At first glance I thought Masters of Anima seemed like a very simple hack, slash and leg it sort of game. I was very wrong. Colourful graphics and a playful tone hide a tricky little game with puzzles, tough strategic battles and the occasional rage-quit. Masters of Anima is a gorgeous force to be reckoned with.
Otto doesn’t really want to be a Shaper – a master and wielder of anima magic – but his finance, a powerful shaper herself, insists. If Otto wants to get his leg over/marry her he’ll have to take the Shapers test. When the day of the test comes, everything falls apart and it’s up to Otto to travel the land using his new found powers to rescue his girl and save the world.
Unfortunately being a wielder of magic is not as simple as pointing a magic stick and zapping stuff. Anima orbs must be collected from the environment and stored in Otto’s staff. As soon as enough has been collected Otto can conjure a small group of magical AI guardians that will obey his every instruction. They will follow him around the map, attack on command and move heavy objects. The more Anima Otto collects the more groups you can conjure at any one time up to a limit. As you progress through the game new AI types will become available and the quantity of allowed groups at a time will increase.
Different guardian types have vastly different uses, vulnerabilities and advantages. Much of the game is made up of environmental puzzles that will need each of your guardian types to perform some sort of action, sometimes simultaneously and sometimes quickly. Each type also has different uses in battle and it’s useful to think of the puzzle parts of the game as training for the battles. You’ll need some co-ordination if you’re going to be victorious.
While Otto can attack, his use in a fight is somewhat limited. He is much better suited to conjuring, commanding and, most importantly, maintaining his forces. Enemies need to be swarmed, overwhelmed and stunned with shield-bashing protectors, leaving them open to assaults from the more vulnerable ranged attackers. You’ll also need a supply of healers that will help produce a steady stream of Anima orbs so that you can replace fallen guardians with more troops of the same type. Placement is also very important. You wouldn’t want to put all your healers in one spot lest they all get whacked by the same angry Golem. So when you conjure them, you’ll want to spread them out a bit and then keep an eye on where everyone is. Having to command groups out of the way of attacks is very common and often you’ll have to recall absolutely everyone from a major attack and then replace them back into strategic spots, all the while being careful that poor Otto himself doesn’t get too many cracks on the noggin. It’s an extreme juggling act that requires lots of observation, quick reactions and an experience you’ll only get with practice.
This all might sound a bit fiddly and honestly it is. It can feel quite overwhelming, like you just can’t conjure and place guardians quick enough. All it takes is to accidentally recall all your troops out of position one too many times and it feels like the end of the world. It’s very easy for a boss fight to spiral out of your control. Luckily the game does have good checkpoints so if you do lose a boss fight you can simply have a do-over. If you die during a level you’ll go back to the last check point, which won’t be very far away.
Masters of Anima is a gorgeous looking game with a very pretty art style. The environments are relatively enclosed but there are secrets and collectables to find just about everywhere. There is a very subtle little arrow which will point the way forward, but often there will be other ways to get to the same point or little detours to find that will offer puzzles and prizes. There’s usually something to do on every screen whether it’s breaking jars to find hidden Anima, uncovering a secret entrance or finding permanent extra health. You never quite know what’s waiting for you next, and while the battles are enormous fun I personally found the environmental puzzles to be even more engrossing and entertaining.
As the story unfolds and new guardians unlock, things start to get more complicated. The game eases you in very gently and introduces controls and gameplay in a clever and structured way. Battles become bigger and longer and puzzles become more complex. There are some very easy parts to the game but there are most certainly some difficult parts that offer up a much greater challenge.
With its tactical, colourful and chaotically fun battles, Masters of Anima never stops. Clever pacing means things don’t get repetitive with new guardians unlocking and tougher puzzles to figure out. A sweet and funny story top off what turns out to be a super little game.
S J Hollis Rating – 8/10
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