Title: 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim
Release Date: September 22, 2020
Reviewed On: PS4
While developer Vanillaware doesn’t release as many games as I’d wish, each title carries with it a distinct gaming memory of mine. What’s import is just how much these titles differ from one another. Their newest game to come west, 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim, continues this trend as the team tackles the visual novel adventure genre. With its focus on character and world-building, players are taken on a journey through science-fictional themes that aim to immerse them in an experience unlike any other.
13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim is a story that revolves around 13 characters who come from different eras with a similar goal of stopping the destruction of Earth after an invasion. The sci-fi elements of this story bleed through during each moment of gameplay as the character reference various kaiju films and classic books.
It makes the entire story feel grounded in a reality that you can somewhat understand, even with the inclusion of time travel, large mechs, and alternate universes. The story does its best to ease this onto the player over a prologue, which includes an introduction to each of the characters and the game’s battle systems, but this does require the player’s attention during these opening moments of the gameplay.
The adventure segments make 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim, more or less a visual novel. You will be reading a lot as these characters explain their situation and reveal how they are connected. There’s some incredible character writing here, which is surprising since it juggles so many main protagonists.
Each character holds just as much weight during the narrative as the other, but what’s significant about this is how easy it was to follow these relationships. The entire cast stands out as unique, and you learn to love things about all of them. However, in the event that you don’t like one of them, well, too bad, because you have to play through each of their stories to unlock other routes.
The story progresses for the characters in segments, but the game doesn’t allow you to get too far into a character’s route before locking you out and asking you to play a specific route to continue. This is to assist the player with being able to follow the narrative, which is essential because you will be jumping timelines more than a few times.
The story also understands how to give players breadcrumbs of what’s to come. Showing the group in a dire situation only to return to it hours later to play out the whole scene is something to be expected. It works incredibly well for the most part since I was always looking forward to uncovering the entire narrative.
Although 13 characters make up the entire crew, the developer created small groups where more significant relationships develop. The powerful narrative that unfolds between these characters caused me to feel more connected to them. I was utterly immersed in the overdramatic story segments and romanticized heroic set pieces. Bravery is a trait inside each of them, but the things that they fight for are what set them apart. It’s beautiful storytelling that leads to a fulfilling climax.
During story segments, there are adventure elements where the player can walk around the environment and interact with other characters and objects. These moments begin strong, but after a while, you find yourself in the same areas and are forced to piece together exactly what you need to interact with to progress the scene. This sometimes requires talking to another character multiple times or searching through key terms to unlock new dialogue choices.
The cryptic nature of this feature is what holds it back. I wish I didn’t have to talk to a character five times and would have preferred the entire scene just play out. There were times where I thought the conversation was over and walked around only to discover that I had to talk to the person again. This probably affected me more because I was just so into the story that I became annoyed when I had to interact with something again and again.
13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim also features a strategic battle system that takes place as if you were directing units via a virtual screen. Each of the characters is assigned a Sentinal to stop the invasion of their country. As straightforward and almost easy as these battles begin, the late-game encounters can last well over 30 minutes to complete. Luckily, the game has difficulty options if you don’t feel like taking part in the battles.
I personally enjoyed how each Sentinal differed, and I could utilize their skills and abilities in different ways. The Sentinals themselves vary in many ways but also matched the personality of their pilot. Furthermore, their skills and generation played a role in crucial story segments that made them just as significant to the narrative as the characters are. I played some of the battles are the hardest difficulty, and through the turn-based combat, you will be tested on balancing the EP of your Sentinals and their placement on the map. You can quickly lose a battle without a strong defense or understand the strengths of the Sentinal.
Where 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim shines is found in its character illustrations and set pieces. I can probably write an entire review on just how amazingly detailed this world is and how well the characters fit in it. I was just astounded during every moment as the characters interacted with the world around them and how every scene felt like it was alive.
As with other Vanillaware titles, there’s a bit of sex appeal sprinkled in the character designs, but it’s not pushed to Dragon’s Crown levels. Suffice to say; I loved the visuals of the game as it made it feel more like I was watching an anime than playing a game sometimes. I wanted to just leave some scenes on for hours and let the soft soundtrack and ambient noises fill my room as if it were a screensaver.
13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim makes its mark on the adventure genre by expertly telling a story through 13 protagonists. The time-traveling segments don’t leave the player in the dark as it pieces together everything using a unique adventure-based system. This game has a story to tell, and it rolls it out perfectly; the added strategic battle-system only makes it clear what this group is up against and what’s at stake if they lose.
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