I never owned this one, but I remember (the first 15 minutes or so of this) game well. Playing it now, though, one thing is for sure – the concept of it went well over my head. In this game, you’re God. They can go ahead and call you “The Master” and the last boss “Tanzra”, but this is some straight up Christian gaming; you’re Him and evil dude is Satan, no doubt about it.
And crazy as it is, it works. The game seamlessly blends action/platforming sequences with city-building/simulation. As the story goes, you, The Master (unfortunately, not THAT “The Master”), had your ass handed to you by Tanzra. You retreated to your palace in the sky to get your act (raised?) together, and while you did so, Tanzra split up the world into several sections and gave each piece to his minions, creating a living hell for all humanity. Time for you to wipe the Godly tears from your face, grab your biblical blade and go give Tanzra his own slice of hell. The music is fantastic; so much so, that a vision of what it would sound like on the NES is arguably even better.
The pacing of the game is perfect… I basically finished it one sitting (minus the final boss battle, which I’ll get to later). Each land begins with an Act 1, an action sequence where you slice up bad guys and traverse the varying environments of the world as a badass sword-wielding solider who gives out a silly-but-still-damn-cool war cry with every swing. You get the whole spectrum of colorful Super Nintendo locales in this one – forest, desert, underworld, swamp – and a fresh batch of unique baddies in each one. At the end of Act 1, you’ll need to send a mini-boss packing before the people of that land feel safe enough to rebuild their life. Once they do, you begin one of the city-building simulation stages of the game. This consists of listening to the prayers of the people, granting miracles (you know, creating rain for dying crops, lightning blasts for destroying intrusive landmarks, sunshine to melt ice, but nothing crazy such as universal healthcare), guiding the direction of the city and keeping monsters away from your worshippers. This is accomplished by flying a fat baby/Cupid-ish angel solider around and firing arrows at any wrongdoers. Sometimes you’ll find you can’t be in all places at once, and villagers will be carried off to their death by an enormous devil-bat while you were off demanding offerings from your people. It’s around here where ActRaiser makes its big theological statement; it’s not that God is evil, or delights in punishing his followers – it’s that he’s just got too damn much to do.
As the population rises, The Master’s power returns through level-ups. Your energy bar increases and you learn spells to assist you in the platforming sequences. As each new land becomes close to its capacity of growth, the real minion leader of the land appears and you must return to your soldier self to vanquish him in Act 2. These stages are basically tougher versions of that land’s Act 1, with the real boss at the end. These dudes vary from Minotaurs, Dragons, Vampires and obviously, big floating Pharaoh heads. You’ll use technological developments learned in one land to help out the people of other lands. Villagers have been working too hard building and are pissed off and fighting non-stop? Well, over in the next land over, they just discovered music so bring that on over to get everyone to chill the fuck out. Crops won’t grow? They have an abundance of wheat in the other village, make ‘em share the wealth. Eventually, all six of the lands will be in thriving civilized unison, your power will be restored and it’s time to take on Tanzra.
In a very Mega Man fashion (I couldn’t believe this wasn’t a Capcom game), you have to re-fight all six of the main bosses, marathon style. You’re given three lives to take them all down with no health restored in between fights, you have limited magic, and all these dicks now move a little faster.
I sliced my way through all six dudes after a few tries to realize – yeah, you still gotta face the FINAL boss on whatever you have left for health/lives/magic that you carried over through your minion massacre. This was also very Mega Man-y to me – in true Dr. Wily fashion, Tanzra flies around a starry backdrop, launches out a variety of projectiles and has more than one form that must be defeated. If you can manage to bring one fresh full life to this fight, he’s not too tough. Send him packing back to hell and then it’s time to take a tour of all the thriving cities you’ve built and finally freed of all terror.
In a pretty cynical conclusion, you approach the temples where you had previously visited to hear prayers and find them empty. No one shows up to thank you anymore – since evil has been vanquished, no one has any need for a higher power to ask favors of anymore. You’ve been forgotten. More heavy philosophical pondering, especially for a game that features grumpy, dancing trees.
Put simply: this game kicks ass. I didn’t want to stop. The pacing is perfect – as soon as I needed a fix of platforming, I was sent by my civilians to go vanquish monsters. When my taste for minion blood had been quenched, it was back to building cities and restoring mankind. This process repeated itself until I found myself at the end of the game. The music was fantastic: catchy tranquil tunes accompany the building-sim mode, while adventurous, epic battle music fills the action sequences. One stage had a composition that sounded like it had been taken straight out of Final Fantasy VI. The graphics are Super Nintendo at its finest – clean, colorful and crisp.
I never owned this game… I thought I did, but it had been so long since I had seen it, I realized it was ActRaiser 2 when I dug it out. I’ve read they removed the building simulation aspect of the series for that entry, which seems like a backwards call. Whatever the case, the original lives up to its hype as a SNES staple, and definitely worth a playthrough.