If there's one thing I loved about the SNES, it definitely was its platformers. Games like Super Castlevania IV, Super Ghouls 'N Ghosts, Super Mario World and the likes. Yes, I know, Super Metroid isn't in the list.
I didn't play it until it came on Virtual Console. Don't kill me for that. What attracted me in platformers usually was the action elements of them, as well as other details that stuck on me; the soundtrack, the backgrounds, the sprites, the world of the game. While I was there especially for the action, I still appreciated what was behind the action. I thought that nothing else but action in these platformers could enchant me so, and one day, a game, that I don't even remember how I even got in contact with anymore, proved me wrong.
In 1990, Quintet --- also known for its Soul Blazer Trilogy
(is that how it was called?) composed of Soul Blazer, Illusion Gaia and Terranigma --- developped a side-scrolling platformer game where you kill stuff dead. Only, they thought to themselves, "What if we, like, took SimCity, and, like, slammed it in the game?" Well, that's a seriously simplistic way to describe it, but it's basically the idea.
That game was ActRaiser.
As soon as you pop in the game, you're greeted with what is, in my opinion, one of the most memorable theme songs ever to be heard from a video game of the fourth generation of video games, and probably of all time. You then begin the game, and you find yourself in what appears to be a temple above the clouds.
This is actually the Sky Palace, a large, well, palace that floats over the world on top of clouds. A little angel greets you, and you learn that you are a certain "Master," whose name you must enter. The angel then explains to you that the world is in deep crap and you, who have been in a deep slumber for a while, missed the part where everything started going downhill, as the population of the world is in shambles. But now, your help is heavily required, and it is nigh time you fight back the demonic forces of the evil Tanzra and save the world. Well, its people.
After being explained the situation, you must embark in your first mission down on the ground. To descend on the world and battle its forces of evil, you must position the Sky Palace above a named location, and if your "level" meets the requirement, you may descend and engage battle. Without a choice, you will descend to the forests of Fillmore. Once confirmed, you will then see the world zooming out, only to begin zooming back onto the chosen location while spinning slowly, alongside a little song that builds the tension of descending down very well. Touches like these, I swear...
So, into the platforming part
. As your very soul descends, it eventually reaches destination: a statue of an armored man, his sword raised in triumph. As your soul enters it, the statue becomes animated, and you just turned into that armored man with a long sword, ready for action. This is pretty much the standard platforming stuff right here: you move around left or right, you jump, and you swipe your sword either on the ground, while ducking or in mid-air, all with top-notch responsive controls. This is also one of those games that let you control your jumps in mid-air by either pressing the opposite direction from which your character is facing to horizontally immobilize him, or press the direction he's facing to make him jump farther, at will too. And you know what? Games always should have done that. ALWAYS! There's even a little trick where if you slash mid-air and, once you land, attack immediately, your character will land, duck and slash. Your character just did a mid-air slash, landed, ducked, and slashed on the ground, all with just enough rapidity so it's not too fast, or, thank God, too slow and clunky. Although, he does fall rather fast and has limited movement if you let him fall off a ledge, so be careful not to that. At least it's not like 8-Bit Simon Belmont's "fall like a rock at 100 miles per hour," but it can still bite you in the rear sometimes. Oh, and alongside your nice sword, you get four magic spells to amplify your performance, such as a spell that throws around three balls of fire that runs around to kill stuff, for a single example. These spells, obviously, are there to make things easier for you, though nothing beats sword swipes from THE ALMIGHTY GOD HIMSELF, RIGHT?!
It's when you finish the forest that the game changes completely. Now, it turned into an overhead perspective game where you control that little angel from before, armed with a bow. If you look close enough, the tip of his arrows (might) look like little hearts. Cute. Anyway, during these sequences, you pretty much help the civilization you just saved (by completing the action stage) build itself up. You direct them how to build their towns, you use your godly powers to take care of stuff like trees, bushes, fires and the likes, and you use your arrows to kill off any demonic beings that flies around the town. Those demons can not only hurt your little angel --- who, when his life runs out, does not die, but temporarily loses his ability to use his arrows --- but they'll actively attempt to ruin the town's progress by kidnapping villagers or destroying houses. The goal in these sequences is to lead the town progress to the demonic portals the demons spawn from, and the villagers will seal those. Also, as you kill demons and help the towns build themselves up, you will gain experience points and level your character up, which does three things; 1) it increases your maximum SP, which you use for Miracles in the Simulation sequences, 2) allows you to descend on more Action stages (which is somewhat non-linear, by the way) and of course, 3) it increases your maximum HP (both the Angel's and the Master's). Along the way, the people will give you items/spells as offerings. At least they're grateful.
