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13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim review
by Uneducated_Reviews

Vanillaware is one of a kind company. They always seem to do the one thing that nobody is willing to do or better-said risk to do. Their work had always struck me as honest and filled with heart and soul. I love and admire their work so much to the point that I made an "oat" to myself: that I would gladly support every creation they made regardless of any reason. Needless to say, they never disappoint so it hasn't been an oat hard to maintain. Although their art-style and storytelling is consistently great, their game mechanics are the part that at times struggles to hit the mark or to be on par with the other two said aspects. 13 Sentinels not only raised the bar way too high in regards to storytelling and art direction, while it may look deceiving, they've made a solid, raw and satisfying combat system that complements its story beautifully, both mechanically and narratively, to deliver a balanced and masterfully crafted experience.

(Before you continue it is worth noting that if you've already made up your mind to get this game, the best way to experience it is by playing it with the least knowledge possible. So even if I'm not giving major spoilers or anything, I encourage you to not read further in this or any review).

13 Sentinels is a departure from Vanillaware's latest works that were more on the lines of side-scrolling action adventures, although here the adventure is navigated within the 2D realm, it is a different kind of game, it is more reminiscent of GrimGrimoire, but we will get there. Weird as it sounds, it stars 13 protagonists, and while it may also sound like the majority of them would be just side-stories or padded plot, every single one of them is interesting and necessary to the overall story. They're even thematically different between them; one could feel like a detective story while the other could be a slice of life comedy-drama anime, the range is vastly wide. Vanillaware is not a stranger in regards to having even five protagonists but in 13 Sentinels, they balanced it so well that every character has a lot of moments to shine, and it's never focused on the exploits of only one character; they're like cogs in a well-greased clockwork.

To balance the plot progression, you start playing with one character, and when you meet certain criteria like getting to a specific point on their plot or advancing through the "battle mode" you'll be unlocking the other characters one by one. Each character has a percent meter so you don't have to worry about not knowing which one to advance to get the "best and most cohesive playthrough". Nevertheless, one of the many brilliant aspects of 13 Sentinels is that there's not a right order to play it. In my case, I changed characters each time I finished their chapter (A "To be continued" will be displayed on the screen), and I never felt any narrative issue playing that way, furthermore, the sci-fi story is filled with twists, and its non-linear narrative only adds to its intriguing and confusing (on purpose) story. It is quite surprising that each time the cliff-hanging "To be continued" appears you'll be punched yet again with a gasp or an exhilarating new course. When you hit the 30% mark of the overall story a lot of stuff will be covered, but basically, this is just the tip of the iceberg.

During the adventure segment of the game, you navigate pre-setted places and corridors for each chapter, you traverse them in 2D fashion and talk to NPCs as most games do. These segments are more visual novel than “game”, but, it retains an interactive aspect to it, more or less like a point and click adventure. Primarily you move, interact with objects and NPCs, and trigger a scene. The magic trick is that these transitions happen seamlessly, and the level of immersion is to simply put: mind-bending. Most of the time if not all the time I was a spectator, not from a person who is spectating through a TV but that is spectating there, be it a schoolyard or a forest. The one thing that made it possible to accomplish this incredible trance is the artwork. Every scene and every character was worthy of being framed and put it in a gallery, they’re gorgeous and makes you wonder how this could be in a video game. You can almost feel the environment, and the detail placed in each scene is massive like each NPC or background character has a backstory by themselves. The easiest and quickest comparison that comes to mind is a Makoto Shinkai movie, 13 Sentinels feels like the “Your Name” of George Kamitani, like all of his previous works and knowledge come to this.

The story starts with a Kaiju invasion but things get a lot deeper and revolve around a lot of mysteries, it is not predictable by any mean but the game gives you a lot of cryptic clues that can help to understand or to resolve some of these mysteries before the plot or the characters solves them, these clues come as dialogue, text bubbles, and even as info subtitles, these could be easily missed out but if you pay enough attention you might be rewarded. To some extent, these narrative choices break the fourth wall and make yourself a kind of another sentinel, this can feel like some sort of magic, or as Arthur C. Clarke stated in his third law “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”

Let's talk a little about the main cast. They represent more or less an anime stereotype. You have your balanced guy, the playboy, the energetic girl, a rude but cool girl, the stoic, the smart, the by the book, etc. Deceiving as it may sounds, they have a lot of richness and range in their personalities, even when they're dressed in almost the same way, their designs and little details in their clothes speak volumes about them. Whenever I started to play with a new one, not even a single time I was thinking to switch to another character, moreover, I never felt the weight or burden of starting over again a new campaign, in fact, I also was willing to, whilst in other games or other media featuring more than one protagonist is easy to feel overwhelmed by starting over, 13 Sentinels gets away with it like it’s nothing and even embraces it, pure brilliance.

This is a Sci-fi work through and through, not even great for video game standards but every media standard, and because every campaign diverges from one another in terms of themes and atmosphere, you’ll be encountering a broad range of scenes, from wholesome and comic moments to truly horrific ones, it’s almost incredible how they get away in mixing all this stuff. Another part that was on the top of its game was the original Japanese voice acting, they’ve gathered quite the cast with both veterans and newcomers, and each of them gave their heart to their performances, delivering their scenes like they were born to act them, I think I’m going to sound repetitive but it is mind-blowing the vocal and acting range of all of them, the Japanese voice acting industry doesn’t mess around.

