Masters of Anima's structure will be familiar to those who have played Pikmin or Overlord. You play as a character who leads an army of followers and commands them to attack enemies or interact with the environment. Otto, the protagonist, leads different tiers of Guardians, beings powered by Anima, as he seeks to save his fiancée and restore peace to the world. Masters of Anima operates on a simple Pikmin-like premise. It isn't a full-fledged strategy game, but it is a surprisingly difficult game in practice.
You play as Otto, who has just become a new Shaper of Anima under the tutelage of Master Jaku. Otto has to restore his fiancée, Anna, whose soul has been torn asunder by the evil Zahr. The world they share surges with Anima. With it, you can summon the Guardians who will combat enemies and help you solve environmental puzzles.
During my playthrough, I discovered three types of Guardians. The first, Protectors, are the bread-and-butter units. You can direct them to attack enemies at close-range, and each is equipped with sword and shield. You’ll want plenty of them in most encounters. The second, Sentinels, are the archers. You can position them in shrubbery to hide them, or place them strategically elsewhere on the battlefield, then have them fire upon enemy units. The third I unlocked is the Keeper, a support type that can replenish your Anima.
As you fight Golems, the game's main enemy, you need to stay on your toes. You can only create Guardians so long as you have Anima. As a battle progresses, Anima sources – like little orbs that lie around the battlefield – deplete. When each Guardian dies, small orbs of Anima appear, but these are not substantial enough to fill up your Anima meter to a significant level. If you’re fighting a couple Golems and all your guardians have been destroyed and you’re out of Anima, you’re likely to lose. It doesn’t matter how much health Otto has. He can attack on his own, but without an army of Guardians, enemies can quickly fell him.
There were times very soon in a battle I had mismanaged my Guardians and was out of Anima, so I reloaded the prior checkpoint. Exceptions were when a Golem was near death. Once a Golem dies, Otto receives a splurge of Anima. If you’ve got one down to low enough health that a few hits from Otto will kill it, hang in there. You'll get enough Anima to summon a handful of Guardians when you defeat it.
You’ll use your Guardians strategically. So if you’re fighting two Golems, and one of them stands still and hurls rocks, you’ll want to surround the base of it with Protectors. If another has a crossbow that it aims and fires with, then position Sentinels around the combat area to keep the crossbow-wielding Golem turning and aiming at different groups. As it turns and aims, move the Sentinels to new positions so that they’re firing on it from all sides. All the while that you’re managing this, Anima will be depleting as you make more guardians to fill in for the dead ones. Keeper Guardians can help replenish your Anima by drawing power from the enemy, but as support Guardians, they don’t do much else and can go down quickly.
There's a skill system you can use to improve your stance in combat after each level-up. You can choose from skills for each Guardian and for Otto. Some improve attack power, others allow Otto to have more of a certain Guardian, and others provide more perks. This system fleshes out the game's structure with RPG flair.
Anima doesn’t just allow you to create Guardians. Its power also enables Otto to deal out supercharge attacks. Each Guardian type has a special one of these and, when used at the right time, they stun a Golem. A blue shield icon will appear over a Golem just as it’s about to engage in a powerful attack. At this moment, you should start a supercharge.
You have to pay attention to the Guardian type you have selected, as whichever you do will conduct the charged attack. So if you have a horde of Protectors at the feet of a Golem that’s charging up, but have Sentinels selected, your supercharge attack won’t be effective. These attacks deplete Anima, so you must use them carefully. If you choose not to use them, you’ll have to pull your Guardians back from the Golem, as your supercharge attack is the only counter to its powerful attack. The need to pay little strategies like these attention adds to the game's difficulty.
Otto also uses Anima to manipulate structures in the world, like raising piles of rubble to become gateways. You can also move huge stone structures using your Guardians, a very Pikmin-like aspect of the game. It’s easy to summon as many Guardians as you need when not in battle. Anima is plentiful and you can easily refill it when wandering the world.
It may take some time to solve environmental puzzles, though. The main issue is finding the parts you can interact with. In a few instances, I roamed around not even knowing what objects I could activate.
Each Guardian type has a different use in solving puzzles. The Keeper Guardian has an ability that allows you to travel safely across dangerous terrain. The Sentinel Guardians can shoot at objects high in the air. The Protectors are the ones who push big objects. There are more Guardian types than this, though I have not unlocked them yet. Just like in combat, you want to use your Guardians strategically when traversing the game world.
Masters of Anima is a strategy game that will remind you of Pikmin, and though easy to understand, it can be surprisingly difficult. There are a few strategies you have to be mindful of at all times in battles. Even when you do your best to manage them, you can fall apart. Masters of Anima is simple fun, but it's hard simple fun.
Masters of Anima was played on PC via Steam with a code provided by the developer.