If I could summon a whole bunch of people to do things for me it would make my life much, much better. Imagine a team of people cleaning the house at your command, doing the shopping or invading a small country. Ok, perhaps it’s best to forget that last one.
In Masters of Anima, you get the ability to do that very thing, but it’s a much bolder and heroic mission your little workers will have to go on than heading off to the local shop to get a pint of milk.
The gameplay found in Masters of Anima borrows a bit from everything, mixing it all together to make something very good indeed. There’s a hint of Final Fantasy, a big dollop of Pikmin and a whole dash of Torchlight.
You play the role of Otto, an apprentice shaper who is betrothed to the head of the order to save your fiancee, Ana. As a shaper, your job is to transfer green energy to summon guardians that will do the fighting for you. At the start of the story, we find out that the shapers have lived in peace for years, and Otto is just finishing the last bit of his apprenticeship. But would you believe it, as in all games, peace doesn’t last for long as an evil sorcerer comes along to awakens the enemies of the shaper… the golems. What’s more, Ana’s essence is split by magic into three parts and it’s up to you to journey out and capture the bits of Ana to make her whole again. It’s a good story and the writing is pretty great. There are plenty of tropes and narrative arcs that have been used before, but Masters of Anima does all this in a very charming way indeed.
The gameplay is clearly explained – after all, you are just an apprentice. The option to utilise an attack and move around the world in a fairly normal fashion is all par for the course, but it is when the main skill kicks in that we see the fun begin. You can summon an army of helpers to help you, and this is related according to how much green energy you acquire. These helpers can be protectors, archers, gladiator types or even characters that summon their own mini me’s, all ready to attack your enemy and unleash some hell. It’s all about strategy, working out the playing field, then deciding on the best course of action. Do you concentrate all your firepower on the strongest enemy first? Do you split the enemy’s focus and attack from all sides? Do you keep moving your team around so that the enemy can’t attack you? These options ensure that the battles bring a freshness and originality that is hugely enjoyable, even though from the halfway point of the campaign things do grow a bit weary with little variety in the type of enemies on offer and the same old fighting chore.
You do get a grade after each fight and achievements will flood your way should the obsessives and highly skilled players be able to hit out the perfect battle. You can also use your summons to move objects and progress through certain areas and levels via puzzle solving mechanics.
Masters of Anima brings upgrades and skills galore to obtain as you make your way through the world, levelling your character up. The gameplay is challenging and you find yourself dying a fair bit initially, but as things progress and you start to understand different strategies in battle, you’ll fast find things becoming easier. The whole experience is a pleasant one and the intuitive control system all works well enough, whilst being very easy to handle.
Visually, and in the looks department, this is a game that has a lovely vibrant colourful design about it. It uses static drawings in the cutscenes that work well and the world is one that I have always looked forward to entering and experiencing. The character design is good, without being breathtaking, and the menu layout is excellent. The audio meanwhile brings a good mixture of pleasing effects and a fantastic score that moves the action along nicely, keeping you interested as the action plays out. The voiceover work is rather good as well, with some heart to the performances and well-acted dialogue.
I have really enjoyed my journey with Masters of Anima, and that comes as a bit of a surprise because I have to admit that my initial thoughts were of concern. The gameplay is fun and easy to pick up, whilst the mixture of action and strategy can be very rewarding. The battles can get a bit samey after a while and it starts to drag a bit in the middle, but exploring the charming world and summoning a small army of helpers keeps things relatively exciting.
If you’re after a unique adventure that borrows ideas from a load of games, but beats its own drum loudly, then Masters of Anima might just be worth adding to your collection.