Despite being announced and released out of nowhere during the Nintendo Direct last week, ActRaiser Renaissance has already become the most fun I’ve had with a video game all year, review or not. I was a casual, not rabid fan of the original ActRaiser on SNES, so I didn’t approach this remake with any particular nostalgia. Nonetheless, ActRaiser Renaissance is just a fantastically addicting combination of evolved simulation gameplay and breezy sidescrolling action that is perfectly suited to bite-sized sessions on Nintendo Switch.
You are God. Have fun!
You basically play as God in ActRaiser Renaissance, and you have returned to the world to restart human civilization after the evil Tanzra (originally just Satan in Japan) has destroyed everything. Each time you arrive in a new area of the world, you zap a couple humans into existence at your temple, and then you guide them as they cultivate the land, build various structures, and vastly expand their population.
You will also engage in frequent “tower defense”-style missions to progress the story. In total, there are six separate lands in the main game to cultivate, plus a brand new seventh land after defeating Tanzra. Each of the six initial lands offers a new “hero” with stats and a distinct battle style who becomes a major part of strategy in tower defense portions, and they level up over time.
In the simulation half of ActRaiser Renaissance, the villagers will semi-randomly self-determine where to build the farms and factories, which produce healing items and supplies for building battle-ready forts respectively. I didn’t realize at first that building placement was random, but if you think the villagers have built important structures in risky locations, you can manually destroy the structures with lightning or earthquakes — which forcefully encourages them to rebuild somewhere else.
Along those lines, you can perform various miracles to reshape the land and/or destroy encroaching monsters. Lightning bolts can burn down overgrown forests or zap enemies. Rain can often outright kill fire-based enemies. Purifying sunlight can do surprisingly large damage to enemies or drain out marshes. Intense wind and earthquakes do basically exactly what you would expect. Using these miracles is really fun but they operate on a cooldown and cost SP, which can be recovered via items taken from farms. Each miracle comes in three levels of intensity too, with higher levels expanding the area of effect and increasing the SP cost.
For the tower defense segments, you must strategically decide where to plant roadblock-creating forts and two types of offensive tower, a physical type and a magic-based type respectively. During battle, you can also set up what amounts to temporary fences. If your temple is destroyed, you lose, and sometimes you also lose if too many farms or factories are destroyed. Thus, you either want to create choke points where your heroes and towers can combine to obliterate enemies, or you want to spread your forces thin and hope they can maintain multiple fronts simultaneously (with assistance from your miracles).
There are many different monster types with different strengths and weaknesses, though so many enemies are magic-resistant toward the end of the game that it often makes magic-based towers useless. Regardless, with all the enemy types, the different heroes, the fort and tower selection, and the miracles, the simulation aspect of ActRaiser Renaissance is extremely fun and addicting while still being pretty accessible and not overly complex. I never play tower defense games, but I couldn’t get enough of this. The challenge ramps up gradually with time too, starting at completely simple and becoming fairly sophisticated near the end.
Outside of tower defense missions, you will just spend the simulation time controlling an angel, who speaks on your behalf in story scenes and can physically shoot arrows at stray, annoying monsters that pop up periodically. Story scenes are frequent and can disrupt the flow of play, so I started button-mashing through all the less important scenes. However, characters are still likeable, and some of the plot beats are even intriguing, if briefly.
In any case, the large majority of your roughly 15-hour playthrough will take place in the simulation part of the game, and it has been massively expanded upon compared to what appeared on SNES.
God is, like, really powerful
The other major aspect of ActRaiser Renaissance is the sidescrolling action levels, of which there are two in each of the six main lands and one more in the seventh land. There are also many brief battle levels in-between where you are tasked to kill a blob-like thing that has been spawning the monsters that accost you on the world map. In all of these sections, you play as God (You actually get to name the deity, but I literally just named him “God.”) made manifest in warrior form.
I can’t say how faithful the main levels are to the original game, as I honestly just don’t remember what they were like anymore. But the level design is competent, offering various paths that lead to hidden permanent power-ups. The visual style is undeniably strange though, with seemingly prerendered visuals that reminded me of Donkey Kong Country, except that DKC is somehow prettier. It’s also sometimes tricky to determine foreground from background, but it’s not an overbearing issue.
There are again various enemy types to face, but the game gives you excellent and expanded controls with which to face them. In addition to a basic sword combo and kneeling down for little swipes, you can also do upward slashes and plummeting downward slashes. All of these attacks have big hit boxes, often even hitting behind you, and there is a button that allows you to back-dash rapidly. Plus, there is a separate set of magic for sidescrolling levels, including a fireball, ice that travels the ground, and an attack that rains down destruction and is almost as broken in ActRaiser Renaissance as it was in the original game.
On top of all of that, you collect gems during sidescrolling levels that can power you up for upward of five degrees per level. Each degree increases your strength in some way, with the highest degree doubling your power and even reviving you exactly where you died without losing a life. This system provides an incentive to fight everything you see. Additionally, you will level up through the natural course of playing the game, so your stats will continue to increase.
The result of all these skills and power-ups is that you are extremely powerful, and ActRaiser Renaissance is pretty easy and breezy on the Normal setting. I didn’t mind the lack of difficulty at all though. Frankly, it just felt right that God should be able to obliterate goblins and mummies without a care. That too was really fun to me. However, if you really want a challenge, Hard mode will deliver it and then some. It’s brutally difficult, and only the most hardcore players will stick around for it.
ActRaiser Renaissance is a dark horse to become game of the year
Mileage will vary of course, and I can’t say if my unexpected adoration of this game will extend to all players. Nonetheless, ActRaiser Renaissance is a meticulously crafted remake that genuinely improves on the original game in several respects while maintaining the spirit of what made it special in the first place. The simulation and tower defense elements are instantly addicting, and the sidescrolling sections really make you feel like God has come down to smite the wicked. ActRaiser Renaissance is almost the best-case scenario for a remake, and I hope Square Enix keeps it up.
A Nintendo Switch review code for ActRaiser Renaissance was provided by the publisher.