Actraiser Renaissance, the review



The review of Actraiser Renaissance talks about a classic SNES from 1990 that returns in a revised and corrected not only graphically, but also in gameplay.

Surprisingly, the Nintendo Direct of September 23 has exhumed a classic SNES from the past to give it new luster: we are not too surprised by these nostalgia operations, but see on screen Actraiser has certainly hit the heart of many. Thirty years ago we impersonated the so-called God of Light, in the timeless battle of good against evil, of light against darkness, in a platformer hard to forget, enriched by a small management component that saw our benevolent gaze resting on our faithful to help them rise and prosper. Their faith would be our strength, following a peculiar mechanic of level increase that in Actraiser Renaissance is resumed and partly expanded, along with other additions that make this operation a middle ground between a remaster and a remake: graphically has been revised to make it more appropriate to modern times, as well as the gameplay in turn revisited so as to enrich it and increase the total hours of play with new characters and side quests.

Here is a review of Actraiser Renaissance.

A God among men

Actraiser Renaissance, the deity protagonist grappling with the emissaries of the demon Tanzra

The story of Actraiser Renaissance, for those who have experienced it at the time, starts from the same premise: the god of light is involved in a confrontation with the demon Tanzra and his six Guardians, a battle that leaves him defeated and forced to retreat to his Sky Palace – a castle floating in the clouds. From here he can do nothing but watch Tanzra take over the world, dividing it into six regions that he will assign to their respective Guardians. It is only centuries later that the god, whose cult has been slowly fading away, decides to reincarnate to free the people oppressed by Tanzra and his subordinates, making his Faith shine again as before. The unfolding is as good or bad as we remember it, however, along the way, six new characters have been introduced: the heroes who, according to an ancient prophecy, will flank the god in his decisive battle against the demon.

Past and present, these characters are inextricably linked to the six Guardians. For one reason or another, each of them has a history with the despot who rules their region and has no awareness of being the hero predestined to serve the god. They are people defeated by Tanzra or his thugs, bent in the soul to the point that they cannot even hear the name of these evil forces – they lend themselves to help the population in minor skirmishes (which we will talk about shortly), but refuse to get rid of the nests from which they emerge, citing reasons all different from each other, but not for this condemnable.

It is therefore to create the dynamics for which, in our work of rebuilding the faith, we will have to “unlock” the hearts and consequently the resolve of these characters, which we can then summon if we needed during the micro-management phases. It is the addition that most expands Actraiser Renaissance, since it is linked to the whole path of construction and growth of the village with all the secondary missions that result. Only when the character in question will awaken its latent force, let’s call it that, we can proceed with the second and final act that will allow to free forever that region from the Guardian that oppresses it.

Old and new gameplay

Actraiser Renaissance, the management of the village has been expanded with several new features

What’s new in the gameplay, then? Several things, but let’s start with what has been maintained and, of course, graphically improved: the first act of each region allows us to inflict a first defeat to Tanzra and his forces, so that the population can begin to regain faith in us. From the central temple that will be built at the end of that act, people will begin to build and expand the settlement on our instructions. We will be able to tell them in which direction to build, within a maximum limit of squares, and we will support them by using our miracles to clear a path for them. For example, well-placed lightning will clear away cumbersome trees and rocks, while intense sunshine will drain troublesome swamps and widen the construction zones. Inhabitants act on their own initiative once they know where to build and the road is clear: whether it’s houses, fields or workshops, they’re thankfully self-sufficient in figuring out what goes where.

In addition to support them “personally”, we can also rely on our right arm, a cherub that can be used to protect with bow and arrows the settlement in question, eliminating in monsters that at regular intervals will come out of the nests to try to bring havoc. Doing so serves to restore the mana that we consume for miracles, so as to free the territory, grow the population and proceed with the story – which, as anticipated, in Actraiser Renaissance is linked to that of the hero present in the region. In these mechanics, the game hasn’t changed since 1990, beyond redoing its makeup to adapt to modern times. The requests of the citizens are real side quests to be taken care of, which will reward us with faith, in place of experience points, contributing to our level increase and upgrades that result.

