ActRaiser 2
by FreezingInferno





Alrighty, good reader. Let's get right down to business on this one; today I am going to type words about Actraiser 2. Now, to do that, I have to type words about the original Actraiser. However, it's been done. You all should check that review out because it's really quite nice. It still is important, though, that I speak some words about the original Actraiser... but I'll do my best to keep it very brief. Okay? You can consider this next bit a "capsule review" of Actraiser the first if you like. Or not. It's up to you. Ready? Let's go.


OH MY FUCKING GOD I LOVE ACTRAISER!

I could leave it at that, but I'll elaborate. Actraiser is an amazing game that everyone who loves a good action platformer should play. It looks amazing, it sounds amazing, it PLAYS amazing. Amazing is the word of the day when it comes to Actraiser... but it doesn't stop there. Oh god no. (or, if you're Nintendo of America's censorship board, "oh Master no". AH HUH HUH HUH.) Not only do you get a fairly challenging and rewarding action game, but you get a simulation mode! Like Simcity, except your cursor is a little angel and it flies across the map to SHOOT DOWN DEMONS WITH A BOW AND ARROW. This makes Actraiser its own unique beast; the fast pace of an action game mixed with the slower, laid-back pacing of a simulation game doesn't seem like it should mix on paper... BUT BY GOD IT DOES. The sim bits only add to the theme of the game; you're God, and you're guiding your people to build a prosperous civilization and live happily, but when darkness comes to your land, the Lord Himself will pick up a sword and smite Evil Itself! Long live The Master!

...Okay, so I may have gotten a little out of hand there. I apologize, but Actraiser really is one of my favorite Super Nintendo games. It's just... well, everything I said there and so much more. All of this greatness from a first-generation SNES game, too! Enough gushing for now, though, because as I said, this is a review of Actraiser TWO. Now, Actraiser 2 is one of "those" games. What do I mean by that? Well, it's in the same boat as two other "_____ 2" games that I happen to like. Those games are Zelda 2 and Castlevania 2. Hooo boy. What I'm trying to say is that Actraiser 2 is a black sheep sequel; it changed up a lot of what made Actraiser a hit, and as such a lot of people really don't like it. But how do I personally feel about it? Let's dive in here.

Actraiser 2 came out in late 1993, and is technically part of what I've heard referred to as the "Quintet Quintology". There's a fun little bit of alliteration for you! The Double-Q, as someone who's hip and with the times would call it before getting laughed at, are five Super Nintendo games developed by Quintet and published by Enix in the early 90's. From earliest to latest, we have; Actraiser, Soul Blazer, Actraiser 2, Illusion Of Gaia, and Terranigma. The ones that aren't Actraiser games are action/RPGs, and they have some tiny connections with one another, forming a loose trilogy. Actraiser has a few technical connections with Soul Blazer (they share some sound effects). That leaves Actraiser 2 as the clear odd one out. It's the only direct sequel of the bunch (much like Zelda II!), and it sticks out like a sore thumb. For the purposes of this review we'll count it as part of the Quintet Quintology, because Quintet Quadrilogy doesn't nearly have the same cool ring to it.

Now there are two really big elephants in the room when it comes to Actraiser 2, so let's get those out of the way immediately, as they're a dealbreaker for many.

1) NO MORE SIMULATION MODE

This is a real shame. Whereas Actraiser the first was a unique hybrid, Actraiser 2 is exclusively a side-scrolling action platformer. It really does suck that they took the world building out, because it played such an integral part in drawing you into Actraiser! I mean, I love descending down to the Earth as God himself to smite the wicked demons in a action game, but Actraiser was so much more than that. The sim bits really made you FEEL like a god, looking down upon his people, guiding them as they build, protecting them from the evils of the world, watching your little people grow and praise you. Not only that, but it made your player character stronger too; you gained more HP as civilization grew, so you could tackle the demons easier in the side-scrolling levels. Actraiser 2 has none of that. You still fly around in your magic Sky Castle, and there are still towns, but all that happens when you go to one is an angel tells you stuff. "Oh no, Master, these poor people used to work hard but now they don't because of demons!". That's all you get in this one. But hey! Let's say you found the simulation bits in Actraiser boring! "Alright!" you say in excitement. "Bring on the 16-bit action! Let me kill all the demons!". Well, that brings us to the second elephant, and he is going to sit on your enthused ass.


