Those who know me well will know that I spent much of my early teens playing primarily RTS games. I spent more hours than I would care to admit playing Warhammer 40K: Dawn of War and loved having a variety of creatures to order around. Whilst in recent years the genre has somewhat died down a little, quirky twists have proved popular. Masters of Anima is a new RTS-styled action-puzzle game in the strain of Pikmin with a dab of Diablo, coming from a relatively unknown developer, Passtech games. Will this new IP throw the small team into the big leagues or just end up a distant memory.
MOA is set in a grand fantasy world powered by the source of all life; Anima. You play as Otto, an apprentice Shaper and fiancé to Ana; a shaping master. Unfortunately, due to a strange, elitist rule they are unable to marry until he graduates shaper school, and as such he goes on to his exam. Unfortunately shortly after the test Ana is kidnapped by the evil Zahr and Otto is thrown into a vast adventure to save his love…and the world, of course. Whilst I do query Otto’s priorities, he is a genuinely likable character whose dialogue never gets old. The story is pretty standard fantasy fair, but delivered in style with a large amount of voice acting and cut-scenes. Whilst I’m not sure if I liked the hand-drawn and panned slide-show which many of the cutscenes ended up as, the story is nicely executed and has a satisfying end.
The gameplay is an interesting mix of RTS and action, as whilst Otto can slice with his Hawke-esque blade-staff most of your battle will be done with your army of guardians; essentially Golems made of wood, stone and metal. You have the ability to spend Anima to summon a variety of different guardians and control them. These creatures can be used to solve puzzles and fight enemies, and whilst they begin weak individually they eventually become powerhouses in their own right. You start with the ability to summon a basic melee unit, eventually you have a wide range of different troops to deploy each with their own powers, from leeching anima to firing arrows at enemies.
By levelling up, you can earn points with which you can upgrade these units and your own attacks. Some will simply upgrade stats, but many provide additional benefits which are a joy to discover. The number of guardians you can summon also increases drastically throughout the game until you control a veritable army. Combat is an interesting dance of attack and defence; swooping guardians in to attack at appropriate moments and choosing the best times to retreat. It becomes a masterwork of micromanagement which will undoubtedly remind you of other RTS experiences.
The environmental puzzles are nicely done, with challenging moments which will have you scratching your head. Often in this type of game puzzles feel a chore, but MOA has so much charm in these moments that they are a joy to discover. It’s also often worth stepping off the beaten path as there is a variety of hidden areas and collectables to discover. Often I try to avoid collectables as they become a time sync, but in MOA the search for them feels natural and worthwhile. There is also a large amount of replayability, as like in many spectacle-fighters you are graded for each battle and I can see many players going back and replaying levels for better grades. In all, the interesting mix of RTS, Diablo and puzzling makes for an excellent experience.
A particular highlight for me was the quality of the sound design. The music of MOA is an interesting mix of fantasy themes and sci-fi twinkles. Sound effects are also wonderfully realised, lending satisfying weight to attacks and plenty of atmosphere. My favourite element by far is the voice acting, which is excellently delivered. Whilst some characters are played more animatedly than others, none dip below an acceptable standard and most lines are fully acted. I’m also a big fan of the accents on display which give the world a realistic bent. It’s a pleasure to run around with my favourite Yorkshire-boy Otto interacting with entertaining characters.
Graphically things aren’t as wholly positive. Whilst the Aesthetic is colourful and interesting, I would have like a little more detail on the guardians and characters. In action, Otto himself looks like a mashup between Guybrush Threepwood and Twinsen from Little Big Adventure; blocky and somewhat faceless. Still, I can understand why less emphasis was put on high-fidelity detail in the pursuit of buttery-smooth gameplay alongside a large number of Guardians.
In conclusion, Masters of Anima is an excellent experience which mixes Diablo and Pikmin excellently. I wonder why so few developers have attempted this before, as it’s so incredibly fun to play. A world full of charm, a bumbling, comedic protagonist and incredibly fun and interesting mechanics make this a must-try for Pikmin or RTS fans looking for a new style to try.
Masters of Anima is available on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch and PC, costing £17.99.