The original Actraiser was a truly seminal release. Launched alongside the Super Famicom at the close of 1990, Quintet's skilful blend of platforming action and Populous-style world-building was immediately lauded as a stone-cold classic, and it's striking that in the 30 years that have passed since, it has never been bettered. Direct sequel Actraiser 2 unwisely ditched the 'God Sim' sections, and the recent 'spiritual successor' SolSeraph tried and failed to capture the same magic. Then, out of the blue in September 2021, Square Enix shadow-dropped Actraiser Renaissance, a full remake of the original game developed not by Quintet (that studio has long since been disbanded), but by Sonic Powered, a Japanese outfit best known for its Boku wa Koukuu Kanseikan: Airport Hero series.
Actraiser Renaissance retains the unique two-genre setup of the 1990 version, with the player assuming the role of a benevolent deity who seeks to liberate the world from the evil clutches of the Dark Lord Tanzra, who has cruelly subjugated several regions via his dutiful sub-lieutenants. Each area offers two distinct gameplay styles; first, you must take the form of a warrior character – your physical embodiment on earth, essentially – and tackle a side-scrolling action section that culminates in a boss fight. When you've done this, the game switches to a top-down view of the region, where you directly control your talkative angel helper. Here, you can guide the direction in which your settlement grows while using your angel to take down respawning aerial monsters with holy arrows. The aim is to locate and tackle a second side-scrolling section and defeat Tanzra's champion for that region, bringing lasting peace and prosperity before you move onto the next location to repeat the process.
Sonic Powered has drastically enhanced the scope of both gameplay styles in Actraiser Renaissance. In the action sequences, your character's moveset has been expanded to make things feel less tight and restrictive. You can back-dash using the 'L' button, for example – which is perfect for dodging the blows of bosses – and your basic attacks have been upgraded, too. Pushing forwards while repeatedly pressing attack will see your character perform a lunging strike at the end of a combo, while pressing down and attack during a jump executes a powerful downward slash. Pressing up and attack triggers an aerial strike which is perfect for dealing with enemies on platforms directly above you. This all contributes to a level of control that is much more flexible and less 'stiff' than that seen in the 1990 original.
Also new to the action sections is the ability to collect gems from fallen foes and boxes located around each level. These buff your attack and magical ability, eventually boosting both to 100% of the base level as well as earning you an extra 'resurrection' on that particular level. This creates a system where the longer you spend in each level seeking out enemies, the more powerful you become – and you therefore stand a much better chance of downing the boss at the end. You can, of course, simply dash to the boss and ignore the gems, but the fight will ultimately be tougher for you.
The side-scrolling stages themselves have been completely altered and are now more expansive than before, and come complete with optional branching pathways which hide collectables that boost your stats. The bosses, too, boast different attack patterns which call for entirely new tactics when compared to their counterparts in the SNES version. It means that fans of the original will still find a fresh challenge here, even if some of the bosses are slightly easier to defeat this time around thanks to your wider repertoire of moves (on the topic of difficulty, the default setting provides a stern challenge, but you can switch between difficulty levels at will).
The meaningful changes implemented in the side-scrolling sections pale in comparison to the overhaul that Sonic Powered has engineered in the strategy portion of the game. While the core mechanics are the same as they were back in 1990 – you still rely heavily on 'miracles' like lightning and sunshine to change the terrain and make it habitable for your people, for example – the scope of these segments has been expanded dramatically, so much so that each region offers at least two hours of gameplay, which is a massive step up from the SNES version.
In Actraiser Renaissance, each location has its own cast of characters, which include townsfolk and a special 'champion' who is integral to the game's overall plot and can be levelled up as you complete objectives – of which there are many, even ones which present themselves after you've 'finished' a region. Your angel also has a more powerful charge shot, and you can boost miracles at the expense of SP to improve their potency. Another neat wrinkle is that the HP, SP and materials generated by your people must be physically collected by the angel to add them to your stock.
In addition to the basic goal of expanding the town and shutting down the lairs that spawn monsters (in a neat touch, you now get to tackle a short action segment to achieve the latter, rather than it being done automatically by your people), you have to build forts around the town to withstand enemy assault during what could prove to be the most contentious element of Actraiser Renaissance – its 'Tower Defence' sections. During these portions of the game, your angel is powerless and instead you must rely on your aforementioned upgradable forts (which range from gatehouses to magical towers that shoot fireballs) and a series of palisades that can temporarily block the advance of your foe. You can use your miracle powers to smite enemies, but the most potent tool at your disposal is your 'champion' character, who can be guided around the map to tackle the most pressing matters.
