After receiving a ton of praise when it launched on the PlayStation 4 back in 2020, 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim became one of those games that I simply had to play. Admittedly, visual novels don’t normally appeal to me all that much, but the way that the game blended RTS-style combat, plenty of interactivity, and stunning hand-drawn visuals into its sci-fi plot certainly caught my attention.
I’ve finally played and beaten the game now with its recent release on the Nintendo Switch and I absolutely loved it. Whilst I’ll admit that 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim can be a bit of a slow-burner with its convoluted plot, once it gets its grips into you it won’t let go until you reach those end credits.
Check out a gallery of screenshots down below:
13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim’s overarching plot is built around vicious Kaiju known as Deimos attacking Japan in 1985 and the struggle of thirteen heroes to fight them off using giant robots, although that’s MASSIVELY simplifying it. See, the game jumps between different time periods ranging from the 1940s all the way to the year 2105 in its storytelling, whilst the tale is also split between the perspective of the thirteen protagonists (who also have their own individual stories to tell that are spread across the entire timeline).
You still following? No, I didn’t think so, and I’ll be the first to admit that I found 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim’s storytelling a little overwhelming early on. The game swaps between characters on a regular basis and with little screentime spent with them, it was easy to forget who they were, what relationship they shared with others, and if I’d even encountered them elsewhere in the story before. The shift between time periods probably doesn’t help, though the fact that a lot of them are wearing similar school uniforms meant it was easy to get confused too.
Thankfully, it doesn’t take long before everything starts to click into place. You start to spend more time with each character, be a part of the interactions that help you learn more about them and the relationship they share with other characters, learn more about the mystery they’re trying to uncover, and then connect all the dots to see the role they play in the grander narrative. When you get through the initial struggles and things start falling into place, it’s hard not to find yourself utterly engrossed in 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim’s tale. It brings with it plenty of individual story threads full of intrigue that are a real treat to unravel, whilst it has plenty of nods to sci-fi media (including the likes of ET, The Terminator, War of the Worlds, and Star Wars) that are hard not to smile at.
That first five hours where I was learning the ins-and-outs of the story, though? Yeah, I was confused, but it DOES take shape… eventually.
“When you get through the initial struggles and things start falling into place, it’s hard not to find yourself utterly engrossed in 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim’s tale.”
Players are actually given a lot of freedom in how they approach the story, with it possible to switch between each playable character to progress their narrative further. Whilst you’ll often hit a roadblock where you have to complete certain events in order to continue their story (such as seeing an event play out as a different character), it gives players the freedom to explore the story in their own little way or even focus on a character whose story interests them the most.
It’s also possible to re-play certain events of each character’s story and see how your choices change things up. It’s worth emphasising from the get-go that this isn’t some Telltale Games-style experience where your choices affect the narrative though; instead, they just let you see what might have happened if you did things SLIGHTLY differently. These are typically just different conversations with characters where you might learn an additional piece of information or maybe a flashback to a previous event, but they all strengthen the lore and help players learn a little more about the characters they’re playing as.
Find the idea of making different choices a little overwhelming? Luckily, there’s a flow chart on offer for each character that doesn’t only show the events you’ve witnessed already, but the sequences in which you COULD have done something different. It makes it easier for players to figure out where they need to go to earn a bit of extra information, whilst they also act as a valuable means of following everything that’s occurred so far. 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim is a complicated game after all, so it’s nice that it makes an effort to organise the plot and make it easier to follow. There’s also an index of information to be found in the menu that covers major plot points and gives details about each character, so it’s always easy to catch up.
“It’s easy to forge bonds with each character, with their distinct personalities standing out more and more the longer you spend with them – it’s something that is owed to the brilliant writing and voice acting, though there’s a clear chemistry felt between the characters that spans decades within the time-travelling story.”
With all of the freedom, depth, and detail offered across each character’s story, it’s hard not to find yourself completely invested in 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim. It’s easy to forge bonds with each character, with their distinct personalities standing out more and more the longer you spend with them – it’s something that is owed to the brilliant writing and voice acting, though there’s a clear chemistry felt between the characters that spans decades within the time-travelling story. It’s just really, really good, and whilst I did have some initial hurdles with the narrative, it ended up being one of the best that I’ve seen in a video game.
