Actraiser Renaissance review: A heavenly gift

The classic action platforming and divine civilization sim returns from the glory days of SNES with a fresh coat of paint to smite evil once again.

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I’m not going to lie, I’m a mark for Actraiser. It’s one of my favorite games from the SNES library for just how different it was from everything else. Blending genres, this game mixed solid action platforming with civilization management qualities to tell the story of a fight between ultimate good and evil. Color me shocked when, in 2021, we got the announcement of Actraiser Renasissance - a 2.5D remake of the original game with new visuals, rearranged music, and more. I’ve spent the better part of the week on a feels trip and while I can say some parts of the original game haven’t aged well, Actraiser is still a fantastic battle of gods and devils over the fate of humanity.

Awaken, O Lord of Light!

Actraiser Renaissance is a remake of the first game and sticks to it in most aspects. As such, you should know right away it doesn’t pull any punches with the narrative. This is essentially a God vs. Satan battle, with the two figures name-swapped to the Lord of Light and Tanzra respectively. In Actraiser, something caused the Lord of Light to fall into deep slumber. In his absence, Tanzra set his demonic forces upon the world, warping the landscape in evil and leaving humanity in only the smallest of surviving collectives scattered throughout the lands. The Lord of Light eventually awakens and, assisted by an angel, sets off to fight back Tanzra’s demons and aid humanity in taking back its world.

Much like the original, Actraiser is split into two major parts: action platforming segments and civilization management segments. Most of the game has had quite the glow-up. The world map looks lush and varied in its landscape with various aspects built up from their original looks with a crisp new art style. From the grassy plains of Fillmore to the poison lakes of Bloodpool and the deadly island of Death Heim, all of the world looks very cool whether you’re floating in your Sky Palace overhead or managing in a region.

Levels have been touched up nicely as well. I think one of my favorites is Bloodpool where you have the sweeping waters of a poison lake below you always acting as a threat should you fail to traverse the platforms above it carefully. I think one of the only problems I have with both aspects is the sprites. Every sprite in the game from the Lord of Light to the monsters looks a little bit off - like they are a lower resolution character placed in a higher resolution scene. It’s not game breaking, but in a world that otherwise looks so colorful and crisp, I wish the characters and monsters didn’t have a seemingly lower level of quality to them.

One fantastic returning feature that isn’t lacking for attention is the music. Legendary composer Yuzo Koshiro, who did the original soundtrack, returned to deliver arrangements of Actraiser’s entire musical library. When that rearranged Fillmore theme hit during the game’s reveal at the last Nintendo Direct, I knew we were in for a treat, but it was an absolute delight to find out Koshiro was back in the composer’s chair here. Whether you’re dallying about on the region maps building up your followers or fighting on the ground, the rearranged music sounds great. What’s more, if you pine for classic flavors, the original SNES music is also available. You can swap to it right from the start of the game on the main menu screen. That’s a great addition to have on this remake of a classic title, but both soundtracks are delightful in their own right and do a lot to add to the overall adventure.

I shall assist mine people with much lightning

As mentioned before, gameplay in Actraiser Renaissance is broken into two major parts. When you enter a region, you’ll go down to traverse an action platforming level. Then, having established a foothold, you will guide your followers in establishing their residence while fighting off demons that attack them at every turn in a top-down sim-style affair. Finally, when you’ve gained enough ground, you will fight a last action-platforming level to establish full control and eliminate Tanzra’s hold of the region.

Barring the aforementioned quality of sprites in Actraiser Renaissance, I really like the action platforming segments. The levels remain pretty true to their original forms with some gentle twists and turns that make things more interesting. The Lord of Light could always jump, use sword attacks, and use magic to aid his battle, but there are several different additions to his attacks here. He now has an auto combo of sword strikes on the ground by tapping the attack button repeatedly, a rising sword uppercut when pressing up and attack, and a downward sword strike when pressing down and attack. Additionally, he can block and reduce incoming damage simply by crouching when an attack would hit him and even do a back dash to dodge away from danger. All of these additional actions make for a more fun and engaging fighting style in Renaissance.

