STAFF REVIEW of Anima: Gate of Memories (Xbox One)

Monday, May 30, 2016.
by Adam Dileva

Anima: Gate of Memories Box art Maybe I shouldn’t be, but I’m still always a little surprised when I see a game release that was a successful Kickstarter project; even more so when the game itself is actually decent and lives up to its promises. That’s what we have here with Anima: Gate of Memories. If the Anima title seems familiar, that’s because there was a game previously released game that was set in the same universe titled Ark of Sinners, though Game of Memories is developed by a completely different team, a small trio actually, though it still employs the original writer.

I love my RPG’s, though as I get older, and now have a toddler to care for among other adult responsibilities, it’s becoming much more difficult to pour 100+ hours into a single game, especially since my backlog is already big enough as it is. Luckily Anima: Gate of Memories isn’t that long of a commitment, and that’s a good thing in this case as it has a grandiose feeling you’d expect from an open RPG, but you don’t have to give up your social life to complete it.

Anima’s narrative revolves around two core characters, The Bearer of Calamities (The Bearer for short) and Ergo Mundus. The Bearer is a young woman who has no recollection of who she is or what her name was, which is due to a pact that was made with Ergo a decade ago. As a team, though not always by choice, they work for an entity called Nathaniel, tasked with defeating creatures from the darkness and essentially keeping the impending evil out of the world.

An ancient artifact, The Byblos, has been stolen, and The Bearer is tasked with retrieving it. Upon catching up with the thief and defeating them, something goes wrong and they awaken in a strange building with seemingly no escape, unaware to what has happened. I don’t want to give much more away from the main story, as it can be interesting as long as you’re able to follow along, just be aware that it can be confusing at times to keep up. You’ll understand the main characters and conflict no problem, but the smaller details and reveals weren’t always as easy to follow, be it the convoluted writing, or the sometimes (but not always) terrible voice acting.

The most interesting part of Anima’s story is the relationship between The Bearer and Ergo, and given that Ergo is trapped inside of a book that The Bearer carries around, Ergo is only able to be released when ‘switching’ spots with The Bearer. As you progress you find out more revelations about their pact and their pasts, though they are completely contrast personalities, which sometimes works for the narrative, and other times is cringe worthy when you hear Ergo call The Bearer “baby” for the hundredth time. The Bearer is much more serene, honest, and good-natured, where Ergo is the complete opposite. The personality clashes make for some witty banter at times, but it’s hit or miss given the writing and voice acting.

As for gameplay, the overall package is that of an RPG but it has hack and slash combat very reminiscent of a Devil May Cry or Darksiders. You’re able to explore freely in the mostly open world environments, though many areas are locked behind progression gates. The outside world is very colorful and vibrant where the indoor sections tend to be very dark and moody, both of which encourage exploration for secrets and hidden items. There are even some puzzle elements included within, some of which are very simple while others will have you completely stumped.

Although you’re given freedom to explore, and it can be seen as a positive, one issue I ran into a few hours in was that there’s little to no help to guide you to where or what you should be doing at any given time. I understand that the open freedom is something that is important in a RPG like this, but there’s no journal or quest log for you to reference what you “should” be doing or working towards next. This becomes frustrating, as I was stuck for a few days, essentially doing nothing aside from searching every area for where to go next. By sheer luck I eventually figured it out but I was close to giving up, as I was simply running around in circles from area to area trying to solve what I was supposed to be doing.

At any time during exploration or combat you can freely switch between The Bearer and Ergo with a simple press of a button, and you will need to master this in combat if you want to make any sort of progression. Both of the characters have their own strengths and weaknesses, as The Bearer is more magic based and better suited for long range attacks, whereas Ergo is more at home up and close and personal in melee range, hacking and slashing away at enemies.

You’ll need to master switching between the two in-game characters because early on you’ll learn that certain enemies can only take damage from one or the other. For example, the white enemies need to be beaten by The Bearer and the dark ones can only damaged from Ergo, so when a mixed group attacks, you’ll be forced to constantly switch between the two. Unexpectedly, both characters have their own health bars as well, along with their individual move sets that can be customized to almost any button you like.

