ActRaiser is an interesting Japanese fantasy action game that was developed by Quintet and published by Enix on the Super Nintendo in 1990. It has side-scrolling, platform-based hack-and-slash sections, with an interesting overhead ‘God game’ component.
The aim of the game is to help a human civilisation to grow by using your God-like powers, and by helping them clear monsters from the land.
There are three distinctly different versions of ActRaiser, though. The original Japanese version was changed significantly (ie. censored) when released in North America, to remove any religious references (ie. references to God), but there is an English language fan translation patch (by Aeon Genesis) available. The Japanese version is also more difficult, but many see it as the best version to play. The screenshots shown here are the English language fan-translated Japanese version and that’s the one I’m going to write about today. If you want to read about the European PAL version of the game, which was changed even more, click here.
The game begins with you as God, giving yourself a name, and then you are shown an overhead view of the local world from the perspective of heaven. The first thing you need to do is choose an area to begin your settlement and clear the monsters from it. You do this by selecting “Fight Monsters” from the God menu and the view will then cut to a side-scrolling landscape where a stone statue is seen holding up a sword. You imbue your Godly powers into it, taking control of the statue, and must fight your way – left to right – through the forest, killing monsters and avoiding hazards. You have limited health (indicated by the bar in the top left-hand corner of the screen), and limited lives (you begin with three), and the aim is to reach the boss at the end of the stage, who you must of course beat. When you do beat it you’re then allowed to start your settlement and the view changes back to an overhead one.
The people (your subjects) tell you what they need, and from the God menu you can then use various options to help them, like clearing trees using lightning bolts, and telling them in which direction you want them to build the settlement. At the same time monsters begin to appear from nearby portals and will try to damage your settlement, or carry off your settlers, so you – as an Angel – must fly around shooting arrows at the monsters to prevent them from causing mischief. As you destroy monsters your settlers gain the ability to hunt animals and can then fight the monsters for you, so you must expand the settlement in the direction of the monster portals. Every time you use one of your God-like powers, or build a new section of town, it uses Spell Points (SP) which you acquire by shooting monsters with your bow. So you must keep killing monsters to keep your SP topped-up, so you can keep expanding your settlement. Eventually you’ll lead development of your settlement to a monster portal and the people will surround it and destroy it. This reduces monster activity in that sector and you continue doing that until all the monster portals have been destroyed in the area. When all the portals have been closed you then have to beat another another side-scrolling action stage, and another boss at the end, to completely remove the curse on the land.
Eventually your God level will increase which will allow you to move to the next monster-infested area, build another settlement there, and to try to eradicate the monsters. The same procedure happens as before: you must first fight your way through the side-scrolling action section as a statue, defeat the boss at the end, then build your settlement. Eventually, as you expand outward, you’ll get to eradicate all the monsters on the continent.
The action/platforming sections look and sound superb, but are very challenging – arguably even frustratingly difficult. The God game sections are fun, but dealing with monsters is tricky because they move erratically (making it difficult to shoot them with your bow), and when they kill your subjects it is genuinely heart-rending. ActRaiser is not an easy game to play, but it is interesting, well-presented, and definitely a classic from the SNES era. Try it, if you’ve never played it before.
A sequel – ActRaiser 2 – was released in 1993, but it unfortunately removes the God game element. A high-definition remaster, ActRaiser Renaissance, was released for several platforms in 2021 and was generally well-received.