In today's video game market, it is common for companies to release games that bring several genres together in the hope that the game will attract a larger fan base. In the early nineties, however, this was not the case. When Quintet and Enix released Actraiser, its combination of platform action, city simulation, God simulation, adventuring, and "RPG elements" was a very original concept and made Actraiser one of the standout first generation titles for the Super Nintendo.

Creating your first humans
The first humans in thousands of years roll off the assembly line

   In Actraiser, you play as God. Oh, sorry, this is Nintendo -- you play as "The Master". A long time ago, you fought an epic battle with the demon Tanzra, and lost. Retreating to your sky castle, you entered a long sleep to repair your wounds. Now, thousands of years later, you have healed, and must fight Tanzra again to regain your power. In your absence, Tanzra and his six minions have taken over the land and have replaced the people who lived there with monsters. You must fight these creatures to cleanse the land, repopulate the area with your people, and defeat Tanzra once and for all to allow your people to live in peace.

   There are two main modes of gameplay in Actraiser. One is the Action mode, in which you take on Tanzra's forces in a hack-and-slash platform style, and the other is the Simulation mode, in which you direct the rebuilding of your land in a SimCity style. The world of Actraiser is divided into six lands: Fillmore, Bloodpool, Kasandora, Aitos, Marahna, and Northwall. In each town, you go through the same sequence of steps. You start in Action mode to purify the land for habitation. Then, you go to Simulation mode to direct the people in building up the land to increase the population. Finally, when the people have sealed all of the monster lairs remaining in the land, you must once again go into Action mode to defeat the guardian that Tanzra put in charge of the land to return that area to peace.

 A big mummy head thingy
Wow! That's the second biggest mummy head I've ever seen!

   In the Action mode, your spirit possesses and animates one of the statues your people made of you long ago, and you must fight your way through a dungeon filled with monsters. This mode is presented in the standard side-scroller platform style in which you must jump from ledge to ledge and use your sword and magic to make it to the end of the stage. At the end of each of these Acts, you must fight a boss to move on to the next stage of the game. The Simulation mode has a completely different style of gameplay. In this mode, you take control of an angel who is helping you to regain your power. You first create two new people, and then help them build up the land to increase the population. You must use your magic to destroy natural obstacles, direct the people where to build, and defeat the monsters that inhabit the area. As the people build, they will eventually be able to seal the monster lairs and increase their civilization level. This is important, as your power is directly related to the size of the population -- as it increases, so do your hit points. A higher civilization level allows the building of houses that can hold more people, leading to the biggest moral decision in the game: do you use an earthquake to destroy the lower-level houses and kill lots of people, just so you can get more power? That answer is up to the player, but you must destroy the houses to reach the ultimate level.

The beginning of the epic Teddy Saga
The beginning of the epic Teddy Saga

   The story of Actraiser is rather simplistic, and is really only there to advance the gameplay. Besides the overall story of your fight against Tanzra, the plot of the game is revealed through listening to the prayers of your people; when there are problems they will ask for your guidance, they will ask you to do favors for them, and occasionally they will pray to you just to mention things like "Our ranch has horses this year!" While these bits of story are not really necessary, they do make the game a little more interesting, if at times confusing. This is because some of the plot elements are contradictory. The worst example of this is the Saga of Teddy. Teddy is a young boy that you help out in Bloodpool, the second area of the game. You first help him when he has wandered off to explore a cave, and you give him some bread from his mother to remind him to go home. Later, you discover that the people of Bloodpool have been forced by one of Tanzra's demons to sacrifice villagers to him, and Teddy was one of the people chosen to be sacrificed. You rush in to save the people, and after you defeat the monster the villagers are happy that you returned Teddy and the other people to the village. However, in the game's ending, you revisit all of your towns, and the angel mentions that although he didn't tell you at the time, Teddy was one of the sacrificial victims. I can only guess that Teddy was killed in the Japanese game, but that the actual sacrifices were edited out of the American version by the Nintendo censors, who then forgot to remove the reference from the ending. Another contradictory plot element is that the angel mentions that the people were tempted by a "wicked mirror" in the ending, which is something that was never mentioned within the game. In a more story-oriented game, this would be more important, but these small problems do not detract from the enjoyment of the game.

 The view from the Sky Palace
I'm getting dizzy...

   For its time, the graphics and music of Actraiser were outstanding. Being a first-generation title for the Super Nintendo, Quintet was eager to show off what the machine could do. Mode-7 graphics were used extensively; most noticeably in the introductions to the Action sequences where you start high above the world and spiral down to the dungeon. Another use of the graphics were the multi-planed backgrounds that moved at different speeds to give a sense of perspective while playing. The music was also fantastic, replacing the bips and boops of the Nintendo with a truly "orchestral" score. Yuzo Koshiro composed a very appropriate soundtrack for the game, with light and breezy tracks playing while you built up your city, and more tense, driving music playing while crawling through a dungeon. Both of these elements showed that the era of the original Nintendo was over, and that the bar had been raised for future game makers. Although later games topped Actraiser in both the graphics and sound departments, the game is still one of the best sounding and best looking games made for the Super Nintendo; an impressive feat for such an early game.

   Although Actraiser is not without its flaws, the combination of both action and strategy elements led to a game that is fun to play and incredibly addicting. Although other companies have tried, no one has ever been able to replicate the diverse elements that came together to produce this game. Even Quintet themselves were not able to repeat their success with Actraiser's grossly inferior sequel, in which a decision was made to remove the Simulation mode and make the game Action-only. This led to a game whose lack of any real story made it boring to play and often frustratingly difficult due to sloppy controls and almost impossible levels. It's cliched to say that sequels are never better than the originals they follow, but in this case it's the truth. When the first game was made, Quintet was free to make whatever game they liked; by not having to try to top an earlier success they showed that originality will often lead to games that are so well made, they are still fun to play nearly ten years later.

Retrospective by Brian Sebby, freelance.
Developer Quintet
Publisher Enix
Genre Action / Simulation
Medium Cartridge
Platform SNES
Release Date 1991
Walkthrough, manual
3 title screen screenshots, 36 action screenshots, 32 simulation screenshots, 6 Teddy screenshots, 21 ending screenshots
2 promotional poster scans, character sketch, logo artwork
US and Japanese box art, manual scans