Imitation is often heralded as the biggest form of flattery. This saying rings true in all walks of life but is even more true in the entertainment industry. Many actors will channel a hero’s performance style, many musicians will use a legend’s particular style and sound. Video games are no different, and the ‘smaller’ released games will often borrow some elements from a more well-known title, whether that be gameplay mechanics, story structure or level pacing. Sometimes it doesn’t come off too well and they imitate the source material a bit too much, and it is then that they just end up copying their inspiration. Most of the time, however, it does work, and that is exactly the case with Masters of Anima.
The story is a familiar tale but also quite refreshing. You’ll be playing as Otto, an apprentice in the magic of Anima. Using Anima, those gifted enough can create and summon guardians. These guardians were used to fight the evil Golems many, many years ago in the land of Spark, but they have laid dormant and the Guardians are now just used for everyday jobs. Just after Otto passes his final test to become a Shaper, evil strikes once more, and it is up to Otto to save the world of Spark from total destruction. It is a story that takes inspiration from The Lord of the Rings and The Legend of Zelda, and that is a common theme throughout Masters of Anima: inspiration. One fresh aspect here though is Otto and, particularly, his motivation. When the whole world starts to go to pot, Otto doesn’t act like our generic heroes, he doesn’t set out to save the world. Instead, he sets out to save his girlfriend who has been kidnapped. It’s a refreshing take on a hero’s journey that, at least at first, the main protagonist is solely motivated to save his loved one and not the world.
Outside of the story, the gameplay takes its inspiration from a well known and much loved Nintendo release: Pikmin. Much like the beloved GameCube title, Otto has the ability to summon Guardians who are essentially totally obedient soldiers. The list of commands is limited, however, to “move over there”, “come back to me”, “move that object” and “attack that”. Sometimes the easy and simple option is the best option, and that is certainly the case in Masters of Anima. Controlling your horde of Guardians, which can reach up to 100, is easy to learn and a lot of fun. Having complicated controls to command them would have been fine if this was only a PC release as you could bind certain controls and commands to a key, but being a console release too, the controls in Masters of Anima had to be simple and easy to use. The simplicity of the controls is a blessing during the combat in this game. Combat here can be brutal at times, especially if you choose the wrong Guardians to have your back during a fight. Otto himself can join in the combat, but he is generally pretty useless, and his melee attacks with his staff are more a last resort than a go-to tactic. Instead, you’ll be managing the battlefield. Think Command & Conquer but on a much smaller scale. After each battle, you are also ranked on how you perform, a bit like in Devil May Cry. It is a great little feature that will give reason to go back and play levels again to try and better your score.
You need to actively watch the battle in front of you, you cannot simply just order the Guardians to attack and then sit back, relax and expect a victory. The Golems you fight can be extremely tough at times, and if left unchecked they can totally obliterate your Guardians. You’ll need to move the Guardians away from charge and throw attacks and also make sure certain Guardians are positioned correctly to maximise their own attacks. Thanks to the simple controls, generally it isn’t too much of a challenge during the early levels to keep your Guardians away from harm. If you have two or more different types of Guardians with you, simply hitting the right trigger on whichever controller you are using selects the entire type of Guardian. When a Golem is gearing up to attack, all you need to do is select the Guardians in harm’s way and command them to come back to you. It gets a lot tougher than this the further into the game you get, and if there is more than one Golem, then that can also be a challenge, but thanks to the controls for the most part you never feel a boss or battle is impossible. The only difficulty with console controls is when you do not need to select an entire type of Guardian, like if you only want 5, for argument’s sake. In this instance, you need to hold the X button where a semi-circle will appear, and then you move this around how many units you need. The problem lies in that all the Guardians sort of clump together, so you really need the delicate touch of a mouse for this, but this really is the only issue with the console controls; otherwise, they have been perfectly ported over.
Away from the combat, the Guardians can be used to destroy objects blocking paths and to solve some simple puzzles that stand before you. Masters of Anima is not an open-world RPG, instead it is split into levels. Each level is decent in size, and there is cause to explore and hunt around for objects that help with levelling up Otto and his Guardians. The simple design of the world and characters are quite charming, but it can look slightly blurry while playing in handheld mode. A truly great feature here is the voice acting. Usually with an indie release like this, there are limited voice-overs and the dialogue is just left to text, but not only are Masters of Anima’s characters voiced, the cast does a fantastic job of voicing them.
Developer: Passtech Games
Publisher: Focus Home Interactive
Platforms: PS4, Xbox One, PC and Nintendo Switch
Release Date: 10th April 2018