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  • Writer's pictureJoshua McLean

RIJAR #001, Part 1: ActRaiser isn't exactly as I remember, but it's still a fun time

The Retro Indie Josh Retro Achievements Randomizer has begun! What’s that? At some point I’ll make a post explaining in detail, but for now you can get the general idea from my rules page.

The first game is ActRaiser for the Super NES. I rerolled a couple times because I didn’t feel like doing Mega Man Battle Chip Challenge or Mega Man & Bass (GBA), and my rules allow me up to two rerolls. I did one two-hour stream, and it’ll probably take one or two more to get the “beaten” mark on Retro Achievements.

If you missed it, you can see the full stream recording here.

What’s ActRaiser?

ActRaiser was the first game by Quintet, more widely known for the “Quintet Trilogy,” a.k.a. the “Soul Blazer Trilogy,” which we’ll also get to eventually since they’re on my list. Quintet had a close relationship with Enix, the JRPG giant also known as “not Squaresoft” and later known as “Square Enix.” As such, the game has a heavy JRPG influence.

In each of six areas, you start with a platforming level, then do a god sim to boost the population. Once you’ve cleared all the monster lairs in the god sim, you unlock a second platforming level for that area.

The world population is essentially experience points, increasing your level as you hit certain milestones. This boosts your health, and maybe your power—I’m still not sure. You can also find additional unlocks like magic spells and MP increases in the god sim that affect your platforming character.

The levels are ostensibly open to do in any order, but many have a minimum level requirement. So, it’s a bit open, but a bit restrictive. I personally like the level requirements since they help you figure out which platforming levels are more difficult.

A (Relatable) Lack of Focus

ActRaiser demonstrates a game design mantra which has stuck with me for years. Unfortunately, I don’t remember who said it. It goes like this: The best games are those that do one thing well. ActRaiser struggles because it tries to do too many things and ends up being subpar in all of them.

The one thing the does succeed with, as a launch title, is a beautiful showcase of the Super NES’s power: multiple graphics layers, large sprites, more colors and animation, an “orchestral” score, reverb effects, and other fancy tech like Mode 7 rotation and scaling.

I previously finished the game, but with the use of save states in the platforming sections—especially on the bosses—and speed up to make the god sim sections involve less waiting.

The platforming isn’t terribly difficult. The main problem is the lack of control options, limited to the standard walk, jump, attack, and crouch. While you can use magic, it’s laughably limited. You start the game with one MP and the max is probably still in the single digits. Plus, your MP only recharges when you start the level, so you basically need to save it for the bosses. And even if you unlock several spells, you need to choose one to bring into the level with you.

The first boss is fine, though it would benefit from a dash or dodge option (back-dash like Symphony of the Night would make it actually fun). But the other bosses in my first session were super frustrating. They avoid the character as he approaches them, and have significantly more health—something like double or triple—which makes each boss battles long, drawn out, and kind of tedious. And magic doesn’t help much, even if you’re able to save it for the boss.

Speaking of tedious, the god sim sections are exactly that. They’re essentially auto-scrollers given how easy they are to finish. The only difficulty you’ll face is them taking longer, because your penalty for “dying” is that you have to wait for your health to refill before you can attack again.

There’s too much text every time you want to use a power, and the citizens move and build at a snail’s pace. Although fending off monsters provides a distracting activity, even that gets boring as you repeatedly shoot the same monsters infinitely respawning from fixed locations.

The game is beautiful both in graphics and sound, especially in the platforming areas. You could easily refuse to believe this was a launch title—it looks as good if not better than many later 16-bit competitors. But the god sim bit feels tacked and unnecessary, to the point where even Quintet agreed, since the sequel nixes it entirely.

I struggled with the chimera boss in this first part, but eventually beat it with the help of health boosts from population increases elsewhere in the world. I think I can make it to the end. The game isn’t that hard, especially with power-ups from the god sim, but I wonder if the frustration will mount and I’ll need to hang it on the Wall of Shame.

This Retro Achievements Thing

RIJAR has just begun, so there are plenty of directions to explore. The streams are a simple, obvious part of it. But what can I do with the recorded footage?

I get an archive to draw from for videos about various topics, covering a genre, series, or general game concept. But I wonder if I could do more, like edit down the stream recordings to share.

I envision streamlining the experience by chopping out deaths and level replays and speeding through or entirely skipping the more tedious sections. Editing itself would be a ton of extra work, though, and it may only be interesting with reworked or supplemented commentary, which is even more work.

In any case, it would be cool to have a record in a form that doesn’t require viewing the entire VOD, or sticking around for multiple streams. I think for ActRaiser I’ll edit together a briefer version of the full first playthrough and see how it goes. I might post on an alternate channel for fear of losing subs on the main channel, or I might just drop it on the main channel for fear of stretching too thin. Still debating that one.

Even the title doesn’t work for me. RIJAR (Retro Indie Josh Achievement Randomizer) is at least a thing you can pronounce, but it's weird. The “randomizer” bit is also weird, given its specific (and unrelated) meaning in the context of games.

I considered “Achievement Quest” but that makes it sound like I’m aiming for full completion of all the games on Retro Achievements which is even more ridiculous than what I am doing.

I want a name like "quest" that isn't "quest." Maybe I’m overthinking it and “Achievement Quest” is fine, but RIJAQ looks more like a stock ticker symbol than a challenge title. Let me know your thoughts in the comments if you have any. I'd rather change the name sooner than later so I can be consistent.

In my usual fashion, I’ll experiment and reflect. I might come to wrong conclusions and wonder why I’m struggling. Or I might find something that works. Only way to tell is to try.

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