If there's any part of Actraiser Renaissance which is likely to annoy hardcore fans of the original, it's these sections. They're enjoyable enough and don't last for ages, but it feels like they're too large a part of the gameplay; in each location, you'll find yourself playing them several times over to advance the plot, which does get increasingly repetitive. However, the introduction of different fort types and palisades goes some way to alleviating this problem – as does the ability to call in up to two additional champions from other regions you've liberated. There's also a lot of strategy involved here; you can use gatehouses and palisades to halt the advance of ground-based foes, and when they bunch up, you can unleash a bolt of lightning to dispatch them in one go. Likewise, these structures can be used to occupy enemies while your champion is assigned combat duty elsewhere on the map. It's much deeper than it at first appears, and is very enjoyable once you get into the swing of things.
Actraiser Renaissance's presentation is likely to cause just as much discussion amongst fans as its bolstered gameplay. For the most part, it's a massive improvement; the new anime-style character artwork is excellent, with every cast member getting a highly detailed portrait – including the townspeople who are constantly engaging you in surprisingly well-written conversation. In the SNES original, these were simply tiny sprites, so it's great to see them given more personality here. Your champions are also interesting individuals, each with their own backstory and motivation for coming to your aid (although the design of some of these, such as the cowboy Alonso, feels very out of place against the rest of the 'high fantasy' cast). It's also nice to see the wide range of visual variety between the game's regions, with buildings being largely unique to each location.
Unfortunately, the side-scrolling action sections don't fare as well when it comes to the overall presentation. While they appear to be 2.5D in nature, everything is actually pre-rendered. This means that many of the enemies and bosses exhibit impressively smooth animation, but they look quite rough at the same time – the main character, for example, has a rather pixelated, low-resolution look. The stage designs are equally inconsistent; while there are some impressive lighting effects in the opening forest level of Fillmore, with sunlight streaming through the trees in the background, the stage has an ugly, pre-rendered appearance which makes it look a lot like a cheaply-made smartphone game (we should add at this juncture that Actraiser Renaissance is also available on iOS and Android).
To make matters worse, the action segments suffer from some disappointingly jerky scrolling. It's never enough to actually impede your enjoyment, but there's really no excuse for this kind of performance when all we're looking at here is 2D sprites on flat backgrounds. It's worth noting that the scrolling is equally patchy on other formats, so this isn't an issue that's exclusive to Switch. While we're on the topic of technical quirks, the load times when moving between regions and the overall world map can be a little egregious.
One part of the package which is totally and utterly beyond rebuke is the soundtrack. Video game music legend Yuzo Koshiro returns to offer a rearranged version of his original music, as well as some all-new compositions. In a neat touch, the SNES music is still included and can be toggled on and off during gameplay – there are even 16-bit renditions of the new tracks. Both versions of the soundtrack are utterly amazing, so much so that it's genuinely hard to pick between them when you're playing the game.
With the expanded scope of the world-building sections, Actraiser Renaissance provides over 15 hours of gameplay, and there's a brand-new bonus region to explore once you've destroyed Tanzra. While it's not as lengthy as your typical RPG and there's little reason to return once you've finished it, Actraiser Renaissance is nonetheless larger and more involving than the original game.
While the updated graphical style and jerky scrolling don't make a great first impression and there may be some who feel the 'Tower Defence' sections are given too much screen time, Actraiser Renaissance is ultimately a successful attempt at updating a solid-gold classic from yesteryear. Rarely are two totally different gameplay styles fused this effectively, and the enhancements introduced by developer Sonic Powered really do improve things; combat in the action sections is more fun, while the 'God Sim' portions of the game are lent increased depth thanks to thoughtful gameplay upgrades. To cap it all off, Yuzo Koshiro's music – available in both its SNES and rearranged forms – is masterful. While it's not perfect, Actraiser Renaissance will nonetheless find favour with fans of the original, as well as pick up plenty of new fans along the way.
Any idea if this will be getting a physical release?
Been waiting for a NL review of this one. Now just to wait for a sale or a physical announcement (not by LRG)
It has been soooo long since I played the original when it came out - I don't think I will be annoyed about a tower defense portion. I will consider looking for it. Maybe they will do a physical release.
PHYSICAL WHEN DAMMIT!?
I love the original to death and have played it countless times. But as you noted in the review, it was far from perfect. Reading some of the early comments on other sites, people must have forgotten how stiff the game controlled, the basic moveset, some bland level designs, and how tedious it was to be constantly shooting down the strong monsters in the later regions. The remake isn't perfect either, but it makes great improvements on what was a hugely ambitious yet clunky undercooked game.
