A reasonably good game, but a dissapointment as a follow-up to the first Actraiser

User Rating: 8.1 | ActRaiser 2: Chinmoku e no Seisen SNES
Actraiser 2 was one of the more highly anticipated sequels of the 16-bit era for me personally, as the first Actraiser was and remains a true classic. Enix made some changes to the formula established in the first game and for the most part they were not for the better unfortunately; also too bad is that the franchise was shelved and forgotten after only the second game in the series; there were distant rumors about a sequel a few years back, but nothing ever came of it.

Game-play/Play-mechanics: The first thing to note here is that the original Actraiser featured two distinct kinds of game-play, the side-scrolling action/platform areas and also action/strategy game-play from an overhead perspective. Actraiser 2 ditches the strategy portions altogether and focuses solely on the side-scrolling game-play, which makes it more like Actraiser 1’s professional mode. I guess the removal of the strategy portions of the game does not bother me all that much, but the strategy segments did make Actraiser stand out from the pack as something unique. So what we have here is a straightforward platform game with an adventure theme, though you are able to tackle some of the levels in any order, and each area is in a set of two levels, the second level becoming accessible when the first in the same area is completed. The fundamental play-mechanics have been made noticeably more complex, as the hero has many more moves at his disposal, and not all of them are all that useful. The play-control is also more stiff and difficult than the original game, the hero moves at only about half the speed and movement is more sluggish and less responsive, which means that mastering all of the new techniques will take a bit of practice. It was a mistake to alter the controls and playability from the first game, if things are not broken, then there is no need to fix them. Actraiser 2 is also a very challenging game, difficult enough that most people will never finish or see much of what the game has to offer; because the level-designs are still cool and that it is Actraiser, I plugged away at the game more than I would normally have the patience for, and after many defeats I managed to experience roughly 95% of the game content. The admirable quality of the levels and creatures in the game are the biggest assets on display here, but the fun-factor is ultimately restricted by the lackluster controls and high degree of difficulty.

Visuals/Artwork: This is Actraiser 2’s strongest attribute by far, the hand-drawn graphics could very well be the best that the SNES has to offer. Every level is bursting at the seams with bright, lush colors and quality animations. There are also special-effects a-plenty as an abundance of scaling and rotation are made good use of. The creatures are all intricately detailed and animated, and there is a varied cast of adversaries for each level, including some cool mid-bosses, which is definitely a big plus. The end-of-level bosses are also impressive from a visual standpoint, as many of them are screen-filling or bigger and they also have some very cool looking attacks. Visual backgrounds include raging waterfalls, serene underwater areas, an affluent castle filled with gold and treasure, volcanic eruptions, and other outstanding looking areas. Seeing the next area provides some motivation to keep pressing on in spite of the advanced difficulty.

Music/Sound: A bit of a case of hit or miss here, first the production value is still high and the game makes great use of authentic sounding classical instruments like the first game did. The arrangements themselves on the other hand fail to hit you as hard as the excellent pieces from the first game. The arrangements presented for Actraiser 2 are much more abstract and somewhat stuffy sounding. Most of the pieces have some sort of decent melody, and the Deathfield arrangement is intelligently written, but the music just does not give off the fist-pumping intensity like it did in the first game. Actraiser 2 has its’ share of good qualities, but the game is ultimately a let-down as a follow-up to the original.