Masters of Anima Review
Summon as Fast as You Can!
Masters of Anima is a hybrid of RPG and RTS games, mixing and matching elements of the two genres. With a novel control scheme and progression system, and a number of fresh combat mechanics, its mission-based gameplay offers an experience that feels like a cross between Pikmin and Diablo. The simplistic story, underdeveloped combat encounters, and short length make for an overall experience that, while enjoyable, is also forgettable.
The story in Masters of Anima is straightforward and simple, with little in the way of surprises or deep character development, and has the feel of a short children’s fairy tale. It stars Otto, a would-be Shaper setting off to take the trials required to actually become one. Shapers are able to use the power of Anima to build and animate guardians, stone creatures powered by Anima that will do the Shaper’s bidding. They can carry out a multitude of actions including fighting in RTS battles and interacting with objects in the environment. Otto’s not particularly thrilled about becoming a Shaper, but as his fiancée Ana is the Supreme Shaper, the laws of the land forbid the marriage until Otto completes the trials. During the trials, Zahr, for reasons yet unknown, attacks and breaks Ana into 3 pieces — heart, mind, and body — and takes down the Heartshield protecting the game’s world from Anima’s raw and untamed form. This sets in motion the game’s events as Otto sets off on a quest to find and recombine Ana. The interactions with the different parts of Ana’s personality are interesting and well-executed and in general the story is serviceable, but nothing to really write home about.
Gameplay is mission-based. There is no world map, only a set of ten maps to sequentially explore, though many are large and can take upwards of an hour to get through. Each map has many paths to take, secrets to find, and puzzles to solve. Exploration is rewarded with meaningful treasures that boost Otto’s stats and other collectibles, though it can begin to get stale as the game progresses due to a total lack of an item and equipment system. In addition to upgrade treasures, Otto can level up from battle experience, earning skill points to improve his guardians, himself, and to increase the number of guardians he can summon at a time. Unfortunately, most improvements are both passive and minor. Most character growth comes through progressing in the story and unlocking each of the different guardian types that specialize in different tasks and which Otto can summon to help him in combat and to progress through the maps. Some guardians can push large blocks, others can shoot targets in the distance, and yet others can hold up protective barriers. Figuring out how to use guardians to make progress is a nice addition that enhances exploration.
The combat in Masters of Anima combines hack-and-slash and RTS elements, with a stronger lean toward RTS. Otto can summon large groups from five types of different guardians, each specializing in different functions. To summon guardians, Otto must expend Anima, which can be found on the mission maps and on the bodies of defeated guardians and enemies, or generated by certain guardians. For longer fights, summoning the correct balance of guardians to dish out damage while also generating enough Anima is critical to success. Players will spend the majority of fights repositioning their units to avoid enemy attacks and ordering them to attack enemies. On occasion, Otto can command guardians to trigger special attacks at the correct moment in order to stun enemies. Because unit management is quite hectic, players will not often be able to use Otto to attack enemies, though that is also an option when guardians don’t need to be actively managed.
The combat mechanics in Masters of Anima are unique. Between active management of units to avoid telegraphed attacks, and the highly differentiated functions of each unit opening up numerous strategies, there’s a lot to like there. Combat is fast-paced and hectic, in a fun way. Difficult fights require full attention and the ability to quickly respond to ever-changing situations — including both executing the right actions but also managing spatial positioning. It offers a great balance of both strategic planning and timely execution. Unfortunately, much of the system’s potential remains unfulfilled, with combat that is hampered by repetitive enemy design and at times frustrating controls. Indeed, while the game is easy overall, much of the challenge in the harder fights comes from the difficulty of issuing the proper commands to units. A multitude of button combinations to remember in order to execute different commands, the difficulty selecting different unit types and groups, the inability to pause and queue up commands, and the fact that one wrong button press can result in losing enough units to make a battle unwinnable all can lead to frustration. The experience is made yet worse because combat is timed, and not killing enemies quickly enough results in losing the battle. Still, the easy balance in most fights means that the negative aspects only affect a minority of battles.
Masters of Anima features a simple and colorful graphical look. The graphics and environments are generally aesthetically pleasing, though the lack of variety in both environments and especially enemy visuals get stale toward the game’s end. The music has a few notable tracks, and is generally well-produced, but doesn’t make too much of an impression. The voice acting is enjoyable and fits the game’s simple, fairytale-like narrative, but can at times come off as one-dimensional on account to the dialogue’s simplicity. Overall, the game’s graphical, aural, and narrative presentation can be summarized as polished and competent, but limited in scope.
Masters of Anima provides a unique and effective blend of mechanics from different genres while inventing a few new ones of its own. The combat requires a combination of both strategy and real-time execution that will keep players at the edge of their seats in tougher encounters. Its simple approach to presentation is enjoyable and light-hearted, and will generally engage players throughout. Unfortunately, with frustrating combat controls, multiple underdeveloped combat encounters, and limited scope of the narrative, characters, and other facets of presentation, the game’s full potential is never realized. This isn’t a game that will be talked about for years to come, but it’s a worthwhile experience. The developers are definitely on to something here, and one can hope that future iterations will take its great ideas and improve on them with a more fully fleshed out experience.
Novel and interesting mechanics
Generally polished presentation
Frustrating design decisions around combat
Limited scope of story