Here the similarities stop. The presence of the unwitting heroes and their slow path of “awakening” bring with them a brand new mechanic: the so-called tower defense. Once the inhabitants have come into contact with the new character, for one reason or another, he will be our armed arm in the skirmishes that will occur both along the plot and randomly if we stay too long in the settlement without doing anything. On the other hand is not that the forces of evil can stand by and watch while we take back the land piece by piece. To defend ourselves at such junctures, the game allows us, gradually, to build defensive structures in limited numbers and upgrade them (this is before the battle begins, it is important to emphasize): hence the importance of developing the settlement, since the resources to fortify it are produced by the citizens in the workshops and the quantity depends on the quality of the buildings themselves.

The village grows up to level three and this involves a complete renovation of the same to have better housing and facilities, defensive or not: here, beyond the fortifications that have their own menu, not to convince us of this part was the fact that to improve the structures in the settlement we must get rid of the old ones … destroying them. Imagine doing this operation for the village at its maximum expansion and for six times, as many as there are regions: in the long run, but not too much, the operation comes to boredom and is not very necessary because the level of production will be lower but we will still have what we need by being more patient. This is not a true management, so the mechanics are extremely simple and all revolve around the same resource to build.

Actraiser Renaissance, the first hero of the game

Returning to the skirmishes, once started it is not possible to build or upgrade defensive structures (forts, watchtowers, magic towers, etc.) but we are free to place palisades as long as we have them, obstructing the passage to enemies who generally aim at the destruction of the temple. The conditions of defeat are variable, but the temple of the god remains one of the most sensitive targets: it may happen that we need to protect certain structures, or characters, and in that case we adapt accordingly, even according to the availability of heroes.

Clearly, the more regions we have regained, the more heroes we will have available to deploy in the field. The defensive structures operate on their own when a threat enters their range, while the heroes attack in turn automatically, but we are free to tell them where to move so that they can counter any threats, especially according to their skills. To give a practical example, already in the second region will begin to appear creatures resistant to magic, so the sorceress protagonist of that part of the game will be quite useless prompting us to summon the warrior from the previous region.

Vice versa, flying enemies are unreachable for the warrior, who will have to give way to the sorceress or even to ourselves: we can in fact intervene directly with miracles, provided we have enough mana points to do so. Points that are regenerated through the ampoules produced by the population even in the middle of the battle. It is therefore necessary to know when, where and what to use in order not to risk being at a disadvantage.

Actraiser Renaissance, skirmishes can be quite challenging if poorly managed

These tower defense moments can be ruthless if they want to be, even at a medium level of difficulty, and we can’t get distracted for a moment without an army of creatures of darkness attempting an assault on this or that building (or character). As we progress through the story, the skirmishes of the region in which we find ourselves will become increasingly difficult, until the final escalation with a particularly powerful creature against which we can not intervene directly. Or rather, our miracles will almost have more of a stun effect than a damaging one, leaving the difficult task in the hands of heroes and defensive structures. All while the rest of the minions rampage through the village, of course. Just like the deity, heroes can also level up and improve their stats: just use on them particular tomes obtained as a reward from side quests, whose necessary amount increases level after level. Through the series of side quests that make up the history of the settlement and its hero, we will also get spells to use during the platforming phase.

Before moving on to this other part of the game, a few words about monster nests. In the original game, once the population had gained enough self-confidence and strength, you could direct them to the nest whose entrance they would personally seal – in effect, destroying it. In Actraiser Renaissance this is no longer the case, because the spawn is introduced, a sort of demonic “device” that the inhabitants are unable to destroy and for which they ask our direct intervention. It will then be up to us to descend into the depths and start short battles in closed arenas with the aim of exposing the spawn and destroy it, while defending ourselves from other threats. They are short and in the long run also challenging, which give more depth to the relationship between the deity and the protagonist of the faithful in their path of rebellion to Tanzra.

Of course, destroying nests also falls under the list of side quests that are unlocked step by step, thus making them obligatory steps to force the Guardian of the region to expose themselves in the first person.

Actraiser Renaissance, the god of light has a Warrior of Light feel to it

Overall, with the exception of the unnecessary step of having to destroy buildings in order for them to be rebuilt better, we liked the new additions to the gameplay. Skirmishes have ever-changing objectives and grow in difficulty both by region and within the region itself as you progress through the story, forcing us to revise strategy from time to time.

The destruction of the nests is enriched by the scrolling platforming phase that sees us directly involved, while the addition of the heroes linked to the respective Guardian of the territory adds a bit ‘of depth and epic to the story, thanks to a simple narrative but varied in different situations. Of course, the sense of redundancy is felt and perhaps some passages could be streamlined but, if nothing else, reinvigorates those in the original were already long and tedious phases in themselves. The micro-management aspect that accompanies both the growth of the village and its fortification before the skirmishes is a small added value that keeps our attention span while the story continues to the next act.

