ACTRAISER / Enix / SNES (1991)

Actraiser was among the first titles released for the Super Nintendo, and it's a pretty excellent hybrid of side-scrolling action and real-time strategy with a unique premise. You're in the role of this guy called The Master, a sort of guardian deity of some little fantasy land. You're basically a god, but kind of a weak one, as you've been sealed up by monsters and only now just revived to find they've taken the joint over and humanity has been wiped out.

The game starts out as a fairly standard side-scroller, albeit a pretty good one, with a touch of Castlevania in the play control and moody detailed graphics. However, you alternate between these levels and between developing your land, which is where the real-time strategy comes in. The world is broken up into seven different areas - each area usually requires you to first go through some kind of side-scrolling dungeon to kill a boss monster, then that part of the land is "seeded" with two people and a temple. It's up to you to protect and guide them as they grow and repopulate the land.

During these scenarios the view is from overhead, and you control an arrow-shooting cherub who has to guard the burgeoning villages by shooting down various monsters that come to steal villagers for a snack and torch their houses for fun. The first objective in any area is to uncover and guide your people to these various monster spawn points, where they seal the portals of evil off on their own. To do this, and to make room for future expansion, you have to use various Miracles to reshape the terrain - using lightning to clearcut forests, using the sun's rays to dry up swamps, and so on. The more the population swells, the more life points are added on to your health bar for the side-scrolling levels where the whole thing culminates in a final battle with the ultimate evil of the region.

Lots of other little things are going on though - over time your people stumble across discoveries such as bridge-building and music, which you can bring to other lands to improve them. There's hidden stuff to be found on every level by using the right miracle at the right obscure place, and the people engage you with various little crises of their own that you have to use your powers to solve. Topped off by an exceptional symphonic musical score by Yuzo Koshiro, the only complaints about the game are minor - it's a little too short, and there's not much to do in each area but sit around and wait for babies to be born once you've expanded to all its squares.

Links :

Actraiser Sprite Shrine
Actraiser Symphonic Suite
Instruction Manual
Actraiser v.s. Google Earth

Videos :

Gameplay Video