I loved the original, and this is a truly amazing remake to it. The npcs interrupting during Sim while annoying, is no different than the original, and at least now there’s more text and story to fill in some blanks the original had. And the horde raid mode I can take or leave. It’s done well, and makes sense given the game, but I was happy with the original so I didnt need the mode, lol.
Is this coming out on Steam? I'm not interested in funding Nintendo's lawyers right now, and the long load times aren't my cup of tea.
EDIT: Yay, it's out on Steam. Enjoy your long load times, I'm gonna play in style!
EDIT 2: LOL Nevermind, this thing looks ugly as sin. The original looks better, so I'll just continue to enjoy that!
I got the digital downloads with mine that included multiple sizes of the same wallpaper and only five of the music tracks.
I don't normally comment on these but I wanted to in this case. Perfectly fair review that goes straight to the point, I for one loved the original back in the snes but because I was a kid I never had the patience to go through the sim parts properly, I'm loving the game on this remake
Okay Enix, release Illusion of Gaia next in some form; port, remaster, or remake please. That game needs to escape the confines of physical only.
@AlexanderDaniels good shout. Illusion of time was the better name tho 😜 jk jk.
Funny I prefer the graphics of the SNES version in the side-scrolling parts but the remake for the sim parts.
Anyway, I hope this is only the beginning of SquareEnix resurrecting the Quintet back catalog.
From what I've seen it doesn't really seem a great game at all...especially the graphics.
I was never a huge fan of the original. It was okay for a SNES launch title. I'm probably in the minority here but the second game was honestly more fun to me. I didn't care for the town building part and the sequel cuts that out in favor of the platforming levels. SNES graphics haven't aged a day to me with alot of games. The original still looks great but this remake looks like a cheap mobile game.
Sad to hear about long loadtimes, but happy to hear that the game is great.
The new ghraphics aren't exactly to my liking, but I'll still give it a spin when I get the time. :v
ActRaiser is one of my favorite games of all time, so I was really excited about this remake. I'm going to get it, but I think $30 is a bit steep for what's on offer. Hopefully it'll go on sale at some point.
Holding out for a physical that never comes… as usual.
@Dualmask if you loved the original you won’t be disappointed in this. I don’t blame ya for wanting to wait for sale, as there’s a lot of great games currently out. I think $30 is fair for what’s on offer, as I view the original as still worth $20 in this day and age, and this is more than just the original repackaged. SE took a lot of great care in remaking this - visuals, audio, story and gameplay element additions and slight changes. The original sound track is included too, and I’m wondering if after beating the game the original game is unlocked for play…. Wouldn’t surprise me if it’s hidden in there somewhere.
I am hoping for a physical version , but I bought it soon as it popped on eShop. I loved it on Ames and am absolutely enjoying the remake! It’s excellent, and love doing the city portions in handheld then go bigscreen for side scrolling. I’d love an actual successor
The frame pacing for the horizontal scrolling in the action levels is so bad. It bothered me immediately upon playing it.
I also strongly recommend that everyone turn off the environmental effects option, because the frame rate is abysmal with it turned on.
A shame that the visuals are so bad as well. The first level in particular reaches insane levels of ugliness. Thankfully later levels come out looking better.
"a truly seminal release"
@Kidfunkadelic83 Square-Enix isn't likely to go through LRG. Based on their history, if it goes physical, they'll release it themselves and probably make it exclusive to Japan.
@Pak-Man I ordered a physical version of Collection of Mana straight through their website, and it wasn't exclusive to Japan at all. Maybe we can wait and see, though this game looks really hard on the eyes so I'm not sure I'll bother.
@BloodNinja True, but I had to import FF9, Chocobo's Mystery Dungeon, and SaGa Frontier, so it's anyone's guess.
@Pak-Man SaGa was an import? That's surprising to hear. Hopefully you are able to get this game locally.
I am really looking forward to this among all the HYPE of the remake. I never played to original so I'm willing to check this out.
I want to like this, I always have a soft spot for game that decide to be two different things (sudden memories of Dark Cloud) but the presentation is really getting me down here, and hearing this "simple" looking game isn't smooth isn't helping.
I'll no doubt pick it up when its on a sale at somepoint.
I love this new version. Got it on PC and Android.
They should have included the SNES version really as an extra, its a game I've never played but have meant to. I actually prefer the SNES graphics to this update though, plus it runs better.
The Steam version runs as poorly as the Switch version.
Cloud Strife: how do you like my Buster Sword? Is it not the most gorgeously oversized and sublimely impractical weapon you've ever seen?
Shulk: I'm really feeling it, but the Monado is not only ridiculously large, but also totally unbalanced. I totally have the most impractical close quarters weapon in video games.
Random Dude in a Screenshot from Actraiser Renaissance: HOLD MY MEAD, BRO.
