Vanillaware has come to be known for developing gorgeously drawn tightly controlled action games so when it was revealed that 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim would be something entirely different, many wondered just what to expect from the team. To make things worse, the developer went dark for quite some time to work on the game before once again revealing it to the world and surprising many by revealing that it would not only be shifting its entire genre away from the action game that many would have expected but would also feature an intricate storyline unlike any previous game from the developer. Have the ambitious developers of Vanillaware managed to create another great title for their lineup or is 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim a step too far?
Having strange dreams of battling against Kaiju with a giant robot wouldn’t seem too odd to an average 1985 high school boy who loves to watch classic movies but when these dreams seem to constantly persist and even appear to feature some of his classmates in them, Juro Kurabe begins to think that things are getting a little strange. Of course, when he ends up accidentally summoning the same giant mech from his dream in the middle of the city only for his friend to act like he is being dumb for bringing out his “Sentinel” randomly, that is only the tip of the iceberg.
13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim tells perhaps one of the most complex types of narratives that a video game can have as it does not feature a sole main protagonist and instead constantly features a shifting perspective that moves the story along through different characters’ viewpoints and even their points in time. Things may seem crazy in 1985 only for it to jump back to World War era Japan and even into a futuristic modern world with there being very little time to catch up and get a handle on things. The reason for this is because players are meant to be kept in the dark for the most part as all thirteen of the playable characters have their own unique viewpoints, “thoughtclouds,” and even story progression with some of this story advancement being limited depending on how far the player has managed to get into the storyline of another character.
In an effort to avoid spoiling things as much as possible, especially given some of the significant events that take place over the course of the game, we’ll be trying to stay as vague as possible, players will find each of their characters undergoing their very own narrative arc throughout the course of the game and while some are clearly better than others, there is no weak story among the many threads that are spun here. It also helps that these storylines are all interwoven with one another in various ways that help keep players interested even if they are using a character that isn’t one of their personal favorites.
That being said, it is interesting to note that thanks to the way the game’s story is designed with Remembrance being the core storyline mode, players will often need to make use of the game’s ability to select “episodic” sequences to try and unlock various key words that enter a character’s aforementioned “thought cloud” that can then be used to trigger an event that may have kept another character’s story from advancing. This can be a bit rough at times especially if the player ends up struggling to figure out exactly what they might be missing to unlock the next bit of storyline but does make sense overall given how important some of these sequences can end up being.
By telling an incredibly engaging storyline that, might start slow but quickly hooks your attention once the twists start happening, 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim does an amazing job handling its unique cast of characters and interwoven storyline that features so many different elements of sci-fi built upon one another all circulating around a world-changing mystery that is all held together by an amazingly written narrative handled expertly by a great translation team, especially when one considers how massive the amount of text this game features throughout its lengthy campaign.
For the most part, players will be spending the majority of their time in 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim in the “Remembrance” gameplay mode that serves as the game’s story and sees players controlling one of the thirteen main characters at a time. These characters move around a 2D side-scrolling plane and can talk with other NPCs, observe the environment, and gather items or subjects for the “thought cloud” which can then be used to talk to another NPC or use said item with something. When the player manages to find the right solution to the current objective, sometimes simply talking to enough characters being the task at hand. Of course the bulk of the time spent in this mode will then be spent listening to the massive dialogue sequences that play out between characters.
The other half of the game is oddly enough the weaker side of things, the giant mechs battling against the Kaiju forces that appear no matter what year or character the player is currently controlling. This mode happens to be Destruction and, unfortunately rather than featuring highly detailed models or designs, is set on an overhead map of the city and plays out similar to a turn-based tower defense game with players using their selected team of available Sentinels to take down any enemies that are trying to attack the designated defense point.
The player’s Sentinels and enemy Kaiju are represented through simple icons on a map and each character and enemy type has their own strengths and weaknesses with some foes being capable of flight, others being stronger in melee, and more while the player needs to customize their team to best take down the various threats that come their way. These battles generally don’t come off as difficult if the player is vaguely familiar with the genre but players can turn the difficulty up if they want more challenging battles.
That being said, completing battles is another requirement to advance through the story, often with major revelations happening before and after key battles, so the ability to take things easy is nice for those who want to enjoy a sci-fi mystery and not be punished for not expecting a tower defense style game but it would have been nice to see some more variety or unique elements implemented here given the mech themes.
Visuals & Audio
If there is one thing that Vanillaware has become known for, it is creating gorgeous hand-drawn looking characters and backgrounds for their games and that remains true for 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim. All of the characters have unique enough designs, some of which are quite pretty, to stand out from one another to avoid players from mixing them up and the various designs of the environments and world in the 2D planes are quite a sight to behold. It is worth noting that there is even fan-service for everyone here as, for reasons that cannot be stated, whenever a character is piloting their Sentinel they do so completely naked and while there is nothing explicitly shown, this is a nice touch for fans of such things. Unfortunately the same level of detail is not carried over to the battle side of things as, while the mech designs overall are neat, the battles themselves lack any real noticeable flair outside of a few flashier attacks and the lack of proper overworld designs and a bland map, it is a real disappointment.
Players will have the option of playing 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim with either the original Japanese voice track or the English voice cast at will and can swap between them anytime in the options menu. Despite having to release the English dub later, the voice cast has performed admirably with their characters here and fit the theme of the game and the extreme jumps in logic and twists that it takes quite well.
Vanillaware has always known to provide plenty of substance with their style but now with 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim the company has proven that they can tell an engaging and riveting storyline that will keep players hooked wanting to unravel more of its mysteries even while the perspectives continue to shift and the plot thickens across the numerous playable characters all with their own unique stories to tell.
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