Actraiser Renaissance Review – ActCity 2000

    Title: Actraiser Renaissance
    Developer: Sonic Powered
    Release Date: September 23, 2021
    Reviewed On: PS4
    Publisher: Square Enix
    Genre: Action Sim

No one was expecting a revival of ActRaiser (Editor: the original title is stylized differently), yet here we are in 2021 with the surprise launch of Actraiser Renaissance. This new release isn’t exactly a sequel, nor is it a faithful remake of the Super Nintendo classic. Instead, it’s more of a modern reimagining. Although primarily based on the 1991 original, this iteration takes its fair share of creative liberties with the presentation and game design. For better or worse, it changes up several aspects of the experience and adds several new ideas of its own.

You find yourself as an omnipotent being who just so happens to bring a heroic statue to life as their avatar for combat, and this is where the game’s two primary gameplay styles become apparent. You’re first introduced to a pretty retro but tight 2D action game, and then you’re presented with a god simulator where you’re tasked to guide a new civilization.

This opening sequence is misleading because the first action stage greets you with epic dueling guitars and concludes with a pretty cool boss battle. Then, however, everything comes to a grinding halt as your angel companion starts talking and talking some more before you realize it’s not planning to stop any time soon. It almost feels like you’ve been tricked with a promise of a fast-paced action game only to be bogged down with endless tutorials and text as you slowly learn the simulator elements.

To be entirely fair, the original SNES version of ActRaiser did indeed have these city-building elements, but this was paced so much better, and players could jump into the action stages in no time. In the Renaissance version, pacing comes to an absolute snail crawl with numerous text interruptions, most of which are just utterly dull dialogue.

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Ultimately, it will take forever and a day before you can jump into the second significant action stage. What truly pads out the pacing are the new tower defense segments, and regardless of whether you enjoy tower defense games or not, you’ll likely want these segments over and done with as soon as possible.

The simulator aspect generally involves guiding the settlers to certain areas of the map. They usually do all the work in farming and setting up homes or workshops. As the divine entity, you can perform miraculous interventions and specify a few building projects.

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As the population grows and new structures are built, you’re able to recruit heroes and enhance your defenses. While your settlement is usually under attack from flying creatures, the real test comes from the tower defense segments where hoards of enemies will want to destroy the holy temple. These segments are frequent and hectic, and you’ll honestly bemoan whenever it’s time to defend against the next enemy hoard.

Occasionally these simulator portions will allow you to step into an enemy portal and destroy the enemy spawn source. These brief segments are over before you know it, and then you’re back to the grind of doing whatever is next on your list of god chores. Being a god is not fun, especially when your followers’ prayers for practically every desire will consistently interrupt you.

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Actraiser Renaissance no doubt has one of the worst opening hours in a retro-style game. The pacing does get better once you’ve gone through the growing pains of tutorials and learning and the ins and outs of the sim elements, but it still takes way too long to get to the 2D action stages. These stages are largely based on the original SNES ones with the same bosses, but the stage and even boss design have been altered entirely.

Nevertheless, these are genuinely fantastic and exciting stages, and although the core mechanics feel a touch dated, it still has the feel of some of the best 16-bit action games from yesteryear. Here, players engage in some platforming and slash through enemies before facing the boss, with the design variety becoming increasingly interesting. Yet, these stages are quick and over before you know it, and then it’s back to answering prayers of useless worshippers.

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As part of the Renaissance effort, its new graphical style uses pretty generic anime key art. Still, the game engine takes a unique pre-rendered approach, and everyone will probably react to it differently. The art style is consistent and detailed, and, personally, it’s a neat novelty to see SNES style pre-rendered graphics on modern hardware. The soundtrack will likely be one aspect everyone will agree on at least; composed by the legendary Yuzo Koshiro (Streets of Rage, Etrian Odyssey), players can choose between the modern and classic soundtracks during gameplay, and they both sound excellent.

Even back in 1991, ActRaiser was up against tough competition, but it did enough to stand out and become a classic in its own right. In 2021 though, the gaming landscape has only become more saturated with far better 2D action experiences, and so Renaissance isn’t exactly an easy sell here.

It’s commendable that the game has so much depth and substance. Yet, its needless additions to the core experience make the action and simulator elements feel like two completely different video games hastily taped together. It all feels disjointed, and it bears repeating; the pacing and padding are absolutely disgusting.

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Actraiser Renaissance is a surprise return of a long-lost classic, but one which falls flat in execution in more ways than one. It has moments of brilliance, and there is undoubtedly substance and depth in its many systems. Still, all the moving parts don’t come together cohesively or logically, and it ultimately feels like two completely unrelated games taped together as one, with neither fully complementing the other. Old school fans will no doubt find the experience worth investing in after the tedious start, but for most other players, there are just plenty of far better alternatives.

A review copy of the title was provided by the publisher for review purposes

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Jahanzeb Khan

Old SEGA games will go up in value... you'll see!