the battle stages and boss encounter.

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Make sure to follow Yuzo on Twitter @yuzokoshiro, he even has a Soundcloud that is very much worth checking out.

If you ever get the chance, check out the soundtrack to the game. Especially the modern remakes done by fans as it’s only made better with an orchestral touch! It’s a shame that the soundtrack does not get the same attention that some other games series do. As it was ages ahead of the competition from both the East and West. ActRaiser and it’s soundtrack is seriously one of the best Retro Gaming scores of all time, easily in the top 5.

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To say that ActRaiser had a lukewarm reception outside of Japan would be a heavy understatement. In total, the game sold 620,000 units. However 400,000 of those units came from within Japan. Whereas the US accounted for 180,000 units, and us here in the PAL regions only accounted for 40,000 units sold within our area. But the numbers proved good enough to warrant an ActRaiser 2… but that one was a bit different from the first game. However it’s a tale for another Retro Spoitlight segment.

ActRaiser 2 saw an overhaul in graphics and gameplay, being one of the hardest SNES games of all time.

The ActRaiser game series thankfully has a niche and dedicated following. It’s also not been forgotten too much by Square Enix either. You can pick up ActRaiser on the virtual console, something one wouldn’t expect for such an unknown game. Square Enix seems to hold the lisence as well now, so who knows? Could we ever see an ActRaiser 3? It’s very unlikely, but it would be a dream come true to see the game given a proper overhaul for the modern age.

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ActRaiser is every bit as good as any classic Platformer of the Retro era. From Super Metroid to Earthworm Jim, it’s a game that deserves a play from any gamer who claims to love Retro. In closing… it’s quite interesting to look at ActRaiser now to be honest.

For the first game from an upstart, it’s one hell of a door opener! You often have studios submit simplistic arcade titles or simple puzzle games when they want to get their foot off the ground. Not Quintet though. No, they opened up with a quirky Action Platformer turned God Simulator.

To think the studio is all but dead is now is a surprise. But regardless, let’s celebrate their hard work. work. If you’ve never played any of their games then you should give ActRaiser a shot. It’s more than deserving of the spotlight.

Thanks for everything, ActRaiser.


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