It is text-heavy though, with 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim taking a visual novel-style approach with its storytelling. Whilst it is all complemented by some beautiful hand-drawn artwork in both the character design and the environments, you do spend a lot of time reading (or listening) to characters. In fact, it makes up the bulk of the experience, with the game’s combat (more on that in a bit) playing second fiddle to the storytelling. If you were hoping for a traditional RPG that balances them both, you might want to get your expectations in check.
That being said, it’s not a traditional visual novel in that you simply read text and make choices until you exhaust all options either. Instead, 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim sees you moving between the side-scrolling environments and interacting with different objects within it, whilst you also have access to a Thought Cloud that brings up all of the important key words that you have come across in the story. These could be the name of characters you’ve met, items you’ve found, or events that have occurred, with it possible for the playable character to give their own insight into each key word or even use it as a conversation point. It’s a minor form of interactivity, but it brings an almost puzzle-like aspect to the game where you’ve got to know where and when specific keywords could come handy in conversation. It’s a really cool system that ensures there’s more player involvement when it comes to the storytelling.
Check out a gallery of screenshots down below:
It’s clear that 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim smashes it when it comes to the narrative, but how about the combat? Whilst not exploring the narrative of each character, players will be able to take to the battlefield in their Sentinels (the robots you command) where they’ll fight off the Deimos in battles that are best described as a blend of RTS and tower defence. You’ll move your units around (which are spread across the thirteen protagonists of the story) and use their abilities to defeat the enemies, with missions typically consisting of killing all foes or simply defending a terminal on the map for a set period of time.
The combat is enjoyable, with the mixture of abilities adding a fair bit of variety to each showdown – they also cover different areas of effect that ensure the player’s positional play has a big role in each showdown. Do you use rockets to attack from afar? Do you set up sentry guns to defend set points? Do you get up close and personal to land stronger melee attacks? Or do you apply buffs to your allies? Each Sentinel has their own abilities that give them different strengths and weaknesses when it comes to combat, whilst foes often have to be approached in specific ways to best them. It’s all about using the right unit at the right time and carefully balancing out your offensive and defensive actions, whilst it’s also possible to upgrade those that work best for you. Just like any other RTS then, really.
The only downside to battling is that it could feel simple and repetitive at times. Despite having a varied selection of units at my disposal, I often found myself doing the same thing over and over again and beating enemies with ease. The simplistic visual style was a bit underwhelming too and meant that battles often didn’t have a unique sense of identity. For a game that looks so beautiful in every other aspect of its design, it’s a shame that the combat relies more on simplistic environments and models made up of wireframe or basic polygonal shapes.
“The hand-drawn visuals are simply stunning, with the beautifully crafted environments complemented by some dazzling special effects that help bring them to life.”
I can’t end this review without highlighting the overall presentation of 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim. The hand-drawn visuals are simply stunning, with the beautifully crafted environments complemented by some dazzling special effects that help bring them to life. Believe me, there’s nothing more impressive than seeing one of the Sentinels come to life in the background, whilst the detailed character designs and fluid animations live up to those seen in previous Vanillaware titles. The screenshots really don’t do it justice – everything looks remarkable in motion.
The Switch port is mighty impressive too, with no performance issues found at all whilst the visuals still maintain the high quality seen on the PlayStation 4 version of the game. You won’t feel like you’re playing an inferior version here, even on handheld mode (where the text is still perfectly clear, I should add).
13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim Review
13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim is an outstanding sci-fi experience that delivers a brilliant story that’s complemented by some beautiful visual design. The combat is fun too (despite feeling a bit too simple and repetitive at times), whilst the freedom offered in the dynamic storytelling ensures each player’s experience with the game will feel unique.
There’s no denying that it can be a slow burner and it can feel a bit convoluted to begin with, but those that stick with 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim are in for a REAL treat.
Platform(s): Nintendo Switch (Reviewed), PlayStation 4