It's always a treat when a small developer makes a great game. It seems Passtech Games has the formula down as I had a lot of fun playing their previous game – Space Run which brought about an interesting twist in tower defense genre. It brought humorous dialogue, fun gameplay and plenty of RPG elements to boot. Well, such is also the case with Masters of Anima. A fun blend of action, strategy, and RPG genres, neatly packaged into a beautiful cartoony art style. Read below for more details.
Masters of Anima is available for purchase on Steam for $19,99.
STORY AND GAMEPLAY
The story of Masters of Anima takes place in a fantasy world of Spark. The main character, Otto is taking the trial to become an apprentice of Anima which translates to being able to use anima which is a sort of mana to animate otherwise inanimate objects or create them out of thin air. This trial, of course, is the tutorial where you meet the supporting cast like his fiancee, Anna, and Otto's master Jaku that helps you through the basics. Sure enough, the tutorial ends with a textbook villain named Zahr taking your fiancee to use her as a source of his power and wreak havoc on the world.
It's a cookie cutter story that is intriguing enough to get you to keep on playing but not especially engaging. Its main strength is the main cast characterization and it surely helps that they are very well voiced. Otto, especially as he is pretty vocal about being cowardly and doing just barely enough to save Anna and getting as far away from trouble as possible. Due to this and his general goofiness, Otto's banter with his serious master can be especially humorous.
As mentioned, Masters of Anima is a blend of genres and it brings action, strategy and RPG elements to the mix. It's all presented from a top-down perspective which suits the general gameplay of controlling dozens of units in real-time combat where most of your time will be spent. Otto himself can engage in simple staff combat but the real heart of the game and its strategic element comes from creating different kinds of golems you unlock as you progress through the game. These golems range from simple melee ones to ranged or big tanky ones and as you unlock upgrades, they can literally number in the hundreds.
The units are controlled like your standard RTS units and can be individually selected, sent to a location, grouped etc. Each type of golem has their own strengths, weaknesses, and abilities as well as their own upgrade tree. It takes some time to get used to controlling them and Otto separately and this can be a source of increased difficulty at the beginning of the game.
Once you stop wrestling with the controls and get to your first serious golem enemy – you'll be surprised that the game can actually be very challenging. The surprise comes from the deceptively easy start coupled with visuals and story suited to a more laid back game. The challenge, on the other hand, comes in the form of multitasking necessary to overcome enemies as each of them is like a mini-boss of sorts. You need to keep an eye on your anima consumption, micromanage your different units, keep Otto out of harm's way and keep an eye on enemies telegraphing attacks so you can use special abilities. Enemies also have a meter that drains as the fights drag on, that if emptied makes them go into a frenzy. This increases their strength further, making it almost impossible to kill them.
Between my assumptions and all these systems to keep track of I, of course, got my ass handed to me when I came across the first stronger enemy. After some trial and error, I managed to get a hang of using my units strengths and position them and myself a bit better so I can go in for the kill. Then the game threw another curveball at me. Now instead of focusing my damage dealing on the enemy, I needed to smash the objects in the environment with a specific unit to gather anima for troop replenishment as the boss was swatting them like flies. And this sums up the entire game, just as you get used to using a certain unit and micromanaging all the pieces, it throws another unit, upgrade, enemy or task your way to always keep you on your toes.
The important thing to note is that the levels the game takes place in are fairly linear with a couple of branching paths and secret passageways. These are well worth exploring due to them usually hiding away upgrades for your health or anima which is essential when you consider all the above. Walking between battles is broken up with some puzzles that usually involve using your golems to move objects, bypass or remove obstacles etc. These are, in stark contrast to the combat, childishly simple and I think the game would benefit from a more challenging puzzle system to really round out the package and give a sense of accomplishment in that regard as well.
VISUALS AND AUDIO
The visual style was the first thing that drew my attention to Masters of Anima. It's a washed out cartoony look that's also sharp at the same time. It's overall very appealing to the eye and when coupled with saturated colors and effects you get a game that has personality in spades. The journey will take you through multiple biomes. Ranging from lush grassy fields to snowy plains and desert regions and each of them feels unique with appropriate weather conditions and even some environmental hazards for you to overcome. In addition to that, the game is very easy on your PC specs as well as a smooth, polished and bug-free experience which is a rare occurrence nowadays.
The humorous main and supporting characters are all very well voiced, making this quirky yet simple story very enjoyable to go through. The game also features some very nice music to complement both serious and more light-hearted segments of the story and the game world.
Masters of Anima is a great little game. The art style and voice acting are great but the combat hides the game's greatest strength. I only wish that other parts of the actual gameplay like the puzzles were given as much thought and that there were a bit more substance to the story itself. It might put off some players who were expecting something a bit more casual and not a cartoony little Dark Souls. I pushed through the initial difficulty spike and found myself enjoying the game a lot and I'm certain that if you give it a chance – you will too.
+ Challenging and fun gameplay
– Confusing controls at first
+ Art style and voice acting
– Cookie cutter story
+ General progression and pacing
– Very simple puzzles
|+ Smooth, polished and bug-free|