Anima: Gate of Memories - Deep Look

Some Gates Don't Open
by Alex Fuller

Anima: Gate of Memories
Platform: PS4
Developer: Anima Project
Publisher: BadLand Indie
Release Date: 06.03.2016
"While the game features quite a few interesting ideas, it's hugely let down by unfriendly execution of its gameplay."
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   Anima: Gate of Memories is a Kickstarter-funded action RPG from Spanish studio Anima Project. Setting itself in the world of the popular local tabletop game Anima: Beyond Fantasy, Gate of Memories doesn't try to directly emulate its ruleset like many other titles, instead going more in the vein of The Legend of Zelda and Pandora's Tower with a heavy focus on puzzles and mechanic-based bosses. However, after managing to get through most of the first half of the game the prevailing thought that while the game features quite a few interesting ideas, it's hugely let down by unfriendly execution of its gameplay.

   The game gets into things pretty quickly, with the Bearer of Calamities chasing down the Red Lady at the behest of the sacred Order of Nathaniel that both belong to. The lady has stolen an important tome known as the Byblos, with the Bearer bringing along her own tome, Ergo, with whom she has a sacred pact that lets Ergo — himself a sealed being once intent on world domination but now apparently more cooperative — manifest in a physical body in place of hers. This particular chase is thrown out quite quickly though, with the Bearer and Ergo ending up in a mysterious tower cut off from reality. Solving the puzzles of this tower and defeating the powerful beings drawn to it quickly becomes the main driving force.

   The writing in the game is variable. While the lore that players collect detailing the history of the tower's beings offers some great short tales, the conversations between the game's cast do not inspire. Ergo has moments of being slightly amusing but more often comes off as annoying with his constant use of "babe" and an awful rendition of a variation of the Reading Rainbow theme coming out of nowhere at one point. There's a threat of impending war and doom in the real world outside of the tower if the Bearer fails to complete her task, but it feels completely disconnected from what's happening in the game and fails to add any urgency.

   Gate of Memories refuses to do any hand-holding on behalf of the player. After the very brief, linear tutorial and intro, players are thrown into the tower of Arcane to do as they see fit. There's some benefit to this, with a greater feeling of advancement upon finding out how to progress, but a bit more general direction would be helpful as the game will frequently require players to do things in an illogical order. Players will feel obliged to scour every part of the game's areas, as hints can be hidden away and very easy to miss, and solving them can more often than not come down to stumbling across something rather than any logical thinking.

   Combat further splits the potential playing base. There are the regular standard attack, dodge, and jump options, with four buttons assigned to skills decided by the player (each button can have three skills assigned depending on if the press is done as an initial, combo, or airborne attack). Players can switch between Ergo and the Bearer at any time, even mid-combo. However, outside of some minor speed differential, both control the same it only really serves to provide players with more possible skills or for the game to throw in some elemental enemy annoyances. Combat moves at a good, fast pace, but those who are not already proficient at fighting games or fast-paced action titles like Devil May Cry will struggle with the wildly controlling characters that can easily end up flailing ineffectively. The multitude of enemies that the game often likes to spawn in its encounters also makes them unappealing propositions when found.

   The gameplay weaknesses show up the most in the boss fights, which are at best frustrating, and at worst almost impenetrable roadblocks to progress. Even on the alleged easy difficulty, bosses seem to require perfect reactions to have the slightest hope in avoiding their attacks. There are attack patterns, but the game doesn't give players enough room when it comes to avoiding them. Bosses seem able to change their aim up until the last moment possible so, even if players know an attack is coming, moving ever so slightly too early will still result in it hitting.

   The camera exacerbates the problems. It is far too easy to lose track of enemies, even with lock-on enabled. It also proves to be a significant hindrance when jumping, leaving players uncertain of where they will land until they actually touch down, and the game is not short on jumping-based puzzles. At least falling to environmental hazards, such as a failed jump or spikes of instant death even if lightly touching a non-spiky part, puts players back at the nearest safe point, albeit minus a portion of health. The game returns the player to the nearest autosave point if health reaches zero.

   Gate of Memories has an interesting comic-book style of showing major events, switching between in-engine snapshots instead of a full motion video, that helps to gloss over its graphical limitations. Though oddly, regular conversations don't bother trying to do this, actually highlighting the lack of any mouth movement when the rest of the on-screen models move around normally during them. There looks to be a good variation in the zones of the tower, with a decrepit manor and open fields appearing early on. The music is good, although it doesn't leave any lasting impression after stepping away from the game.

   Anima: Gate of Memories has potential. There are lots of interesting ideas and it seems like plenty of fascinating tales within its base's lore to build upon. However, its failure to be accessible to a large chunk of its possible player base comes back to bite it hard. As things are now, the roadblocks in the forms of clunky gameplay and poor balancing are simply not worth the pain of trying to break through them.

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