Wednesday, 08 June 2016 00:00

Anima Gate of Memories Review

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I'm still living life thinking that Kickstarter is a new fad, even though it has been around for over half a decade.

Now here we have one of its success stories: a dense action-adventure RPG that introduced itself to Kickstarter back in the beginning of December 2012. Developed by Anima Project and published by Badland Games, this game managed to gather over a hundred thousand dollars from its supporters. Three and a half years later, out comes Anima: Gate of Memories, ready to eat up a day's worth of hours to complete. There's a fractured yet beautiful world with plenty of stories to dive headfirst into.

Let me first stress that the tutorial was unsatisfactory.

There was a little bit of everything, from voice acting to layered combat mechanics, but it was presented poorly. Vocals were spoken as if it were the first script reading, with lines recited separately instead of being a part of a real conversation. The controls were scattered on the keyboard, but plugging in a controller fixed that. My biggest challenge ended up being a series of jumps over rapid waters—the jump animation and terrain graphics joined forces to erase my ability to judge distances.

Thankfully, things got better.

This is a deep RPG with plenty of space to explore. It isn't an open world, but there were different paths halfway through the adventure to keep me from feeling stuffy. Decent amounts of story texts are found throughout the world that gave some spirit to the surroundings. A good chunk of the story pieces is optional, probably for players who care less about it.

The exploration aspect of finding story pieces gets emphasized. There's no questing system or supportive NPC guides. Puzzles jump out from around corners and demand you to figure them out on your own. Clues and answers sometimes hide in the other story text, tying mechanics to the world building in a smooth way. It was frustrating, but I basked in the triumph of overcoming puzzles and obstacles like this. I enjoy this type of difficulty more than enemies with increasing health and damage, though there's plenty of that too. Fighting enemies with the two player characters was the exciting break between explorative segments.

There are two main characters to play as, and switching between them takes a single button press. The change is swift and can be applied for extending attack combos. Their health and energy bars are also separated. This link provides some intricate character interactions and play mechanics. Though their skill trees are similar, the ability to customize what attacks to apply to what buttons for each character allowed me to make them handle as distinct individuals. I managed to make a dozen-hit combo attack that took an easy series of button presses to pull off.

My first impression of the character personalities wasn't as favorable as their combat. The female super mage, known as the Bearer of Calamity, came off like a whiny and impatient brat. Ergo, the male who's trapped in a book, was some condescending and misunderstood evil demon. He also overused "baby" to refer to the Bearer, and it sounded like the voice actor didn't know how to say that word to fit the rest of a sentence. There are still shades of these later on, but they get better. Ergo singing "Reading Ergo" to the tune of "Reading Rainbow" out of the blue was an unexpected but welcome comedic break. He's probably trapped in a reference book, because he is loaded with dialogue ranging from Shakespearean plays to classic movies. The location and local characters trigger most of his quips.

Locations look wonderful. There aren't a lot of props you can interact with—they leave some clay pots lying around for Zelda veterans to smash—but it has a wide variety of atmospheres. Adventures benefit from spectacles, so I'm glad they went this route. The minimap was useless, but most individual maps were straightforward enough for me to work out without the extra help. Going to the big map overviews on the character menus helped for the times I got lost. I wish they could've filled the levels out more, because there's plenty of empty space every so often. The music tracks that filled these locations were also a hit or miss, but they rarely distracted me too much to play. They certainly became dynamic areas for fighting bosses and mooks.

Combat is pretty intense. It's got a rhythm to it, which tells you when to dodge, and what time frames are safe enough to attack.

There are lots of different attacks to choose from, as well, and leveling up provided points to unlock those attacks from the character skill trees. Weaving the character-switching mechanic in there also extended the complexity. Safe attacking windows usually weren't long enough to try out long attack strings, but they were fun to pull off. The problem with the rhythm is that it gets repetitive when fighting the same enemy types for too long, so I switched areas often.

To get deeper into the combat, there are five buttons that can be matched with attacks. Additionally, certain conditions opened up more customizable buttons, like how the attack pattern in the air changes from when the character is grounded. Your character usually auto-locks to an enemy in range, and all ranged attacks focus on the target. The target lock can be manually changed when needed. Melee attacks depended on the character's direction orientation and hit everything in front. One of my concerns is that these options aren't required most of the time. Spamming a ranged energy attack often trumps all other fighting methods, since it's reliable and also cancels out against enemy energy blasts. Some enemies are resistant to magic, but they are the only few who require fancy attack combos.

Bosses were great, though. They consistently stomped on me when I tried to spam tactics. Fights with them often progressed in stages, and I had to change characters or strategies to compensate. The generic enemies weren't as detailed, but each level's set of enemies usually had some gimmick to them. I had a special play style for each area, since the dodging method against these gimmicks kept me actively moving around. Even while my default offense tactic was spamming energy blasts, the dodging patterns kept me engaged.

The story engaged me more than all the combat variety, though. My favorite moments were the story pages I found, which were essential to progress and gave me insight into what boss I was approaching. Sometimes portions of the story became clues to unlock the depths of an area, and other times it fleshed out the theme that permeates the setting and enemies. The areas are strung together as separate individual stories, from obsessive perfectionists to overwhelming wanderlust. A high fantasy goal of saving the world brings these places and histories together.

The conveyance needs work.

The biggest recurring problem was how I had no idea what my current goal or destination was. I'd get lost and needed to backtrack through every single past map, either until I found advancement, or until I stumbled into a door that opened without me knowing. Sometimes I was shown a cutscene of a new door opening, and other times I heard a sound that might've been something. I'm not happy with the idea of how much time I spent trying to figure out the next step.

There are text and voice mismatches that caught me by surprise more times than I could count. While in conversations or long story pages, there came moments when the voice says something different from what's written. Other times, words are missing. This threw me off when I was trying to follow along with both. I'd have moments where I stop reading because the voice actor is speaking a nonexistent line, then realize that the next sentence began. The story was among my favorite parts. This hindrance bothered me more than it should, but dissonance breaks the flow no matter how where it appears.

Overall, I say I spent more time having fun than fuming. This is a clear 7 out of 10. There are no parts that I can say are exceptional, but everything had uniform decency. I had issues with each aspect, but those issues were taken from hindsight and didn't hinder my playthrough often.


The Verdict

Story RPGs like these can grab players like me, so long as I don't hit too many walls. The lack of good conveyance was the biggest hurdle and did cause me to take a break once in a while. I'd throw this as a recommendation for people who enjoyed Drakengard 3, since it delivers a lot of the same tone and flavor.

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Paris Forge

I am Paris Forge, a child of the PC age. The net has been a part of my life since surfing on Netzero dial-up at the turn of the millennium. I've begun to rely on it a bit more than I probably should, but it's a wonderful world. Writing is a huge part of my work. I have authored several articles and stories, and enjoy writing in my spare time. PC gaming is among my favorite sources of entertainment, and I find immense value in learning from an interactive environment.