2) THIS GAME IS FUCKING HARD AS SHIT

Actraiser was not exactly an easy game, but (and maybe I'm being a little cocky here) it wasn't all that hard of a game either. There was always a break in between stages with the sim mode, you had plenty of lives, there were health refills and 1-ups abound, and unlimited continues. For an action platformer, it was pretty fair. Actraiser 2, on the other hand... yeesh. This game is pretty god damned tough, and on more than a few occasions I've sworn directly at it. If you'll allow me to go on a tangent here... A few nights ago (as of the writing of this, which by definition is in the past, TIME TRAVEL BWEOOO) I sat down and played VVVVVV. A simple little PC game whose main gimmick involves flipping gravity at will. You've got infinite lives, but one hit will kill you. There's a section that players refer to as "Veni Vidi Vici", and it's completely optional. To get a trinket (read: collectible) you have to flip yourself very rapidly up a five-screen vertical shaft, moving carefully left and right to avoid the MANY spikes littering the sides, then flip gravity and go right back down it in reverse. It's not an easy task, and you'll likely die a lot before you grab it.

Why do I mention this? Not once during my numerous attempts at Veni Vidi Vici did I swear at the game itself. Every time I died, it was my own fault, because I had failed to move my character in just the right way. Actraiser 2 is a merciless, pitiless beast that will destroy you. Right out the gate, even; the first level is deceptively difficult. From there, it only gets tougher, and it's all the wrong kind of tough! Some of the enemies take way too many hits for their own good, and if you're not careful you end up getting swarmed. They also take off lots of your health, and health pickups are somewhat scarce in the stages. Even when you do find one, you'll be lucky to get about half your life bar back from them. This isn't even covering the hazards; you've got instant death spikes, of course, but even in the first level you have a pit of MUD that will kill you in about two hits of standing in it, should you fall in. It only gets worse; you'll contend with numerous amounts of enemies coming at you in stages, fire, more death pits than you can count, autoscrolling, "weaving" enemies a la Medusa Heads, shielded enemies, a MAZE LEVEL... this game hates you. I actually think I had less trouble beating Super Ghouls n Ghosts. Yeah. I went there. You can look at it like this; the stages are like a puzzle, and you need to figure out on the fly just how to get by the obstacles precisely. Otherwise, you'll take loads of damage and die terribly. The game does give you unlimited continues like in Actraiser, but there's no save feature this time around. Get ready to break out your notebook and write random letters down, because this bad boy has a password system. Some people might call that a strike against Actraiser 2, but I don't mind writing down a string of letters. Besides, it's only a 12-character password. There have been worse.

Whew! Okay, I think I got all the vitrol out of me. I can understand why lots of people don't like this game. Those two major fault points above certainly make it pale in comparison to Actraiser... but that's not how we do things around here. Different doesn't mean it's automatically worse. It's why I can enjoy Castlevania 2 and Zelda 2 despite their flaws, and despite Actraiser 2's flaws, I can still find enjoyment in it. But how is that, exactly? While it is quite the difficult game, I'm going to tell you how I came to enjoy it. The secret is... learning. When I first started trying to beat this game seriously just a few weeks back, I stuck it on easy. Now why would I do a thing like that? Easy mode is for little BABY MEN! DO IT ON NORMAL LIKE A MAN! I did that. I did it last night(again, time travel). But before I did it on Normal, I did it on Easy. You see, most of my complaints about the enemies taking too many hits and dealing too much damage? That applied to Normal mode. On Easy, everything is slightly reduced, but it's just enough to make things so much simpler. If you'll allow another tangent, I'd like to talk a bit about how this game actually PLAYS.

In the action segments of Actraiser the first, your player character could do the standard things with his sword; a standing attack, a crouching attack, and a jumping attack. Of course, in Actraiser the first the Master was just some sort of swordsman...statue...thing. The statue thing in Actraiser 2 has two notable additions from its predecessor(that you've no doubt noticed by now from the screenshots); a pair of big old angel wings, and a shield. The wings add a hell of a lot to how you control the Master now. Actions speak louder than words, so here's a quick demonstration of what you can do now.



