So, what’s 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim all about? Surely it’s not a wordplay on the sci-fi movie, Pacific Rim, right? Well–it might be! After all, the game tackles big, awesome robotic sentinels fighting kaiju (yes, exactly) to protect the world from an impending apocalypse. It sounds like your typical sci-fi genre cliché, no? But rest assured, 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim packs MORE than just battling kaiju and saving the world.
The game is a 2019 real-time strategy (RTS)-slash-side-scrolling adventure produced by Vanillaware and published by Atlus. And one thing that immediately popped into my mind knowing this tidbit was—“Hey, it’s Atlus! It’s gonna be one banger of a story, right?!” Considering how the Persona and Shin Megami Tensei franchises have offered impressive stories [and gameplay, of course], we are happy to report that 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim certainly possesses a riveting tale as well.
With an average gameplay time of approximately 30 hours, the game personally feels longer to play than it actually is. And hoooo~ boy, does this game get you downright hooked. HOOKED, I say (and yes it’s all caps ‘cause the feels and the story twists just sucker punch you right deep in the gut).
A Dreamy Landscape to Behold
Before we tackle the gameplay technicalities, let us ease you into the visuals of the game first. 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim features a creative environment that enables a dreamy effect with its painterly visual style. The story route of the game is 2D in nature being a side-scrolling adventure, but with the painterly, watercolor render, it has more depth and provides the illusion of a 3D picture. The sentinel design reminds me of the Metal Slug machinery artworks with their elaborate detailing, and the environment gives off quite a homey feel reminiscent of the Ghibli movies. It’s the visual treatment that got me curious when the game was recommended to me. And definitely not the way they’re all naked inside their cockpits–but who am I kidding?
The kaiju fight visuals, on the other hand, are quite simple pixel-ish renders. This might be a turn-off to some, but the layout of the perspective during battles makes up for the flattish icons of the sentinels and the kaiju. There is ample depth in the cityscape and the digital interface of the battle options are pretty classy and sleek. Pictures of each sentinel pilot are shown as well to avoid confusion in the battlefield.
Getting Inside the Sentinel Cockpit
As the game title suggests, there are thirteen different protagonists with whom you have to complete story routes and fight the kaiju with. These thirteen highschoolers interact with each other a lot in the game, and you have to see the story through their eyes in order to unravel an intricately threaded mystery narrative that will leave your jaw dropping once you finish all of the characters’ story routes.
The game interface has three main sections: Remembrance (for the character story routes), Destruction (the actual kaiju-fighting), and Analysis (a glossary of all the story points and events and unlockable mystery items). Pretty straightforward right? However, you have to juggle with playing through the different sections because there are certain points that you cannot move forward without tackling the other sections. In short, the game will push you to go into each section and complete certain points or else you can get stuck from moving forward with the story.
In Remembrance, you play each character’s route, exploring with a visual novel-esque type of gameplay. You unlock dialogues and conversations with certain keywords from the “Thought Cloud” acquired by either interacting with the environment or talking with certain people or NPCs.
You have no idea how long I stayed in (and sometimes avoided) some character’s parallel scenarios because I got really confused as to why the scene kept repeating–but apparently they just had to be. There’s a good reason for it. Different events are brought forth by different choices in each route and parallel scenario, so enjoy discovering each and every option. An event flowchart is available per character route so you may be able to review all the scenes you have to complete. The story route section is highly intriguing and kicks your ‘I-must-discover-all-the-possible-triggers’ instinct to function. For y’all completionists out there, this game is your cup of tea. There is no replacement for the happy feeling of seeing 100% flashing on each character’s section, yo.
Destruction tackles the real-time strategic kaiju-fighting [which is actually pausable, lol]. Your main mission [should you choose to accept it] is to defend a so-called ‘terminal’ against waves and hordes of attacking kaiju. The terminal’s health is determined by the stats of the sentinel present, therefore, if your sentinels are defeated, the terminal will be overrun and the game ends. A battle ends successfully once all conditions are achieved, like defeating all kaiju and getting your sentinels to survive. Thankfully, there are options for you to ‘Repair’ your sentinel during the battle so such a defeat may be avoided.
Honestly, it is quite easy to get a high score in each battle wave the first playthrough–and this comes from a beginner to RTS like me. It definitely caught me off-guard playing it for the first time, because as always, I just skimmed through instructions flashing on screen during the tutorial with how eager I was to get to the action (haha). But seriously, it’s really enjoyable. The gameplay just comes naturally as you play against more kaiju waves. There was a point where I switched to different difficulties (Casual, Normal, Intense) because I just couldn’t get enough of playing these strategic battles.
The battle sounds are amazing, too. Gunshots, missile whistles, explosions, cybernetic AI voice overs, radio commands–you name it, they’re pretty good in making the battlefield realistic. Your sentinels also have [star-studded] interesting voices (which can be changed from Japanese to English at the Option menu), and you won’t get lost in translation because subtitles flash on screen whenever they say anything in the battle. I highly suggest sticking to the Japanese dub. They’re quite fitting for all the characters. The English dub is quite well done, too, but I’m quite biased to the former (because of how good Okino’s voice is in there, hehe).
