Review by steamliner88
Reviewed: 08/27/04 | Updated: 10/25/04
I guess it wasn't meant to be...
Enix/Quintet has been one of my favourite developers for a long time. The reason? Emotions. Their games can touch you in way that no others can even get close to. I remember the anger and indignation I felt as the humans abused both each other and the world itself in Terranigma, not to mention the sadness and feeling of guilt that Illusion of Gaia woke within me the first time I played that master piece. Then there is the warm, cosy feeling mediated by Robotrek, or the fascination I felt when I entered the world of E.V.O. Those are games that creates emotions, games that made me feel. Actriaser 2 manages to do the same thing, but in a much less pleasant manner. While I can look back at the games mentioned above as friends and companions during great adventures and wonderful times, Actraiser 2 feels more like the lost love. The love that was meant to be, but never happened, or the one that happened, but wasn't meant to be. It hurts, it disappoints and it leaves me with nothing but regret. Why Actraiser2? Why? You should have been amazing, but instead ended up like this. Glimpses of a wast potential for greatness and feelings of remorse was all I got from you, but perhaps it was my own fault.
After all, I was the one who was blinded by the predecessor Actraiser, the innovative masterpiece that managed to blend Sim City-type management with platform levels reminiscent of Castlevania. The game where the sense of being the god and last hope of the people made the protagonist, the overthrown god the Master, feel like a more urgent character than any other hero. I was the one who expected something similar, but even better from the sequel. I was suckered in by the gorgeous graphics, deceived by the promising story and ultimately had my heart broken. Instead of whining more, I should try to explain to you why Actraiser 2, the game that broke my heart as a gamer, should not be hated, but mourned.
At first glance, Actraiser 2 looks great. It's a bit disappointing to see that the strategic elements of the original have been removed, but the atmosphere is intact. As the player, you are greeted by amazing graphics and a simple, yet very involving story. Tanzra, the lord of evil who was beaten by the Master in the first Actraiser has returned. Thirteen of the most heinous demons imaginable managed to salvage his battered body after the final battle, and by concentrating and uniting their hate for the Master, they brought Tanzra back to life. Each of the demons represents one of mankind's darkest characteristics like greed, gluttony, jealousy and fury. His life restored, Tanzra sends out these abominations to wreck havoc on the world. Under the influence of the demons, people lose their faith, start to fight amongst each other and kill their neighbours. Once again, you, the Master, has to save the tortured world.
The only contact you have with the people is through an angel who informs you of the situation before you leave the sky palace to enter a level. While this might seem to be a boring and unimaginative way of moving the story forward, it's actually the exact opposite. Not only does dealing with the people as a collective rather than a group of individuals strengthen the feeling of being a god, but the way angel describes the various disasters that has struck the people and reflects over various aspects of human life creates an almost overwhelming feeling of meaning. The various surroundings amplify this feeling in an excellent way. The horrors of war is perfectly illustrated by the raging fires of the Death Field level, and the sight of the suffering people in the Tortoise Island level creates a sense of urgency that makes me play Actraiser 2 longer than it deserves. One can almost feel the grief of the people of Tortoise Island as their bodies slowly turned to stone while the ground under their feet sank into the ocean. Elements like these make me feel even more remorse, since they are the reason why I truly wanted to love this game.
So, what's the problem? Well, the most obvious annoyance is the fact that Enix removed the story section that made the first game stand out. The ability to directly guide the people in their efforts to restore their villages was one of, if not the most important reason why the first game was so special. As it is, the Master has turned from a present and active god to a more on-demand deity who turns up to save the day and ride off into the sunset. Instead of retaining the first game's unique blend of strategy and platforming, Enix opted to make Actraiser 2 more of a Castlevania or Valis look-a-like. Long levels packed with villains whose only wish is to see you dead post a good challenge even for the seasoned gamer, and the ability to save the game using passwords is a welcome feature that is almost needed if you want to play through Actraiser 2. Still, something is wrong. Despite featuring varied levels and a decent degree of freedom to choose the order in which to tackle them, Actraiser 2 is a huge disappointment.
The main problem is the control. You fight with a sword and a shield and have a good range of moves at your disposal. What you dont have is any control over the Master once he decides to leave the ground. Unlike in the first game, the Master has been equipped with a pair of wings. I guess the idea was that he should be able to use them to glide shorter distances, but thanks to whoever programmed the controls, youll find yourself sliding straight into the nearest enemy/pit/poisoned spike/etc most of the time. The problem is the time it takes to stop after a flight. As soon as you open your wings, you'll need half a screens to stop after landing. It doesn't matter if it happened accidentally and the flight only lasted a few inches, you'll still find yourself sliding around for a good while before being able to control the Master again. In a game that requires pixel perfect jumps, this is not a good thing. To make matters even worse, you can also perform a double jump, Shinobi-style. Like the glide, the double jump is about as reliable as a CIA report about Iraq, and since a lot of levels require you to use both those moves most of the time, you better make sure that you know many profanities to hurl at the TV, or else your neighbours will get tired of hearing the same curse words over and over again. Did I forget to mention that you'll be performing the dreaded leap of faith at least a few times in almost every level? Jumping off an edge without knowing if there is any solid ground to land on is not my idea of a good level layout.
Graphically, Actraiser 2 looks gorgeous. Imagine Super Castlevania IV mixed with Super Metroid, and you'll get the idea. Amazing textures, great attention to detail, multi-parallax backgrounds and incredible surroundings makes this one of the better looking games on the snes. There is a great deal of variety when it comes to the enemies, and the locations, ranging from an active volcano to the dark prison of Gratis, are all extremely well designed. There are a few pallet swap enemies, but those are rare and far between. Simply put, Actraiser 2 is beautiful. It's just too bad that all this talent has gone to waste. The music is the same sad story. Well-composed pieces bring life to the world and create a perfect audiovisual environment. Too bad it's all for naught
To sum it up, Im terribly disappointed with this game, but it's my own fault. I simply expected too much. If I had regarded it as any platformer, it wouldn't have left such a sour aftertaste in my mouth. I'm sure that if it had been called Valis V or Super Swordmaster, I wouldn't have cared enough to judge it so harshly. Yes, the control would still suck, but maybe I would have been able to enjoy the game for a few hours before discarding it for good. As it is, I keep coming back in a futile search for the magic that I still hope to find within the world of Actraiser 2. I know it isn't there, but I can't help it. Like the love that was never meant to be, Actraiser 2 won't leave me alone. For those of you not enamoured by the first game, this will offer a good challenge, some nice-looking levels and a high, yet passable degree of frustration. With a lot of practise and memorization, most of the games flaws can be overcome, even if you'll still slide down a bottomless pit every once in a while. If you are fan of the genre and have played everything else, this could actually be a decent pick-up if you find it cheap. For those of you who loved the original as much as I did, it will only break your heart and mock your dreams of what could have been. Like the love that was never meant to be, Actraiser 2 will only leave you wondering "why?".
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