MIA - ActRaiser
Yuzo Koshiro, where are you?
The calendar says it's Friday and you know what that means. That’s right; it’s time for another fantastic installment of Missing in Action!
This week we have a special guest taking the MIA reins in the form of PixlBit staff writer Julian Titus!
For all of you newcomers, let me explain how MIA works. MIA is a bi-weekly column where we pick out a game or franchise of old, dust it off and present it for a possible current generation entry.
To qualify for the MIA treatment the game or franchise cannot have appeared on any of the current generation platform, nor can a new title be currently in development, though unconfirmed rumors, speculation and hearsay are certainly permissible. Also the title or franchise must be well served by a current generation entry.
This week Julian presents to you for your consideration – ActRaiser!
Released just a few months after the U.S. launch of the Super Nintendo, ActRaiser was one of the best ways for SNES owners to show off the power of their shiny new 16 bit console. Featuring a nearly abusive amount of Mode 7 scaling techniques, detailed sprite graphics, and a haunting score by the now-legendary Yuzo Koshiro, ActRaiser was a shining example that the next generation had arrived. But releasing so early onto a console that would go on to have such a stellar games library meant that this gem ended up buried, and now it usually comes up in conversations that start with “hey, do you remember…”Sounds like a perfect candidate for an MIA, wouldn’t you agree?
It was November 1991, and with games like Super Mario World, Final Fantasy II, and Super Castlevania IV already heating up the SNES machines of gamers everywhere, it would have been easy for a quirky game like ActRaiser to be overlooked. But the launch window is a wonderful time for offbeat games to flourish thanks the visibility afforded from being in a small ocean of titles. When ActRaiser came out, people took notice of this unassuming title from Enix, and the people who played it got to experience something very different from what had come before.
To put the game in terms that people would understand in 1991, ActRaiser was like a fusion of Populous and Castlevania. The game consists of two sections: an overworld area where players develop and cultivate the land, and side-scrolling action levels where the player purges the area of evil. Players assume the role of “The Master”. Though the original story of ActRaiser was actually a religiously charged game where players became God and fought against Satan, Nintendo’s notoriously strict editing prevented that from translating over.
Instead of having control of The Master, players actually controlled a little cherub avatar for the overworld section of the game. This avatar was the conduit for helping develop the land and talking to The Master’s faithful worshippers. The cherub could fly around the land and give the orders of The Master to his people, who would in turn cultivate land, build homes, and thrive. Monster generators would send out fiends that could capture villagers or raze the land, so it was up to the cherub to combat these foes with his bow before they did too much damage. While it was possible to develop every square of land in each area, the main goals were to reach a certain population and seal each of the monster generators, as well as find the lair of the demon boss and slay it.
For these action sections, The Master descends to Earth and inhabits the statue of a warrior, bringing it to life. These areas are very much like the early Castlevania games, featuring dark, detailed graphics, macabre enemies, and even that heavy knock back when you take damage. In his warrior guise The Master has basic sword attacks and can eventually learn magic spells--great for clearing the screen or doing big damage to boss monsters. These levels are pretty basic when compared to newer action games, but coupled with the sim aspect, ActRaiser was truly special when it came out.
A sequel to the game was released in 1993, and it sported vastly superior graphics. This is actually a prequel to the first game, and sets up the struggle between The Master and Tanzra in ActRaiser. Surprisingly, the world building section of the game is not present in ActRaiser 2, leaving just a very pretty action game. The Master has a lot more to do this time around, though. He now has angel-like wings that allow him to hover and even fly for short bits, and he’s armed with a shield that plays heavily into defense and combat.
ActRaiser 2 isn’t a bad game by any means, but for whatever reason it didn’t resonate as well as the first game. That could be attributed to a number of things; a lot of amazing games came out in the two years after the release of ActRaiser, and perhaps people had forgotten the name. Or it may have been the fact that the sim aspect of the game was completely removed, making the sequel just a standard action game. Whatever the reason, ActRaiser 2 didn’t see the success of the original game, and the series stops there. An argument could be made that the Enix action-RPG Tenchi Sozo (The Creation of Heaven and Earth, or Terranigma in Europe), which features strong creation elements as well, and was developed by the same team at Quintet could be considered a spiritual successor to the series.
ActRaiser seems like a game just aching for a return, and I’d actually go in a less obvious direction for it. Instead of making a simple HD reboot for PSN and XBLA or making a character action game in the vein of God of War, I’d actually turn it into a free to play online game. The creation part of the game would be far more fleshed out than the first game, and this would be the social aspect of the game, ala FarmVille. Players would be able to fully control how they wanted their world to look and develop, and having a detailed map with the ability to zoom down to the street level would be amazing. Micro transactions would of course allow for faster cultivation and construction, or the purchase of cool cosmetic gear.
When it comes time to deal with the demons personally, I could go one of three ways with the gameplay. The obvious choice would be to make the game a side-scrolling affair like before. I think multiplayer should be a heavy component, and I almost envision the game looking like a more serious version of Maple Story. Going third person MMO-style is a way to go, as well. While the game wouldn’t actually be an MMO in terms of size or systems, the auto-attack and ability cooldown aspect of those games could work well here. But personally I’d like to see the game try something completely different from what came before, with the game taking a Diablo-style overhead look. Players could explore the realms of the demons with up to three other players, finding and trading loot for their avatars, as well as items to give to their worshippers in the overworld.
ActRaiser is a name lost to time. That makes it a difficult prospect for a new game, but it also allows almost full creative freedom to try something new and interesting while retaining the core values that made the game fun.