Written by Colin Burns // Edited by Drew Beyer // Header image Courtesy of the ActRaiser Wiki
Despite being a relatively new medium, video game history is littered with numerous universally praised classics. With such a large backlog and more and more games being released every day, it’s difficult to make time to appreciate some of the industry’s most revered titles. First Time Long Time is about making the effort and experiencing some of these classics that might have slipped us by and seeing how they hold up so many years after their initial release.
The Super Nintendo library is chock-full of unmissable titles such as the pinnacle of platformers (Yoshi’s Island) and the gold standard of JRPGs (Chrono Trigger). ActRaiser doesn’t really fall neatly into a single genre, however. The game blends action, platforming, and world-simulation into something completely unique. Although it receives constant praise from people who played it when it was released and it’s got a good reputation as a dark-horse candidate for best game on the SNES, it’s relatively unknown to the younger generation of gamers. It’s no EarthBound. It doesn’t have the words “Final Fantasy” in the title. ActRaiser is just ActRaiser, a quirky name for a quirky game.
You play as some sort of god who is trying to rid the world of evil and nourish a new civilization. You’ll spend half of the game in a 2D side-scroller, jumping from platform to platform, killing enemies with your sword, and facing off against some impressive bosses. The other half of the game is a 2D top-down world builder with some light shooter elements where you affect the environment with godly powers like lightning strikes in order to help your new civilization grow and prosper.
The flow between the action stages into the sim stages and vice-versa keeps the game from getting too monotonous or frustrating. Having a tough time with a particular boss? Just keep pushing through because once you defeat it, you know the game will reward you with a leisurely simulation level where you may decide to burn down a town’s wooden house to encourage them to rebuild them in stone. You never do one thing for too long in ActRaiser and this makes the game feel brisk and manageable. I beat the game in one extended session and that’s large in part to it’s wonderfully balanced difficulty. The action stages are short and easy to memorize while the bosses provided some challenge, though I don’t think I faced any one of them more than a handful of times before defeating it. ActRaiser steers clear of the punishing difficulty associated with classic games like Castlevania or Mega Man; it is difficult without being demoralizing.
The large sprites and vibrant colors make ActRaiser an aesthetically pleasing game even for such an early release on the Super Nintendo. The music of ActRaiser is partially responsible for the affection that people have for the game. Composed by Yuzo Koshiro, the man behind the legendary Streets of Rage soundtracks, ActRaiser‘s music deserves just as much acclaim as the game itself. It’s bombastic and uplifting during the action stages and soothing and pastoral during the simulation parts. The main stage theme even has a very similar tune to the theme of NFL football on Fox!
Is it worth playing today?
Absolutely. Thanks to solid and unique mechanics paired with delightful music and presentation, the game is still incredibly enjoyable today even if you’re playing for the first time. It’s one of a kind (disregarding ActRaiser 2) and should not be overshadowed by the other heavy hitters of the console. It’s worth playing for the music alone.