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Anima: Gate of Memories Review

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Did you like Bayonetta? Of course you did. It offered some of the smoothest, most intense action game-play ever seen, and easily earned itself a spot in the gaming pantheon. But have you ever wondered what Bayonetta would look like if it was a mid-tier PlayStation 2 game from the early 2000’s? Well, wonder no more, for despite its recent release date, Anima: Gate of Memories feels like the Ghost of Action Games Past, and it’s here to offer you either a potent hit of nostalgia or a dose of confused frustration, depending on your tastes.

The story of Gate of Memories occupies a space half way between an epic anime melodrama and a contrived video game excuse plot: a variety of powerful being known as the Messengers of the End (read: bosses) have been called by unknown forces to the tower of Arcane, where according to legend they will bring about the end of the world. The only thing standing between mankind and certain doom is the Bearer of Calamities, a mysterious girl magically bonded to the demon Ergo Mundus. Together the Bearer and Ergo, under the command of a secret organisation known as the Order of Nathaniel, must defeat the Messengers, unravel the mysteries of Arcane, and save the world.

Naturally, all is not as it seems, and there will be some not-so-shocking twists and fairly predictable turns before it’s all over. If you’ve ever played a videogame before you could probably write most of this stuff yourself, but it’s a fairly interesting take on some common story elements that should keep your interest to the end. Unfortunately though, the storytelling is marred by some of the worst voice acting you’ll hear in any game released in the past decade. Almost every character sounds like they’re reading off a script they’ve never even seen before. The only character who sounds even remotely tolerable is Ergo, who at least sounds like he’s having fun even if his dialogue does sound like a low-budget version of Dante from Devil May Cry.

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Continuing with the “low-budget Devil May Cry” theme is the game-play, which presents some of the most unremarkable hack-and-slash action available on a modern console. You have a melee attack, a dodge roll, and a  handful of special attacks, which you’ll use to fight an array of visually interesting but mechanically bland enemies. Some games can take this formula and turn it into gold, but Anima just can’t quite pull it off. There are few glaring flaws and nothing particularly awful about it, but the whole thing feels dated and bland. Dodging doesn’t feel quite smooth enough, attacks don’t have quite enough impact, and battles lack the smooth, flowing feel seen in better action games. It doesn’t help that the camera wouldn’t be out of place in a Nintendo 64 game, frequently leaving you blind to enemies attacking from behind, or simply pointing into a wall.

The game is also, for the most part, fairly easy. Healing items are readily available, and most enemies have predictable attack patterns, so the average battle can be one simply by mashing the dodge and attack buttons. Even more powerful foes will generally fall victim to the classic strategy of keeping your distance and blasting them with ranged magic attacks. The exception to this rule is the bosses. Boss fights in Anima are protracted affairs against enemies with both substantial amounts of health and powerful attacks, though they still ultimately come down to figuring out the appropriate pattern of dodges and strikes and then repeating it a bunch of times.

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Anima’s level design is substantially better than its combat mechanics. Arcane serves as a hub world from which you can access a the games other areas, each of which has the same fundamental goal: explore the area to find the “memories” of one of the Messengers of the End in order to unlock a boss fight. The Memory hunting aspect is one the games more interesting ideas. In addition to providing plenty of collectables for completionists to hunt for, they also add a lot of depth to the world of Anima and the game’s bosses, which would otherwise be simple roadblock on the way to the next level. In fact, the Messengers of the End,  whose stories and personalities are revealed a piece at a time as you explore their levels, are often more interesting than the games actual main characters.

While every level is fundamentally a scavenger hunt,  each one approaches that task in a unique way, keeping the game feeling fresh.  One level features a huge, vibrantly coloured, and freely explorable plain of rolling hills, while another takes place in a cramped mansion filled with locked doors and possessed marionettes. Some levels even incorporate puzzles and platforming elements, though the platforming sections suffer badly from the game’s camera issues. The levels are also very varied thematically, and the choice of enemies, challenges, and structure for each level always feels appropriate to the look and feel of the area.

Exploring the levels feels fun in part because of Animas excellent graphical design. Technically speaking, the graphics are unimpressive, with low detail character models and simple textures, but the developers used their limited resources to create a great aesthetic experiences. Character designs are bold and striking, colours are vibrant, and each area has it own recognisable visual style. The soundtrack is also good, with a lot of varied and thematic tracks. Most of these have a high energy feel to them, which helps make the often bland gameplay feel more exciting.

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I greatly enjoyed my time playing Anima: Gate of memories. I found every memory, completed the optional collectathon side quest, and beat the bonus boss. Despite that though, I can’t honestly call it a good game.  Its controls are stiff, its game-play hopelessly dated, and its story interesting but marred by terrible delivery. Still, its strong visual design and anachronistic feel give it a certain undefinable charm, recalling memories of a time when you couldn’t throw a rock in a game store without hitting half a dozen games just like it. If you’re looking for a polished, modern gaming experience, Anima is not the game for you, but if you still have a nostalgic fondness for the Playstation 2 and the strange, awkward, sometimes frustrating games that made it great, you just might get a kick out Anima.

 

Anima: Gate of Memories was played on Xbox One