Sunday, July 5, 2015

Below the Cut: ActRaiser (SNES)

(Source: Game Abyss)
ActRaiser - Rating(8 RPP)
1) 1 - Character Advancement: practice/experience based advancement, stat or level increases, multiple classes or characters, customize characters
2) 1 - Combat: character stats used for combat, additional combat options, turn based
3) 1 - Items and Equipment: store to buy and sell, equipment decisions, item decisions
4) 2 - Story: main story at the forefront; world full of hints and lore; descriptions for objects, people, and places
5) 2 - Exploration: open world from the beginning, visited locations remain open
6) 1 - Quests and Puzzles: side quests not related to the main quest, puzzles and riddles to solve

This was a childhood favorite from the very beginning. Even so, it's not an RPG. In a recent conversation on RPGs, someone said (partially joking I'm sure), "isn't every game an RPG since you play a role?" Certainly you have a role to play in every game, and for a game like ActRaiser, where you name and take on the role of deity, it sure seems like a role-playing game to a casual observer. At their heart, RPGs focus on the character's ability to carry out tasks while the player takes on the role of guide for thoughts and decisions. I've tried to capture this and other principles in the scale above. I'm going to go a bit deeper this time because I have a soft spot for this game, and having been just over three years I want a good reference point for the scale. For those that don't know, ActRaiser is a unique mix of simulation scenarios where the deity grows a town to praise him with the help of a small cherub and action sequences where the deity inhabits the body of a statue to vanquish evil demons.
It even has a pure action mode unlocked once you beat the game
Practice or experience based advancement isn't present in this game because the action taken to level up is unrelated to what levels up. Once overall population across all towns reaches a certain point, the HP of the avatar the player controls increases for the action stages. Given there is some kind of stat increase, it gains a point for that. Looking back, I'm not sure why I included multiple characters, but the idea behind multiple classes is to have different options for how to approach the game. This leads into customizing the characters, which is any sort of customization that happens after character creation (i.e. during the game, and not including equipment). Neither of these occur in ActRaiser as there are no inherent customizable character options, and I don't consider the cherub and avatar as multiple characters as their tasks are separate.
Completed towns in the simulation mode
RPGs share their roots with tabletop war games, so it makes sense when translated to video games they had a crib sheet of stats, multiple strategic options, and turn based combat. Now, granted, most video games use values for combat: weapon damage, health, etc. For the first point it's important to remember that the character is the focus, so the his stats should contribute to combat. Which stats? The stats that grow. What if they never grow? Well, as in the case of ActRaiser, it doesn't count; however, I might consider it if it's displayed in some way. Additional combat options is a category for options outside the standard attack routine (attack, defend, heal, dodge). At times I'll be lenient, as in this case, and give the point for a variety of attacks (magic). Turn based this is not, but this category is to give preference to games that are less twitchy than arcade action games.
In Professional mode you get full health, but take more damage and get no magic
The idea of an economy is something I picked up from the CRPGAddict. The most common use for money is to have a store where items and equipment can be bought and sold. Now some games have stores, but only have the option to purchase items, not sell. I don't consider this an active economy, as the things bought immediately lose their value. Equipment decisions are beyond just having an assortment of swords, axes, armors, and shields. It's another level of strategy where the player must choose between different nearly equally relevant choices, not just an upgrade to the next best thing. I didn't include magic in this case because I gave the point for combat options based on the assortment of magic. In the same vein, item decisions are more than using the correct item at the right time. Unless I'm mulling over whether I should use something now or save it for later, then I'm not satisfied. In ActRaiser the angel has a collection of items such as bombs and arrow strength, so it deserves a small credit.
I'm partial to Magical Aura
Now to the points that are a harder to nail down. A main story at the forefront is one that develops throughout the game, not just a prologue and epilogue. The main narrative needs to progress from an initial state and evolve before the end. For ActRaiser, the story progresses from one location to the next, and culminates in a battle against a hidden final showdown against the demons. Not a lot of twists, but it's enough to get a point here. A world full of hints and lore means there are hints for what to do next as well as some history to the world. There's some hint of a past to this world as we progress through the simulation and restore people to the land. They'll communicate to the player and give offerings, sometimes even pray for rain, wind, or sun. Descriptions are rarer, and when I came up with it I had Oblivion or Baldur's Gate in mind with the level of detail given to equipment, people, and places. Most early games are going to be limited by space, so I don't expect this point to score very often until we get to CD based games.
The town view; when first developing there are monster lairs to seal up and monster attacks to defend against
Open world should be obvious. As soon as the game starts, or near the beginning, the entire world is open for exploration. ActRaiser doesn't line up the stages in a certain order, although the difficulty does ramp up a nice curve. I discount games that use a stage or level model, where the game is segmented into areas that are never seen again. The idea is a role-playing game should not arbitrarily limit options for exploration. There may be times where the player is forever cutoff from an area, so this will take my best guess when it feels right.

What's an RPG without a quest? Well, every game has a goal, which is like a quest. This is why I only consider side quests, optional goals that enrich either the world, story, or character(s), but are not actually required to complete the game. ActRaiser has a number of those. Many of the towns face a plight that's not necessary to resolve before the end of the game. Puzzles and riddles get their own point as I thought they were important to include. At times it's difficult to know where to draw the line, but figuring out that a bird symbol drawn into the sand relates to an island of the same shape doesn't really count for me. This point is one for games that integrate puzzles and riddles into the main quest, and there are none in ActRaiser.
I think I'll start using the game over screen to end cut posts... was I doing that at one point?
In closing, I want to point out this is a 19 point scale because the first point in combat and character advancement are worth 2. This is to emphasize those points. Reaching a score 10 means I'll play through the game and give it a full review. I considered adding branching paths in the story as another point. They're considered when I review a game, but not in this scale. However, I don't think it'd make a difference in most games to include that extra point for the purpose of scoring it on this scale. Even though it's not an RPG, ActRaiser is a unique experience that I'd suggest to anyone, and it's only a 3 - 4 hour game. Enjoy.


  1. Too bad the sequel did away with the unique gameplay, it's a barely memorable game without the quasi-simulation portion.

    1. Here's an interview with the guy you can blame for the change:

  2. Never had a chance to try it, though I might give it a shot. As for ending screens on cut games, I wouldn't say they're necessary - since that implies you played the entire game, and spent less time on the RPGs you should be playing :) Unless you want to play the whole thing (like this one), I wouldn't say it's necessary... play until you know it's getting cut then move on to the good stuff :-)

    1. Oh, I meant game over screens, but we'll see how it goes.

  3. This game was quite enjoyable. I think the world is connected to Soul Blazer somehow as you need to talk to this game's "Master" to save or move in the screen navigation hub in that game. I should probably finish it sometime (although it was quite difficult last time I remembered).

    1. I don't think it's ever been nailed down how all of Quintet's connect together, but the same health bar and some sound effects get reused throughout the games, giving them a familiar look.