Top 100 SNES Review: #13 – ActRaiser (1991)

Creating Civilization In Less Than a Day.

Who needs the Holy Sabbath when you work part-time?

screen shot 2019-01-26 at 5.33.12 amSydlexia’s Ranking: #13/100
My Rating: cropped-smooth-star-e1545862962550cropped-smooth-star-e1545862962550cropped-smooth-star-e1545862962550cropped-smooth-star-e1545862962550

Saturday is the day I take to recharge and do absolutely nothing related to my grad school program. I’m working at a clinical rotation that is demanding with plenty of homework to boot, so it is nice to just have a full 24-hour period where I can do whatever else I want.

ActRaiser lets you emulate a local deity, be a mighty warrior, and oversee nation-building. The best part: it takes less than an 8 hours! Who else gets to say they created civilization on their day off?

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ActRaiser let’s you fill in the gaps of pre-history. Playing as The Master (more commonly known as God) with your sidekick cherub, you descend onto a continent that is fraught with monsters and wilderness. You have been asleep for several hundred years after losing to Tanzra (aka Satan) who has divided the land amongst his minions. It’s now time to clear the path for the human race to once again thrive while guiding them to be independent in their own affairs.

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What depth for an SNES game — at least four levels of layering!


ActRaiser is a mishmash of two genres: city simulation and side-scrolling adventure. Taken on their individual merits, they both really suck. You don’t have a lot of options when it comes to building towns and the platform levels are just as easily sparse and repetitive. If there was ever a case for the whole being greater than the sum of its parts, this is it. 

The way they pull this is off is how one informs the other. To start building a town, you must defeat a dungeon via the side-scrolling portion. When that’s done, you can start clearing away land and directing towns people to build. They will find items that further increase your power such as magic spells that makes you more powerful for the next dungeon. Just when you get tired of one format, it will be time to switch to the next one keeping gameplay fresh.

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Each town discovers some particularly technology that helps others grow, such as new agriculture, medicine, or clothing. The Master is not only the creator of civilization but a protector of free markets; you use free trade to your advantage to create a rising tide that lifts all boats.

Each town also has a puzzle that involves their own people. Sometimes it requires the divine intervention of your nature spells (rain, lightning, earthquake, sun) to clear the appropriate path. Other times, you have to rescue the town from an immediate threat or help a particular individual. Solving these lead to more rewards and plays directly into the dungeon clearing mode.

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There is very little dialogue in this game, but it is amazing the excitement I got seeing a few of the townspeople doing something unique. Occasionally they will go off exploring on their own, returning treasure. Or maybe, they discover the art of sailing and you’ll start to see ships in the harbor when there were none. These small touches made me feel responsible for my pixelated kingdoms.

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For a game that was delightful but not particularly challenging, it decides to really ramp up at the end making you face an actual Satan of repeated boss fights with no magic or health regeneration. You do get three lives, so you can strategically plan where you need to strike out to reach the new, final boss with enough HP, but damn if this isn’t actually challenging.


The side-scrolling levels can be ridiculously easy, particularly when you start getting the use of spells. The simulation can be left on auto-cruise because nothing bad can really happen during it. Somehow, none of it matters: you quickly get wrapped up in building towns as best you can to find all the goodies to help you clear the next dungeon to build more towns.

It’s a very short game that should only take a day if you are able to play for a few chunks of time. Any longer, and it would have been a morose mess of repetition. As it is, it gets the more out of all of its pieces.

Other People’s Take:

  • Words Thing: “I found that the Enix’s unique blend of light godgame simulation and action roleplaying would make for a relaxing Saturday afternoon adventure.”
  • Jumping on Turtles: “I would have loved to have been a fly on the wall in the Enix office as they tried to decide exactly what sort of game they were trying to make in ActRaiser.”
  • Ze Bunker: Then I caused forest fires in defiance of Smokey The Bear with my power of the crackling lighting bolt. Sure, sometimes I missed and destroyed my own town. God works in mysterious ways.”


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