ActRaiser (アクトレイザー, Akutoreizā) is a 1990 platform and city-building game for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System developed by Quintet and published by Enix, combining traditional side-scrolling platforming with urban planning god game sections. A sequel, ActRaiser 2, was released for the Super NES in 1993. In 2007, ActRaiser became available on the Wii's Virtual Console download service in Europe, North America, and Japan. A version of the game was also released for European mobile phones in 2004. A high-definition remaster, ActRaiser Renaissance, was released for several platforms in 2021.
The player plays as "The Master", the main protagonist of the game. Although the Master is never directly controlled, the player interacts with the world by controlling an angel and an animated statue. The player plays as an angel during the simulation sequences of the game, and as the statue during the action sequences.
The overhead-view simulation mode involves protecting and guiding the Master's new civilization towards prosperity, beginning with two humans. This portion of the game requires the player to take actions that encourage the growth of the population, including road planning and using lightning, rain, sunlight, wind, and earthquakes as miracles. The Angel can interact with the monsters in the area by shooting them with arrows as well as aid the Master by indicating where to build and use miracles.
One obstacle in the simulation mode is the presence of flying monsters that attempt to impede the progression of a civilization. The monsters originate from four lairs around the region at the beginning of each level. They continuously spawn the creatures as the servant kills them. As the population expands, it can seal the lairs of monsters, which prevents them from spawning, and eventually eliminate all the flying monsters in the land. Doing so increases the civilization level of the region, allowing more advanced structures to be built and increasing the potential population. Once all four lairs have been sealed the population will begin to build the most advanced homes available to the people in that region. The Master levels up by increasing the total population of the world, granting an increase in hit points and SP, used in performing miracles.
Each area has two side-scrolling action sequences, one before the building simulation and near the end. In the action sequences, the player controls a humanlike statue brought to life by the Master. The player must jump from platform to platform while defeating monsters to accrue a score. At the end of each action sequence, the player must defeat a boss.
The final level is an action-sequence boss marathon, culminating in the final fight against Tanzra.
The plot follows a godlike being known only as "The Master" (God in the Japanese version) in his fight against Tanzra (Satan in the Japanese version), also referred to as "The Evil One". According to the instruction booklet, The Master was defeated in a battle with Tanzra and his six lieutenants. The Master retreated to his sky palace to tend to his wounds and fell into a deep sleep. In the Master's absence, Tanzra divided the world into six lands, one for each of his lieutenants; they later turned the people to evil.
After several hundred years, the Master awakens fully recovered to discover that he has lost his powers due to the lack of belief in him. As the game progresses, the Master defeats Tanzra's lieutenants and recovers his powers by rebuilding the civilizations of his people and communicating with them through prayer. After all lieutenants have been slain, the Master commences an assault on Tanzra's stronghold, Death Heim, eventually defeating him.
After the defeat of Tanzra, The Master and his servant revisit the many civilizations that they had helped to build and observe the people. During their observations, they note that nobody is at the temple worshiping the Master. The servant observes that, although the people once prayed to the Master in times of trouble, they no longer feel a need to because they are not in danger. The Master and his servant then enter the sky palace and depart into the heavens to await a time when they may be needed.
The game is seen as an allegory for Judeo-Christian monotheism. In the original Japanese version, the protagonist's original name is God, and the antagonist is referred to as Satan. According to Douglas Crockford's Expurgation of Maniac Mansion, Nintendo of America had a strict policy regarding game content in the early 1990s, especially in regards to material that could be deemed offensive, a blanket category that prohibited the inclusion of any overtly religious themes or plotlines in a game. Hence, the main character of the game was renamed "The Master", although the allegory remains obvious, as he travels the globe in a palace on a cloud, accompanied by an angel; slays demons; creates life; performs miracles; and is prayed to by the populace of the world. The bosses are based on real-world religion or mythology, such as Greek mythology and Hinduism. The concept of religion is further explored at the end of the game, when the Angel and "Master" discover that the temples of the world have become empty, people having lost their concept of faith and need for a deity now that their lives have had all suffering removed. They leave the planet, to come back when needed.
