Masters of Anima is a strategy based game that shares a concept that’s not too unlike that of Overlord. The game throws you into the role of a young shaper known as Otto and it soon transpires that Otto’s girlfriend has been fragmented by the evil Zahra. It’s not as gory as it sounds, quite the opposite as a matter of fact. Masters of Anima takes place within the fantasy world of Spark, a place in which Anima is a mystical type of energy that’s tethered to everything that exists within the world, think Final Fantasy VII’s life-form. This energy can be harnessed by those that practice its utilization, with Otto being one of them. Ana, Otto’s love interest, just so happens to be a titular Master of Anima. Following her unfortunate predicament, it now falls to the somewhat arrogant Otto to save her.
It’s a pretty clear cut story as far as fantasy plots go, but it manages to do the trick nevertheless. So, what’s a shaper? Long ago Golems went to war against humanity and the only logical way to fight back was through the use of Anima, thus shapers were born. Shapers, or mages to be exact, house the ability to construct devastating Guardians. These Guardians were used to fight back against the Golems. The aforementioned antagonist, Zahra, is out to bring back the Golems power, lending the game a backbone good vs evil sort of story to chew on. Prior to these events, Otto was merely trying to prove himself to his lover by leaning different skills to summon a Guardian, subsequently hoping to show her that he was ready for the final test – become a fully fledged certified shaper.
Masters of Anima does a good job at feeding you the basics of play via a short and informative tutorial. Here, you’ll learn the controls, the concept of the previously alluded to Guardians, as well as some other useful tidbits of intel. Gameplay typically consists of moving from one location to the next, killing a bunch of Golems and improving your health and Anima in the process. The game also throws in the occasional puzzle in an attempt to keep the gameplay interesting, but sadly falls flat instead. Masters of Anima reeks of potential, though fails to grasp that that’s really all that it has throughout. It’s a shame really, because the underlining concept is surprisingly well executed. However, the repetition and lack of evolution just fails to maintain that initial allure.
The controls are simple and straightforward. You can move Otto around with the left stick and attack (B) with your staff, or summon a Guardian via the trigger. Once a Guardian has been summoned, you’re able to guide them exactly where you want them to be, or indeed have them execute whatever command you want them to follow. This amounts to little more than pushing blocks, handling large switches, or neutralizing path-blocking red crystals. Despite the fact that this system gives the game its diversity and unique theme, it hardly bolsters the adventure elsewhere. Masters of Anima is a tough game to overcome. When it’s one on one during a fight, there’s not much of an issue, but when the numbers start tipping away from your favor, the game’s flawed design choices make themselves apparent.
Guardians are mindless, leaving total control up to Otto. Otto will need to tell them what to do and when to do it. Golems have a wide range of different attacks and will enter a rage-mode when they’ve taken a beating, granting them some addition damage output in the process. The major problem here is that during the beginning few hours of the game, your Anima levels remain low. When you take into account that it costs Anima to summon a guardian and add that Otto stands no chance against a Golem one on one, you have little choice but to give up when three tough Golems have bested your Guardians and Anima. This wouldn’t be so bad if it happened infrequently, but it doesn’t. It happens regularly, so much so that the game just doesn’t feel fun. First impressions are imperative. Masters of Anima must be ignorant to that rule.
You would think that leveling up would alleviate this frustration, but it doesn’t. Instead you’re required to persevere until later on in the game when your resources are much deeper, the problem is, is that by this point you’re likely to have thrown in the proverbial towel due to its unforgiving difficulty spikes. There’s nothing fun whatsoever about being tasked with taking down enemies that can destroy your units in a few swings, leaving you with no Anima or choice but to quit and reload. If the combat wasn’t so harsh or the Golems didn’t have such wide health pools, this wouldn’t have been so bad. It doesn’t help matters that Masters of Anima is combat-heavy, meaning that outside of the puzzles and some light exploration, this is really the only thing you’ll be doing.
That’s not to say that Masters of Anima doesn’t offer a diverse plate of options, because it does. Otto can call aid from a collection of different minions, each housing their own pros and cons. Though again, this tends to lead nowhere when the enemies that you’re faced with are damage-sponge tanks. You can indeed offer your minions some buffs and abilities to aid you on your way through, which is a nice touch. Skill points can also be distributed among your team between levels. These points go towards increased attack damage, added health and improvements to Otto’s overall capabilities. This is all explained to you throughout the course of the game, though it’s a system that’s never truly built upon. Masters of Anima certainly would have benefited from more refinement and more testing, that much goes without saying.
Masters of Anima does shine elsewhere. The visuals, although nothing to write home about, do well to keep the game feeling fresh. There’s a lot of color usage in this game, but it never feels like its been overly done. The soundtrack is passable, too, but that’s about as kind as I’m going to get with this adventure. The bottom line in all of this is that Masters of Anima could have been a much better game. The story is there, the visual diversity is there and the concept is there. This, on the other hand, means very little when the core format of the game just isn’t fun or engaging in the long run. Battle this, go there, battle that, go here, solve this, go there and battle that. That’s pretty much the sum of the core loop. This is hindered further by the infuriating combat and fluctuating difficulty.
Masters of Anima has a decent concept and a worthwhile story, but sadly falls short almost everywhere else. The combat is tedious, often unfair and utterly frustrating. Take into account that outside of light puzzle solving and exploration, this is pretty much all that you’ll be doing. It doesn’t help matters that Masters of Anima rarely evolves as you proceed, making for a game that’s not only annoying, but repetitive too.
This game was tested and reviewed on Xbox One. All of the opinions and insights here are subject to that version.