Vanillaware is known for its incredible art design that is prevalent in their titles. Like Dragon’s Crown and Muramasa: The Demon Blade, 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim is undoubtedly ‘a Vanillaware game’ and pushes the needle in terms of design and world building. But underneath the glowing exterior is an interior plot filled with intrigue, twists, and a story any fan of Sci-Fi would love to sink their teeth into. Since its initial release back in 2020, the Atlus-published title was only available as a PS4 exclusive, and thankfully this artistic title can now be played on the go with this faithful port to the Nintendo Switch.
Like its title, 13 Sentinels features a ragtag cast of 13 main characters that each come equipped with unique personality traits and are fully voice-acted very well. Many typical anime tropes are here, Juro Kurabe is an otaku high schooler that has typical anime protagonist-kun DNA, Ei Sekigahara lost his memories as the inevitable amnesiac inclusion, and there is even a scene of one of the characters running to class with a piece of toast in her mouth late for the first school bell. Anime fans have much to feel at home with here, and thankfully, although the title borrows from anime and the culture surrounding it, there is far more here than just ‘another anime game.’
Not all the protagonists are available to play as from the beginning, and with each unlock, the storyline expands and details how the main characters come to know one another. While balancing 13 main characters is a Herculean task, 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim does so with ease, and in a Game of Thrones-type balancing act, everything makes sense, and branching from one character to the next feels organic. Hats off to Lead Director George Kamitani for the in-depth storyline mechanics hitting their mark.
There are many references to pop culture, anime culture, and even movies. A robotic character simply named ‘BJ’ is at one point cowled with a blanket and resembles E.T. while also looking like a huge nod to Pixar’s Wall-E. The introduction of the games primary antagonists is straight out of an invasion Sci-Fi movie scene and makes continuous references to War of the Worlds. While these ideas inspire some storyline mechanics, the plot is thicker than a copy and is its own entity, it’s also good fun to recognize a reference and think ‘a-ha!’ on locating these Easter eggs.
“13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim introduces a new combat system that sees the protagonists enter a dystopian setting in the future (of course), in individual mechs on grid-based strategy-like combat.”
Besides the intricate weaving of the huge cast of characters in a massive storyline, 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim introduces a new combat system that sees the protagonists enter a dystopian setting in the future (of course), in individual mechs on grid-based strategy-like combat. Each mech has its own strategic function on the battlefield, and certain abilities, like deploying a sentry turret to wreck incoming invasion hostiles called Kaijus.
The objective on the battlefield is very ‘tower-defense’ in nature, capture an opposing terminal, defend the terminal, win. While it sounds simple, the almost real-time-strategy nature of combat is intricate and can challenge the player. While references are abundant in 13 Sentinels, it’s hard to not see influences of mech anime such as Code Geass, when protagonists converse on the battlefield.
Although these battles can feel slightly overwhelming, unlike most strategy games that devote 20-40 minutes per scenario, 13 Sentinels shatters the mould and shortens the missions into smaller pieces of the overall story, with most missions falling into the shorter side of about 7-10 minutes each. While the narrative is the crown jewel of 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim, a difficulty setting can be used to basically walk through the battle scenarios easily to just enjoy the beautiful artwork and storyline.
There are some small issues I found while playing. The battle system map feels very grey as opposed to the rest of the game, making the battles feel the same and repetitive each time. The powerful and exciting mech battles are hard to work out, considering main characters are denoted by bright arrows on the battlefield instead of models of their machinery.
I found the battle system fun and the focus on objective play is better than the simple “destroy all enemies” type strategy employed in MANY other games. But if the character models were utilized instead of bright arrows on the grey backdrop, it would feel FAR better. Seeing each towering mech would feel more personal instead of uninspired arrows, and with the rest of the game seeping in so much character, this feels like an oversight.
Despite my issues with the battle system, 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim is bursting at the seams with character and story development. Juggling 13 protagonists with huge personalities, big mech battles, a massive time travel storyline, a desolate dystopian future, and android inclusions, all feel like a salad with too many ingredients, but 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim is masterfully crafted with each element having its own unique part that makes this a fine dish worth ordering.