Writer’s Note: I wrote this review using a digital review copy of the PlayStation 4 version of the game.
I’m not sure where to go with this: this game’s foundation is based around the tabletop RPG franchise Anima: Beyond Fantasy which is a Spanish franchise that got inspiration from mainstream console RPG franchises like Final Fantasy and Suikoden so it’s extremely strange to me that this game feels more like a blend of Devil May Cry and Drakengard‘s land-based combat segments. Even the tagline of “a pure breed action RPG, the likes of which you have not seen in a long time” doesn’t seem to sit well because this game does not seem to follow that description as there are many games like this that have come before it that have done the exact same thing and a lot of them have done it better. Considering the world this franchise takes place in and what I, through my research, can only assume is it’s initial fan base, I’m not even sure why a video game was entirely decided upon as a profitable venture.
Before I even picked up the controller, I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect: it felt as though the fans of the franchise had a lot of anticipation for this because the game went to Kickstarter and it succeeded… back in 2013. However, what I ended up experiencing was a mixed bag of great moments and bad moments and, at the end of the day, I felt I really missed out because I wasn’t a fan of the source material. It’s a game of polar opposites: for every poor thing about this game, there’s an equally good or greater thing to enjoy and vice versa applies. It’s a very delicate balance where only a few things stand out and those things, unfortunately, as an outsider to the franchise this game is based, are just terrible and those things, sadly enough, were somewhat vital to me enjoying this game enough to want to play for long sessions.
One of the things that I have to make a mention of that really shows the polarizing nature of this game is the graphics and the level design: some of the levels, characters, and effects are just beautiful to behold. There was a few times where I was simply in awe of the fact that this came from the same indie studio that put out OlliOlli and its sequel. However, though, ironically speaking, some of the graphics – like the character models, spell effects, very few of the textures, and several of the presentations and interfaces – don’t look like they belong on anywhere but the PlayStation 2 or the XBOX. I suppose part of this is a problem with porting a PC game to consoles like the PlayStation 4 and the XBOX ONE but I couldn’t find any clear reasoning as to why this occurred and there’s some moments where it stands out, especially during combat… creature models are often terrible and magic attacks often look like colored patches of fog that zip around the screen. It doesn’t help that in my research it would seem there’s not much difference between the Wii U version and the other console versions.
Considering the history of this franchise, I was expecting the lore and story to be compelling and deep, as would be the characterization, but this, too, was a polarizing factor: I could tell there was a pretty deep history behind this game and its characters but if I hadn’t done some reading beforehand I feel like I would be lost because the game throws you into the shoes of your typical amnesiac protagonists who do little to explain their situations and I feel that the only way I could truly appreciate it is already be playing the source material and have done some extensive reading on the characters as well. It doesn’t help that the script throws terms and factions at you almost as if the story insists you read the in-game encyclopedia. I know the lore and story elements are there but getting into them feels like more of a chore than it does a pleasure to watch unfold, which is a shame, because there is some pretty neat things to learn about this game’s world and the people within the game.
Combat and character development are a couple of things where things had some serious potential but fell kind of short, especially early on in the game. I mean, of course, as you gain abilities – which, honestly, add your garden variety stuff that you’ve seen a million times before, Arkham-style – combat opens up a little but until you get to that point it almost feels kind of like Dynasty Warriors mixed in with Dark Souls: dodge, dodge, dodge, dodge, jump in, rush, hack and slash a bit, dash away and rinse and repeat as needed. It gets really bad when enemies seem to have two settings: cannon fodder and cheap as hell. There’s these archer types that you face early on in the game and if you don’t catch on to how to kill them easily, you could be facing a lot of death and a lot of frustration due to the fact of the matter that you lose a large chunk of your life to them and you can face a large amount at once and they’ll throw in just enough cannon fodder, at times, to make sure you stand still for long enough for at least one of them to hit you, periodically. It took me a while to get into the swing of what you’re supposed to do in combat but instead of feeling like accomplishment, it just feels like you found out why you’ve lost at paper, rock, and scissors all your life: because there’s a fourth option that annihilates all of the others. Keeping that analogy in mind, you don’t feel like you’ve won but rather you feel just as cheap as any difficulty doesn’t really feel organic, it just feels like the deck’s stacked against you for no fair reason.
And… finally… probably the one part that stands out the worst to me is the characterization and the voice acting… holy hell, I don’t know the franchise’s history or the characters and factions that exist within it but is everyone always so sarcastic, condescending, crude, and downright disrespectful all the time? Some of the humor feels like it
comes right off the script from Drakengard 3 in that there’s obvious, classless, and just plain stupid wordplay that belongs in a kid’s Saturday morning cartoon if it was allowed to make sex jokes. Again, I’m not sure if this is how the characterization is supposed to be but the script rushes you into plot devices without explaining much to you, the script rushes you into jokes that you either don’t want to understand, feel dirty because you do understand, or are left cringing when terms like “baby” are used like honorifics without even a shred of class. We get it, Ergo is putting out a facade of a bad boy… demon… or whatever. But you don’t have to beat it over our heads. We aren’t stupid. I think the voice acting could have been better but I seriously think this may have been a case of the crew falling at the feet of a heavy script that fails to do much of anything other than make self-reference and potty humor a priority. It’s not just the gameplay that reminds me of Drakengard and Devil May Cry; it’s some of the “it’s so bad it’s almost hilarious” story and character moments that try way too hard and trips over itself trying to do so constantly.
There’s a lot to enjoy here, considering it’s an indie title from a smaller developer but, for me, this game reared some of its ugly qualities way too much for me to be able to sit down with it for nearly as long as I wanted to. It made getting through the game feel like kind of a chore and a game should never really feel like that. I also feel like if I had a little more experience with the franchise, I would be able to enjoy it more; I mean, this is another one of those games I’d never heard of prior to playing it and yet again there’s several limited and special editions available, begging the question of how many people actually really anticipate this game and whether or not I’m just one of those guys who just doesn’t “get it.” Either way, I was able to enjoy the game – it’s not the worst, by far, but there is much, much, much better out there, currently, and ages before.