As you defeat enemies and earn experience you’ll eventually level up which grants you skill points to spend however you wish. The skill tree is where you’ll customize each character (both with their own skill points to spend) by adding new combat moves, passive abilities, and other bonuses. You can choose to focus on making each character better at their natural roles or focus on rounding out all their skills instead, it’s completely up to you. As you choose progressive skills further down the skill tree, you can choose passive bonuses as well, and sometimes I found myself choosing skills I necessarily wasn’t planning on using, but choosing them for the passives instead, like more health. The issue with the skill tree isn’t the abilities themselves, but the navigation. If you want to look at the ability below the one that’s highlighted, you simply can’t just press down; you have to follow the ‘path’ with the control stick, making navigating the menu much more of an chore than it should be.

Playing as The Bearer, you are more magic focused. You use Ergo's pages as your projectiles since he is bound to his book form when not being directly used. When playing directly as Ergo though, he uses his claws and violence to cut through enemies instead. ‘X’ is your standard attack, ‘Right Trigger’ is your always important dodge, and you can map any learned abilities to ‘Y’, ‘B’, and ‘Left Trigger’. As you learn more moves and abilities, it's up to you to figure out what combination works well with each other for your play style, just remember that you’ll constantly be swapping between the two characters, so mapping similar skills on the same button is highly suggested when you’re starting out.

Standard enemies don’t generally pose too much of a threat, that is until swarms are surrounding you, but the boss battles are the real challenge, forcing you to learn their patterns and weaknesses on the fly. While they are nowhere near the difficulty you’d expect in something like Dark Souls, regardless, you will need to memorize their subtle tells and possess quick reflexes to defeat them. You’ll eventually find a handful of moves that work best, but until that point the sudden spike in difficulty can be frustrating.

Combat itself works decently, and you’re given a lock-on system to help, but sometimes it becomes more of a hindrance than an aid. You’re able to switch between enemies, but in the heat of battle it seems like pure luck at times if you are locked on to your intended target. It’s usually much quicker to turn off the auto-lock, aim at your desired target, and then turn it back on. Doing so during a boss fight with multiple enemies though can easily spell defeat.

There are many items and secrets to find if you take the time, allowing for an enjoyable journey if you like exploring the intertwined areas. More often than not you’ll come across some type of barrier stopping your progress, but eventually after unlocking a new ability or defeating specific enemies you’ll be granted access to pass and progress onward. As I mentioned above, I simply wish there was some sort of journal or guideline to at least give hints of where you “should” be headed in case you’ve forgotten or put down the game for a while.

As for Anima’s visuals, it has a classic anime style to it that suits the source material, and a sharp looking cel-shaded feel that doesn’t look like it was made by only three people. Its art style is appealing to the eye and the spell effects during combat are quite impressive as well. The only note of contention is that the cutscenes don’t always look as slick or polished, which is usually the opposite issue in most games.

As for the audio, the music is quite well done and combat sounds great, but man, the voice acting at times can be outright cringe worthy. The dialogue is well written and is delivered without issue, but other times there are some terribly written lines that are just painful to listen to. Some jokes are quite funny, and I have to give special mention to any game that has a “Reading Rainbow” reference in song form, but many other times the jokes simply didn’t work as intended.

I honestly wasn’t sure what to expect with Anima: Gate of Memories, as some indie games, or even blockbusters for that matter, can really be a hit or miss. Luckily I’m able to report that Anima is worthy of a recommendation. It’s not without its faults though, but as an overall package it has a solid foundation of gameplay mechanics that should keep you entertained for a while. If you love RPG’s with a mix of hack and slash combat, then give Anima: Gate of Memories a look and join The Bearer and Ergo as they fight back the darkness.

Please add some form of guideline of where to head next, even if it's a subtle clue or talking to a NPC. Trying to remember where you wanted to go after putting the game down for a while leads to wandering aimlessly.

Overall: 7.5 / 10
Gameplay: 8.0 / 10
Visuals: 8.0 / 10
Sound: 5.0 / 10


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