The Bayonetta games are some of my favourite games of all time. Period. This is one of those things people will learn about me quite quickly–in a discussion on games, it’s just a matter of time before Bayonetta gets mentioned. Bayonetta 2 made the Wii U console a ‘must buy’ for me. When I started playing Anima: Gate of Memories, there I was once again controlling a cool, nimble lady in a manner that reminded me of Bayonetta. Needless to say it made a good first impression on me. I felt right at home with the fluid, combo-driven combat that relied so heavily on the implementation of well-timed dodges. It was very familiar.
Much like Bayonetta, Anima is a 3D action brawler game with some exploratory components. But where Bayonetta preferred a directed, linear plot to structure the game, Anima instead opts for more open and expansive environments to explore. And, to its credit, the worlds that Anima build are certainly on the spectacular side. I remember running about a large open field early on in the game and being at awe with the otherworldly beauty it presented. It genuinely felt heavenly, in the literal sense of the world. The worlds of Anima feel grand, but haunted with lifelessness–and I mean this as a compliment. This is not the busy world of Skyrim, all bursting with life; rather it is more like the sparse, meditative world of a game like Shadow of the Colossus.
With this more expansive world comes the ability to complete certain sections of the game in any order you choose. There are several different areas you can explore at any one time–each with their own unique flavour and boss to be vanquished at the end. Although they must all be completed eventually to advance the plot, the player can choose to complete them in any order they’re like. This design choice is supported quite well by the variety in the areas and bosses themselves–with each boss being a character the is examined and reflected within the context of the area in which you find it. For example, the creepy puppeteer is found within a mansion, where players must solve puzzles about the painted portraits on the walls in order to reach the boss: a man that achieved immortality by building a powerful new puppet body.
Anima also has an intriguing light-dark duality to its mechanics. You play as both ‘The Bearer’–a young woman who lost her name when she made a pact with Ergo (a demon bound inside a book)–and Ergo himself, who is able to assume a humanoid form during combat. They each have independent health and magic bars, so switching between them on the fly is crucial for avoiding defeat as well as playing to the weaknesses of the enemies you’re fighting. Additionally, the game features an experience and levelling system–which means that skills are obtained and upgraded separately for each of the characters. This is an interesting idea in that it does allow you some freedom to explore one build type with one character, whilst trying something different with your other character. But the trade-off comes as more difference between the characters means more for the player to juggle both mentally and physically during fast-paced combat.
It’s just a shame that the plot is mostly garbage. It’s a very convoluted anime-style plot that drops you in the middle of a big, complicated world of banished demons, religious conspiracy, and a protagonist who can’t remember who she is. In fact, it’s actually quite a lot like the plot of Bayonetta – except it shies away from the camp tone of Bayonetta and plays the story absurdly straight.
Another gripe I have with the game is the way it treats women. The main character is a conventionally attractive character model and is recognized as such in-universe by Ergo, who is constantly making gross comments about her body. Thankfully, The Bearer tells him to shut up quite a bit. It’s just a shame that the game seems to either be playing it up for laughs or for the gratification of the player. The character herself wears a skirt that just barely hugs her butt–and given the frequency with which the game requires you to jump and cartwheel to avoid attacks, the game also forces you to be aware of the fact that her underwear is no less revealing. That’s not to shame women who feel good about dressing this way (or any gender might I add). But given that the game dressed her this way, intended for you to see these parts of her body, and then created characters that explicitly and frequently sexualize her–it did make me feel quite uncomfortable at times. Whilst I would never want to shame anyone who enjoys this type of thing (or perhaps even finds it empowering in some way), it’s worth acknowledging that these are bits of the game that some people will potentially find too uncomfortable to make it worth playing.
It’s a shame, because whilst the game is certainly not pushing new ground, there’s certainly enjoyment to be had here. The orchestral soundtrack is wonderfully dramatic, the game mechanics are engaging enough, and the world is filled with beauty. If you like its visual design and enjoy 3D action brawlers generally (and Bayonetta specifically), then Anima is definitely a game worth checking out. It might not blow you away, but it puts a new twist on some already well established game design tropes and ties them all up in a very pretty package. If you can overlook the creepy veneer the game dips into, Anima: Gate of Memories will give you plenty of things to enjoy.
“Still a solid example of its genre and a highly enjoyable experience. Games rated a 7 undoubtedly have their fair share of issues and criticisms, but still come with a stamp of approval.”
Select Start Media was provided with a review copy of Anima: Gate of Memories for PS4. It is also available for Xbox One and PC.