Anima: Gate of Memories
Developer: Anima Project
Publisher: BadLand Games
Available on: Beyond Fantasy Edition exclusive to PS4 (reviewed)
When a team of overly ambitious developers doesn’t have the necessary resources to bring their ideas to fruition, it usually becomes clear to the player rather quickly. Such is the case with Anima Project’s action RPG based on their table-top gaming series, Anima: Gate of Memories.
In what begins interestingly enough, where an amnesiac female protagonist and her demonic book companion hunt a mysterious artifact, it becomes apparent early on that the game is just a bit too big for its britches. The story falls off a cliff, the world and character designs are unflattering, and the entire cast is victim to both low-quality voiceovers and janky animations. The promise of an action RPG featuring a character with a book companion hearkens back to the cult classic NieR, but Anima Project’s attempt lacks everything that made Square Enix’s game so endearing.
Anima’s characters are just wholly unlikeable. The Bearer of Calamity, as the girl is known, is absent any form of personality and essentially plays the victim to Ergo’s creepy dialogue. He often remarks about the unpleasant things he does while she sleeps, constantly refers to her as “babe,” and acts as I imagine a macho demon would. Their dialogue is rarely enjoyable or meaningful, instead riding the line between cringeworthy and pointless.
The more interesting narrative bits come by way of hidden documentation that serves to flesh out the various boss monsters. These walls of text (for lack of a better term) provide significant information that injects motive and depth to the beasts you encounter, which the rest of the game sorely lacks. Players will want to pay special attention to the dialogue here as well since they’re used as clues to solve various puzzles.
As a game based on a table-top RPG, I was surprised by the lack of attention given to the pair of protagonists or the story as a whole. During combat, players can switch between The Bearer and Ergo with the press of a button, each with their own health pool, yet both have similar enough movesets that never really make them feel independent outside of their obvious aesthetic. Each of the two can charge enemies, launch them into the air, follow-up with combos, and hurl projectiles, though they can be customized in ways that eventually lead to them being more distinguished from one another.
Leveling up in Anima awards the pair with their own respective skill points that can then be allocated into things like strengthening melee and magic damage, unlocking abilities, or tacking on additional combo hits. Swapping characters mid-combat is essential, so I ended up stacking The Bearer with magic boosts for ranged damage while Ergo acted as the aggressive hack-and-slash figure. The skill trees are a neat touch with meaningful upgrades that were immediately noticeable on the battlefield, but combat as a whole doesn’t feel very good.
Attacks and movements in Anima: Gate of Memories feel decades old and lack any sort of weightiness. Ergo’s slashes resemble a sharp knife piercing a sheet of paper, rather than the impressive blows found in other, similar games. Even characters that erupt into geysers of blood upon death sound like a bug being squashed under a child’s foot.
As a central mechanic, swapping characters isn’t very responsive, which becomes a significant disadvantage when the game’s extremely challenging boss encounters wear your “heroes” down with frustrating (see; cheap) tactics, or the duo finds themselves battling enemies that only take damage from one character or the other.
Yes, Gate of Memories is rather challenging. I’ve read user reviews and Twitter comments from other players claiming they could barely beat the first boss on the easiest difficulty, and while I find these types of challenges rewarding at times, I’ll go ahead and say that the difficulty spike is a totally unnecessary surprise since the rest of the game doesn’t provide a similar experience. These boss encounters were far and away the most entertaining display of Anima’s combat, but the end result feels like the sum of two different teams with different accessibility and player expectations in mind, that then threw together what each had been working on over the last few months.
Combat also suffers from one of the worst camera views I’ve experienced in a long while. Shifting focus between numerous enemies on the screen frequently swings the camera around, which often leads to receiving an abundance of off-screen fire and/or additional blows from unseen monster spawns. Camera issues abound in the game’s exploration segments as well, especially in its unfortunate use of platforming. A few areas, in particular, require precise jumping, which is nearly impossible when the camera readjusts itself back to the default location the moment your feet leave the ground.
I never got around to finishing Anima: Gate of Memories. After investing nearly five hours into the game, I’d experienced more than enough to know that it’s half-baked, uneventful, and ultimately unenjoyable. I found it difficult to become invested in the two protagonists, which isn’t a fun thing to come to terms with in an RPG. This would have been an easier pill to swallow had the exploration and combat felt rewarding, but what started off as a low-budget action game with passable cel-shaded graphics merely paved the way for a vapid narrative paired alongside unimaginative backdrops and a treacherous camera that works against the player every step of the way.
Anima: Gate of Memories originally released in June of 2016 as a digital download, but has since received a physical release by way of BadLand Games. This release, dubbed the Beyond Fantasy Edition, comes with a lot of praiseworthy extras that I’ve gone over in detail right here (with images). If you’re a collector, I definitely recommend the game simply for display purposes. For those looking for a new action RPG, however, there are far, far better options for your hard-earned cash.
So where’s the final score? There isn’t one. I spent a lot of time conveying my opinion in the above text, and I hope that’s worth more to you than some arbitrary number or a sequence of shaded-in star shapes. Basically, I’m not a fan of scores so I no longer use them. Read the review and judge for yourself if the game is worth your time and money.
Full disclosure: This review was done using a PS4 copy of Anima: Gate of Memories – Beyond Fantasy Edition provided physically by the game’s publisher. While I’m sometimes given games to review, I pride myself on providing unbiased reviews to fellow consumers, along with constructive feedback to hard working developers and publishers. Whether or not I pay for a game is irrelevant.