Like many Super Nintendo enthusiasts out there, ActRaiser is a game that I hold in high regards.
Striving to be more than a simple action platformer, a gameplay style that was seen just about anywhere during that era, ActRaiser blended the genre with a much less common city building simulator. SolSeraph acts as a modern spiritual successor to ActRaiser, once again combining the two genres that helped make ActRaiser such a unique title. Unfortunately, while all the necessary parts for making SolSeraph just as great as the game it’s trying to honour, they don’t come together nearly as well as they should.
Developed by Ace Team, SolSeraph has players take the role of the Knight of Dawn, Helios. After the young gods attacked mankind and scattered them across the world, players are asked to help humanity rebuild while protecting them from incoming waves of monsters. SolSeraph’s story isn’t particularly original by today’s standards and is pretty thin overall. In fact, anyone familiar with the light amount of plot in ActRaiser may walk away feeling that SolSeraph struggled to tell the same story despite featuring more text.
Taking a page from ActRaiser, SolSeraph separates itself into two distinct types of gameplay. The action segments of SolSeraph work as a side-scrolling platformer. Here, players control Helios directly travel to the end of the stage where a boss encounter usually awaits. While the platforming itself is a bit imbalanced, feeling too weighted in some moments and too floaty in others. Coupling this with some messy level design can make SolSeraph look like a bit of an unpolished mess at times. Fortunately, Helios does have a variety of skills for players to master which can make each trek a somewhat easier and more enjoyable experience. He can perform a three-hit strike by pressing the attack button, defend against oncoming attacks, double jump, evade and fire off magic arrows. Fans of Castlevania: Symphony of the Night should feel right at home with SolSeraph’s controls.
While SolSeraph’s second half was no doubt inspired by ActRaiser’s city-building gameplay, it actually shares much more in common with a tower defence game. Players build homes to increase their tribe’s population while other structures are used to gather resources such as food or wood. Defensive structures such as soldier barracks and archer outposts can also be created to have available tribe members to protect their land. As time progresses, enemies will spawn and seek out the flame at the tribe’s center in order to put it out, resulting in a game over. Despite looking forward to returning to a mode similar to what was only featured in the first ActRaiser game, I found SolSeraph’s God Mode to either be stressful or boring. When I wasn’t simply watching three tribespeople slowly whittle away at a group of monster’s health, I would be frustrated they let one little slip through in the process. Though SolSeraph gives players freedom in designing the layout of their little towns, it ultimately makes little difference. As long as the defensive structures are in place to intercept monsters, none of the others matter in terms of where they’re placed.
Visually, SolSeraph is almost entirely bland. Environments lack any real sense of distinction, following the typical fantasy tropes of forests, deserts, mountains etc. Enemies follow suit in this regard as well, with many of the incoming hordes featuring limited animations that often lead to their movements appearing awkward. During the RTS portions of the game, SolSeraph doesn’t fare much better. Although the game’s character artwork does better differentiate SolSeraph’s five playable areas and some unique charm to its graphics, nothing like this is shown during actual gameplay. The models of human townspeople are completely indistinguishable from each other and the same goes for the invading monsters. Zooming in on the camera only adds to this problem by giving a better look at SolSeraph’s repeated character models.
SolSeraph has all the makings of a great title but fails to execute any of them in a way that doesn’t create some sort of monotony. I’m not sure if it was a lack of effort or a lack of understanding as to what made the original city sim/action platformer so great, but it’s obvious that something vital is missing in SolSeraph. I’ve always believed that a game like ActRaiser could really benefit from a modern remake or successor. I still believe that now, but SolSeraph has managed to put a dent in that faith.