I will admit I’ve never heard of Anima before. Apparently it’s a table-top RPG system based on Japanese RPG culture, taking inspiration from Final Fantasy among others. Keen to expand their reach to the digital platform, Anima: Gate of Memories was successfully funded for a shade over $110,000 in 2012. Four years later, I’m not quite sure how proud the developers should be with their finished product.
Some games truly suit a cell shaded style, while others don’t quite get how to make it appealing. Anima: Gates of Memories doesn’t make the same mistakes as the infamous Guise of the Wolf did, but they’re not exactly pushing many boundaries with angular designs that seem like they came from a decade ago.
Idle animations are huge tells at the corners that were cut, with the Bearer clearly hyperventilating. Cutscenes are largely static too, giving off a rather cheap and cheerful production value. Movements during in-game segments aren’t very fluid and the whole game has a last-gen feel to it.
Perhaps this is a symptom of not really knowing anything about the Anima Role Playing system, but I found that the narrative was a mixture of dull exposition and cringe-worthy dialogue. Because the characters don’t really animate all that much outside of the combat, you get two-dimensional protagonists that are hard to relate to or care about.
The Bearer for example is a brooding lass who can’t remember her name, while her book companion Ergo is an uncharismatic tool who cracks god awful jokes and gives an essence of being that pervert you watch out for in public places. Their chemistry is not all that great as it’s mostly the Bearer telling Ergo to shut up every five minutes. NPCs are somehow worse, bosses occasionally spouting the same tired phrases with delivery more ham-fisted than a hog roast.
Areas are on the relatively large side, each wing representing a particular boss whose memories need recovering in order to unlock the gate to their fight. Each one of the wings has their own quirk, for example the second wing revolves around observational puzzles, unlocking doors based on combinations. This particular one was definitely a highlight as it rewarded those looking closely.
Then there are wings such as the mansion where all the puzzles revolve around reading paragraphs of text from the collectables in order to find names to enter in locks, or the wing where you need to find and defeat sentries in order to unlock memories. In between these, you need to navigate hallways of spike traps, bottomless pits, disappearing platforms, and trigger happy projectile enemies. All of which make for infuriating level design at times thanks to the controls.
Devil May Cry made a name for itself because of the responsive combat that always felt fair, as well as allowing the player to dodge and use projectile attacks. Anima: Gate of Memories tries to ape the core mechanics, but the combat never seems to gel. Enemies are generic enough for one of my friends spectating to describe one of the golems as “a Poundland imitation of another toy”. Aside from the bosses, that description fits with all of the generic enemies.
You are able to level up both characters and assign them with magic to certain buttons. Being able to switch between them on the fly also works when linking up combos, but you don’t get a proper sense that everything flows naturally. The game’s lock-on is a little temperamental, but the main issue is the moves don’t allow for big combos and the camera is always at odds with you.
In fact, the camera is an issue throughout, especially whenever the game tasks you with platforming. Because of the jerky nature of the camera, it’s very difficult to gauge where you’re going to land, meaning that it’s possible to not stick the landing of a particularly easy jump. Double jumping offsets some of the pain, but not when it calls for precise timing from the player.
Boss battles bring their own bugbears as they’re found in self-contained arenas with almost no imagination to their design. Some have vantage points where enemies can shoot projectiles from a distance, while others are circular arenas. While there is variety, it’s usually down to the enemies to take on the slack of the originality.
Compared to Devil May Cry, these fights are dull slogs into despair. The most original boss fight in the game seems to be a boss who is only vulnerable to one player-controlled character’s attack at any given time, yet I’ve seen this gimmick elsewhere in the same level. On top of that, I found myself guzzling life fragments like the average brickie drinks beer on a Friday night. It’s not that the fights are challenging, more that it throws everything at you so you’re bound to get hit by something!
The fact of the matter is: Anima: Gate of Memories just isn’t fun. It’s not that the puzzles themselves are bad, nor that the lack of handholding is a huge deterrent in itself. Yet, the game gives very little feedback as to where to go, features mediocre combat and poor visual presentation to boot, whilst featuring some of the most hackneyed narrative and voice acting of recent years. Fundamentally, it feels like the Kickstarter budget should have been a little higher to achieve what Anima: Gate of Memories clearly wanted to be.
Version Tested: PlayStation 4