Masters of Anima Review – Mastering Hordes of Enjoyment
Platforms: PC, Nintendo Switch, PS4, Xbox One
Developer: Passtech Games
Publisher: Focus Home Interactive
Release: 10th April 2018
I have a fetish for games like Overlord, I don´t know why but I just love those kinda games. So, when I first saw Masters of Anima, which was in its release date press release to admit, the game instantly enchanted me. Luckily, it turned out better than Extinction, another game that enchanted me on first sight.
When Otto finally becomes a full-blown Anima mage, able to summon guardians that fight alongside him, the golems return, in order to devastate the earth. While they´re at it, they even kidnap Otto´s fiancée, so now it´s up to us to both save the world and our future wife, before the world and its Anima are consumed by darkness.
As expected, Masters of Anima doesn´t try to tell a giant, interwoven story. Mostly focusing on a cliché, silly set-up its main goal consists of providing entertainment, in form of surprisingly well-written characters. Surely, the sceptic grandfather or love-birdy fiancée aren´t revolutions in this department but often fulfil their role to a surprisingly high degree. Each of them has an own way of talking and some neat puns even. While it´s still not on par with something like Neptunia in terms of stupidity, the writing can often find a cool balance between boring exposition and entertaining dialogues, which I really liked. Given, the actual events aren´t captivating nor interesting, yet packed in a cool coat. Considering how few of the playtime is actually spent in textboxes, even someone who can´t enjoy the story can easily skip it without missing much. For me though, the fact our grunts don´t have the slightest shred of personality is probably the biggest problem of the whole thing. Damn how I loved Overlord dumb grunts.
The true core though is the gameplay, where Masters of Anima truly shines. Similar to Overlord or Pikmin, Otto can control dozens of little guys, called guardians in this case. Those can be summoned anytime using the resource Anima, displayed as little circles on the bottom right of the screen. Each circle can summon a fixed number of them, depending on their class. However, if you might´ve thought it became obsolete to destroy every barrel in the map, you thought wrong. Actually, it became only slightly less important, as they still give you Anima, leading to higher troop numbers, hence making the levels easier but since it´s almost impossible to lose battles even without those little bonuses, I ended up ignoring them most of the time.
Speaking of difficulty, the biggest problem of its design is this exact thing. Levels consist of battles and puzzles and those two can´t simply balance each other out very well. The puzzles in particular never quite surpass rudimentary things like “move this box”, as they´re the easiest way to make use of the guardians in an easy way. As a result, Otto is forced to use his armies a surprising amount of time to push things around, in order to create a path. Since there are only a limited amount of things you can do with this concept, they quickly become repetitive and incredibly easy to predict. It should´ve been a great opportunity to expand onto the given things, yet, in its final form, those riddles never even challenged me throughout the game.
On the other hand, the real-time combat can become a bit too hard at certain times. Because Otto mainly fights with his guardians, instead of relying on his own skills, micro-management becomes a huge part of Masters of Anima. By being able to either send them to attack an enemy or recall them to you, it´s possible to dodge pretty much any attack. Later on in particular, when more enemies throw more and more AOE attacks at you, dodging those is essential. Yet, once you gave the guardians an order, they´re usually deselected, meaning you first have to select them all again before giving another order. I don´t know why it´s implemented but things like this let the game feel way clunkier than needed. Combined with the different unit classes, each with their own pros and cons, the last third not only becomes a chore to micromanage but also to keep track of all your units. Despite all those things though, the base gameplay of controlling up to 100 little grunts as an individual army feels great. Similar to Pikmin or Overlord but even more densely populated, I, as one who loves being able to control so many units in tactical battles, was still able to enjoy the game.
Besides battles and puzzles, there´s not much to it, so don´t expect the creativity a Pikmin may bring to the table. The lack of variety or ideas throughout the game leads to an extremely repetitive feeling. When everything is mostly a linear corridor with some battles and moveable objects, the whole thing could´ve been way more combat focused, which at least provides a challenge without slowing down the whole pacing. Since later on, puzzles rely more and more on precision, which isn´t a strong point of Masters of Anima´s controls or controlling big blobs of units in general.
Speaking of which, anyone expecting to play the game with keyboard and mouse should probably be warned: Don´t do it. While it´s officially supported, there´s no way one could have much fun with clunky gamepad controls ported directly to the PC. Otherwise, Masters of Anima´s art style was another reason why it got me so interested. The guardians, golems, characters or visual quality in general, everything looks unique, distinct and just nice. Once more than a few dozens of units are on the screen during a giant battle, the game truly shows its muscles. For a small indie studio, a great achievement.
Despite my initial worries about having to witness yet another promising game turn into boredom, Masters of Anima can actually deliver on its promises. Being a fun game in style of Pikmin or Overlord, it doesn´t reinvent the formula but is nonetheless a fun experience. With an amazing art style and fun, though flawed, gameplay, I enjoyed my time way more than expected.
[A Review Code was provided by Focus Home Interactive]