I have to admit, I didn’t know quite what to expect from Vanillaware’s 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim. After having heard about it several years ago, it fell to the back of my mind, collecting dust while other AAA games released. Seeing it reemerge in 2020, a year that was already crowded with big events, it’s easy to see how it could fly under one’s radar. Should you happen to come across it in your search for new games to play, then you just might discover one of the most refreshing and unique sci-fi stories to come along in years. With the game being heavy on the narrative, there’s a ton of mysteries and secrets to uncover. Be that as it may, this will be a spoiler-free review.
13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim tells the story of 13 young protagonists, each with their own roles to play in the tangled web of the game’s plot. As you make progress in each character’s story, more answers will come to light, revealing yet another discovery for the player. Time travel, giant monster battles, AI, and more await players in this playground of science fiction ideas. Honestly, even mentioning these elements doesn’t quite expose any secrets, as the game handles them in creatively smart ways that leave you guessing. When the pieces start to finally come together, you start to truly appreciate the narrative structure. While it’s not free of cliches, 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim succeeds in telling a story of biblical proportions.
There are really two gameplay experiences with 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim. Remembrance is where players will choose their protagonists and play through their unique story. Some stories give players their own Groundhog Day experience, replaying scenes with new information allowing for different paths. Others will have different scenes playing out, or some will even go in sequential order of events. While some can seem repetitive at first glance, the new details and events allow for players to learn more about the world. As players progress, they’ll learn just how truly interesting and complex this world is too.
During Remembrance, players will earn “Thought Clouds,” which are basically keywords that give more information. It’s often that these words are necessary to advance the plot, allowing characters to bring up new topics to ultimately alter the path. If you ever feel stuck in the game, the answer will typically lie within the Thought Clouds. It’s much easier to succeed than to fail, but should you do so, the game will quickly reset the event. Of course, Remembrance only gives one aspect to the game, leaving the rest of the gameplay to the Destruction campaign.
The 13 protagonists of the game are actually all pilots of giant mechs known as Sentinels. Why they’re all chosen is revealed through Remembrance, but for those that crave action, Destruction delivers. Vanillaware takes a different route here by giving a strategy RPG for players to eliminate the invading Kaiju. Each mission will involve up to six pilots protecting the terminal, which is essentially a home base, as incoming Kaiju try to attack it. It’s really like a strategy version of Space Invaders in some ways, which is made more interesting since War of the Worlds inspires both games. Destruction even uses more of a retro visual style, representing all players and enemies as 3D sprite-like beings. It’s a far cry from the usual Vanillaware art style, but it does make for a good contrast.
As players defeat Kaiju, they’ll earn meta-chips that can unlock new abilities, enhancements, modifiers, and multipliers. They’ll also level up their pilots and earn passive abilities that strengthen their performance in battle. While some would rather use their favorite characters, 13 Sentinels encourages using the whole roster. Characters will reach a level of fatigue after a couple battles, making them temporarily out of commission for a wave. With 13 pilots to choose from, you’ll typically rotate characters out, especially if you want the bonus for consecutive waves. On top of this, some waves will offer a bonus mission requiring one or two specific characters. It really makes for good strategy in the end, as each pilot has their own specialties.
There are four classes of Sentinels, each with an important role in battles. Generation 1 Sentinels will be the melee fighters, offering very little in terms of projectiles while making up for it with destructive close-combat options. They also make great use of EMPs for anti-air attacks. With the Generation 2 Sentinels, they offer a more balanced style with good range, powerful melee attacks, and even sentry turrets. Generation 3 Sentinels are your long range fighters, delivering large missile volleys and railgun blasts. Finally, the Generation 4 Sentinels are your aerial fighters. They move the fastest, allowing them to get in and out of situations quickly, but at the cost of low armor. How you utilize these different models is crucial to doing well in Destruction.
With over 30 waves to defend from, players will have their hands full taking on new Kaiju and big bosses. In some cases, you’ll take on hundreds of enemies at once, truly testing your defensive capabilities. Because of this, there are moments where the performance takes a hit, causing some frame rate loss. While the game can get intense in some battles, it does still give players the necessary tools for success. Utilize them well, and you’ll likely mow through waves of Kaiju with ease. If you don’t pay attention to the proper information, then you might be setting yourself up for failure. For those that want even more challenge, they can even raise the difficulty.
13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim presents itself with a lot of strong sci-fi themes. This falls into both the visuals, and the sound design. While the game has the painterly style of previous Vanillaware titles, it adds a lot of lens flare, bright glows, and noise. It can often be so bright in places, that certain text can be hard to read, especially during the credits. Thankfully, the game has full English voice acting, and with a stellar cast of anime and game veterans to boot. For those that prefer to have Japanese voices, they’ll still have the option with subtitles. Regarding the subtitles themselves, I never had any issue reading them, and the game even offers a log that can be pulled up at any time if you miss dialogue. The music also has a serene beauty that can easily shift to haunting tones.
While the ideas and narrative can come off overwhelming at first, it all starts to make sense towards the end. 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim will offer dozens of hours of gameplay, and even after reaching the surprisingly beautiful ending, I’m still thinking about the many revelations. This one digs deep into the roots of science fiction, offering a unique representation of humanity. The way the story unfolds is truly innovative, and there’s an impressive amount of thought put into it. If you’re a fan of science fiction stories, anime, or strategy games, you won’t want to sleep on this one. 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim is a truly masterful accomplishment in the genre and deserves to be recognized.
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