The sole product of development studio 4Hands Games, Swords of Anima entered the crowded arena of mobile Tactical RPGs with a unique look and gameplay inspired by a mixture of different titles including ‘Fire Emblem’. Darker and more mature in tone than ‘Shining Force’ but less adult in nature than ‘Final Fantasy Tactics’, it is very much its own beast.
Tactical RPGs used to be quite rare, but after an explosive boom on the GBA and Playstation 2 they’re back in a big way on mobile devices. Some pretty big names have seen release onto the iStore and Play, remastering classics from the past, and there’s a selection of amazing tactical games made for the touch-screen specifically now, so it takes something special to stand out from the crowd.
Graphically, Swords of Anima is a strong title. 3D characters rove and do battle across a square grid with 3D elements imposed upon it. The character models are angular in nature but look interesting and move well, showing a variety of different animations, whilst overall unit types aren’t too plentiful (any enemy of the same class will look just like your character of that class) it never dulls the enjoyment of playing. The level-up graphic that displays when enough experience has been amassed after an attack is pop-art at its best and lends the game a lot of charm, as does the simple 3-icon control scheme that displays above every character when it’s their turn. Outside of battle the game tells its story through 2D illustrations in a visual novel-like format that plays to the strengths of the medium and characters are drawn in a westernised anime style, never becoming too chibi or focusing on outlandish designs against the darker tone of the games narrative.
The music in Swords of Anima is an interesting mix of styles. The title features a piece with a distinct Arabian Nights feel to it, soft and haunting, whilst the main menu uses a medieval tone with shades of the upbeat tone of ‘Final Fantasy IX’. Battles themselves maintain this medieval theme but alter its tone into something darker and more ominous with rarer instruments imitated well using synth, such as a harpsichord. Sound effects are slightly lacking in weight and are off by about a half-second which means that the sound comes shortly after the attack animation has begun, giving the impression that everything is a little floaty.
The story behind Swords of Anima centres on Dolian and Laocorn, who along with the 12th Squad are at the fore of a battle against the enemies of the Empire, both externally and within their own ranks. Along the way some interesting sequences flesh out the dynamic between the two men and we see some of their shared history together, starting with the rescue of a young boy from a burning village. Of course an ancient evil is also on the rise and additional characters are keen to join the fledgling squad, making for an interesting cast of colourful faces. The story itself is paced well and dialogue is well written (with an occasional grammatical error here and there) which goes a great deal of the way toward making Swords of Anima a fantastic game. Some interesting character classes also quickly distance the game from others of its type, although some are simply new names for types we’ve seen before. I was particularly interested with the ‘Vanquisher’ characters, who dealt a portion of the damage they took back to the attacker immediately and worked extremely well at higher levels.
Gameplay sees a linear progression between battles and story scenes and then back to more battles with a little time between them to outfit your party as you see fit. Winning a battle nets you points that can be spent to forge stronger weapons and armour, but there never seems to be enough to go around, making you choose between one all-powerful character or a team of more equally spread individuals. Levelling in the field reaps immediate benefits and most characters have some form of retaliation move that they can use to pay back some of the damage they’ve taken that round. Combat works in a simple tactics system which sees characters on a square grid able to move and attack or guard each turn. Annoyingly the move phase can’t be skipped by simply selecting to attack, forcing you to move to the same spot by touching it, and there’s no auto-target feature to select the nearest enemy so you will have to do so by hand. Otherwise the game runs extremely smoothly with the camera panning out and in as needed and showing off the action extremely well. Some of the character classes take a little getting used to in order to learn their better uses, with mage style characters being weak and having a short movement range but draining health from enemies they damage to add to their own HP, making them surprisingly versatile. Other classes, such as the Kensei attack and counter attack immediately and work as great all-rounders, whilst Scouts function exactly as you’d expect archers to. Once all of your characters have moved it’s the end of your turn and on to the enemy’s phase in a manner similar to Fire Emblem in execution. It’s not really the kind of title where grinding (which I always enjoy) is easy due to the linear nature of the story, but careful planning over who kills what character can maintain a well-balanced party.
Overall, Swords of Anima is a great title that still works extremely well on the new iOS and is easily able to handle Android. I’d recommend playing it on a slightly larger screen to make clicking small boxes less arduous, but heartily advise players to give the game a try and hope that 4Hands decide to branch out and make a sequel or release an expansion as IAP soon.
Since this review was written 4hands have released DLC for the title that is completely free for all players and adds new maps, enemies and story content in addition to fixing a few bugs. This is the first in a planned series of free expansions for the title.