@Damo - I know what I means, hence the play on words
(Well, I thought it was funny...)
Really enjoyed the review
Smelter or this?
@BloodNinja lol you must be a theft and steal games lol..I support Nintendo and their lawyers
The judder issues are a Unity problem, not a framerate issue
I just finished this, having picked it up after the Direct last week. I was a huge fan of the SNES game, and this one was an overall satisfying experience, combining some new elements with old-school nostalgia. I really wish there were more games like this, particularly on the simulation side. I wasn't disappointed with the movement issues. They were in the original so I accepted them as part of the experience. Good game overall!
It needs a demo, I'm, scared this will be the case for me. I never played the original.
@PhhhCough smelter cheaper & has been on sale. I'm waiting for a better sale on that, or will get this on sale too eventually. I have way too many games to play to pay full price just to sit in my backlog.
I still have the original SNES cartridge that I can play on my Super NT. It's still one of my favorite SNES games. I can't say I'm a huge fan of the remake's art direction. I'm not sure about the gameplay/story changes either. The original's simplicity is part of the appeal, for me. If Renaissance gets a physical release, I might pick it up.
I’m loaded up with games right now, so I’ll happily wait for a physical release. 😌
@AlexanderDaniels I would LOVE to see a well done remake of that game. The soundtrack was simply superb, and I loved the voyage around the world, but I would hope to see the action RPG mechanics get an overhaul - it was pretty basic, and it was kind of annoying how you'd only get an "experience" point by clearing each room, rather than each enemy.
@Darkyoshi98 What is a theft, and how does one be it?
@robr That’s a shame! I’m already avoiding it anyway.
I am really look forward to this and I hope we get physical...this was one of the first games I got for the SNES and ironically I never played it...
Smart move. Apparently the overhead sections have been greatly lengthened and they added a few hundred helpings of tower defence crap.
@robr That’s confirming what I was reading about! Yikes
@BloodNinja Shame, you're missing out on a really neat update - which I say as a massive, massive fan of the original.
Actraiser 2 Reimagine?!
Time for Square Enix to remake Actraiser 2 and and SIM/Town mode and make the controls better.
@SuperMariCrow bound too.
@Damo Really? Hm, the visuals look jarring, though. My right eye is very photosensitive after the surgeries, is the framerate smooth? It's kind of a necessity these days. I love the original so I would be willing to try this but it looks painful to watch, for me at least!
I wish these remakes and remasters all included the original games.
It looks like *ss. The revamped tunes just sound muddy compared to the originals imo. And apparently it doesn't feel quite as good either. This is the worst kind of remaster imo because it gives me absolutely no reason to play it over the original, which I still prefer in basically every way.
I'm so on the fence about it as an Actraiser fan; There's enough new stuff in the combat, sim sections, and the music to warrant a play, but man do I have an issue with the side-scrolling visuals that look like a flash game. Astrid Ascending gives me the same eye-feels. What is it with SE and this art style lately? I'll likely still get it since I'm a fan, but I'll need a sale. If they resurrect any other games from Quintet's catalog, I hope they visually look better. (Guess I better support this game so SE will consider that... Sigh)
Off topic: I'd love to see 7th Saga remade to be a much more playable game-- So much potential squandered after starting so intriguing.
@BloodNinja Turning off the visual effects setting makes the whole thing run much smoother. Like I said, I love the original, and I enjoyed this immensely.
@Damo That's interesting, I’ll keep my eye on it, thank you
Ugly as hell... but even worse, they screwed up the sim parts, boring story scene were added, and new tower defense sections, the pacing of this remake is absolutely atrocious.
with how wide of a release squares legacy remasters/re-releases seem to have it does feel disappointing that the initial 6 FF games often miss console.
am happy to see this series getting some more love though i would have loved to have had the original actraiser available to play within it.
@AlexanderDaniels Terranigma is a more pressing matter in my opinion
Man. I really love the original Act Raiser, but these graphics look really atrocious. Who the ***** does Pre rendered graphics nowdays? I never had my reaction going from excited to disappointed so fast as when I saw the announcement on the Direct.
The game seems good, but I don't know if I am willing to pay money for those graphics, when I can play the original
Is this game still very hard? I remember both the original ActRaiser 1 & 2 being brutally difficult... granted I was a kid then when I got around to trying them, but the frustration was infamously memorable for me. And I've played my share of hard games, but these days repetitive excessive challenge in my games isn't appealing.
Jerky scrolling is an understatement. 6/10
@MeloMan @Jumping_Dead @BrazilRules @Whitestrider @Zeldafan79
None of you have explained how the graphics bother you so much. What exactly constitutes a flash or mobile game for one?
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