The “Anima” franchise has come to the Nintendo Switch, and it’s brought with it not one, but two stories to play through. With action RPG mechanics at the heart of it all, can this budget entry into a genre dominated by bigger names make a splash on the Switch? Or will it fall short? Let’s find out!
Let’s start by highlighting one of the best things about the game: it’s actually two games in one. You get to play both the Gate of Memories and The Nameless Chronicles campaigns, so there’s definitely not a shortage of content. It’s what lies within the content, though, that makes me take a step back and be a bit more critical than I’d like to have to be.
You see, when playing through The Gate of Memories (which is the campaign I chose to play through first), I was excited: a female protagonist in a role of power makes for a fantastically refreshing change. It’s very rare, sadly, that we get to even choose a female protagonist in a narrative-driven game (or any game) so it was an opportunity I did not want to miss out on. Very quickly, though, I wish I did miss it: as The Bearer, you carry a magic, talking book. And this is not the same kind of cute talking book you might encounter in the Atelier franchise, to name but one. No. This book is the most misogynistic and disrespectful character I’ve encountered in a long, long time. Not only does the book constantly harass the bearer with sexual innuendo, but it also hits on other female characters in the game. And it’s not a cute type of hitting on, either: it’s full on “gives me the creeps” type of interaction. I must admit that, while I really enjoyed the gameplay (which I’m coming to next), I could not get pass Ergo’s (the book) personality. It did not sit right with me at all. And I’m not a prude! I love the Neptunia and Senran Kagura franchises. I’m all for adult-oriented content. But this is quite simply unacceptable.
Moving on, however, to happier things, we can talk about the gameplay. This is where “Anima” shines: a superbly competent action RPG that requires strategy rather than button-mashing to win. Enemies are not that varied, but you’ll find enough as you progress to stump you should you want to rely to heavily on hacking and slashing without taking care. Even with the difficulty set on “Easy”, I died a couple of times before hitting the end of the tutorial phase. Maybe I’m just rusty, but I did enjoy the challenge. It only felt a bit unfair and cheap nearing the end of the game. Otherwise, I always felt like using the right strategy for the enemy at hand would, with care, yield a positive result.
As with most RPGs, “Anima” is a game of stats: you can add different weapons and items to bump your stats, as well as having the ability to level up your characters and unlock new skills. The skill trees are robust and provide a wide variety of combat possibilities. And yes, this is mostly a combat-oriented game. Forget about healers in parties and so on. You do get to play as two characters, each with its own stats and health bars (which comes super handy when trying to defeat more difficult bosses, as it gives you basically twice the health points), but you can’t add any other characters to your “party”. And that’s fine, actually: it’s a narrative-driven RPG, so it makes sense to confine the gameplay to the main protagonists.
Visually, the game looks really, really good in most places. Some locales are a bit drab, but most have great texture work, beautiful layouts and particle effects that add depth and sometimes even an ethereal beauty to your surroundings. “Anima” also runs buttery smooth on the Switch; I was particularly impressed with how well it ran in handheld mode, providing an enjoyable experience without noticeable framedrops.
The sound department is a bit more hit and miss: music feels tacked-on, and the voice acting, while competent, has to struggle with the rather horrid script which, as I mentioned before, is full of crude, misogynistic comments. Sure, the story is rather interesting (if a bit predictable), but I don’t see the need to get there by calling the protagonist “baby” and constantly making reference to her rear. I just couldn’t get past it.
And it’s a shame: “Anima: Gate of Memories – The Nameless Chronicles” is a really rather good action RPG. It has plenty of content, especially for its price, it runs well, the combat system is deep and rewarding, the skill trees are full of interesting choices to make… it really is a fun, well put-together package. But you have to suffer through such strongly distasteful treatment of women that it makes it very, very difficult for me to recommend you pick up this game.
Maybe you won’t care that much about it, or maybe you’ll be of the opinion that it is, after all, just a video game. Just some fun to be had; and believe me, there’s plenty of fun to be had here. It’s just really, really not for me.