Where's My Sequel? – Actraiser

by Joe Juba on Jan 31, 2013 at 11:15 AM

Most gamers appreciate when a brand new installment releases in their favorite series. Despite complaints about “sequelitis,” getting too many entries is better than the alternative: getting too few. In Where’s My Sequel, we look at franchises that deserve to continue. In this installment we examine the classic 16-bit series Actraiser.

What it is

Blending elements from multiple genres is common practice in game development, but Actraiser's approach to different gameplay styles is unique. Drawing from the action and simulation genres, this Super Nintendo god game is like two experiences in one. Proceeding in distinct phases, the story draws you through side-scrolling action stages, complete with magic powers and tense boss fights. After an action stage, you then guide a region toward prosperity by performing miracles and assisting inhabitants. These simulation-focused stages are reminiscent of SimCity and Populous, giving players the gratification of building up a thriving civilization from nothing.

That all applies mainly to the original Actraiser. Actraiser 2 ditched the simulation elements completely (much to disappointment of fans) in favor of an all-action approach, so when fans think of the core Actraiser experience, the style of the first game is what they're picturing.

When it stopped

Actraiser 2 is the most recent entry, and it released in 1993. Since then, publisher Enix merged with Square, and developer Quintet has all but vanished. Square Enix still retains the rights to the franchise, but considering its been dormant for 20 years, the odds of a new entry are not great.

What comes next

If Square Enix revives the Actraiser franchise (against all odds), the company needs to keep a few key points in mind. First of all, bring back the two distinct gameplay phases. Don't focus on one or the other, and don't meld them into a single, unholy form of gameplay that tries to merge action and simulation. Part of the fun of the original Actraiser is how it scratched two completely separate itches – and Actraiser 2's failure to do so is a big part of why many found it disappointing. First have players do some action-packed combat, then let them settle down with some peaceful city building.

As much as that sounds like copying the blueprint of the first game, not everything needs to stay the same. I would love a new Actraiser installment that mimics the 16-bit style of the previous titles, but I wouldn't mind seeing the graphics and gameplay updated with a more modern flair – as long it doesn't end up terrible like another 3D reboot of a 2D classic. The concept of controlling the earthly incarnation of a divine force would work well with God of War-style action stages, and it would make players feel more powerful than the series' old-school jump-and-slash combat.

The simulation aspects could also be improved, drawing from the decade's best entries in the genre like Tropico 4 and Civ V. Actraiser shouldn't include the myriad layers of strategic depth that those titles have, but it shouldn't err on the side of being too simplistic (though I wouldn't mind seeing some inspiration from the Kefling games in there). Give players the chance to dig into their cities' systems a little bit, set up some supply chains, maybe even interact with other nearby civilizations. And, of course, cast an array of awesome miracles to impress villagers, frighten enemies, and optimize production. 

Actraiser is a revered name from the 16-bit era, and as much as I'd love it to be revived, that isn't enough. I don't just want to see more Actraiser; I want to see more Actraiser done right, and that would undoubtedly include some surprises that I don't even know I want in a sequel. I'm just hoping Square Enix will someday demonstrate what those things are.