I have mixed memories of action RPG Nier. I remember its world, soundtrack, and story in a positive light, but I also remember it being a frustratingly clunky chore to play. Most importantly, though, I remember it being a game that a team clearly put a lot of love into, a game that had ambition and heart even if it couldn't always keep up with itself. The more I play of Anima: Gate of Memories, the more I think of Nier for pretty similar reasons.
That said, I also can't help but notice some similarities in ways besides how they feel. In Anima, you play as a woman known as The Bearer of Calamities. When she was a child, she accidentally made a pact with Ergo, a demon trapped inside of a floating talking book, and received great power at the cost of her name. The two work for a holy order and are given a task to hunt down a traitor named the Red Lady, who stole the order's most holy book. Things go wrong quickly when the Red Lady is killed, and The Bearer and Ergo are pulled into a mysterious tower with a bunch of other extremely powerful people. Now the two need to stop whatever it is the tower is readying as it could lead to the destruction of the world.
Anima's story is interesting enough to keep me going through the game. The mystery of the tower and its various inhabitants is certainly a good mystery. Where Anima shines is in its world-building. Each boss has background history that is amazingly fascinating to read. Furthermore, little snippets of the world's history can be found everywhere. The Bearer and Ergo can have conversations at save points and are always talking about the events in the world around them. If nothing else this is Anima's biggest success in the story department.
On the other hand, this means enduring the game's hilariously bad voice acting and occasionally horrid writing. Anima's voice acting is so bad that I'm genuinely fascinated as to how this could have happened. There's not a single character in the game that I can safely say had even decent acting. Everyone sounds uninterested, confused, unemotional, or strangely over-dramatic during rare moments. The game also contains some strange bouts of terrible writing to go with it. At one point Ergo belts out the Reading Rainbow theme, only instead he changes it to "killing rainbow". At various times Ergo makes jokes that have punchlines which amount to little more than "The Bearer has a butt, how crazy is that?" Not a single joke was funny, just lame.
As for the gameplay, Anima is your basic action RPG. Its big feature is that you can switch between The Bearer and Ergo at any point. Both characters have unique fighting styles, abilities, and skill trees. Characters always have basic attacks, but you can learn and assign different skills for them to use either to start a combo, while in a combo, or while in the air. By the end of the game, I could get The Bearer to launch enemies into the air, create explosions, and give herself some health regeneration, while I could have Ergo fire bolts of darkness, use his claws to swipe at enemies, and buff his attack. Some abilities are more useful than others. Both characters share a "dash towards an enemy and hit them" ability that is so helpful that I equipped it at the start of the game and never got rid of it. Another talent that saw The Bearer charge up a regular magic attack didn't really have any place for me.
Combat got tough at times, for various reasons. Enemies were creative, and finding ways to deal with ice elementals and skeleton giants was a lot of fun. Experimenting in the combat got me far, and exploiting weaknesses is a must. Switching between characters was also a must. The Bearer and Ergo don't share a health bar, they both have their own, but if either one dies its game over. Swapping from one low on health to one with a full health bar to keep the heat off of me for a bit helped keep me alive in any situation when I felt combat was turning against me. It also helped because some combos could be chained, with the characters able to assist each other for a brief moment.https://youtu.be/Jw7tvrPtA6M
Sometimes combat got tough because the game is just clunky. While you can chain between characters, individual characters can't chain combos very well. Leading from the basic attack to a launching attack to an air combo to a ground pound isn't just difficult, the system just flat-out doesn't allow it. The best way to fight ends up being using the dash, the basic combo, then dodging away from attacks, or sitting back and using ranged magic attacks. It's not that fighting is bad, but it seems like a shame that it can't handle more than a basic combo. Likewise, Anima also required me to deal with its occasional troublesome camera. I could lock onto enemies, but switching lock-on targets was rather difficult, and the camera had an unfortunate tendency to get stuck on things.
Anima is also full of boss fights, and it felt like I couldn't more than five steps without running into a boss fight. Each stage had at least three, if not more. Some of these fights were pretty fun, and I found them to be better than the regular battles, while others felt like frustrating roadblocks until I could figure out what their gimmick was. One neat fight saw a boss with two health bars: one only The Bearer could hurt and one only Ergo could hurt, and I had to deplete them both around the same time. Other bosses are just a "big enemy with lots of health" and you'll usually be fighting non-boss versions of them a couple of hours later.
While you'll be doing plenty of fighting, each level is based on exploration. There are five main zones, and your goal is to explore the regions and find fragments of the zone's boss' history. Each boss has five fragments that range from "basically in your face" to "so well hidden that a guide is required." Thankfully you only need to find three to move on, so you don't need to lose your mind trying to find something that's a little too well hidden.
You will, however, lose your mind trying to explore some of the areas. An early level saw me in a mansion owned by a puppet creator and trying to figure the level's design gave me a headache. Puzzles are big in the game, and the puzzles in the mansion level would see me spelling words based off of context in the boss's history. Solve a puzzle and a door opens, but good luck figuring out which door. I would hope I solved a problem correctly and wander around the mansion looking for any doors that I'm pretty sure weren't opened the first time.
Occasionally the game turns into a side-scrolling platformer. There's nothing overly wrong with this, but the engine sometimes forgets to lock the ability to move in 3D, so I would find myself falling off the edge in strange ways. The platforming itself is kind of floaty, but I didn't find it so bad because often I found that messing up would do little other than respawn me outside the area that I fell. No real loss there.
Anima looks decent enough, without any glaring errors. Occasionally I was impressed, one rolling field level proved to be a visual treat. On the other hand, the game's cutscenes looked awkward. There's little to no motion in any of them, with the game only changing how models look when it changes camera angles. It just looks weird and lazy, like the animators weren't confident enough in their abilities to make cutscenes. The good news is that Anima has a fantastic soundtrack. From vocal themes to epic battle music, I enjoyed listening to Anima's soundtrack.
While it has issues, I found myself feeling oddly enchanted by Anima: Gate of Memories. Maybe it was my fond memories of the mess that was Nier kicking in, perhaps I just feel sentimental to games where I feel like you can tell the developers put their heart in it, maybe I was just able to excuse the issues easier. Regardless, I'll have positive memories of Anima for months to come.
Anima: Gate of Memories was reviewed on a PlayStation 4 using a copy provided by the developer. It is also available on Steam and Xbox One.
Reminding me of cult hit Nier, Anima: Gate of Memories has its issues, but a lot of them can be forgiven thanks to how charming the game is and how interesting the world surrounding it is.(Review Policy)