A tower holding ancient horrors, an organisation committed to protecting the world from it, and its most powerful weapon, a nameless young woman bound to the spirit of an ancient evil. This is the world of Anima: Gate of Memories.
Developer: Anima Project
Publisher: Badland Games
Release Date: June 2016
Played: Full Story (True Ending)
Platforms: PC, PS4
Purchase At: Steam
Source: Bought on Steam
I mentioned weeks ago that I was playing this game, and even now I love the setting, a mishmash of European history, the Inquisition and bits and some of the craziest high fantasy you’ll ever see. The main character has no name, not because she never got one but because when they bound her to Ergo Mundus, an ancient evil now trapped in a book, he took her name as part of ritual. No one knows her name because for the entire world it’s as if it never existed. Now she’s just the Bearer of Calamities, the title given to her because the Order of Nathaniel refers to Ergo as the Calamity. I find that awesome!
The concept of the Tower, Arcane, is phenomenal. You think for a long time that it’s just a place outside of reality where powerful entities are gathering to enact the End of Days—which is already pretty cool—but then they tell you the truth and you realise the tower and the entities, called The Messenger of the End, are so much more than what you thought. It’s pretty inspired stuff.
Sure, the plot itself is a bit predictable and some of the twists I saw coming a mile away, particularly that of the main instigator of the plot. Anyone who hears the character talking the first time will figure it out. It has the typical type of “mysterious” character who knows everything, has no reason to hide the truth yet does so, speaking in riddles and half-truths because it’s much more fun…I hate that. Hell, one of the bosses tells you outright that everything you know is wrong but conveniently drops a pronoun instead of a name when telling you about the main bad guy. That annoyed me.
Characters are shallow for the most part and I saw nothing interesting in the Bearer of Calamities. But Ergo Mundus is fantastic, the only guy in the room aware of the nonsense people say and ready to drop a snarky comment when the time is right.
The villains, the messengers have very cool backstories, of which you need to find three chapters before you can engage them in combat. Most of these memory fragments are in their specific level but others need some side questing or jail breaking to acquire. Malekith has a great story, Druaga’s feels very natural in a world with so many super-powered humans and the Puppetmaker’s is both intriguing and oddly tragic.
When I say jail breaking I mean it literally. In the first wing of Arcane you find masked shades trapped in cells—imagine the masked spirits in Sen To Chihiro no Kamikakushi aka Spirited Away. Each of these has a specific side quest and completing them will get you gear or more of those memory fragments. In fact, you need to collect these fragments for one of the side quests, so completionists have lots to work with.
I hated having to return to the first wing and going through all the annoying traps for the prisoners. By the end I just couldn’t be asked to do another trip there. For a part of the game they put so much effort into, they should’ve been in a more central location to make them easier to access—particularly because the Mansion they are in, Arcane’s first wing, is a bit of maze.
Gameplay is similar to that found in action-adventure games in the same vein as Devil May Cry. You have a set number of attacks and you can chain them together for extra damage and special effects, and while not fighting, you’re out there running around and doing some platforming.
The platforming can get frustrating. While the camera is pretty free, the controls—at least mouse & keyboard—aren’t tight enough to make some of the tougher platforming moments a pleasant experience. Very often I’d make a jump and fail it by a millimetre or overshoot the platform by a mile. One of my common grievances with the game was that for long platforming sections, any fall returned you to the beginning, instead of one of the many stationary platforms found around the course.
I do like that running into traps or falling off to your doom returns you to the nearest ‘checkpoint’ instantly, without any loading times or waiting. To give you an idea of how fast it is, think of falling into a hole in the Super Nintendo or portable versions of Zelda games, where you pop back right at the edge. It’s faster than that, almost instantaneous.
But the meat of the game is in its combat. I like the fact that instead of having different button mashing ‘formulas’ to trigger special moves, you map different attacks to the different buttons in three configurations: land, air and in the middle of a combo. It gives you many options to chain together your powers, though most only a small set of them seem designed for combos.
Sadly the game goes the Metroid Prime route of giving you a ton of abilities during the prologue and then taking them all from you, which I didn’t appreciate, particularly when some of those “starting abilities” are in the middle tier of your skill tree, leaving you with very few attacks to work with for a long time.
The most important mechanic in the game is the ability to switch from the Bearer to Ergo’s human form. It effectively gives you two characters with independent health and resource bars (stamina and mana), and you can even switch the characters mid-combo for an even longer chain of attacks. The problem is that the two characters have too many common elements in their skill trees, particularly in the combat skills, even considering each character has a different ‘focus’, with the Bearer more magic oriented and Ergo favouring stamina consuming abilities.
The only skills with big differences are those with long casting times that are generally very hard to pull off against bosses and some of the tougher enemies.
There are ridiculous difficulty spikes in the game, particularly between normal enemies and some of the ‘elites’. The game never refers to them as this, but after the seventh time the dude calling down a pillar of fire kicks your butt, or a weird angel shoots a cross-shaped hadouken at you, you know they’re elites.
But much like in Dark Souls, if you learn the patterns you’ll succeed. If you die, try again. It’s what makes the bosses so amazing. They have tons of skills and most hit like freight trains. If you’re greedy, they will punish you, but if you notice their cues and learn the proper timing, you can take care of them effectively.
Sound is a mixed bag. The soundtrack is outstanding, from the aria in the title menu that turns into a much more powerful piece, to some of the frankly epic battle themes. Sometimes I had to stop doing things to appreciate the music.
But the voice acting is appalling. I liked John Joseph Archer II’s performance as Ergo Mundus. He was the only one who sounded like he cared about what was happening around me. The rest of the cast cross are automatons. The Bearer’s voice is painfully dull while she’s reading the memory fragments.
Environments are gorgeous and complex in Anima: Gate of Memories, though they suffer from the same issue as Star Ocean V, with way too many tight corridor maps, where you can explore a narrow pathway. There is no lip-syncing in the game at all, and honestly, I see it as a good thing. I’ve always believed that you shouldn’t add lip-syncing unless you know it’s going to be perfect. Having said so, it’s sometimes a bit jarring to see them have these long conversations without anyone having even a single expression.
Anima: Gate of Memories gave me a look at a wonderfully strange world I once thought I could never explore and gave me an intriguing story to follow. It’s not a perfect game, flawed in almost every way, but I enjoyed it from start to finish!
3.5/5 – Good!