First, we had Pikmin, then came along Overlord, and now we have a new title which involves micromanagement of various classes of minions – Masters of Anima. From developer Passtech Games and publisher Focus Home Interactive, Masters of Anima seamlessly builds upon the Pikmin-style of gameplay by offering puzzles, RTS elements and a touch of RPG elements in the form of skill trees. I’ll be honest and say that this game came out of nowhere for me as I don’t recall seeing much marketing regarding it; however, I hope other people don’t miss out on this great game due to lack of exposure – this is a game which many people will love, they just don’t know it yet.
Masters of Anima is set upon a fictional world which is known as Spark, a world not too different to our own but with one main difference – Spark is oozing with a magical substance known as Anima. Anima can be used to create anything the Shaper who absorbs it wishes, either for good or evil. The world of Spark had once been troubled by a horde of giant golems who were created from untamed and pure Anima from Mount Spark. Seeing this, a merciful goddess came down and taught the humans the art and majesty of becoming a Shaper, a Shaper being a person who can absorb and utilise the worlds Anima to create guardians in order to help them in times of need.
The humans were victorious and were able to fend off all of the golems as well as sealing the molten core of Mount Spark with a vast enclosure known only as the Heartshield. Here it stood for many years with the humans still practising in the art of becoming a Shaper just in case the time arose where their abilities were required once more. Many, many years had passed until the time had come for Shapers to once again utilise their gift…
Which leads us to our protagonist, Otto. Otto is still training to become a Shaper when his hometown is overthrown by a mysterious evil being known as Zahr! Upon returning back to his home, Otto discovers that his Fiance, Ana, who is already a Shaper, has been kidnapped and had her essence split into three! Upon finding out that she is gone, Otto also finds out that Zahr is planning to destroy all of Spark using his own Anima powers by unleashing the golems. Otto sets out on an adventure to save his fiance, save Spark, and defeat Zahr before he can complete his master plan.
The gameplay of Master of Anima is really interesting, just like in similar titles, you have the ability to hit enemies and smash items with your own staff but most of the time you won’t even scratch the enemy on your own. What you need to do is summon a horde of minions to do your bidding for you by using up some Anima which you collect. There are various types of guardians to summon from strong melee ones to long-range weak ones and you can even summon guardians who heal other guardians. The problem is, you can only summon a certain number of guardians at a time.
At the beginning you will only be able to summon a few groups of guardians (they come in groups of four guardians per summon), so say you had six summon points, then you could summon six groups of four in order to help you out. This means that if you wanted to use various types of minions then you must first undo some of the ones you summoned and re-summon the others without going over your allotted amount. A process that’s very similar to Pikmin with its various colours. As you progress though, the number of groups you can summon will increase and so will the amount of Anima you can store – which is very important!
Anima isn’t an infinite resource, you find it on the ground and in crates outside of battles and sometimes from fallen enemies within battles. This means that if you go into a golem fight and you don’t correctly strategise your attacks and keep as many guardians alive as you can, you could end up losing all your guardians with no Anima around to summon more. What happens then? Well, you may as well sacrifice yourself to the gods and allow the golem to kill you as there is no point carrying on. Without your guardians, you won’t be able to take down the mighty golems.
Speaking of the strategy involved, the game does a great job of teaching you the strengths and weaknesses of your various guardians as you unlock new ones but if you’re unable to comprehend what’s being told to you then you are going to struggle in later fights. For example, you are shown how to correctly position your archers in the bushes so they gain cover and lose visibility from the golems, who can take them out in one hit. Also, how to call back your melee guardians just before the golem does a powerful attack and knocks them all over.
The game thrives on this strategic element which will have you constantly on the edge of your seat within big battles like this – will you manage your team correctly and be the victor, or will you rush in head first and watch as the golem beats the living daylights out of you!?! The learning curve can also be quite steep with some early battles, for myself personally, ending in me having to re-do them as I didn’t follow the tutorials when they popped up.
As I mentioned above, Masters of Anima also has some RPG elements within it, the ability to increase your guardians and our protagonist skills in order to make things easier. As above, you can see an image of the skill tree early on in the game, there are five different types of guardian to unlock, each with its own tree with certain skills blocked off until you unlock a certain number of skills above it. You don’t unlock skill points very quickly and when you do you must pick which item you wish to unlock as you don’t get a certain number per thing. So, one skill point will let you unlock one thing in any of the six trees, you don’t get one for Otto, one for the first guardian, one of the second…
Even though this skill tree is great and it really helps you out in later levels, you can only access it via the main menu – so you must quit out of the level in order to undo or allocate a skill point. This isn’t much of an issue but if you are stuck on a certain boss then you will have to come back and then work through the level again if you wish to invest any unlocked points. This was one of the few things I didn’t like about the game – I feel giving us the option to upgrade mid-level would have been a welcome mechanic.