Once you’re through a level, so begins the road to recovery. You start with a shrine from which your followers ask blessings (quests and activities for advancement) from you. By way of an angel that assists you through the game, you direct them to build out their land from the shrine, crafting houses and fields to grow their population and workshops to create materials for guardhouses. They will build automatically in any area that you direct them to, so you have little control over the placement of fields or workshops, but you can control where strategic guardhouses will go or even cast lightning to remove cumbersome structures which will then be automatically built elsewhere.

By building up your followers and their settlements, you will gain the aid of a hero in each region who will rise among them to assist you. Besides being integral to the story, they also help majorly in fending off demons. When you start, there are demon portals from which various creatures will spawn and you can use your angel to fight them off before they destroy settlements or steal away with your followers to their lairs. However, at various points, demon sieges will occur in which numerous portals spawn and hordes of demons will make for your shrine in order to cut you off from the people. Lose the shrine and you lose the battle, with occasional other conditions like protecting your fields also sometimes present.

Your guardhouses act as killing points to demons that swarm along the roads to your shrine, but you can also direct the region’s hero to fight directly against demons anywhere you choose. It’s an interesting realtime tower-defense-like affair that was not present in the original game and makes the civilization sim aspect more engaging here. Once you conquer a region, you can even summon that area’s hero to other regions to help in fights there and each hero has different strengths in battle that make that option fun.

One thing I had issue with in the first game and have issue with here is the long stretches between building up settlements in the late point of regions. As you advance the narrative, your settlements will level up, allowing them to build better houses, fields, and workshops that produce more goods and house greater populations and better guardhouses that do more damage to demons in sieges.

The problem is that your followers won’t upgrade their own houses on their own. You have to blow them up with lightning to get them to build new ones. Now, putting aside the troubling fact that you have to smite the holy bejeezus out of your own followers to get them to improve their homeland, miracles like your lightning are also tied to an MP bar. You have to wait long periods of time to recharge with resources from fields, killing demons with your angel, or sieges. It’s a slog and really prolongs the homestretch to capturing a region. I just wish I could move things along faster so I could get back to enjoying all of the other delightful parts of the game.

A blessing most righteous

I did not expect in the slightest to see a full-fledged remake of Actraiser come to fruition this year. I thought for sure we might first see it on the SNES library of Nintendo Switch Online, if anything. This was a huge and delightful surprise for me and I’ve enjoyed exploring every bit of Actraiser Renaissance’s reimagined take on one of my classic gaming loves. Yuzo Koshiro crushes it with both the classic and rearranged soundtrack, the gameplay is fun and a little bit improved in some cases, and the world is more enjoyable than ever to take in from the skies above and on the ground. I wish some classic pain points hadn’t come along for the ride and that the sprite work was a bit better, but Actraiser Renaissance is still a fantastic title whether you’re walking down memory lane or playing it for the first time.


This review is based on a digital PC copy provided by the publisher. Actraiser Renaissance is available now on PS4, PS5, Nintendo Switch, Steam via PC, and iOS and Android mobile devices.

News Editor

TJ Denzer is a player with a passion for games that has dominated a lifetime. When he's not handing out beatdowns in the latest fighting games, exploring video game history, or playing through RPGs with his partner, he's searching for new food and drinks in the constant pursuit of good times with good people inside and outside the South Texas area. You can also find him on Twitter @JohnnyChugs.

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Pros
  • New art style is lush and beautiful
  • Action platform segments are tight and fun
  • Civilization management is mostly enjoyable too
  • New demon sieges add interesting tower defense segments
  • New heroes add cool layer to story and management
  • Original and rearranged soundtracks are included and great
Cons
  • Character and creature sprites are lacking
  • You have to smite your followers to upgrade buildings
  • Miracles tied to an MP bar slow down progress immensely
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