1990s ActRaiser is a nice mix of basic downline strategy and side scrolling platform action that is simple and satisfying. Sega SolSeraph, released today on PC, PlayStation 4, Switch and Xbox One, takes the same basic concept as the classic Super Nintendo and turns it into a mess.
Sega's surprise announcement SolSeraph two weeks ago had fans of ActRaiser full of hope for a spiritual sequel that has done justice to the original game. The idea is the same. The plot, involving a deity fighting monsters and demons while helping humanity to grow and thrive, is the same. The naming convention is the same. Developer Ace Team even exploited ActRaisecomposer, Yuzo Koshiro, to create the opening theme of SolSeraph. The opening melody is nice, but consider these hopes disappointed.
The main difference between ActRaiser and SolSerapit's all in the new game is too complex. It begins with the character of the player, in the role of Helios, the Knight of the Dawn, who fights to fight his way through a sequence of extended platforms. He has a sword to swing. It has arrows that require mana to shoot and have difficulty aiming diagonally. He can block attacks with his shield and jump back to dodge. Another dash is to hold the lock button and go back. Helios can double jumps to reach high margins, but the movement only works from a very particular angle. It's clumsy.
Once Helios has completed the side scrolling platform level, the game switches to a top-down view for the strategy part. ActRaiser asked the protagonist to shoot flying creatures and protect humans while building their own company. He directed them in one direction and they expanded, removing monsters' lairs, discovering artifacts and items that the player could use. The idea was that as humanity grew, so did the power of the player. Again, quite simple.
In SolSeraph, the player is responsible for a lot more. Starting from a central bonfire, the player must create a village, construction by construction. First come the huts of villagers, intended to provide workers. Then, roads leading to the trees so that they can build logging camps. Wood is needed to build defensive structures such as barracks and archery towers. Each building must have a certain number of workers. It is an act of juggling between the workers and the wood and the food.
This is only the beginning of the player's concerns. The village is built along a stone road and, at regular intervals, enemies emerge from the bases located along the road, heading towards the village to wreak havoc on humanity. You can place barracks, archery rounds and traps along the way to try to keep enemies at bay. Helios has powers that he can use to slow down creatures, like throwing a lightning bolt or creating an avatar on their way.
It's the tower of defense, but it's even more complex than that. The player must expand the village to create temples near the black clouds in the margins of the map. The temples eliminate the fog and expose the enemy bases. Once exposed, Helios can dive into the base and defeat waves of random enemies in a 2D scrolling battle in order to "conquer" him. I put Conquer in quotation marks because sending all the enemies does not destroy the base. It still generates regular waves of attackers. Helios just earns a little more mana so that he can use more of his divine powers and the village can expand to another den.
It's a lot of things to do: maintain the buildings, move between the villagers, watch the attacking monsters on both sides of the stone path. It's easy to lose the thread of resources. When the lumber camps are short of trees, the workers sit idle until you get to the building and remove them, which frees them from working elsewhere. The game never told me that. The game never really explained the divine powers that Helios had. I had to discover this for myself. It's sometimes fun, but when you're attacked from all sides and trying to build defenses to realize that you need more wood, you have to build roads, a logging camp and a house for the camp to need workers and ARRRGHHHH.
Moreover, the story that unfolds at the same time does not help. Something about a girl who has lost faith and a grandfather who devotes himself to Helios worship. Their dialog box comes and goes at the worst moments, interrupting complex shots and canceling selections I'm trying to make in the radial menu of the game.
It's too much, too fast. Our own Chris Person played the first 14 minutes of the game in the video below, then spent more than 14 minutes complaining with me.
SolSeraph is no ActRaiser. If anything made me want to go back and play the classic SNES again. The simple platform. Self-constructing cities. That's what a god should be.