Disclaimer: A review code was provided by the developer for this review.
Action RPGs are scarce on the Xbox One. Sure, there are games on the console like The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt and Dragon Age: Inquisition that provide hours of fun in addition to intense action and intricate storylines, but these games often require a huge time commitment. Sometimes, there needs to be a game where a player can sit back and enjoy a title without having to spend 60+ hours in order to make it to the end of the experience. Anima: Gate Of Memories is an action RPG for gamers who enjoy titles like Darksiders and Devil May Cry. It’s fast-paced, action-heavy, and often relentless.
Anima: Gate Of Memories has a storyline, but to be honest, it was often confusing. I knew who the main characters were and what the conflict was, but the execution was jumbled and it occasionally had me scratching my head. That’s not to say that the narrative is bad because some of the revelations are pretty cool, but the story wasn’t always inviting. The story revolves around The Bearer Of Calamities or “The Bearer” and Ergo Mundus, an ancient entity that shares a special bond with “The Bearer”. The two characters work for an organization called Nathaniel which tasks its members to combat and destroy creatures from the darkness. When they are searching for a coveted item called The Byblos, they are transported to the Arcane Tower, a structure full of twists, turns, and nightmares beyond belief. Although they don’t know how or why they got there, finding and destroying the evils that reside within the tower becomes their primary goal.
During both exploration and in combat, players can switch between “The Bearer” and Ergo at any given moment. Each character has their own move set as well as strengths and weaknesses. Combat is made up of hacking, slashing, magic use, dodging, and combo attacks via character changes. Additionally, each character has an individual health meter which is good during boss battles although stamina and magic meters are shared. Leveling up gives both characters skill points that can be used to unlock and upgrade various abilities which amplify combat, magic, ki, and passive attributes to aid you during the adventure. The majority of both skill trees mirror each other, but since players can level up and customize two characters, mixing and matching abilities can give players an added advantage in battle.
With the press of the “X” button, your character can attack. The “right trigger” is to dodge and the “Y”, “left trigger” and “B” buttons can be used to map the different abilities at your disposal. There are also items such as health boosts, and various consumables that can be assigned to the different directional buttons. These items can even be used simultaneously while executing an attack which is an extremely helpful gameplay mechanic especially during boss battles.
Speaking of boss battles, this is where Anima: Gate of Memories is at its strongest (and most infuriating). Let me just say, that the boss battles in the game are the highlights of the entire experience. Each fight was well done and often required fast-reflexes, strategy, and memorization. I never knew what to expect during a boss fight and that was appealing to me. What will divide players is the sudden difficulty spike that the boss battles bring to the table. I died to a few bosses a handful of times, but there was one fight against a boss during the halfway point of Anima: Gate of Memories that almost broke me.
This boss battle had me stuck for about a week. It wasn’t that the fight was particularly difficult, the circumstances were just unfair and often infuriating. One false step and it was basically game over. Near perfect memorization of the foe’s move set was required and even that didn’t guarantee success. There were moments of randomness in the battle that put me on edge. I could go on for paragraphs about how great the boss battles in the game are. Every single fight felt fresh, unique, and unpredictable. Whenever I made it to the pre-fight room, I often psyched myself up for what was beyond the portal though I was never fully prepared for what lied ahead.
Exploration in Anima: Gate of Memories often reminded me of The Legend of Zelda series because of the intertwining environments. There were early sections where I couldn’t access a certain area, but after unlocking a new ability or discovering an item, those places were now attainable. I often decided to look for more memories, which are items that give players insight on the backstory of the particular boss in an area . While they don’t give clues as to how to defeat a boss, knowing more about their lives and struggles was an intriguing addition to the game.
The visual style has an awesome cel-shaded feel to it and although the character models don’t always look great in cutscenes, Anima: Gate of Memories is not an ugly looking game. It’s not fantastic, but it has a very appealing art-style which strengthens the experience.
As much as I liked Anima: Gate of Memories, there were a few things that just didn’t work. First off, the dialogue featured some cool reveals and humorous banter, but some of the lines were cringe-worthy. It sounds weird, but Ergo constantly calling “The Bearer” baby just didn’t fit in the dialogue. Also, while some of the jokes landed and were genuinely funny, many one-liners just didn’t work out. There was even a reference to modern technology which seems weird because the game looks like it takes place in an earlier time period.
Another gripe that I had with the experience was an instance of misplaced labeling on the in game map. One portion of the game’s map mentioned “area 5” and when I entered that zone, it was in fact “area 4”. Then “Area 4” was actually the 5th zone. This mixed up the progression of the title and actually made Anima: Gate of Memories a harder game.
In terms of gameplay, the camera angle is occasionally an unofficial enemy within the experience. The way that the camera rotates isn’t always responsive as it should be and I found myself inverting the axis to have a better time with the game. The boss fight that gave me the most trouble (which I mentioned above) often led to death because of the camera angles in that arena.
Anima: Gate of Memories is not a perfect experience, but it’s the type of game that the Xbox One really needs. The action RPG genre is seriously lacking so it’s great to see that this style of game is being represented on the console. Despite a few missteps, the overall experience was pleasant and although frustrating at times, the game never overstayed its welcome. There are multiple endings, a new game plus mode and more reasons to go back and play the game. Anima: Gate of Memories is the type of game that I can see myself picking up from time to time in order to visit that world once again. Xbox One owners looking to dive into a difficult, but fun experience should join The Bearer of Calamities and Ergo Mundus on their journey to stop the darkness from spreading. It’s an entertaining ride and one that I will definitely try again in completely different ways.