Masters of Anima isn’t your typical real-time strategy (RTS) title, blending elements of the genre with action-oriented gameplay. You take on the role of Otto, a Shaper, who sets out on a quest to save your fiancée. The fate of the world just so happens to be at stake as well, but he only concerns himself with protecting what he holds dear in his heart. After corruption infects the land and Ana, your partner because sundered from the mean antagonist, your journey begins to reclaim her body and soul that has been split into three crystals. As a fledgling Shaper, you must overcome your experience shortcomings and improve your skills as you progress through each of the game’s stylized lands.
The key to a Shapers strength lies in the mystical Anima energy found throughout the world of Masters of Anima. Using the Anima, Otto can summon many guardians (or minions as I call them) to his side. There are five different types of guardians, which you will unlock as you progress through the narrative, each having their own set of strengths, weaknesses, and use for solving environmental puzzles. If you need to regain some of your Anima in a pinch, either to open a chest, a passageway or even to summon a different guardian type, you can convert any guardian into Anima. The mechanics to summon the guardians is quite simple but can feel overwhelming at first, as you will need to hold the triggers to perform actions, such as summoning, giving orders, etc. Summoning a guardian doesn’t produce a single unit, however, as you will benefit from groups of guardians to further increase your unit count.
The very first guardian types you learn are simple sword and shield protectors, capable of tanking enemies and serving as frontline soldiers. What sets them apart from others, however, is their ability to stun enemies that are about to perform an often deadly AoE (area of effect) attack. Sentinels, on the other hand, are your typical glass cannon DPS ranged class, capable of performing a powerful charged explosive shot on targets. Each one has their place when moving around the environment, as protectors can push heavy objects, and sentinels can activate elevated switches and corruption crystals. The remaining three guardian types serve as support classes, capable of stealing Anima from enemies, activating Otto’s battlecry remotely, and summon giant golems to smash through previously blocked off areas. Unless needed to open a passageway or to complete a puzzle in the environment, I tended to shy away from the summoner and commander. I found a happy medium using a handful of keepers to keep my anima production up during boss encounters, but heavily focusing on sentinels to burn enemies down as quick as possible.
As you may expect, things don’t always go as planned, something that I’ve come to terms with in any strategy game I’ve played. I’ve gone into battles with a full set of 40 or more guardians, only to lose them in a flash, by a single and costly mistake. Through each of the different levels, you’ll come across arena locations that serve as a battlefield against single or multiple targets that spawn in waves. To survive, you’ll need a firm grasp on each of the guardian types as well as quick reflexes. Positioning your units is critical, having the protectors turn the foe away from your other groups, placing sentinels in nearby natural cover locations to protect them from attacks. Golems have two different bars above their heads, one for health and one for a enrage mechanic, similar to something you would see from an MMORPG. Take too long to defeat your enemy and they will be overcome with rage, and will mercilessly attack you and your guardians. One mechanic that I still struggle with is moving your guardians on-the-fly to a new location, typically if an enemy has targeted a precise location. After giving an order to a set of guardians, you no longer can follow that up with a different order and must reselect those guardians before doing so. This has caused many deaths during my time with the game, and wish I could change the mechanics to let me order the one specific type again and again until I select to take control of a different set. In a panic, I’ll choose all of the guardians, and then have to position each group separately; another reason I decided to not use the final two support classes in fights.
In between levels experience earned grants you a set number of skill points to improve either Otto or his guardians. What you choose is entirely up to you and dependent on your play style. As I mentioned, I focused on using an overwhelming number of Sentinels, so I maxed out their skills and then focused on Otto. There are some must-haves, in my opinion, that will benefit anyone, such as increasing the number of groups you can summon or rolling out of the way (Otto does move rather slowly by default).
Masters of Anima provides an adequate challenge in terms of puzzle solving and combat encounters. You are ranked on each fight based on the number of guardians lost, damage Otto has taken, and how long it took to complete. The stylized visuals are quite charming, and the camera is kept in an isolated view that can’t be altered. You may fumble at first with the controls, especially once you are trying to juggle a handful of different guardian types at a single time. However, it has been a delight to play the game and feel like a badass when you find the perfect combination of guardians to utilize.Note: Masters of Anima was reviewed on Xbox One. A digital copy of the game provided by the publisher.