A conversation with Actraiser Renaissance Director Hideo Iwasaki

Sassy angels, human heroes and some ideas that didn’t quite make it in. We talk everything Actraiser with the new game’s Director.
By Duncan Heaney

Actraiser Renaissance was a wonderful surprise for many gamers.

The original Super Famicom / Super Nintendo game was a true original, fusing city building and platforming in a way that still feels unique even 30 years later. A revival of this beloved classic was a very exciting prospect indeed.

But Actraiser Renaissance is no simple remake. The new version reinvents the original game for modern audiences, bringing modern visuals, revised gameplay, improved level layouts, and even entirely new features into the mix.

And yet, for all its new ideas, it still captures the spirit of the original game perfectly. That can’t have been easy for the team to pull off, so we got in touch with the game’s talented director, Hideo Iwasaki, to find out how the team achieved it.

Actraiser Renaissance trailer

Hello Mr Iwasaki - thanks for talking with us. Let’s start with the obvious question: why bring back Actraiser?

We got so many requests from players about a revival of the Super Famicon (and Super Nintendo) version of Actraiser.

The 30th anniversary of the original Japanese release was coming up, so we decided to create Actraiser Renaissance to meet that player demand.

Actraiser Renaissance screenshot

What was it about that original release that makes it so fondly remembered, even now?

I think it was because of the fusion of platforming and city-building - that’s a game concept that still feels fresh and unique today. And also because of the amazing music composed by Mr. Yuzo Koshiro, of course!

What was the first thing you did when you started the remake project?

We examined the Super Famicon version again in precise detail and the team debated which parts to keep and which to change.

For example, at the time the original game was released, players wanted games to be difficult for the sake of it. This meant was that there were many parts where the game balance or the placement of interactive items were irrational when looked at from a modern player’s perspective. We reviewed these kinds of issues carefully.

On the other hand, we tried to retain the layouts and mechanics from the original version which we judged not to have any issues, as much as possible. We wanted to make sure that the feel of the original version would not be undermined.

What struck me when I played it is how even with new layouts and improved visuals, areas retain the same feel of the original. How did you achieve that?

We retained the mechanics from the original as much as possible.

For example, the walking tree that appears in Fillmore Act 1 was a difficult obstacle to get through in the original game, but we decided to retain it. We thought it would play an important part in reviving the gameplay feel of that time.

Also, all the monsters from the original have been brought back, albeit with upgraded appearances.

It must have been challenging to balance that blend of new and old though…

Yes - if we departed too far from the original, the users would not recognise it as Actraiser, but if we just retained the original features, we wouldn’t gain any support from new players.

That balance was what caused us the most trouble during development. In order to overcome the problem, we had internal discussions every time we added new graphics and game elements or scenarios to make sure that the changes were made with due respect to the original version.

One new thing added to the game is the Settlement Siege mode. What were the inspirations behind that?

It came from the idea that the game’s antagonist Tanzra (and his subordinates, the local bosses of each area) wouldn’t just stand idly by and watch the Lord of Light rebuild towns in the areas they control.

Also, everything was left to the angel in the original game, even when monsters appeared from their nests. One of our aims in Actraiser Renaissance was to add more depth to the relationship between the Lord and the people by having the people face the threat themselves.

I love the heroes you can bring into the Settlement Sieges. How did you come up with these characters?

The heroes’ personalities were decided based on the characteristics of each area in the original version.

For example, the Fillmore region was based on an idyllic community in the time of Greek mythology, so we created Philotas in the image of a hero from Greek myths.

As another example, Aitos has a volcano like Mt. Fuji and the monsters in the action part resemble Japanese spectres (yokai), which gave birth to Migrana, who reflects the image of the mythical era in Japan.

We also developed the heroes’ characters by adding stories that related to the events in the original, such as the appearance of a pyramid, and construction of a mysterious temple.

Do you have a particular favorite hero?

I like all the characters, so I can’t choose just one as my favourite!

But one story that left an impression was that of Teddy from Bloodpool, who also appeared in the original, and Daniella, who grows stronger as her relationship with Teddy deepens.

Did you ever consider a mode where your heroes take on an enemy settlement rather than defending their own?

No - the heroes are very strong, but they’re still human. Protecting their own settlements takes all their might, and they have to leave the rest to the player, the Lord of Light. That’s the basic lore of this game, so we didn’t consider elements such as attacks on enemy settlements.

One thing players really love are the funny conversations heroes have with your sassy angel advisor. What made you take this approach with the character?

The heroes do not worship the player, the Lord of Light, from the beginning. On the other hand, the angel believes that the Lord is absolute, so they come into conflict with each other at times.

That said, the humans are not enemies of the Lord of Light and the angel, so we thought the interactions between them should be comical to some extent. And while the angel does throw some sarcastic words at people, as in the original version, we took care to include dialogue which shows that, underneath, they cherish the people the same way that the Lord does.

Another new addition to the game is the final world - Alcaleone. It’s quite different to the other areas…

Alcaleone was born from our desire to try settling a map that was more expansive than any in the original version.

As the heroes’ stories were in an omnibus format in each region, we thought that we would need a scenario where the six heroes can gather together and interact at the same time. We decided to use “Alcaleone” as the stage for that story.

Was there anything you wanted to add to the game that didn’t make it in?

We were able to achieve most of what we had in mind but there was one thing that didn’t make it to the final cut.

At first, we were considering a system where a different title would be given to the player’s alter ego, the Lord of Light, depending on their actions. For example, if you chose a play style which resulted in excessive destruction of the village, you would be called the “God of Destruction,” while if you minimised the destruction or gave alms to the people, you would be called the “God of Goodness,” and so on.

However, in actuality, there wasn’t much difference in play style between different players, as was the case with the original version, so we ended up dropping the idea.

Finally, is there anything you’d like to say to fans who have experienced the new game?

I hope you are enjoying Actraiser Renaissance, which has been revived after 30 years.

Everyone in the development team worked day in and day out to create a game that would be enjoyable to those who played the original, as well as those who are playing it for the first time.

We would be absolutely delighted if you enjoy the newly added parts in this title, as well as the elements carried over from the original version!

Many thanks to Mr Iwasaki for taking the time to answer our questions. Actraiser was always a one-of-a-kind game, and Actraiser Renaissance perfectly fuses that original spirit with smart new ideas.

If you haven’t given it a go yet yourselves, we urge you to give it a go. It’s available now on PS4, Switch, Steam, and for mobile devices.

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