I don’t like to use the word “epic” a lot. I have been caught on occasions to use it, but it’s really an overused polyseme. Epic is supposed to be noting or pertaining to a long poetic composition, usually centered upon a hero, in which a series of great achievements or events is narrated in elevated style. These days, the word means Awesome, kickass, or otherwise positive.
However, when it comes to describing the S.N.E.S. game, Actraiser, there’s no other way to describe it. This game is epic.
I played this game when it came out back in the end of 1991, and I started praising that little cupid-like sprite to the point where I almost created a shrine next to my console. Although lighting a candle every time I played it was a bit excessive, not to mention a fire hazard, however I digress.
Surprisingly, the title only sold over 600,000 copies worldwide, and that really doesn’t seem like much. Especially considering the game is an outright awesome game. Want to know why? Buy the game. If you haven’t played it, then why are you reading this? Buy it. Now! No joke. This review will still be here tomorrow.
Why? Of very well, let’s get to the specifics.
First, the story, which is epic. You start the game and realize that you are a God! How’s that for epic? But you have awoken from a wound-healing coma to realize evil plagues this land. And by land, of course, I am referring to a relatively small island divided by six areas. A small cherub informs you that the people have lost faith and need your guidance to vanquish evil and restore humanity. So every so often you dive from your sky palace onto the earth, take over a statue of a studly god-like man, and clean house of all of earth’s banes.
The game breaks down into two parts. First part is the side scrolling where you run to the level boss and kill every living abomination in your way. Armed with your sword, you slice each baddie with all your might. You even add a grunt sound to each slice to show off your studliness. Eventually you get spells like fire and meteors to cleanse the earth of all it’s little sinners. You get one mana point for each scroll you find and you can choose the one spell you can use before the level starts. Levels aren’t just going from left to right, there are also vertical parts and multiple paths to the end destination. Each stage boss is unique and has their own pattern to learn and master, making for exciting battles, like the Minotaur, the chimera and the werewolf/sorcerer.
The second part deals with rebuilding the world in a simulation. You guide the citizens to build the world while the cherub cleans out all the flying terrors that try to destroy houses and kill its people. As you guide the humanoids by building the path they follow, you lead them to the spawning areas to seal the monsters lairs. This, for some reason, reminds me of that episode of Futurama where Bender becomes a god to a small group of people living on his chest. Sometimes the people need help with fires, plagues and civil unrest, and you need offerings from other colonies to calm them down and return to rebuilding, like ants in one of those ant farms.
The soundtrack is epic. From the opening title screen, to the sky palace intro, to the opening stage, the music is unbelievable and memorable to the last note. It’s all orchestrated and sounds like it came from a 3-hour fantasy movie. Remember, this is one of the first games to come out for the Super Nintendo, so it explodes on the scene, and makes you excited of what the console is capable of. It’s mood setting and gets you into the game so well.
But there are some issues to the game that can’t be ignored. At first, it seems like the action parts are far shorter than the simulations. You get three chances to beat the game, but you can always try again with fresh men to beat it, so the lives are essentially useless. The score points are also completely useless, and the bonus points are just a waste of time. The controls are tight but flawed in a sense. For some reason, when you jump, you can only swing in the air when you are ascending. When you start falling from the jump, you can’t fight back, making fighting anything that flies overhead tough.
The city building has it’s problems too. Whenever I’m working, they townsfolk always have something to say, and on more than a few times they can do this multiple times in one sitting. It’s just as annoying as the Castlevania 2 “What a horrible night to have a curse” pop-ups that show up, only this time, it’s part of the story, so you can’t ignore it. The SimCity style city planning parts aren’t necessarily a challenge, it’s not like you have to tell your followers to build commercial zones over by the lake, or anything like that. You set the path and they follow. Although, like SimCity, you get some godly powers, like lightning, rain and earthquakes, to do your bidding and convert the infidels. Actually there are lands that need that lightning to clear the shrubs and such, so you’re essentially spamming the spell to clear the area and becomes more tedious as you go along, especially when you are raining on an entire desert to clear for mass housing and destroying its own ecosystem.
The only other issues I really have with the game is its length. If you go from beginning to end, you can beat it in about 3 hours or less, and really with an epic this epic, you would love to see more. When you do beat the game, there is a professional mode that opens in the title screen. It’s hidden, so you have to press down twice to see it. Here, it’s just the action scenes, so here the lives actually do make a difference. And the difficulty is ramped up, so you have to get good and quick for this great challenge.
Overall, it’s very legendary, memorable and an epic game to play, and its so much fun. The music helps immerse you to this world, and help the people with their great conquest. Although at the end of the game, your followers basically go and live their lives and don’t come and visit you anymore. There are some strong religious commentary in the game, but nothing that infringes on anyone’s beliefs. It does makes you think that maybe, just maybe, God’s words are right.