Mid-tier budget games were a popular business venture on the previous generation. The poster child for these kinds of games is Deadly Premonition, a critically divisive, low-budget, open-world survival horror opus with ridiculous characters and wonderful writing that, despite its shortcomings, is still one of my favourite games of all time. It’s even been featured in the Guinness World Records Gamer’s Edition for ‘Most Polarizing Survival Horror Game’. It’s a legitimately great low-budget game that you should totally check out.
As time has moved on, mid-tier retail budget games have sadly somewhat fallen by the wayside, however, I do have some good news for any of you out there who are tempted to take a punt on a mid-tier budget title. Anima: Gate of Memories is a fairly ambitious, semi open-world, third-person Action-RPG with a modest, budget price-point that fits the bill nicely, but is it bargain-bin gold or bargain-bin fodder? Let’s find out shall we.
You are the Bearer of Calamities, a trained hunter who works for the Order of Nathaniel. The Calamity (as you are affectionately referred to) has been tasked with stopping a mysterious Red Lady who, more importantly, carries with her an ancient, stolen artifact dubbed the Byblos. The Byblos is essentially, a super important book written in blood that holds the key to stopping The Messengers who, as you may have guessed, are the bad guys that want to destroy the world. Books seem to be a common motif in Anima: Gate of Memories as you yourself carry a pretty exceptional book of your own: Ergo Mundus, a strange demon that The Calamity has made a pact with 10 years ago. Ergo Mundus is an odd, lecherous chap who is essentially the other playable character within the game. He also calls you “baby”. Like, all the time.
As you may have guessed from my brief overview, the story and lore within Anima: Gate of Memories is pretty damn dense and took me a while to get to grips with. Those who hunger for a deep, intricate narrative will find a lot to digest here. It’s obvious that the game has had a great deal of love and passion poured into it. Anima: Gate of Memories‘ world, referred to in-game as Gaia, literally oozes an authenticity and a borderline bizarre charm that many other games of its ilk should be envious of. It’s got magic, monsters, demons, alternative realities, nefarious organizations and it’s framed in a fairytale-esque world that magically straddles the line between serious and ridiculous surprisingly well. Sure, some of the dialogue is a little stilted, but I get the feeling that some of its scripting flaws come down to issues with its tricky localization/translation than genuinely bad penmanship.
The real-time, third-person combat within Anima: Gate of Memories is both a blessing and a curse. Thankfully, the combat is smooth and snappy and when everything clicks, the game reminds me of a slower, more methodical Bayonetta. The combat relies heavily upon well-timed dodges and projectile magic, but also encourages you to switch up your player character (which is only a touch of the R1 button away) to help build up more powerful combos. You also don’t share the one and only life gauge, so if an enemy attacks The Calamity, Ergo won’t lose any health and vice versa. Thus, it’s effective to switch out characters to help prolong your survival during battle. Healing items, however, do affect both members of your party which is handy when you’re in a pinch.
The downside to the combat is that it often feels like fun-sapping busywork. Many of the arenas the game throws at you can be a touch on the tight side, and maneuvering in such a small space often means that you’ll get hit without seeing who hit you or where it came from. Sadly, this can happen a lot. Add to this another issue that occasionally crops up: the fact that the small-ish arenas are usually teeming with enemies that respawn often. Unfortunately, these minor issues start to sap away some of the fun and make the combat feel like more of a chore than it should be.
One final issue I had with Anima: Gate of Memories is its finicky, often unwieldy camera. Some environmental puzzles within the game required accurate platforming, but sadly Anima: Gate of Memories‘ camera and controls are just not up to snuff. For some reason, it’s really tricky to judge the distances within the game, and this led to me dying. A lot. I did, however, really admire the cinematic feel some of the fixed camera angles lent to the experience.
Visually, Anima: Gate of Memories looks beautiful, particularly for a low-budget game. Its colour-palette is vibrant and rich, and its simple, sparse 3D environments are fantastically realized. The luscious, melancholy piano score is also wonderfully uplifting to listen to and really complements the sad, desolate world of Gaia. Load screens are a bit’ve drag and are unfortunately very commonplace, but thankfully they are short. It’s just a shame, as it feels like they interrupt the flow of the game far too often.
Anima: Gate of Memories is a very solid, budget Action-RPG. It’s surprisingly well-written and it’s brimming with rich lore and bizarre characters. If you can persevere and see past the minor camera issues, stilted dialogue and occasionally busywork-feeling combat there is a lot to enjoy here. Go in with an open mind and you just might find a beautiful, but coarse RPG gem… baby.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Sony Playstation 4 code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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