A cult classic, many hold ActRaiser close to their heart.
Mixing 2D side-scrolling action with city building, it was a breath of fresh air when it released on the SNES in the early nineties. And now it’s been remade for modern audiences. Actraiser Renaissance takes the original premise of a world in the grasp of a dark lord named Tanzra and keeps the core gameplay elements, but it also expands on them. As the Lord of Light, it’s up to you to journey to each of the lands affected by the dark lord’s evil doings, and make it so that people can settle there once more. Only now there’s more to it.
Flying around in your divine Sky Palace, in whichever land you descend there are three phases to complete before it’s returned to its former glory. First is an action stage, where you’ll directly control your godly Lord of Light, thwarting monsters while engaging in a spot of 2D platforming. It’s fairly simple stuff, made challenging by the somewhat clunky controls and often awkward enemy placement. Still, it’s enjoyable overall, feeling like a blast from the past given new life thanks to upgraded graphics and a rocking soundtrack. A crystal system that allows you to power yourself up throughout the course of a stage, and numerous magic spells that you unlock as you progress through the game also add a bit of flavouring.
After the action stage, dubbed Act 1, there’s a dramatic change of pace. With your first settlers freed, you move onto building a thriving community. In these sections you’ll be in control of an angel, with which you can thwart monsters emerging from nearby lairs with arrows. And to develop the settlement, you’ll need to claim land, perhaps using “miracles” such as lightning strikes to remove obstacles such as unwanted woodland. Your settlers will build homes and workshops of their free will, occasionally presenting you with resources such as wood. And with that you can build forts and other defences to further protect them from enemy assaults.
Ultimately though, you’re going to have to deal with those monster lairs, and that’s where the Lord of Light steps in again. In numerous short action stages, you’ll descend into monster lairs in order to dispose of the enemy-spewing blobs within, making the area safer for your settlers.
In the process of all this, you’ll also uncover a notable ally within each land, ready to lead their new settlement to a safe and prosperous future. Though they’ve got their work cut out for them. You see, there’s a new element to Actraiser Renaissance‘s settlement development phases: sieges. During sieges, enemies will attack from various corners of the land, and you’ve got to stop them from destroying your hard work. Instead of attacking with your angel, you’ll now need to rely on directing your heroic ally to fend off the attackers, as well as the defences you’ve built. Play your cards right, and you can even summon allies from previously liberated lands to assist. Your miracles can be weaponised too, though they can only be used sparingly due to the energy they require.
The new features and gameplay elements added into the settlement building aspect of Actraiser Renaissance make for a much more varied and involving game, but for some it might also disrupt the pace a little. Especially when taking into account the chin-wagging that your followers will subject you to on a regular basis. Still, at least Square Enix has tried to expand on the formula to deliver a richer experience, rather than just peddle something people have already played with fancier visuals.
The final part of freeing each land comes after all monster lairs have been taken care of and all sieges endured. With the monster masterminding the assaults on the land exposed, it’s time to move in and eradicate them as the Lord of Light. In Act 2 of any given land, you’ll tackle yet another action stage, tasking you with fighting your way to the boss before putting an end to its machinations. Thanks to some cool boss designs, it’s generally a highlight.
With each land presenting its own challenges to overcome, the monotony of completing the three phases over and over again as you move from one to another is lessened a little. Though the settlement development phases can still feel a little drawn out and repetitive at times. While some ActRaiser fans may like the change in balance between action and strategy, others might not get on with it too well.
There’s one thing for certain: Actraiser Renaissance is much better than SolSeraph, the spiritual sequel to the ActRaiser series released in 2019. It has its flaws in both the action and settlement-building stages, but they’re quite easily overlooked in the grand scheme of things thanks to the fact that it’s still such a unique blend. Add in a fantastic soundtrack reworked by Yuzo Koshiro as well as additional content and multiple difficulty levels, and you have a game that should please the majority of series fans while also possibly bringing some new ones into the fold.
Actraiser Renaissance Review – GameSpew’s Score