Destruction is how the battle mode is called, the first time you enter this mode you’ll get there automatically by playing the story (then it will be separated from the story same with the characters, you’ll choose when to enter), confusing as it might be, at first it would be hard to make sense of it in regards of the plot or the context but eventually it will. This confusion plays in favor of the game’s intertwined and non-linear narrative and it even expands it to the point that it continues telling the story through game-play. The “video game” part of the game plays more or less like an RTS-Tower Defense game, you choose six out of the thirteen characters and defend a Terminal (the tower) from Kaiju, the other seven pilots remain as defensive units that support you in battle in a passive way. These battles end when each Kaiju is eliminated or when the time’s over and your Terminal has HP remaining. Each character belongs to one of four kinds of Sentinels (this is the how the giant mechas of the game are called) they’re divided into four generations: melee (1st), all-rounded (2nd) ranged (3rd) and flying-support (4th), so depending on your playstyle you can have several combinations that suits better.

Each Sentinel can only be used two times in a row before the pilot enters the BOL (brian overload) state and they need to take a rest for the next battle. These battles take place in two “real” game minutes but every time you can make a Sentinel take an action, the time and everything stops. The game throws a lot of enemies and projectiles so a lot of the time the screen will be filled with tons of stuff and make these strategic battles feel exhilarating and speedy. Although I find the battle mode as everything in this game incredible well done, it is also the part that I think a lot of people could be turned off since what you see on screen are not the mechas neither the Kaiju, but abstract representations of them, this is not a bad thing per se, and the game relies a lot on effects and sounds to make every punch and projectile feel like they’re crushing the enemies and they get away with this illusion. This I believe was a budget decision, but since the focus of the game is its story, it doesn’t affect the experience, and even if it leaned towards a more combat experience, this mode as it is, delivers solid battles and damn entertainment moments that stand on its own. Think this mode like a good indie movie with limited effects, not because the effects are “basic” or “simple” makes it a bad movie. By the way, I recommend that you play it on intense difficulty, since normal difficulty can be a little too easy, the intense difficulty delivers just the right balance to maintain the stakes at a good height.

Hitoshi Sakamoto (the leading composer) is a composer that I like a lot, especially his work in Muramasa: The Demon Blade, however, I found out that at least to me, I prefer him making Sci-fi music than fantasy music, it suits him well. It delivers the right notes when fighting a seemingly impossible wave of Kaiju or melancholy gentle tunes to accompany you in more personal and contemplative moments.

It is quite difficult to point out the bad things about 13 Sentinels, I failed to see any problem at all. If anything, I can see people disliking it for being kind of a Visual Novel adventure or because of the creative and budget decision of the battle system, nevertheless, these are a matter of taste issues, not real issues at all. Because of the massive content it offers, a lot of the scenes take place in the same environments but since is narrative tied it’s understandable and makes sense within the context of the game, same with reused animations, or as Nerrel said in one of his videos “it feels economic but not cheap.” The difficulty might be a minor issue, I played on intense difficulty and while certainly, it was challenging I never lost a battle till the very end, although when you finish the game you unlock an “arena” with more battles and these can get hard, maybe if some of these were thrown into the main campaign it would offer another layer of challenge, but, it is not an issue at all. At times the story is hard to follow considering there are twists at every turn for every character, but this also plays in favor of the narrative’s structure, however, if you happen to feel lost, there’s a third section called “Analysis” where you can watch every played cutscene and files for each relevant character or object you have interacted with.

While 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim is a departure from anything Vanillaware has created before, it is also their best work to date, it is a well balanced and well packaged of everything you want in a Sci-Fi work and it goes beyond. It borrows some ideas and concepts for other media, mostly movies, and books, and makes its own thing, there are a lot of movie references (and surely other stuff) that are worth an entire study or article. The surprising part (as really anything in this game) is that they make them work in the game’s context, not only they've made them work, they owned them and created a timeless masterpiece that I believe in time it will pass to the hall of fame not only as a mandatory video game but as a mandatory piece of Sci-fi.
«Blew my mind»
«Just one more turn»
«Can’t stop playing»
«That ending!»
«OST on repeat»

Other reviews4

A nice game.
Gotta say I had a much higher expectations & they weren't met.

The story is very slow.
Having 13 characters that you have to keep jumping between doesn't help the pacing nor the immersion.
Each time a story starts getting interesting, the route is locked & you have to jump to some other character.

I know that this is done to create this overly complicated plot, but I didn't like it honestly.

I reached 30% percent of the game (after 10 hours), & decided to drop it.
Wasn't interested in any of the characters nor the plot nor the world.

I can see why some people would love this, but it's not for me.
Soap-opera levels of a cheesy story sparkled all over the place and twice as long as needed.

Combat visuals take quite some time to get used to the Space Invaders sprites slapped on top of Google Maps.
the story is fucking crazy, exceeded my expectations
«Blew my mind»
«Can’t stop playing»