Vanillaware, the Osaka-based developer team mostly known for 2D side-scrollers like Dragon's Crown, Muramasa and Odin Sphere, have once again graced us with another masterpiece - the highly anticipated 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim, published by ATLUS.
Set in Ashitaba City (easily comparable with the iconic metropolis Tokyo) in the 1980s, we are introduced to a few students who attend Sakura High School. Plagued by strange nightmares that continue to keep them awake at night, they soon realize that the images that haunt them in their sleep are more than just dreams. Before they know it, they are transported into enormous robots, fending off unknown enemies that are destroying the city. These very robots, piloted by our heroes, are the Sentinels.
In 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim, you assume the role of not just one but thirteen individual protagonists who are in an ongoing fight with gigantic extraterrestrials (or kaiju for short) to protect planet Earth and humanity from extinction. Equipped with heavy machinery, their mission is to discover the truth of where their attackers come from as they try to stay alive and find out who the real enemy is in a web of confusion and distrust.
The gameplay is divided into three main parts, each of them contributing to the narration from a different perspective:
Remembrance, Analysis and Battle.
Remembrance explores each character's story thoroughly as the seemingly simple plot gets more and more complex over time, especially with time travel being a major topic in this game. Instead of following a linear order, their arcs intertwine and overlap with segments of not only their own adventure, but also those of the other protagonists'. One of the main aspects here is the Thought Cloud, which offers the opportunity to gather new keywords. These can be brought up in conversations with other characters, give potential insight on what to do to progress the story and unlock new chapters. Keywords that were missed out on can easily be collected by utilizing the time-chart – you can jump between certain checkpoints to interact with characters or objects you might have overseen the first time. While people new to this kind of mechanic might get confused at first, players who have experience with games like Zero Escape will feel right at home. As usual for Vanillaware, the game plays in beautiful 2D side-scrolling manner.
Aside from just wildly playing through the chapters though, it is recommended for anyone who struggles with keeping up with the vast amount of information already revealed to check out Analysis – consisting of the tabs Mystery Files and Event Archive. While the mystery files section elaborates certain keywords collected while playing in detail, the event archives allows you to revisit scenes from the text-heavy story.
In contrast however, Battle throws you into combat and puts you in charge of the piloted Sentinels. With a maximum of 6 fighters making up the strike team, you need to get rid of the approaching kaiju and protect the city's terminals from their invasion. You will face many different types of kaiju, ranging all the way from ordinary drone-like Deimos to armored giants. Because of this, you will need to choose who you deploy onto the battlefront carefully.
The Sentinels can be separated into 4 different types of models:
1st-Gen Sentinels are melee-based. While they have no particular effect in battle standing by idly near the terminal, they deal massive damage to ground kaiju up-close and personal.
Meanwhile, 2nd-Gen models are the “All-Rounders” that hold their own both over a small distance or in imminent contact with the enemy. They can deploy certain devices that passively help in battle, example being sentry guns which automatically attacks kaiju or shields that will enhance the strike team’s defenses.
3rd-Gen Sentinels are the long-range attackers, using any type of projectile to eliminate the opponent from afar. Additionally, they are able to demobilize aerial kaiju using EMP Stunners – this is especially useful in combination with armor-breaking 1st-Gens.
Last but not least, there are the 4th-Gen Sentinels. They specialize in flight, which is why they are the only line of models that can freely roam any map without having to follow a certain track. Alongside armor-breaking attacks, they also slow down the opponent’s movement or place mines that explode once triggered.
Combat in 13 Sentinels is not traditionally turn-based; instead, it can be described more as strategy-based. Pilots can initiate their attacks once their Waiting Time is over in real-time. Naturally, stronger skills consume bigger amounts of EP, so good timing can quickly turn the tides in your favor. Should you ever find yourself in a situation where you are completely surrounded by the enemy, you can make use of the terminal’s Meta-Skill. This can only be done a limited amount of times, but for good reason – it is extremely powerful. Both the Sentinels and Terminal can be enhanced in the Meta Menu. With the use of Meta-Chips, which are earned by defeating kaiju, you have the possibility to upgrade them or unlock skills for them to use in battle. Those skills can be improved for more difficult battles later on, too.
Once a fight is won, you receive a ranking based on score and performance. Moreover, if a battle’s bonus objectives have been met, you get extra mystery points used to unlock mystery files in Analysis. After a certain number of battles, some of the pilots you sent into battle will face exhaustion, preventing them from entering the battlefield. You will need to replace them accordingly if you want to proceed. Alternatively, you can let them recover automatically – but this will break your win streak and you will no longer receive consecutive battle bonus points.
Some points worth mentioning are the stunningly illustrated characters, their well-written personalities and the gorgeous scenery which is easily as captivating as the game's plot itself. I repeatedly stopped and just took in the different locations I got to witness as I was playing through the story. The animations are very fluid and feel natural. In addition, the audio is nothing less than magnificent – the soundtrack is absolutely addicting to listen to and the chosen voice cast’s performance is one I haven’t seen pulled off like this in a while.
It is 100% accurate for me to describe 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim as “One of those games that'll make you wish you could replay it for the first time without knowing what's going to happen”. I kept wanting to know more about what’s going to happen next, wondering about if any of my suspicions for the plot were true, which year I would land in next and falling in love with all of the protagonists over and over again. There is so much this game has to offer and I was not let down at all. You never know what it will throw at you next. I really enjoyed how cinematic it is and the many nods and references to different pieces of pop culture, most notably sci-fi movies like E.T. and Star Wars. It really is true when I say that I had a hard time disliking any of the major characters in the game.
The only thing I could criticize just a tiny bit is the battle system. It didn’t prove to be *that* much of a challenge and I personally just found myself more indulged in experiencing the story in Remembrance. But even then, it makes sense that it was implemented in the game and I really do not think that the battle system in the game is in any way bad. It’s actually pretty fun, especially since it’s a nice way to showcase how the characters interact with one another while in combat.
10 / 10
+ exceptionally well-written story and characters + very long playtime + a lot of variety in content
- Battle system could have been a bit more spectacular
This review covers 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim for Playstation 4. I would like to express my sincerest gratitude to ATLUS and SEGA for providing me with the opportunity to play this game and write this review.