Way back in 1991 one of the Super Nintendo’s launch window games was ActRaiser from Enix. This title blended action platforming (Castlevania) and world building (SimCity) in a way that was unique for its time. Thanks to its amazing soundtrack, unique blend of gameplay mechanics, and entertaining level design it still holds up today has even gained a cult following over the years. Yet, for some reason there haven’t been many attempts to copy it, until now with the release of SolSeraph from ACE Team and Sega. It could be called a spiritual successor to ActRaiser, but we all know that sometimes those don’t turn out great. Does this one nail the essence?
The story centers on the reconstruction of mankind. The old gods of the world have grown bitter towards humanity and have been trying to drive them to extinction. Helios takes on the role as the protector of humanity and goes to defeat the gods plaguing the land. He won’t do it all by himself; instead he wants to help the humans while also teaching them to fend for themselves. Helios will fight the battles that are too great for the humans to handle, but more often than not he will have them fight the monsters heading toward their village.
The gameplay is split into three portions: the 2D action-platformer where you play as Helios, the isometric overhead world-building mode, and a tower defense section. The side scrolling sections have you attacking with your sword, double jumping in midair, dashing backward with a button press, and using your shield to repel enemy attacks. Additional abilities are bound to your mana meter, which will allow you to sling arrows or even heal your wounds. You also have certain abilities that use your mana meter, such as shooting a bow and arrow or healing yourself.
The tower defense portion will have you building defensive structures to ward off evil creatures trying to expand across the land. You’ll be able to place buildings like armories and towers in strategic positions to dispatch the hordes of enemies. Instead of directly fighting against the enemies you’ll be able to use your mana to strike them with lightning or summon a solider of light for a short period of time.
Beyond that, there is also an element of city building. Each level has you building houses, farms, lumber mills, and other buildings to help restore that area’s village. This ties into the tower defense gameplay as the houses gives you people to run defensive structures, and lumber mills supply you wood to build said structures. While most of the stages will revolve around building your village and setting up defenses, you can also build temples near dark fog areas so that Helios can fight. The Helios levels will either have you run through the stage till you reach the end, or you will have to defeat a gauntlet of monsters. Beating these courses will break the barrier surrounding the hideout of the evil god, and once eradicated you will have saved the village and you can move on the next area.
While the mix between the tower defense and action platforming gameplay is great, the city building portion feels very underwhelming. It never feels like you’re actually building a village. Instead it just always feels like you’re trying to set up for the tower defense segments. Part of the problem is that the areas in the game are too small, so not many buildings can be placed in them. You can build roads that extend from the town, but the areas are structured too narrowly so the building placement never feels right. Not to mention that you are always on a short timer before the next enemy wave begins, so you don’t have enough time to properly plan out the structure of a village. Maybe if the areas were bigger and the buildings were smaller, then maybe it would make for a decent city builder. But as it stands right now it just feels underwhelming.
The rest of the gameplay, on the other hand, is mostly great. There are a lot of cool details in this game that add to a fantastic experience. From small things like being able to move around clouds with your cursor, to bigger things like enemies being able to jump in from the foreground or background. Enemy A.I is actually challenging, the level designs are great, and the music and sound design are phenomenal. The only small issue I have is with the platforming sections, more specifically the character’s movement. The animations feel very stilted so simple actions like swinging your sword or jumping just don’t feel like they have any weight to them and it just feels unsatisfying. The enemy animations look great, so why the character animations look very unpolished is beyond me.
ActRaiser’s art style greatly reflected its gameplay. The city building portion had very simplistic pixel art, while the action platforming segments had far more detailed sprites and environments. This game ditches the pixel art for 3D models and the art style stays about the same quality for the tower defense sections. While this may disappoint some, this game still looks gorgeous regardless. The graphics are very bright and colorful and even the darker areas of the game just pop out in style. While playing through the levels, you will sometimes get cutscenes of villagers talking about their current situation. The 2D portrayals of these characters aren’t bad, but they don’t really stand out as much as the rest of the game.
This game does so much right, but as a spiritual successor, it’s only fair to compare it to the original and see if it improves upon the source material. Though this game is a step up from ActRaiser in many ways, it also falls flat in other areas. In the original game, once you defeated a monster spawn point, it would secure that location. However, in SolSeraph beating a dark fog level won’t stop the monsters from spawning in that spot. The original game kept track of how many people were in a town, and your character would power up the larger the town grew. In this game the size of a village doesn’t affect the player’s progress, in fact it has little importance besides just giving you more units for defense structures. A little more attention to detail would have gone a long way to making this even a better experience. Still, I had a really fun time with this one and hopefully the genre continues to innovate and we get more games in this vein.
- Graphics - 7.5/107.5/10
- Sound - 7/107/10
- Gameplay - 7/107/10
- Lasting Appeal - 7.5/107.5/10
Final Thoughts: GOOD
SolSeraph takes the ActRaiser formula, updates it for a current gaming audience, and for the most part succeeds. Its fantastic blend of action platforming and tower defense is one you won’t see elsewhere. Fans of Enix’s classic or newcomers alike should have a good time here!