Further changes were made for the game's North American release. The game's title was slightly changed to ActRaiser, with a new logo. Monster Lairs were now indicated by skull-like symbols (changed from Stars of David). Action segments possess an overall easier level design, enemies were given new attacks, spells require less magic to cast, spike pits do not instantly kill the player, and more time is given to finish each segment. However, the simulation segments have been made difficult; for example, it is very difficult to reach the maximum experience level in this version. Finally, there is a "Professional!" mode, unlocked after completing the game; this mode only contains the action segments, with a level design similar to the original Japanese release whilst retaining other changes from the main mode.
European releases use changes from the North American version as a base. The Professional! mode, now called the "Action" mode, is available from the start. Both the original "Story" mode and this Action mode now have three difficulties. The action segments in the Normal and Expert settings for Story mode resemble the action segments from the previous North American and Japanese main modes respectively, while the new Beginner setting is even easier than Normal. The Normal setting for Action mode resembles the North American Professional! mode. Beginner mode resembles the North American main mode, though the new enemy attacks from the North American version of the game have been removed for both. The new Expert setting goes beyond any other version of the game, restoring the new attacks, increasing damage from enemies, and reducing damage dealt.
A modified version of the game was made for the Nintendo Super System arcade platform. This arcade version featured only the action stages, similar to the Professional! mode in the retail version. Among other changes, the game had a different scoring system, and was much more difficult than the retail version: for example, contact with spikes is instantly fatal to the player like in the Japanese version, instead of merely causing loss of HP.
Square Enix released a limited version of the game for mobile phones, published by Macrospace on September 1, 2004. It consists of the first three side-scrolling levels of the game, with the town-building portions completely omitted.
ActRaiser also became available on the Wii's Virtual Console. It was released in Japan on March 20, 2007, in Europe on April 13, and in North America on May 28. As the game was published by Enix, Square Enix currently holds the rights to the Virtual Console edition.
A remaster under the title of ActRaiser Renaissance was announced and released on September 23, 2021, for Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch, iOS, and Android. It drastically alters the flow of gameplay, with extra input commands in the action stages, and new tower defense segments in the simulator maps. It also introduces a post-game stage not present in the original game, Alcaleone.
Among many things, the game is recognized for its score, which was composed by Yuzo Koshiro. Its release within six months of the launch of the console demonstrated the compositional potential it represented to future projects, underscoring its ability to use and manipulate comparatively high-quality samples. A single disc soundtrack for the game was released on January 25, 1991, in Japan. A shorter arranged soundtrack titled Symphonic Suite from Actraiser was released on September 21. In 2004, a medley of music from the game arranged by the original composer was performed live at the second annual Symphonic Game Music Concert in Leipzig, Germany. The soundtrack was re-released by Wayô Records on vinyl and CD in 2021 as ActRaiser Original Soundtrack & Symphonic Suite. Koshiro would later return to not only fully recreate the original soundtrack for ActRaiser Renaissance, but also composed fifteen new tracks, in both the original SNES soundfont and Renaissance's own higher quality audio.
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The game sold about 620,000 copies worldwide, with 400,000 copies sold in Japan, 180,000 in the US and 40,000 in Europe.
Geoffrey Douglas Smith of AllGame claimed the game wasn't "the height of its respective genre", but "the unique combination and a beautifully orchestrated soundtrack result in an engrossing and enjoyable adventure".
Super Gamer magazine gave a review score of 84% writing: "A brilliant mix of a strategic gods game and a great looking platforming slash-'em-up".
ActRaiser was awarded Best Music of 1993 by Electronic Gaming Monthly. In 1997 Electronic Gaming Monthly editors ranked it the 75th best console video game of all time. They praised the unique combination of gameplay styles, and remarked that it "has an almost hypnotic atmosphere to it that makes playing the game seem more like a religious experience than a regular day with the Super NES".
ActRaiser was inducted into GameSpot's Greatest Games of All Time in December 2003. It was rated the 150th best game made on a Nintendo System in Nintendo Power's Top 200 Games list. In 2007, ScrewAttack ranked ActRaiser #1 on their "Top 10 Big Names That Fell Off", which listed games that were popular in days past, whether good or bad, but have since faded into relative obscurity (ActRaiser was discussed positively). It was also #10 in their "Top 20 SNES Games" list.
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