Iteration and derivation are key to the progress of the video game industry. The first-person shooter used to just be, well, a game about running around and shooting stuff, as we saw in Wolfenstein 3D. Later, Doom added in complex level design, Half-Life introduced scripted storytelling, Borderlands popularized loot collection and RPG elements and so on. Rather than just an FPS genre, there’s an array of subgenres that represent pretty much any combination of traits you could want.
Likewise, real-time strategy has its own set of branching subgenres. You’ve got your traditional RTS, your MOBA and more. Today we’re looking at Masters of Anima, a minion-leadership RTS featuring elements popularized by games like Pikmin and Overlord.
Centuries ago, a great war was ended by the Shapers, who manipulate life energy called Anima and use it to create robotic Guardians. Today, Otto’s less concerned about history and more concerned about his fiancee Ana; she’s smart, she’s gorgeous and she’s one of the best Shapers left besides. When a renegade Shaper uses forbidden magic to shatter Ana’s essence apart, though, Otto’s forced to use his nascent Shaper powers to try and save her – if not the entire world.
Shaping amounts to using Anima blobs collected throughout the environment to summon minions who will help you fight. You’ve got shield-bearers, archers, anima-thieving healers and more; victory revolves around maintaining a balanced army as well as effectively commanding your troops. Success in battle and diligent exploration are rewarded with skill points that can be spent to improve both Otto and his Guardians.
Otto’s a little flimsy and not especially powerful by default; while skills can be chosen to alter this balance somewhat, the real meat of the gameplay revolves around the plate-spinning act of managing a Guardian army. At its most basic level, you’ll have tanky Guardians distracting a foe and wearing it down; later you’ll add in archers who do more damage but can’t take a hit, healers who keep your own Anima and health topped up by sucking it out of enemies and so on. Otto can also push Guardians into using special attacks by standing near them and spending Anima, which can counter certain attacks and stun enemies.
If it sounds like there’s a lot going on, that’s because there is! While attacks are well-telegraphed, the whole experience can still feel like trying to chew gum, walk, rub your stomach, pat your head and do your taxes all simultaneously. It’s one thing to properly arrange Guardians, move more vulnerable minions out of danger, dodge attacks aimed at you personally or activate a counterattack at the right moment…it’s quite another to do all of that at once. When you get the hang of things and it all comes together, though, Masters of Anima is surprisingly satisfying.
It’s got a nice, effective aesthetic as well. Guardians have recognizable silhouettes and color schemes, making it easy to tell who’s capable of doing what and where everybody is during the chaos of battle. Likewise, character design and storytelling aren’t groundbreaking but everything works for what the game’s trying to do. As for sound, the most notable aspect would be the oddly adorable squeaks the Guardians emit as you order them about. I’m sure a line of plush Guardians that squeak when hugged are on the way.
Players who aren’t prepared to multitask are likely to find themselves somewhat frustrated with Masters of Anima, since the game rapidly ratchets up the complexity and never really quits. If you’re patient and willing to learn by failing, though, this is a satisfying pseudo-RTS with a lot to offer. Given it’s a sub-$20 purchase, it’s hard to argue with this one.