Masters of Anima is an action RPG with a hint of strategy and a sprinkle of RTS sensibilities. It’s the third game from Passtech Games. Boasting an intensive resource management combat system, will the game hold it all together? Let’s find out…
The story of Masters of Anima is fairly simple. Your main character, Otto, has to learn become a Master Of Anima (they’re actually called Shapers, but come on, that was good) so that he can actually marry the woman he’s engaged to, who happens to be the Supreme Shaper. Apparently there’s a rule about the head honcho not being able to marry someone who hasn’t actually become a Shaper yet.
Naturally Otto goes off to complete the Shaper trials, under the impression that if he fails, he’s going to be a single Pringle. Naturally your boy passes his test and of course, shit hits the fan. The villain, Zahr, is introduced to the player in an exchange that I actually found to be pretty cool, albeit a little tropey. Zahr “sunders” Ottos fiancé, splitting her being into 3 different parts. Otto is then tasked with saving the world from Zahr and his Golems, as if Zahr is left to his own devices, he will cause irreparable damage to the world in what might be the most relatable thing I’ve seen a protagonist do in a long time.
Instead of accepting his fate, his motivation boils down to “Fuck this off, I’m saving my wife and then we’re getting outta dodge”. Beautiful start, but that might be about all the positivity I can muster for now.
My initial reaction to the gameplay in Masters of Anima was “oh, I hit things with a stick, hope that changes” and to a certain degree it does and it doesn’t. The gameplay hook is that Otto isn’t really meant to engage in combat himself. The actual combat comes from summoning various Guardians, which draws from your Anima resource pool. Every unit you summon takes a node of your anima, which is replenished by destroying shrubs, enemies or just found floating around in the air. The Guardians function as if they were different units in an RTS. You have your basic melee “tank” type Guardians, your ranged DPS and your gatherer type that drains anima from enemies, essentially replenishing your resources.
These are only the first three units Otto unlocks, but it forms the basis of your combat, put the tank units infront of the enemy, ranged DPS out of the enemies range, rinse and repeat til dead. Unfortunately, my initial excitement at the concept was swiftly removed when I was juggling between the first two units. When you launch the game, you’re pointed in the direction of using a controller as the game is designed with that control scheme in mind, but holy shit could I not grasp how to quickly select all my units and move them out of an enemies AOE.
What initially started as excitement quickly devolved into an exercise in pure tedium. As I hit the first big enemy after receiving my second lot of units, I hit my first wall of frustration with the combat. Trying to accurately place your units, while trying to avoid getting smacked about by the Golems proves to be more challenging than it should be, but only because the controls seem to be designed in the most frustrating way. Moving Otto changes where you send your units, but because of this, you end up awkwardly running between spots, trying to angle yourself in a way that’ll put your archers in the bushes, while making sure that your tanks aren’t just standing still doing absolutely nothing.
Honestly, it was at this point where Masters of Anima just began to actually test my patience. I tried to switch from using a controller to using mouse and keyboard, which resulted in me having greater accuracy when moving my units about, but the keybindings made no sense and as such, I ended up giving up and just trying to brute force my way through the sequence with a controller.
As I couldn’t get the game to play how the developers intended, I elected to create my own method of play, which was definitely the incorrect way to play. If I had a unit about to get hit by an AOE, I would despawn all of those units and respawn them next to Otto. Early on this worked just fine, but as I got a little further, enemies that attack in a line would decimate my forces. In the longer fights, maintaining your anima is difficult enough, without you wasting a large amount of it in a despawn/respawn cycle.
I wish I could say that adding more units made the game more bearable to play, but for me it just made things even harder to keep up with.
Graphically, Masters of Anima is fairly simple looking, though it does look unique. The character models are oddly blocky. Although I do find them quite endearing, the way the levels look is where I find the game truly shines. Every colour on the screen pops beautifully and it’s very easy to tell what’s a hazard. See something red? Probably best to avoid that. Verdant greens? You’re probably on the right path. One of the things that stuck with me through every level, was the way the trees look. Something about the way they look, almost like the branches are basically giant leaves. This is probably a weird highlight to have, but it’s honestly one of them.
Overall, I’m not sure how to feel about Masters of Anima. I really wanted to love the game, as I found the art style compelling and the combat premise to be super interesting, as most action RPGs boil down to “click maniacally, smash hands on keyboard, kill stuff”, but the execution really let the game down. I feel like the game either needed to dedicate itself to mouse and keyboard controls for it to have meaningful combat, or for you to be able to move Otto and your Guardians independently of each other. It’s a beautiful game that’s mired by frustrating controls and a mediocre story. Honestly, I’d pass on Masters of Anima unless you manage to get the game on a Steam sale. I wouldn’t be able to recommend it at full price.