Personally, I had never heard of Anima: Beyond Fantasy before. While I am admittedly just getting my feet wet in the tabletop genre of gaming, I like to think that I could form a pretty good opinion on whether a game looks like it’s worth playing, and Beyond Fantasy seems like it might make that list. With its unique and worldly setting, apocalyptic designs, and complicated-yet-intuitive character creation, I feel as if Anima: Beyond Fantasy might be a game worth bringing to any weekly gaming session.
As it turns out, Anima: Gate of Memories, the successfully kickstarted video game adaptation, is none of these things. Though, it at least gives a valiant effort.
The game opens up as you, the Bearer, an unnamed young girl, pursues the Red Lady, a character of which doesn’t really get much of a back story other than “We need to get her, guys.” After finally confronting her, the main mechanic of the game, switching characters, is revealed as the Bearer transforms into Ergo Mundus, a talking book that can take human form when someone of a unspecific quality has pledged their life to him.
While Ergo provides the most unique feature in this game, the constant need to switch characters, he also provides the biggest flaw. See, there are not many characters introduced during your adventure. Besides the main antagonists, The Messengers, the only other two main characters you will meet besides the Bearer and Ergo are Romeo and Saint Elianai, two characters featured prominently in the table top game. Though, both of these characters make only brief intermittent appearances that act as glorified hint guides.
So, for the bulk of the game you are stuck with the Bearer and Ergo, two of the worst main characters I’ve ever played as in a video games. Their chemistry feels off throughout, and while it is a plot point that the two dislike each other, it never really changes or evolves beyond that. Throughout the 10 or so hours of game, the characters stay exactly the same, made all the worse by Ergo’s flaw mentioned above. To put it bluntly, he is a sexist, unfunny asshole the entire game, constantly referring to the Bearer as “baby,” commenting on her physical appearance, and singing theme songs about himself to the oddly chosen tune of the Reading Rainbow theme. You can have unlikable characters in games, obviously. Hell, it’s story-telling 101 to have someone the readers/watchers/players can hate; it incites emotion. But, when it is the main character, and he never evolves beyond the chauvinistic quips and unfunny jokes that plague his game, it just makes me cheer on the bad guys instead. Oh, it also does not help when the voice acting is bordering on unbearable levels.
Even if the characters were non-issues, the story is a little bare bones. There is very little motivation for what you do other than being magically transported to the location and being told that some bad guys are nearby. Beyond that, there is an attempt at giving back story to each of the Messengers through “Memories” that you can collect, which coincidentally act as boss keys to get into their boss chamber. There are brief moments of sincerity in some of the writing, however isolating these bits of story to long text scrolls rather than perhaps introducing the characters early on so they can explain it themselves through cutscenes or what have you, disconnected me from the overall experience of the game that the developers were clearly trying to shoot for, which is unfortunate as there clearly was a lot of heart put into these Messengers.
Gameplay-wise, it is the same story. Brief moments of awe-inspiring locales, enemy design, ability types, etc. are brought down by the fact that the game just isn’t very fun to play. Besides the hours you will trudge through the same fields, dodge the same spike traps, or fight the exact same puppet monsters, much of the game actually relies on platforming, which is unfortunate as the jumping controls are just awful. There is no momentum to jumps, and controls are often too sensitive to perform any kind of precise landings. You will press left ever so slightly, only to have your character careen through the air, overshooting the tiny box platform you were aiming for by feet. To make matters worst, both characters control differently. For example, when landing, the bearer can immediately begin moving, while Ergo has to go through a landing animation before he can move again. In addition, Ergo runs faster, but doesn’t jump as far as the Bearer (or at least, it seemed that way. It’s hard to tell with the controls in general), so running through mountain sides, only to have to switch characters briefly in order to make a jump can be jarring and really kill the momentum of gameplay.
Combat is one of the areas where the game shines, however. The skill trees are very generous with doling out even more unique and interesting combat options to play with as players progress. Players can even customize their combos, allowing the use of different spells and attacks depending on the situation, though it is somewhat limited. Switching between characters also plays an important part in the strategy of battles. Ergo gains the ability to heal while the Bearer is fighting, for example, which lead me to open up most fights as Ergo, and switch to the Bearer if things got too rough. Unfortunately, as with everything else, it could have stood to use a little more polishing. The main issue here is the lack of variety between the characters. While the game boasts two unique skill trees, the biggest difference between the characters is that Ergo has a fourth attack in his normal combo, automatically setting him as your melee character regardless of whether you think his magic attacks are cooler. While you will most likely upgrade both characters differently because of this, the separate skill trees are, for all intents and purposes, the exact same. Combat can also be a little slow, as many of the physical abilities need to charge up before use, the charge time often feeling like half a second too long. More so, after reading the history and lore behind Anima, magic in the game feels really underwhelming (though, you can still cheese most of the game by constantly firing the basic magic attack). Wizards in Anima are supposed to be so powerful that even at level 1, they can end the world. At level 1 in Gate of Memories, I felt like I could maybe fire off enough spells to keep an enemy at bay while a healing item slowly filled up my health.
Anima: Gate of Memories isn’t necessarily a bad game. There are plenty of moments where it was very clear the developer’s hearts were in it. However, perhaps it just wasn’t given enough time, or maybe even its the fact that it was only made by a handful of tabletop game designers as opposed to a full team of engineers. Regardless, its detestable characters, infuriating controls, and lack of true character customization stand high above any of the things that might be good and worthwhile in this game. Perhaps it is worth a try if you have been looking for a short open-world action RPG to pass the time, but otherwise you might want to stay away.
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