Passtech Games have seemingly drawn inspiration from Pikmin to create a fantastical love child with everything an adventure game needs… well, apart from the cringe factor!
Developed by Passtech Games
Published by Focus Home Interactive
Genre: Hybrid of Fantasy, Adventure and Puzzle
Size: 3.01 GB
Length: 10-15 hours
Platform: Reviewed on PS4 – Also available on Xbox One, PC and Nintendo Switch.
Masters of Anima thrusts us into the world of Spark, a colourful land filled with magic, mystic and oh… love. Our main character, Otto, is hoping to pass the Shaper Trials to become a Master of Anima. Rather unfortunately, his fiancee is a powerful ‘Supreme Shaper’ and in order to be wed, Otto must become a Master and sharpish. A Shaper of this status will enable our love-struck Otto to wield a staff to summon Guardians and lead a great army to protect the world of Spark.
As all love stories seem to follow the same generic template, it came to no surprise that a villain, the almighty mystery that is Zahr, brings the fairytale ending to a halt. Zahr threatens to destroy the land of Spark by bending Anima, the life force for the magical world, to create colossal Golems. The woe doesn’t stop there… poor Ana has her soul deconstructed and it’s our hero’s responsibility to reunite all her pieces and bring peace to the land of Spark.
The ‘Damsel in Distress’ trope that is used here seems to diminish Ana’s high status as a ‘Supreme Shader’ to give Otto the space to prove himself, though he is still an apprentice. In a reality that is more accommodating of strong female characters, this choice gave me both a refreshing feeling and a disappointed feeling all at once. A male lead is awesome but giving Ana a high status just to plunge her into distress seemed a little naff.
I could just be the world’s biggest pessimist but the narrative did not seem like a big enough motivator. Especially as the opening with Ana is so short that you haven’t had a chance to understand their relationship fully, let alone become attached to them. Has Ana been captured? Well… you win some, you lose some dude. Although… Zahr was a seriously interesting antagonist for me, with his mystery being my constant focus. I guess I just like a bad boy?
Masters of Anima is based upon strategy, of which I possess not an ounce of, and the ability to make decisions quickly and effectively. It exceeds in ensuring that you, as a player, make the best choices in defeating your foe. If you don’t position your Guardians correctly you will be punished and this is kind of thrilling. It helps massively that the checkpoint system is fantastic! They are frequent thus eliminating the chance of losing all your hard earned progress. Due to each enemy class and Guardian class being so unique, by the end of the game, you really do feel like a Master as you will be able to read the battlefield and counter attacks easy as pie.
As you progress through the story you form an army of Guardians who you control with your magic staff. You are able to summon and disband these minions at will. Although advertised as an ‘original game’, this mechanic seems very ‘Pikminesque’ as mentioned previously. Guardians are able to heal, attack from range and up close depending on the job. Each class from Protector to Keepers have their own specific special abilities and attacks that help you strategically on the battlefield. Furthermore, you are able to upgrade both Otto and your Guardians throughout thus unlocking new perks. Some of the upgrades were worded a little strangely, which did cause a little bit of confusion over what I was putting my skill point towards.
You can control up to 100 Guardians so the battlefield gets a bit crowded but each class is unique enough that you can tell them apart with ease. You are even able to use Otto in a fight by attacking enemies from behind or distracting them enough to plan your next move.
There are 3 difficulty levels to choose from: Apprentice, Shaper and Master. ‘Shaper’ is described as being for people who have experience and since I’m no stranger to games I picked this one. What a mistake. The game is very hard. Each difficulty comes with its own set of regulations from altering the amount of Guardians you can summon at a time to affecting the chance of critical hits.
Every enemy you face along your journey is a toughie, I can’t lie to you. There is no chance you will come across smaller, easier Golems that can help farm EXP. This led to every boss battle being accompanied with sheer dread and saving the world does become a frustrating task. However, you will feel a higher sense of accomplishment when you beat each level. You can see your performance in a detailed stats screen which even gives you a score… I am yet to achieve an ‘S’ rank.
I am reviewing this for PS4 and I found the controls a tad bit annoying. Some of the actions I needed to happen when in the heat of battle… well… they didn’t happen. No explanation was given as to why and I felt the button combinations could get a little confusing when you are thinking fast. Of course, you grow into these things but it took me far too long to adjust. It seems like the game would be perfect when playing with keyboard and mouse.
Masters of Anima will take you around 10-14 hours to complete. The land of Spark has many hidden paths, collectibles, chests and cool finds to keep your explorer personality happy. You will also come across optional side quests to keep you busy. These are vital in breaking up the enemy sections as you can feel exhausted after each fight! I would have appreciated a map, as if you do go for a wander, it is pretty difficult to get yourself back on the correct track. There is a green arrow that will nudge you in the right direction, but it only seemed to appear when it felt like it. The rest of the time you’re on your own. The maps are mostly linear, so if you aren’t interested in outward exploring, you may not even notice.
Graphics and Sound
Spark is a whimsical world that is full to the brim with colour and diverse landscapes that beg to be discovered. From the glow of your staff to the background environments as you run through each level, Masters of Anima does look crisp and clean. I was a huge fan of the art style and design with that being a massive influence in wanting to give it a shot. It isn’t the most unique style in the world but Spark definitely has quirks of which I have never seen before. Otto looks like your generic hero with nothing overly interesting about him however this juxtaposition with Zahr creates a clear hero/villain separation.
The music was my favourite part of the game! It was always different and set the tone for what was happening on screen perfectly. It was so refreshing to not hear the same five or so notes played over and over. I had no problems with the game in turns of how it performed; the music never skipped and sound effects were never delayed.
The voice acting was a little flat for me in all honesty. It seemed forced at times and some lines, whether it was down to poor script writing or not, were delivered emotionless. I did feel myself cringe at multiple moments due to the weak humour and heavily faked outbursts of emotion. Yet, this is not the worst I’ve heard and I appreciated the fact Otto had an accent and did not have the usual American or ‘Queen’s English’ way of speaking.
Masters of Anima is an acquired taste. It is by no means a bad game but it isn’t something truly outstanding either. Otto and his quest for Ana requires your full attention and, if you are looking for a challenging experience with a beautiful world begging to be explored, I would recommend it highly. Unfortunately, the voice acting, boring story and cringey script are the biggest let downs. The addition of the difficulty settings is much appreciated but do not over-estimate your abilities. The world of Spark is definitely worth a visit, if only briefly.