The creatures you will be facing vary a little just like the guardians. Each golem has it’s own strengths and weaknesses and choosing the correct guardians is the key to successfully taking them down. A lot of them are straightforward to begin with, summon a load of the melee guardians and some archers to hide at the back, then pull back the melee ones as the golem unleashes its big attack, followed by sending them back in. Later golems will require you to take them out with differing proportions of guardians. So, some may be weak against archers which means getting the melee ones to form a wall whilst you shoot from a distance is the way to go.
Each golem also has a timer which counts down as you fight them, if the counter gets to zero then the golem will unleash its Rage Mode. This means the golems will become a lot stronger and have a higher chance of wiping out your guardians much quicker. It’s easier said than done though as later on you will begin to face multiple golems at a time. This creates a choice between focussing on one and risking the other going into Rage Mode, or micromanaging the assault of both at once whilst ensuring neither gets the upper hand on your guardians. The other issue is if you are against multiple golems then sometimes if you take too long to defeat the second one after the first then another one will spawn in its place. So there’s that to deal with as well!
I mentioned briefly that the game contains puzzles, this is where the Pikmin side shines through. You will have giant rocks which require a certain number of melee guardians in order to push – but in Masters of Anima, you can usually push blocks in various directions in order to place them on switches or move things out of the way. You will also use the archers to shoot various out-of-reach objects like target boards and floating rocks to solve puzzles and open new pathways. There are other simple puzzles involved as well, none are particularly hard to solve, but it does break up the fighting nicely.
There are also a decent amount of side quests and collectables for you to complete and find on your adventure. The side quests are straightforward and usually given to you at the beginning of a level – for example, the first one is to collect a certain number of flowers for your fiance. She’ll never get them, but if you do the quest then it’s a bonus for you. One of the other issues I had with the game was the pacing which also falls into the category of the collecting of things and side missions. As there are no smaller enemies, only the big golems, a lot of time is spent wandering around empty areas as you solve the puzzles and look for secret routes. This isn’t a bad thing as such, but it would have been nice to have a constant array of smaller foes for us to fend off as we explored, something to add a bit of excitement to the empty landscapes.
Graphically, I have been likening this game to the likes of Hob over on Twitter and I stick by that. The game feels like a mash-up of Pikmin plus Overlord with Hob graphics. A very simple and basic artistic design in a complicated and intriguing world. In short, the game looks great as it’s really colourful and bright yet dark and dingy when it needs to be. Similarly, the audio follows suit with a great soundtrack which alternates with the mood of the game as you play. The voice acting is decent enough, it’s not as bad as some games I’ve played in the past but it’s not as good as some as well.
So, how would I sum up the game – I thoroughly enjoyed playing Masters of Anima and loves the strategic elements combined with the puzzles. However, I do feel the difficulty spikes too often – not in terms of the whole game getting hard, but more like you are just happily moving around and solving puzzles but then you are instantly in a three-golem fight with not much Anima stored and nowhere to top up as you take on these three beasts. The developers have added a ranking system to the levels though, so it encourages you to play through, get better at the game, then return and try and better your scores. So that’s a cool addition and something which helps to prolong the game. It also helps that the game is quite cheap to purchase as I was expecting this to be at least double the price when I first started playing it.
Despite a few small issues here and there with the difficulty and the empty plains, Masters of Anima was a delight to play and is simply stunning to look at. With it’s Pikmin like mechanics, summoning various guardian types is seamless and lots of fun to perform for both the combat sections and the puzzles. True, you need to read the tutorials thoroughly and ensure you take in everything they tell you in order to survive, but once you have got the mechanics down the game gets so much better. Overall, I fully recommend Masters of Anima to fans of micromanagement titles such as Pikmin or Overlord and those who want something different to play that isn’t like anything we have had on the PS4 for a while.
Masters of Anima£15.99
- Very colourful with a nice simplistic art style
- The different guardians with varying abilities creates a strategic element to the game
- Compelling gameplay with a ranking system which urges you to try and get better each time
- Quite a cheap price for a game of this quality
- Sometimes the time spent between battles isn't padded well enough, so it sometimes drags
- The difficulty spikes once you encounter an enemy as you are then limited on Anima and guardians unless you defeat a golem
- Golems do vary, but ultimately, they are the only enemy you encounter
- Unable to adjust skills mid-level