ActRaiser is a unique game, part of the SNES launch lineup that would never be duplicated on that system. It is part action game, part town simulator. It’s an eclectic mix that works surprisingly well.
The action sequences of ActRaiser are definitely the weaker part of the game. In each of the six areas, there is an introductory stage and a final stage. In these, you play as a hero with a sword and, if you’ve found any in the simulation part of the game, a limited-use magic spell. Beyond the spells, there’s no real variation in your abilities as the game progresses. You are able to take a lot of hits, and the game is generous with health items before boss fights. The stages are littered with secrets, but none are particularly vital. Your goal, aside from completing the stage in general, is to get a high score, which influences each area’s maximum population.
The sim mode is what makes ActRaiser unique and great. Each area is under constant attack by monsters, and you have to hold them off with your little angel helper while directing the townspeople to expand the town. Your goal in the early going is to help the townspeople destroy the monster lairs. Once that’s done, the simulation becomes much more relaxed, and the focus is on optimization and exploration. In addition to the basic simulation gameplay, you can earn items from your followers, and these items are often useful in other areas to help the townspeople with unique problems they have. It’s a relatively simple mode, but it works beautifully. Your long-term goal is to maximize your population, which in turn will increase your level (and therefore health) during action sequences.
The mix of action and simulation ensures that ActRaiser doesn’t get stale, and never overstays its welcome. It’s a beautiful game with great atmospheric music, all the more impressive considering it was one of the first SNES games released. It’s unique and fun, and well worth checking out. There isn’t much else like it.