A platforming revamped, but not too well

Actraiser Renaissance, the platform phases are the least convincing of the package

The most painful note of the game, sorry to say, lies precisely in the phases of real action. The one where the god of light descends to earth and prepares to send the demons back from hell where they came from. At first glance they may seem readjusted in 2.5D but, in fact, it’s all pre-rendered, which means that in spite of the rather fluid animations of enemies and the protagonist, all of them seem in a sense “chipped”. It immediately jumps to the eye, for example, how the model of the deity is grainy and low resolution. We find a similar situation in the stages, which on the one hand boast excellent lighting effects and on the other have a not too pleasant appearance, perhaps due to the fact that Actraiser Renaissance is also available for mobile devices. This may have played an unfavorable role in an aesthetic that is far too rough, when compared to its much simpler and more pleasing to the eye management counterpart. Finally, it’s impossible to remain indifferent in front of a disappointing, jerky scrolling: nothing so heavy as to undermine the game, but nevertheless, considering that the backgrounds are flat and the 2D character sprites are quite crude, hard to accept when overall the aesthetics – especially from the point of view of character portraits – is really very well done. There is an obvious disconnect between the two phases of the game, micromanagement and scrolling action, which at some point seems to be dealing with two different products.

Beyond these not insignificant details, Actraiser Renaissance revised the gameplay even in this case: starting with the spells and, more generally, from the moment in which we choose to descend to earth to kick some demon. We can bring with us all the spells obtained in the course of the game, limiting us to hold down the reference button to open the wheel from which to choose the one we want, this makes it easier progression, avoiding forcing us to choose a single spell as in the past – have you ever felt a deity from the phenomenal cosmic powers but can only use one at a time? The action itself has also been made more dynamic thanks to the rising and diving attacks, as well as the backwards dodge to better manage some fights, even taking advantage of the moments of invincibility resulting from the use of certain moves.

While maintaining the rigidity of the past, this new version softens several aspects even to facilitate a bit ‘too much the issue by introducing the accumulation of buffs, obtained by accumulating crystals collected from the bodies of enemies or objects destroyed: you get up to the fifth degree, becoming more or less invincible with even the ability to be reborn once on the spot with half health points in case of defeat – without therefore restart from the checkpoint. Losing a real life, however, does not involve the loss of buffs, a choice that we found a wire too much time to facilitate the experience: magic and attack increase discreetly with this new mechanic, going to simplify the platforming phases of them not too complex.

Music master

Actraiser Renaissance, epic battles require equally epic soundtracks

A small paragraph in closing we can not devote it to the soundtrack. Actraiser Renaissance provides a soundtrack rearranged with fifteen new songs but, if you are admirers of an original still flawless, you can choose to keep it as background. The original composer, Yuzo Koshiro, was responsible for the adaptation, so don’t worry about the quality. Both versions are spectacular, making the choice not as straightforward as you might think, but of one thing we are certain: the one composed in 1990 is a lady soundtrack, perfectly enjoyable in its bit form even today.

Comment

Actraiser Renaissance is a dip in the past with several modern touches that make it a game easier (in some respects too much) and enjoyable as a whole. The touches made to the stages of micromanagement enrich a gameplay otherwise too redundant, this in spite of a repetitiveness of the bottom however perceptible: the curiosity about the six new heroes and their stories makes it in any case this step required to manage the settlements more pleasant, except for the unnecessary need to destroy the old buildings in order to make room for new ones. Where the game sins more is in the counterpart platform, bent by an aesthetic where animations rather fluid clash with models pixelated and low quality, on backgrounds equally questionable that at the same time enjoy excellent lighting effects. In short, an unconvincing mishmash, which also suffers from jerky scrolling, in which all the improvements implemented by the development team, some of which are far too supportive of the players, appear. Actraiser Renaissance is certainly a pleasant abandonment to memories, but not all the modernization works as it should.

PRO

  • Sensible and appreciated improvements to the micro-management part
  • The introduction of six new characters/heroes enriches the story
  • Wonderful soundtrack, available both original and rearranged
  • The platform phases suffer from a rather questionable overall rendering
  • The need to destroy homes and structures unnecessarily lengthens the time frame
  • Where micromanagement is at times complex, platforming is greatly facilitated
  • Have you noticed any errors?
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