I must say, though, your little angel friend displays that he is more than just a tacked-in angel to do stuff, and expresses what I perceived as the art of being arrogant and condescendent.
What happened here is that, spontaneously, humans accidentally started fires around a few houses, for God knows... or rather, doesn't know what reason. Your lil' angel buddy here asks you to put the rain down so the people don't get scorched by their own clumsiness. Once you do that, however, he delivers this line. I don't know if it's just me or something, but that winged naked kid was quick to look down upon the humans for their inability to not set fire to their own properties, and to point out their apparent lack of independence. I guess you, the Master, came out to help civilizations out of being in ruins and kill demons, but stopping destructive fire to save the people part of the civilizations, who obviously ask you for help because you ARE kind of their Master and you ARE helping them doing everything, and there are no firefighters around town? "Oh, silly humans. They always think that accidentally setting fire everywhere on their houses is the right way, and then they beg us to save them because they don't feel like just dying scorched to death in the debris of their estates. Welp, might as well help them, huh?"
Perhaps this little angel, if there is ever an ActRaiser 3, will be its rebellious villain, out to dispose of the silly diety helping out the silly humans. With fire, just for the kicks. I probably shouldn't talk, though; I did comically tried to respond to the fire with the Sun miracle, but the game wouldn't let me. I guess you have to be a good savior.
Anyway, back on the main point... This is a very good thing they did here: instead of doing nothing but run around, jumping on platforms and swinging your sword around, you also have a simplistic, fun little sim-style mode to play with. Let's remember that you are, after all, more or less of a God (as I've been calling him a few times). In fact, little tidbit here: in the Japanese versions of the two ActRaiser games, the Master (you) is named God, and Tanzra is named Satan. God taking up a sword and swinging at Satan's minions, and Satan himself? Sign me up for that.
Not pictured: Satan getting owned hard.
As for the sound department, if you played Quintet games (especially Soul Blazer), you'll recognize a lot of the sound effects, from the really deep grunt the character makes when damaged, to the sound it makes when you swing your sword. That said, the sound effects in this game aren't bad, but they don't stand out much either. And the only reason people might think the grunt and sword swing sounds stand out, it's because they noticed that in at least two games, they heard both sounds a lot.
And the music? Memorable and timeless. I can't ever forget a single song from this game, I swear to you. The glorious title screen, followed by the godly-sounding church-organ-dominated theme of the Sky Palace, to the thrilling and suspenseful descent fanfare, to Fillmore's catchy stage theme, to the exciting boss theme, to the victorious fanfare when you clear a stage, to the wonderful little theme of towns during Simulation sequences, to... well, you get the idea. Every single song in the game perfectly fits the moments/stages/etc. they play in. At least, that's my opinion. But, hey, composer Yuzi Koshiro did such a good job, that he also got some songs from the game specially arranged to show up at the Symphonic Game Music Concert --- which was just as awesome. I was planning on putting at least one song here to demonstrate the awesomeness of the game's soundtrack, but I reckon the only way to do that is make a cheap little audio-player with Flash, and I am a master at sucking at Flash, making even such a simple task really difficult. My apologies.
And now, the graphics. I think they did a good job picturing the little world of ActRaiser. The spriting job was done sufficently well, and while the animations aren't stellar, they're done just right. The essence of each stage's "theme" is captured very well by the backgrounds and how the stages are made, and how well they match with the background music. While the "theme" of the simulation sequences' maps are different, you can't help but feel there is some redundancy in them, but only if you're being nitpicky about it. Well, to be brief, graphics are good, but nothing stellar. I did like the world map a lot, personally.
Well, that pretty much covers ActRaiser. There's really nothing else to say. The platforming is covered; you swing your sword, you cast spells, you jump on platforms, fight a boss and that's it. Then you help people build their towns. It's a short cycle that repeats itself not too long, not too short, and eventually, you face off against Tanzra. And then, it's over. There is some replay value, though; when you beat the game once, you can access the hidden PROFESSIONAL mode, accessed on the title screen under Continue, which is basically the game minus the simulation sequences, and enemies being tougher, with a maximul life bar no too; if that interests you, you most likely will beat this mode as well, fully beating the game.
Up to that point, there are two possibilities: either you will have beaten the game and move on, or you will have conquered a classic that will, hopefully, always remain in your memories, so you can always remember that game ActRaiser, and, why not, play it again someday, for the days of legends when the Master descended upon the world to rid it from demons with a sword of justice, and gave his silly, silly people a savior and hope, are never truly over. As you might know, it's on the Wii's Virtual Console, available for purchase for 800 Wii Points. But, this might sound mushy or silly, but nothing beats putting the game into your SNES, turning it on and playing it with your good ol' SNES controller...
Oh, by the way, that thing about having to be a good savior? I lied.