From the moment the opening cut-scene starts, Masters of Anima whisks you away into the lore-rich fantasy world of Spark. A world full of corruption, love and most importantly Anima, an ancient powerful magic that can be fueled to create player controlled armies of guardians. The added challenge of shepherding these armies through the whimsical environments of Spark brings a welcomed sense of fresh air to the action-adventure genre, even if the controls can be a little fiddly.
The game sees you playing as Otto, a young and very newly qualified shaper of Anima. In fact, he’s that fresh-faced in the world of guardian commanding that his qualification test acts as your tutorial. This approach to teaching you the almost RTS controls of Masters of Anima feels very organic and in-line with the story which brings an almost instant sense of intrigue.
So when Ottos’s world is turned upside down as he see’s his fiance, also a shaper of Anima, kidnapped by the evil Zahr you feel pretty invested in wanting to help. If the theft of his beloved Ana wasn’t enough, Otto also finds out that he’s pretty much the last hope of saving the world of Spark from Lord Zahr’s grasp. On paper, this fantasy story sounds about as ordinary as they come, and it kind of is. But due to some excellent voice acting the narrative feels engaging, almost like a Saturday morning cartoon.
As good as the voice acting is, it’s not the main driving force for Masters of Anima’s narrative, that is down to the Anima itself. As you progress through the 10-level campaign you’ll acquire the ability to convert your collected Anima into rock-formed soldiers known as guardians. When starting you’ll only have the ability to spawn the protector guardian, a melee-style warrior with a decent amount of health. But soon you’ll find the recipes to form a total of five different guardians, all of which drastically differ from one another. Early on you’ll learn how to best utilise your guardians as they will prove pivotal throughout the game, both in and out of combat, but let’s start with the combat.
Masters of Anima doesn’t feature any regular wandering NPC’s, instead, levels play out in a more classic arcade style where puzzle solving will usher you through to a boss room or arena. Both the mini-bosses and main bosses start out at a pretty welcoming difficulty, which allows you to become accustomed to the controlling of your mini army. In the beginning, the controls feel pretty good and well mapped to a controller, but unfortunately, as you gain the ability to spawn both new types of guardians and more of the same guardians the cracks start to appear.
Playing on PlayStation, you can select a group of guardians by holding down triangle. Once you start commanding multiple groups the selection circle can be a little hit and miss, I’d often end up selecting guardians I didn’t want to move. You can get around this by a simply spamming circle, which will recall every guardian to you and they’ll now follow your every movement. The issue here isn’t the recalling but rather the re-distribution of the loyal warriors as when selecting a target you need to press the X button for every guardian, and when you are controlling over 50 guardians not only is that a lot of button bashing but also a lot of wasted time.
All this may sound like a glaring issue with the game, but I can ensure you that’s really not the case. Once I figured out my own tactics for the combat and what guardian numbers I favoured I really enjoyed the tense bouts between the corrupt golems and my mostly unstoppable army. When you get to this point it’s a pleasure having you hands dance over the controller while seeing your effective management playout on screen, especially in the later and very challenging battles where victory definitely deserves a mini fist pump.
The tense combat affairs aren’t the only use for the Anima guardians as to get to the combat arena’s you’ll need to solve a variety of puzzles along the way. In reality, none of the puzzles felt hugely unique or original, but the novelty of having someone you’re in charge of doing the dirty work never really wore and did make for a couple of later challenging puzzles.
Now, an action adventure game wouldn’t be complete without the addition of collectables and of course, Masters of Anima is no different. The collectables on offer here through are actually useful, much like what you’d from classic Zelda games. Hidden items here consist of extra health segments, extra anima storage, another piece of the Anima scroll or most importantly XP. The reason XP plays such a big role is due to the fact that every level you progress during a stage provides a skill point to be distributed to either Otto or one of his guardian classes. What’s really nice about this RPG skill tree is the fact that it can be reset after any stage. What’s best about this approach is the encouragement it offers towards experimenting with your different guardians and Otto, all of which offer a different play style.
Masters of Anima’s charming low poly visuals, enticing fantasy environments and multi-tasking guardian management all help give the game a sense of personality. Although the controls can be a hindrance as you progress with a larger number army, once you get your head around their sometimes cumbersome feel there is a lot of enjoyment and achievement to be taken away from the tense arena battles.