13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim Review

Vanillaware is commonly associated with visually stunning and richly detailed fantasy action-RPGs, owing to their celebrated titles like Odin Sphere, Dragon’s Crown, and Muramasa: The Demon Blade.

While the developer has ventured into other genres occasionally, it is primarily through their action-RPGs that they have garnered a loyal fanbase. With 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim, however, the team has taken a bold leap, stepping outside their comfort zone to explore an entirely new direction.

So, what can players anticipate from 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim? A few certainties include breathtaking artwork with intricate animation, appealing female characters, and a strong focus on food. However, it is important to note that 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim may not be a perfect fit for everyone’s taste.

13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim 
Developer: Vanillaware
Publisher: Atlus
Platforms: PlayStation 4
Release Date: November 28th, 2019 (Japan), September 22nd, 2020 (Worldwide)
Players: 1
Price: $59.99 

As 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim was first revealed, anticipation for a new Vanillaware action-RPG skyrocketed. Early trailers hinted at a sci-fi setting with prominent mecha involvement, leading many to believe it would be a mecha action-RPG.

However, the reality is quite different, as 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim is actually a point-and-click adventure game, featuring numerous branching paths and interspersed RTS battles.

For those who can embrace this departure, 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim delivers an exceptionally ambitious and intricate sci-fi narrative in a visual novel format. The developers ingeniously incorporate a vast range of sci-fi plot concepts into the stories of the 13 playable protagonists, all of which are interconnected and contribute to an overarching mystery.

The non-linear storytelling allows players to engage with the game at their own pace, selecting from the available characters and experiencing the story as they wish. This innovative approach enables players to immerse themselves in Vanillaware’s intricately crafted world, offering a variety of perspectives, from an Imperial recruit in World War II-era Japan to a modern-day high school delinquent.

With 13 intertwined plotlines, it’s impressive that Vanillaware manages to maintain consistency across every character’s story without faltering. The central mystery encourages players to guide the characters toward the truth, but the challenge lies in understanding the chronological connections between the narratives and RTS mecha battles, which only become clear later on. Unlocking new paths and characters requires completing specific battles and story events.

Although the connections between events are evident, the freedom granted to players can make it difficult to fully comprehend the story’s structure. It’s akin to reading unnumbered chapters from various books within a series to grasp the overall picture.

This confusion aligns the player’s mindset with the characters, who are also trying to make sense of their world. Solving the mystery involves acquiring “key words” or ideas, similar to using items in traditional point-and-click adventure games. Characters often revisit previous decision points, armed with newfound knowledge from later events. Trusting the writers is essential in the beginning, as the mechanics become clearer over time.

The adventure aspect is a calming experience, as gameplay largely consists of exploring, conversing with characters, and using key words in dialogue. The immersive atmosphere is enhanced by the captivating music from Basiscape and Vanillaware’s artists.

The RTS combat is as leisurely as the unfolding mystery, allowing players to engage in battles at their own pace. Although linear, 13 Sentinels provides ample time for strategizing, as time only progresses when units are cooling down or moving on the battlefield.

Hints of 13 Sentinels’ original design as a PS Vita game emerge in the combat, which features plain city maps and symbol representations of units instead of detailed Mechas and Kaiju. The brief battle durations and entry-level RTS gameplay also indicate its portable game origins, designed for shorter play cycles.

Most battle objectives involve defeating enemies while defending Aegis territory and keeping units alive. The six Sentinels you take into battle can inflict significant damage on numerous foes, creating a satisfying explosion of damage numbers. However, the lack of visual representation for Sentinel units in both battles and the story is the game’s most significant disappointment, affecting combat negatively. Identifying enemy types and their strengths and weaknesses requires additional effort, breaking the flow of the battles.

Choosing the right team for each battle is crucial, as every Sentinel is unique and fulfills specific roles. The game also forces you to try different pilots by auto-benching characters that have participated in consecutive encounters. Combined with an extensive character-building system, there’s no shortage of strategic options and experimentation.

Though the combat visuals may be underwhelming, the mechanics successfully convey the scope Vanillaware aimed for in their story. Hitoshi Sakimoto’s Basiscape soundtrack adds to the atmosphere, blending orchestral and techno elements to complement the sci-fi narrative.

Recognizing 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim as primarily a visual novel with some RTS gameplay is crucial to appreciate its excellence. Expecting anything else would lead to disappointment. A must-play for fans of story-driven adventure games, 13 Sentinels is easy to immerse oneself in, thanks to engaging writing and beautiful art and animation.

13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim was reviewed on PlayStation 4 Pro using a review code provided by Atlus. You can find additional information about Niche Gamer’s review/ethics policy here.

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