I have a large selection of RPG books on hand, some better than others. Today I thought I'd write up a review of one of them. In fact, I'm going to review one of the most beautiful and useless RPG books I have - the Anima RPG.
A lot of people were probably sold on the art for the game. It has some great art, no lie, and in some ways you can even say it is well-done. Just... not a well-done game. Even a brief flip through the book shows that there is just page after page of tables and text, as dense as a year-old fruitcake.
There are a couple of ways to approach the book, so let's start with it as a game. There are a huge number of ability scores to keep track of, including basic combat scores, Ki ability, psychic ability, magic, and so forth. It's like they threw everything into one book without trying to make systems work together - and as the guy who wrote Dungeons The Dragoning, that I think they just have a mess is saying something.
Secondary abilities - which would more properly be called skills - are pretty normal looking, though they do share some of the Dungeons and Dragons style of splitting some things off from each other (Swim and Athleticism are different skills, as are Hide and Stealth).
Building a character is kind of a mix of point-buy and standard levels. Start with some points, get more as you go up in level to improve your abilities. Really, it's not a bad way of doing things. Classes give costs and distribution of points, which again actually works pretty well. This is honestly the strongest point of the RPG, and it is all fucking downhill from here.
Immediately after the character creation section is a section about nonhuman characters. It starts by saying it's a game about playing humans and how humans are the most fun to play, and how the GM must approve you playing one of these reincarnated superhumans. Now, if this was in the GMing section in the back you'd just be able to look at it as an option and mostly ignore it. But right after character creation? Everyone is going to want to be a special snowflake.
After this comes the section on skills and you begin to see the signs of madness. While most of the skills are fairly normal looking entries, some (notably the medicine entry) are either oddly specific or just MATHS.
Without getting into too much detail - because this book is nothing if not full of details - the book just continues to devolve more and more into tables and charts. There's a combat table that makes THAC0 (which really isn't hard to remember) look like child's play.
Martial arts are surprisingly similar to the way I handled sword schools in DtD, lists of abilities and effects that you use to point-buy techniques. Magic works on MP, there's a summoning section after that with the Tarot, then a section on psychic powers...
And none of it seems to flow together. Sure, most characters will only use one of the sections, two for some, but there doesn't seem to be any real thread that connects them - they don't even use the same statistics! It's like all the late-development splatbloat of 3.5 put into one book, with Binders, Psions, and Wizards all competing for space.
I'll be honest. I haven't really gone over this book in detail. It's a book that resists reading. The layout is beautiful and awful at the same time. Let's start with beautiful. The art is pretty much universally good, and they put a lot in - there are very few places where you can open up the book and not see art. It's also clear that the editor wanted a *very* tight book.
Unfortunately, it's that tightness that makes it so hard to read. The margins are thin, especially at top and bottom, and there is almost no white space at all. Everything is locked together like a puzzle of pictures and charts, every chapter ends with the last sentence at the bottom of a page, chapters start with only a very thin header right at the top of the page, and all of it leads to a book that is just a solid block of... stuff.
And that's overall one of the worst things about the book. It could really have done with more fluff, something to break up the pages. The elements used in the book are really quite nice. I really wish I could make a book that looked like that. Some of that, anyway. The way it never seems to end is less than ideal.
Overall, I'd have to say Anima was a game with a great art editor, and whoever was in charge of development and design of the system just dropped the ball massively. It could have been a great game if they had used more formulas and fewer tables, reserved half of the subsystems for other books, and someone had a print editor on hand to explain the concept of white space.
At least it's not Eoris.