The end of all existence is rapidly approaching, and the fate of humanity is left in the hands of a woman without a past, and a demon without a future.
Anima: Gate of Memories is, satisfyingly, steeped deep in lore and setting – a slice from the Anima Beyond Fantasy setting, and one created by the same people behind it. Certainly, knowledge of the setting isn’t necessary to find enjoyment in the peculiar, magic-rife, demon-ravaged twist on medieval Europe. I certainly found the setting, and the peeks at lore including how it intertwined with the world, to be one of the stronger points of the title – and I had no experience with the setting until I redeemed the Xbox One code we had been supplied for review.
The game centres around a young lady, known as the Bearer of Calamities, who has been stripped of her past and name as part of a ritual bonding her to the secondary protagonist, an anti-hero demon named Ergo who was trapped in the form of a book after being defeated by a prestigious knight’s league as he nearly wrested control of the mighty Holy Empire of Abel. It’s a good while since that battle, and the game starts with the Empire once again close to dissolving, and the only way to stop not just this, but the overwhelming of all of humanity, is through the heroes securing another special book – this one The Byblos.
It all begins with a short romp through a late-dark-age Germanic city. The Bearer of Calamities has been sent there to track down her former teacher who has stolen away with the artifact in an attempt to perform a different ritual. It’s a short prologue, with you facing down several enemies as a powerful version of The Bearer, after a few quick fights you are then talked through magic and ranged attacks, practising against a variety of enemy types. All this before facing off against the former master, and being sucked into what seems to be another plane with deep ties to the two books, and the holy guardian summoned by the defeated master. It’s a massive wallop of lore in a short time, but the game does store away elements of it into the menus for you to browse through later, it’s also a very odd tutorial as it’s almost entirely focused on combat, and that gives a sorely different impression of the game than the full game delivers.
In fact, the tutorial first had -as I had watched no trailers, nor found any previews- me thinking the game would play out as a hack and slash game in a twisted fantasy world – a la DMC or Bayonetta. Then, at the first boss, and when the areas widened to encourage a focus on range and locking-on the game shifted into more of a Naruto motif, for those who have played the Bandai Namco games. In fact, it rapidly became a game of dodges, finding weaknesses, and exploiting them – all whilst juggling a stamina bar, and alternating between the two characters. In fact, the first fifteen minutes of the game, while certainly did showcase the basic elements of combat, and give a splash of the rich lore within, should probably have been done with a different character – so differenet from the more advanced combat required in the mid-late game as it is. Anima has a strength in it’s combat, in it’s fluidity, combos, and ability to switch between two characters that you can manage skills for, and equip items to, as to be useful for different tasks.
That said, you probably won’t be using it like that, as the way many of the mid-bosses and bosses of the game are constructed is in a way that requires you to use both character’s health bars (yes – they have one each, and they heal recent damage slightly while tucked away) as the enemies normally do vastly more damage and have small, specific hit-zones. Another reason is that there’s an alignment system in play regarding enemies, some are white and can only be damaged by the bearer, the other’s black and for Ergo. These alignment tainted enemies normally appear in large groups, and regularly they’ll be spread out around large areas – perfect for ranged builds to beat… so, it’s best to keep both characters set up for ranged, magic and melee, just to address all situations – this undermines a great potential. Had the developers had more time, or decide to make a sequel, I hope they give the different characters entirely different skill trees.
I touched on equipment a moment ago, each character has several slots where they can equip several weapons and accessories, the game contains absolute masses of these and impressively they are unique and come with small pockets of lore, giving insights into the world and setting of the game – if there’s one thing the game does well it’s manage the setting without forcing lore down your throat – barring a few of the puzzles. A big negative here is in the fact that these items actually only have statistical affects on your characters, increasing magic, or melee strength, rather than actually changing the physical appearance of the character. This is quite a shame, and actually meant that I rarely made an effort to re-equip my characters, only doing so after suffering a couple of combat defeats in a row.
As I said, the game is rife with background lore. The Arcane, the strange extra-dimensional realm with many wings and extensions that you spend the game navigating, is positively built and populated by the history of the world, with each wing tying into great fallen beings vying for control of the fate of the world. Each wing centers around a different premise and once a certain amount of progress is made into each you have the freedom to progress how you wish as each milestone removes barriers to new areas. Most of the areas can be called finished once you have completed about 60% of the content, however the game features five endings which I believe are tied to extra efforts put in at the completion level.
The first wing you enter is a haunted mansion, filled with mannequins who strangely return to position as you navigate the building. Occasionally several will spring to life and attack you as you complete some simple jumping puzzles and navigational challenges in order to unlock other areas of the manor. There’s also some portraits which require you to enter the name of the displayed character, this is one of the few times the lore comes into the foreground, and it’s quite satisfying actually as you, confused for a moment, read through weapon descriptions, and history fragments in the menu looking for a solution.
Platforming, jumping puzzles are rife throughout the game, which features a few too many endless pits and instant death spike traps. While this isn’t really too much of a problem, and they do a good job of changing the pace of the game – which would otherwise be a sprint through corridors and fields navigating the fast-travel & shortcut lacking world of the game. The real problem is the quantity in which they appear. The basement of the mansion, for example, is actually home to one of the more memorable elements of the game – there’s a mass of prisoners all, like The Bearer, suffering a loss of memories, each of them gives a brief dialogue. Some shout. Some beg. Some plea. Some threaten. Throughout the game there are keys enough to release all bar one of the prisoners, but, you are quickly informed some of them lie, some of them are there for their own safety, some of them are dangerous. It’s a wonderful idea, it’s just a shame that the entire area is surrounded by quadruple pairs of spike traps which rattle off in quick succession. It actually made me want to stop going down there, because I’d waste masses of health being clipped by them, because my frustration grew quickly at the fact it reset you to the last non-spike part of the trap when it hit you.
These spike traps, however awkward, don’t actually suffer from the main the one stigma that curses the platforming elements of the game – the camera control. The camera doesn’t automatically follow the character in anyway, for the most part this is fine – in roaming you’ll simply tilt it with the right analogue stick to rotate it on the horizontal axis, and in combat you’ll be locking on to enemies anyway. However, at certain points the camera switches to a locked viewpoint – like old Survival-Horror games, much like those games this means that you’ll be running (or jumping) in the right direction, then the camera flips and inverts the controls. Frustrating. As well as that some of the earlier platforming parts the fact that the camera only runs on the horizontal axis means you are treating timed jumps as leaps of fate due to the lack of depth perception on the flat plane.
Anyway, I feel like I’ve just spent the entire review complaining about the game, when actaually I quite enjoyed my time with the game. The combination of Souls-esque dodging and stamina management was fantastic, the open structure of the game was surprising, refreshing, and enjoyable – even if the game needed a fast travel, or some elements giving a sense of direction – , and the lore was not obnoxiously spat into the players face, instead adorning and driving the world. The music of the game was also perfect, and I was surprised at quite how much of the game was voiced – even if Ergo’s failure to decide on flirting with babe or calling The Bearer a baby was odd.
Really, in conclusion, the game has a lot of great mechanics and ideas in it that fans of Action RPGs, and, well Souls-like Adventure game fans will enjoy, it’s hard to remember that it’s an indie game made by just three people, over three years, as even with it’s odd quirks it is actually exceptionally well made.