What a trip – I’m really not sure what else to say. When I heard I was to be reviewing the new title from Vanillaware, the developers of some of my favourite action titles (Dragon’s Crown and Odin Sphere Leifthriasir), I was excited to see what I was in for.
But as usual, I was taken by surprise – leaving 2D side-scrolling action behind completely, 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim is like nothing I’ve played before – for both better and worse.
At its heart, though, 13 Sentinels is a story-based game, which plays out – for the most part – as a kind of interactive novel. These sections of the game are 2D and side-scrolling, but merely require players to walk to another character, talk to them, investigate their thoughts, and then associate these thoughts in order to progress the story.
There are some puzzles, I guess you could call them, in certain areas, but these are often so simple, it’s not really worth mentioning. This is the kind of game made for those that enjoy Japanese interactive novels, so if that’s you, chalk one on the board.
13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim Review
In fact, there are two particular areas that 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim excels in – the artwork, and the story itself. The art is exactly what you might expect from Vanillaware. Almost dreamy in its appearance, backgrounds appear painted in watercolour in loving detail. The characters themselves are somewhat more solid, almost cartoony, and pop from the scenes like a cardboard cutout, but they still seem to fit.
Still, it has to be mentioned that the designers have continued the use of the sexualised female form in combination with the conservative male form, which is regressive at best.
The story, though, is far from what one might expect. There are 13 playable characters, the stories for which unlock as the game progresses. Each section of the game is told from one character’s perspective, which jumps across time periods, as a core part of the story is in time travel. There’s laughter to be had, tears to be shed, and confusion all in equal measure, as the story takes players on a ride like none other, and I recommend the game on this basis alone.
If it sounds like I’m being extremely vague, that’s because I am – I really don’t want to spoil any of the surprises.
And what is the story? Well… as mentioned, to explain it properly would be to give too much away, so suffice it to say that it begins with a number of High School students that are big fans of mechs and aliens, all of whom seem to have strange dreams at night. And… it turns out they also pilot giant mechs to protect the city. This then shifts to a futuristic sci-fi tale involving time travel, huge battle mechs, UFOs and monsters, and the destruction of the world as we know it.
At least… at first.
But how can a story about huge battle mechs fighting giant monsters not include huge mech battles?
Well, it does… kind of. The action part of the game plays out as a kind of turn-based strategy, with players positioning mechs of varying types in order to take on advancing enemies and protect the city centre. While it FEELS turn-based, it isn’t really, as players can switch between mechs as they go, with abilities based on the amount of energy they have at a given time. In reality, it’s quite simple, and an effective battle comes down to understanding the names of the abilities that a certain mech has, and the distance a player needs to be within in order to effectively pull them off.
From there, it’s about positioning and timing. Given it’s a top-down view, with highly stylised symbols representing mechs and enemies (which are somewhat reminiscent of Space Invaders, I might add), it initially looks quite confusing, but once you get the hang of it, it’s quite fun.
My biggest gripe overall is in the way the game tells the story. It’s not a simple play through until the end, players need to replay sections of certain storylines in order to find out the full story and ultimately reach the true ending, which takes upwards of 20 hours. While this is worthwhile in the sense that the story is quite the complex tale, it didn’t work for me, as replaying sections was kind of tedious.
Play through one scene choosing to eat a soft-serve cone one time, play it through again choosing a crepe the next. And in the end – it made the game too long to keep my interest, even in the midst of mind-blowing changes in the storyline.
However, if I’m honest, this kind of game isn’t for me anyway. I’m not a big fan of playable novels, nor am I a skilful player of strategy titles – which is why I was disappointed when I noted this wasn’t another twitch-based action game.
So I have to applaud Vanillaware on a risk well taken – to switch to a style far removed from what they have come to be known for, and still create a game that I can see a lot of value in -for the right audience. This is not for me, but the story is great, and the strategy gameplay is both satisfying and enjoyable, so there are plenty of gamers out there that would benefit from giving this the attention it deserves.
13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim was reviewed on PS4 using a digital code provided by the publisher.