13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim Review – A Triumph in Interactive Storytelling
Vanillaware is responsible for some of the most unique games out there, including the likes of Muramasa: The Demon Blade, Odin Sphere, and Dragon’s Crown. The studio’s classic 2D hand-drawn characters and backdrops add a tremendous amount of personality to its games, and their latest game, 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim, continues this trend. While Vanillaware’s previous games have been more action-oriented, 13 Sentinels takes a more narrative-focused approach. The game has finally arrived on the Nintendo Switch over a year after its original release on the PS4.
The narrative expands over several decades and ties together the individual stories of 13 characters belonging to different time periods. As such, time travel is a pivotal plot device here, as is the sudden invasion of the Kaiju, which has left the world in shambles. In such bleak times, an organization takes it upon itself to ensure the survival of humanity by sending a task force back in time to alter the course of events. One thing leads to another, and the overarching plot develops into a complex web of interconnected fates shared by the aforementioned 13 individuals.
There are plenty of Sci-fi anime tropes to be found here, yet everything still feels fresh due to the intricate narrative structure. 13 Sentinels’ complex plot is akin to a jigsaw puzzle made up of hundreds of pieces. The story plays out in a non-linear fashion, and not only do you have the freedom to choose which portion of the game you wish to tackle first, but you also get to pick the order in which you want to play the individual character arcs. The game is divided into three sections, namely Remembrance, Destruction, and Analysis.
Remembrance is similar to visual novels in that you converse with NPCs and exhaust conversational options until you get all of the information you require. The keywords learned during conversations are stored in a thinking cloud, which may then be linked together to make sense of a situation or unlock previously unavailable dialogue options. As a result, these segments have a puzzle-like quality to them, in which you must analyze all options in a particular scenario and extract relevant information. Other characters will be able to follow new narrative routes as a result of this.
Every time you think that you’ve begun to get a grip on the narrative’s underlying twists, it surprises you with a shocking new revelation that puts your prior inference in doubt, encouraging you to persevere and collect further clues. 13 Sentinels is a testament to the unparalleled care Vanillaware placed in even the smallest detail, which is ultimately what paves the way for the strong characterization of the entire cast and the coherence of the overarching plot. Despite the stereotypical anime tropes, it’s difficult to not get invested in the interconnected personal drama of each of the thirteen protagonists.
The second section, Destruction, features Front Mission-esque battles between the Kaiju and mechs, the latter of which are referred to in the game as Sentinels. Battles play out similar to strategy RPGs in that you issue commands to each of your Sentinels on the battlefield and then wait for a set cool down period before choosing their next command. The Kaiju appear in waves and attempt to attack the Meta-system, also known as the terminal. Your mission is to protect the terminal by eliminating the threat. Sentinels of various varieties are better suited to deal with different types of combat situations.
Sentinel gears can be customized and upgraded by spending metachips earned in battles, which, among other things, unlock passive abilities, new weapons, and useful stat boosts. Alternatively, the metachips can also be spent on upgrading the terminals located in each sector. Doing so allows you to earn a greater number of experience points and metachips upon completing missions. More importantly, upgrading the terminals unlocks a series of special abilities known as Meta-skills, such as the ability to temporarily stagger all the Kaiju within a large radius on the map. However, these skills are only available to use once a corresponding special gauge is filled up, which can take time. Therefore, you’ll only have a limited number of opportunities to trigger them during a mission. This adds an additional layer of strategy to the combat, as triggering a Meta-skill on the right occasion in the heat of battle can turn the tide in your favor.
One glaring disappointment with 13 Sentinels’ battle system is its lack of visual connection with the player. Both the Sentinels and the Kaiju are only visible as colored blips on the map, and you don’t get to witness any of the action outside of some explosions – which, by the way, can result in some performance issues in the Nintendo Switch version. In crowded situations, it’s often difficult to distinguish your units from a large pool of colored blips. While not a complete deal breaker, this certainly comes as a disappointment, especially for mecha fans.
The third section, Analysis, allows you to evaluate all of the data obtained during the course of Remembrance or Destruction. It’s divided into two segments: Mystery Files and Event Archive. The latter is where you’ll find an index of the game’s events in chronological order, while the former contains brief descriptions of the characters, locations, and other information that can prove useful. These mystery files are obtained as a reward for completing missions in the Destruction section, as well as meeting certain criteria during battle.
Whether you’re playing on the big screen or on the Switch’s handheld display, 13 Sentinels shines through as a gorgeous and finely crafted work of art, so much so that each 2D backdrop is reminiscent of a painting in motion. The soundtrack is equally as captivating, evoking a range of emotions during relevant moments and also featuring catching and upbeat tracks during battles and other adrenaline-pumping instances.
13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim is a triumph in interactive storytelling. It holds its place among the likes of The Last of Us Part II and Disco Elysium as a narrative-driven game that leverages the interactive medium to deliver a story that can only be appreciated through its lens. The Front Mission-esque S-RPG battles between the Sentinels and Kaiju are thoroughly enjoyable in their own right, though much of the action is left to the player’s imagination.
13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim Game Information
- Price: $59.99
- Publisher: Sega
- Developer: Vanillaware
- Platform: Nintendo Switch (Reviewed)
- Disclaimer: A review code was given by the publisher