All of that is accomplished with a control pad and two buttons. You could play Actraiser 2 with an NES controller. It's the downward thrusting attacks, however, that are what I wanted to point out in regards to the Easy mode. They do more damage to enemies than just walking up to them and swording their faces. The regular downward thrust does 2 HP (that's one of those orbs) of damage, and the double-jump swooping thrust does 3 HP of damage. Adding to that is the oh-so-helpful fact that you're invincible while you're thrusting downward, and the fact that the enemies have less health on Easy mode... are you seeing the pattern here? Thrusting about on Easy mode is the way to go, for both regular enemies as well as bosses. Oh, on certain creatures you'll find this tactic doesn't work, but hey, this is Actraiser 2. Even on Easy it's no slouch of a video game. I'll take what I can get. Do be warned, though, that Easy mode DOES cop you out of a real ending, but you can play up to the penultimate level before it pulls a "BEAT IT THE REAL WAY, YOU BABY NERD!" on you.

Now those wings aren't just for swooping in for the kill on your enemies. This is a platformer, after all, and you'll be expected to use them to aid your jumps. Learning how to properly control yourself as you glide and hover is the key to victory; some of the trickier jumps in the game require them. Landing while gliding, as you've seen though, causes the Master to do this annoying skid move, so do be careful to hold up and hover before you land, lest you skid straight off the platform you just flew to. Don't forget the shield, too! It can mean the difference between taking a hit and blocking one. You can block straight forward or straight up, and it's somewhat useful. Annoyingly, though, your hitbox does seem a little wonky. If you're not blocking something directly above you, you'll still take the hit. It's strange, but it can happen, especially against the snail boss in Benefic. If you do play this, my tip to you; make sure you block those boulders head on. The addition of the wings and shield, while not perfectly implemented elements without any grievances, make Actraiser 2 play quite different from its predecessor.

Magic works a bit differently as well, and can also be abused to some extent. To delve back into Actraiser the first again, you gained magic in that game from your followers in the cities around the world, and got to pick one spell to take down with you before a stage, with limited casts of it, granted, but there were pickups to give you more charges. Actraiser 2 still uses the "charge" system, giving you a set number depending on your difficulty level at the start of a stage. As for the spells themselves though, they run on a charge system. As in, charging UP. Hold down the attack button for a bit, and the Master will start glowing red(the charge time, mind you, depends on your difficulty level). Release the button, and you use the magic, but depending on what directions you're holding, or if you're jumping, you get a different spell. Have another video primer.



What variation! However, let me save you some time. I beat this game on Normal, and I only ever used one spell with any consistency; the three fireballs that shoot up in an arc. The hits stack, and against the right bosses, two or three of them will completely wreck said bosses. Just be sure you don't die after you've fired off some magic, because you won't get magic charges back. Fair warning! Not that the other spells are bad; I've gotten some use out of the flamethrower and the... phoenix dive thing. But the fireballs are just so good that they're the only spell worth using most of the time.

I barely touched on the music for the Actraiser games, but the music of Actraiser the first is part of why I love it so. For a first generation Super Nintendo game, Actraiser's soundtrack is FUCKIN' INCREDIBLE HOLY GOD DAMNED SHIT. Yuzo Koshiro, a pretty goshdarned good video game composer in his own right, was on top form. Actraiser 2 has him back at the musical helm, but his style is a bit different here. See, the original's soundtrack had a certain feel to it. It was kind of orchestral, yet fast-paced at the same time... and then slowed down to peaceful for the simulation bits. It almost feels like a John Williams soundtrack; hell, listen to the arranged "Symphonic Suite" sometime and you'll likely hear it too. For Actraiser 2, things feel a bit more orchestral, without the fast pace. I personally prefer the first game's soundtrack, but a few tunes from Actraiser 2 have stuck with me. Here, take a listen!



I think that should do it. Actraiser 2 is a black sheep like no other. The loss of the sim bits from the first game, as well as the increased difficulty, is a dealbreaker for quite a lot of people. I stuck with it, though, and practiced at it and learned a few tricks, and now I kind of like it! Not more than Actraiser the first, of course, but I don't feel like I wasted my time playing it or talking about it for the Internet. If you don't mind playing something really REALLY tough, grit your teeth, keep an open mind and forget all about the first game, and give Actraiser 2 a go.






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