It seems like just a few weeks ago I was writing about the grandeur and glory of the classic Enix-published SNES game, Actraiser. That game was special for a great many reasons, and it is considered one of the best early SNES games by a host of veteran gamers. Now, 29 years later, publisher Sega and developer Ace Team have rolled out a game that strikes uncomfortably close to Actraiser in almost every way — a wonderful game called SolSeraph.
SolSeraph borrows heavily from Actraiser in both story and play style — well, both play styles. Players take control of a Divine Knight named Helios, who is tasked with battling the evil Young Gods, who have twisted the world in dark directions in retaliation for the neglect they feel from the elder gods, Sky Father and Earth Mother, the two gods who created all of existence.
Helios is part god and part man, and armed with a sword, shield, and bow, he clears out each level of goblins, beastmen, evil birds — because there has to be evil birds — and more. There are six unique lands that require Helios’ assistance. Each starts with a side-scrolling level, and then the meat of the game opens with a real-time strategy (RTS) mode where Helios guides the creation of new villages.
He instructs villagers where to build homes, plant crops, harvest trees, and more. The Young Gods send their beast armies to these villages to disrupt their construction, so Helios must also build defenses and standing armies, and it’s all juggled in real time. Once the village grows large enough to explore the dark areas, monster lairs are uncovered for Helios to go and clear out with a side-scrolling level. The land is cleared after one more side-scrolling level that ends with a huge boss. Rinse, repeat.
The graphics are decidedly better than anything a 16-bit console could have done, and the music, as expected from a game about warring gods, is sweeping and epic. The controls are a bit laggy in spots, especially when Helios is battling jumping goblins, archers with ranged bows, and swooping evil birds (why does it always have to be birds?!) and using the D-pad instead of a joystick is a must for better precision.
The levels and the enemies grow stale after a few levels. You get a green goblins in the forest level, white goblins for the snow level, red-orange for the volcano level, etc. But one part that never gets old are the RTS levels.
I’m a fan of this game genre and SolSeraph has a decent mode here. Parts of the mode feel linear, as if the game is pushing the player to build in certain directions, so you lose the feeling of freedom. But you can delay taking out the final boss of each level and just build up, and then survive wave after wave of enemies for a good time.
If this game is an homage, SolSeraph nails it. But as a longtime player and fan of Actraiser, I can’t help but feel a little perplexed with this new game. I love Ace Team, as The Deadly Tower of Monsters is one of my favorite games of the last five years. But SolSeraph feels less like homage and more like plagiarism.
I’m not sure where the line is drawn for the distinction, but these two games are exceptionally close in how they are executed. I have enjoyed playing a game like this again, don’t get me wrong, but I cannot turn the part of my mind off that screams “You’ve played this before!”
I also recognize that as an older player, I had the luxury of playing Actraiser when it first came out, and I might be the minority here. For new players who have never had the joy of playing that Enix classic, SolSeraph is a must play game, as the amalgamation of sword-swinging side-scroller and world-building RTS still works incredibly well for a video game. And Ace Team did a splendid job in developing it.