Developer: Passtech Games
Publisher: Focus Home Interactive
Release Date: Out Now
Format(s): Nintendo Switch (Reviewed), PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC
I like it when a game comes along that looks like it could be a bit of fun, but ends up completely absorbing me into the experience and leaves me wanting more after it’s finished. That’s exactly what happened with Masters of Anima, the latest release from publishers Focus Home Interactive that mixes up RTS-like action with dungeon-crawling gameplay. It’s a slightly odd combination but one that just works, with its addictively fun gameplay making for yet another worthy addition to the Nintendo Switch’s ever-growing catalogue of titles.
Masters of Anima puts you in the role of Otto, a young man who’s training to become a Shaper – a special role that would allow him to summon mystical creatures known as Guardians. Not only does he want to become a Shaper because… well… who wouldn’t want to summon creatures, but also so he can marry his fiancée Ana (who just so happens to be the Prime Shaper – a big role). Of course, disaster strikes and Ana ends up being kidnapped by an evil being named Zahr who has an army of Golems to help him conquer the world. This leads Otto on an adventure to not only save Ana, but perhaps everyone else too.
It’s your typical run-of-the-mill fantasy set up, but it does a good enough job of providing motivation to your journey. Don’t get me wrong, it can be incredibly cheesy and it doesn’t really do enough to really engage you with the world, but I never grew tired of seeing the story progress. Just don’t expect the tale to hit epic levels.
Naturally, given Zahr’s army of Golems, you’ll be doing a lot of battling in Masters of Anima. It plays out like a more action-focused RTS, with Otto able to summon little minions into battle known as Guardians to take care of his enemies for him. Initially, he’s able to summon the simplest of Guardians that are limited both in their ability and in their numbers, though as you progress through the game his capabilities become stronger and stronger.
This means summoning five different classes of Guardian, each of which not only have their own unique abilities but can also be individually upgraded in a way that suits your playstyle. Leading them all in battle is a real treat and you’ll eventually work out ways to best utilise them – you can follow the classic approach of battling from afar with your ranged Guardians for example, head right up close and use your Guardian’s upgraded melee skills, or just put in a mixture of everything. If you want to be really tactical, you can even absorb anima and health from your foes, in turn allowing you to summon more Guardians mid-battle. There’s a surprising amount of depth there despite its simplicity and it felt a lot like Nintendo’s own Pikmin, which can only be a good thing given its popularity.
Otto isn’t completely useless when it comes to battling himself mind and isn’t afraid to throw in a few hits of his own here and there. He’s also susceptible to damage of his own and his death will lead to a swift game over though, so it’s often better to limit his role to gathering anima and leading the Guardians in battle. If you do decide you want to throw a few cheeky hits in on enemies though, he’s certainly more than capable…
However you approach it, battling is always a lot of fun. The blend of dungeon-crawling style action and RTS-like battling works well, and by not over-complicating either mechanic the game is accessible enough that just about anyone can pick up and play it – regardless of whether or not they’re newbies to either genre. It’s just a good, enjoyable set up.
That’s not to say the game can’t be tough though, with some harsh difficulty spikes kicking in from out of nowhere – all of a sudden you’ll come to an enemy that’ll beat you down time and time again. Thankfully, there are plenty of checkpoints in the game so you’ll never be sent too far back with your failures, though the fact they can come from nowhere could lead to a few frustrating moments.
It’s all about figuring out how best to approach each situation. The amount of Guardians on offer is varied and some are more effective in certain battles than others, so ensuring that you’re utilising the right ones can be the difference between success and failure. Other little things like ensuring they’re levelled up makes a difference too, as well as using tricks such as dismantling your existing Guardians mid-battle and replenishing your anima in order to summon new ones. It’s all about adapting to whatever situation you find yourself in, but at least figuring all of this out is a lot easier thanks to the plentiful checkpoints.
Outside of battling, you’ll also take part in moments of exploration and puzzle-solving, though you’ll still need the help of your Guardians to get through them. It might be a case of one of them lifting an object for you, destroying an object, or maybe sometimes using one of their special powers to create all new pathways for you – whatever power a Guardian has, you’ll have to utilise it at some point or another if you want to progress.
It adds an enjoyably tranquil side to the game, which is quite nice. Masters of Anima never feels like it’s all about taking down enemies, so it’s neat to have those moments during gameplay where you can just take in the fantasy setting and enjoy having to think more about solving a puzzle as opposed to figuring out how to take some big enemy down.
Masters of Anima is a pretty game to look at throughout and certainly has some vibrant and creative sights to look at during your fantastical journey, though playing it on the Nintendo Switch’s portable mode does come at the cost of a lower resolution. That being said, it was my primary mode of play and I didn’t find it unbearable or full off too many jagged edges like similar titles on the platform (Rime, I’m looking at you). It certainly performs well on a technical basis.