Command an army of guardians to battle Zahr and his evil golems in this fantastic real-time strategy RPG.
Masters of Anima plays like a simple real-time strategy game similar to Nintendo's Pikmin series. You control a novice shaper named Otto who is learning how to use a powerful material called Anima to shape guardians who protect the world from evil golems that once ruled the land. During one of Otto's training sessions, a volcanic eruption occurs indicating that someone has broken the chains that have been restraining the golems. The culprit's name is Zahr and he captures Otto's girlfriend Ana and sunders her into 4 pieces; her mind, body, heart, and spark. It's Otto's job to pursue and defeat Zahr in order to save the world and his precious Ana. However, the story is the weakest part of an otherwise outstanding game. It's a very generic plot that's bolstered a bit by a couple of additional characters but not enough to ever become interesting. Fortunately, it's not overly intrusive and can be ignored if you so choose.
On the other hand, Masters of Anima's gameplay is fantastic. There are two core elements to Masters of Anima: exploration and combat. Each of the ten levels is widely explorable and packed with useful secrets that provide upgrades to Otto's health and combat abilities. These secrets as well as general progression are usually kept behind simple but fun puzzles that you'll solve using the abilities of the different guardians at your disposal. The maps never feel too big and I was able to find all the secrets in each level the first time I played them, making sure not to rush and to explore every nook and cranny before moving on.
Masters of Anima's combat is even more enjoyable and is entirely accessible to newer real-time SRPG players as long as they're willing to invest the time to learn its systems and mechanics. In the beginning, you're only able to create Protectors which are small melee-focused guardians that are quick to swarm enemy golems but fall in battle relatively quickly. As you progress in the campaign, four additional guardian types are unlocked, providing you with ranged attacks, Anima-draining powers, and more. Controlling your army of guardians couldn't be simpler which is a hugely important ingredient for a game that has so many things going on at any given time.
Otto's ability to shape guardians is impacted by two separate gauges. The first is your Anima gauge. Each group of guardians shaped costs one orb of Anima which is scattered all over the world and easy to collect while exploring but in battle, managing your Anima gauge is crucial. Run out of Anima and you no longer have the ability to craft more guardians. The other gauge that controls shaping guardians is the counter of how many guardians you can control at once. This number starts out relatively low but as you progress in the campaign, this number increases to the point where you can craft massive armies to fight against the equally enormous golems.
Balancing the abilities of the five different guardian types is the key to succeeding in Masters of Anima. The difficulty level is never overly challenging, meaning you never have to struggle to find that one specific strategy for each enemy type which is the case in many other real-time strategy games. This doesn't mean that it's easy either. For me, it hit the perfect balance of fun and challenging without being frustrating. In battle, the stakes are always high and it only takes one or two stupid mistakes before all is lost. Golems are usually slow and will telegraph their attacks but they are immensely powerful and can wipe out large chunks of your army in a single blow. Pressing the wrong button, not performing a guardian-boosting battlecry quickly enough, not saving an Anima orb to cast a battlecry, sending the wrong group to do the wrong thing, or not dodging in time can all have grave consequences. There's only so much Anima to go around during battle so if you lose too many guardians, you're in big trouble.
After each battle, you'll receive a grade based on how many guardians you lost, how much damage you absorbed as Otto, and how long the battle lasted. These grades affect your overall grade for each level which encourages replayability if you want to turn those D and C ranks into S ranks. You also receive XP for how well you do in battle and every time you level up, you earn a new skill point to assign to Otto or one of the guardian types. Many of the upgradable skills are incredibly valuable so you'll want to level up as quickly as possible. Skill points are also redistributable between each level so if you have a ranged-specific strategy that you want to use against a boss, you can max out the Sentinel guardian for that one level then rebalance your skill points afterwards.
Masters of Anima caught me completely off guard but in a very good way. It controls fabulously considering how much is going on, the challenge level is accessible but far from easy, levels are fun to explore, and the combat is a joy to master.
- + Wonderfully intuitive control scheme
- + Excellently implemented tough but fair combat that's challenging and rewarding
- + Tons of secrets to find and areas to explore
- - Lackluster and generic story