Anima: Gate of Memories Review

I’m starting to think that Kickstarter and other methods of crowd funding will be a major part in the future of video games, allowing us to play all sorts of niche and obscure titles. But at the same time, it certainly can’t compare with regular video game development methods. Case in point, Anima: Gate of Memories. An action role playing game adaptation of a tabletop RPG series, it must be quite a boon for fans. And as far as a crowdsourced indie title goes, it’s quite an in depth and ambitious title. Unfortunately, it’s significantly lacking in polish, and while the idea is good, the execution isn’t.

Anima: Gate of Memories is set in a sword and sorcery fantasy universe, that blends together western fantasy with Japanese anime stylings. The Holy Empire of Abel is a major superpower on the brink of collapse. The various countries within the Empire are warring amongst themselves due to the lack of a leader, and the Church and Inquisition have their hands full fighting supernatural creatures, and trying to hide the existence of demons, monsters, and magic away from the regular populace. You play as the mysterious, somewhat cold, and amnesiac (because of course) heroine known as the “Bearer of Calamities” a title earned by your connection to Ergo Mundus, a demonic creature who once nearly conquered the Empire but was defeated and bound to a book. When a traitor to your order of magical monster hunters steals a holy book of prophecy linked to the end of the world, and your chase results in being trapped in some manner of mystical tower, it’s up to you to escape the tower, unravel the mystery, and save the Empire from destruction.

The story itself is both good and bad. The setting itself is interesting, and the game is certainly atmospheric. Some aspects of the writing are rather good, I rather enjoyed exploring one of the major dungeons; the Mansion of Puppets, and finding the backstory to the creepy puppet maker who went insane and started messing with people in search of perfection. Other parts are much less so. The main characters are unlikeable and kind of cliché. The Bearer has pretty much zero personality; she’s a mysterious young woman with no memory and is super serious about her job. Ergo is an egotistical, lecherous demon who is bound to her by fate. Together, they fight monsters! Their “playful banter” consists of Ergo being a creepy pervert, and the Bearer telling him to shut up. It’s a shonen anime style dynamic, but poorly executed. Their lines are pretty awful at times, and the voice acting is some of the dodgiest I’ve heard in a long time. Surprisingly, that actually lends it a terrible kind of charm, and it can be amusing at times. The presentation of the narrative is pretty bad though. There’s no cutscenes, just still images that are meant to show how the story progressed, but they aren’t laid out very well.

Gameplay wise it’s actually surprisingly good. It’s an action RPG which actually plays rather similarly to the old school Devil May Cry games, but with stats and abilities thrown in. Bearer and Ergo have skill trees where you can unlock abilities. You can then assign the abilities to the controls, and chain together combos. Use a dashing strike, slash them up, launch them into the air, air combo them for a bit, quick swap characters, continue the combo chain. It’s more complex than what I was expecting and it’s a good idea. Thrown in weapons and equipment to buy and unlock, and the RPG and combat elements are paired quite well. Something I also thought was impressive was the ability to counter enemy projectiles by shooting your own at them, which is typically not something I see very frequently in this kind of game.

However, while it’s surprisingly good, it’s not actually good good. The idea is solid and while I wanted to like Anima, the execution just wasn’t good enough. The camera is just frustrating, the lock on is even worse, and the combat isn’t particularly balanced as a result of that. Sometimes it works fantastically, with fights feeling like the fast paced action packed brawls we’ve played in games like Devil May Cry. Other times, most times really, it’s an absolute chore. Case in point, not all that far into the game, while I was in a gameplay area with particular enemies, the combat became both painful and dull. There were these new elemental enemies, some that only the Bearer could hurt, some that only Ergo could hurt. Great idea, means you’ve got to swap things up. Uh oh, they mostly stand around taking pot shots at you. Now if the camera was good, that’d be a thrilling battle. Dash in, attack them, dodge their shots, swapping characters rapidly to wipe them all out. Now because the camera is pretty awful, trying that mostly means getting shot. Knocked down. Shot. Knocked down. You’ve got to the fight the camera as well. That meant it reduced the fights to an awful slugfest, where I dodged their shots, and took slow pot shots back with my own ranged attacks, limited only by how quickly my magic energy bar refilled, which was quite a while. And speaking about the camera, the platforming sections are goddamn excruciating. There are bits where you’ve got to jump across areas, leaping from moving platform to moving platform. Needless to say, with a terrible camera, that certainly becomes a test of patience.

In terms of presentation, Anima: Gate of Memories has its ups and downs. The game goes for a cel shaded art style, and the designs are inspired by anime. The areas you visit are rather atmospheric and vary from mysterious ruins, creepy mansions, to sprawling plains. It actually looks and runs rather well for a low budget indie game. The soundtrack is also good, and suits the brooding atmosphere of the title. The voice acting though is hilariously bad. Not gratingly awful cheap JRPG with super saccharine voices bad, more B movie acting bad, where people either ham it up or have zero inflection to their tones. It’s a bit cringe worthy, but also kind of entertaining.

Ultimately Anima: Gate of Memories could have been a good game. The setting is intriguing. The ideas they used for gameplay are great, and the combat, when it works, is very sound. Unfortunately, it’s let down by uneven storytelling, the low budget, the poor presentation, and the god awful camera. There are things to like about this game though, and anyone who can work through the issues might find quite a bit to enjoy.

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