There are bonus objectives in each battle wave that can add more mystery points and Meta-chips after winning. These bonus objectives may require you to only use certain character sentinels, defend up to a certain health bar minimum percentage, and etc. They add more challenge to the gameplay which can make each wave even more exciting. Oh, and there are also tons of cool mini conversations between characters before and after each battle wave–which explains why certain bonus objectives require these characters to fight!
Meta-chips are the level-up currency in-game. You collect them from playing character routes and winning battles so you can upgrade your sentinel, unlock new combat and support abilities, and improve terminal commands. Terminal commands are super powerful field-wide abilities, which are akin to ‘limit triggers’ in other games since you need to fill up its bar gauge first before unleashing. They are of limited use (unless you upgrade them) and they make overpowering numerous kaiju easier. For Intense difficulty, I’d say these terminal commands are a heckin’ lifesaver. Sentinels have cooldown timers after each attack you see, so you can’t use the same sentinel to attack in straight succession. It’s better to activate terminal commands as often as you can to avoid getting your butt overwhelmed.
But hey, it’s actually quite difficult to remember everyone’s abilities during your first time playing, especially when the kaiju just keep coming! When I began playing the first few waves, I had a hard time remembering characters’ main abilities to fully enact a good strategy and I had to tone down that subtle panic creeping in my veins. Fortunately, the game guides you throughout the prologue’s first few fights, so you will definitely be fine.
Each sentinel is produced in varying ‘generations’ (Gen. 1 to 4), therefore, some of them possess certain abilities not present in others. You have to determine which sentinel fits your team best in a battle wave so it will be easier for you to finish and get a sterling high score (with ‘S’ being the highest). The max number is usually six (6) sentinels in your party per wave (unless stated in the bonus objective). So, choosing the best waifu and/or husbando can be a conundrum; most especially if you’ve already developed a favorite powerful one or two out of all of them (*cough* Juro *cough*).
Take note, though, that each sentinel can get ‘brain overload’ (shown in red above) from fighting in succeeding waves so any of them can go out of commission and may not be able to fight in the next one. Choose wisely and let the others rest. Leveling them up is pretty straightforward, too, though they get stinky low level up points from receiving too much damage so be careful from pitting your melee and flying sentinels out on the field ‘cause they get exposed quite easily.
Don’t worry about failing halfway through a difficult wave, though, as you can retry each wave and the Auto-Save feature of the game is remarkably useful. Though, of course, saving manually adds more safety to this game. After all, there are events in the game worth saving multiple slots for so you can replay them easier (*wiggles eyebrows*).
Finally, the Analysis portion of the game is where you will be able to find bits and pieces of information you have achieved so far from Remembrance. This is where you get to review the events and happenings that had transpired in each character’s route so you may have an idea about the plot in its entirety. Frankly, I completely ignored Analysis until I was already halfway completing the story. I seriously thought that it’s just a sort of album for you to peruse the story tidbits so far, but alas, I was wrong (as usual I ignored the tutorial tips lol). Analysis is where you get to use your Mystery Points to unseal certain index items in order for you to proceed with the character routes. And the artworks that go along the whole list are pretty amazing, too.
The Might of Its Storytelling
What makes 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim highly different and successful in being its unique sci-fi flavor are its plot and nonlinear storytelling. It is just FANTASTIC.
This is the first time I have encountered a deeply nonlinear mode of storytelling in a game. Most of the time, I’m used to simply pushing through a normal JRPG by encountering some flashbacks, some twists, some end-game reveal–the usual, you know. But not this game. This game just does ALL of those and you’re smack dab in the middle of these revelations as naked as the sentinel pilots in their cockpits (yes, pretty much). You get twists–you get turns–you get deja vu–you get reveals on top of those reveals! The surprises and mystery exposé are just so unexpected to the point I have become outright baffled (like the math-lady meme) even after I’ve gone towards 80% of the story completion. Yes, even at 80% of all the characters’ routes, there is still a lot to unravel in this story for me.
The game does not have a straight-up way of telling you the whole plot–you just have to piece it bit by bit through all the thirteen protagonist routes–which can get really confusing with all the many things happening in each character’s adventure. The plot is 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim’s most powerful asset, I gotta say, and coupled with the in-battle scenarios, you will realize that things will not always be what they seem. Once you uncover a mystery, there will be something else to follow and you will be itching to know where, why, and how it has come about.
At first, I thought that since this game is of a sci-fi nature–not to mention being RTS as well–that it will be quite serious and boring. However, the game prologue sequence had thrown this certain bait and hooked me right in. I mean, who would expect such a fanservice-y scene not ten minutes into the game? Definitely not me. So count me right in lol.
And as mentioned above regarding waifus and husbandos, this game will have you growing biases (and bias wreckers) as you go along the story. Like in any anime JRPG, the character tropes are waving eagerly and enthusiastically in this game. An amnesiac main character? Check. A glasses-type waifu? Check. Crossdressing? Double check. Fight-me-but-I’m-soft-for-love type of dudes? Double and triple check. Heck, even all kinds of (relation)ships are sailing mightily in this game and you will be surprised at how excellent the game is with threading these relationships together without seeming such an obvious add-on to the story. You will be rooting for a lot of characters in due time, and trust me when I say you will grow to like yakisoba pan and hembergers in this game because of them.
Overall Verdict: 9/10
All in all, the game is quite mind-blowing for me. It’s something I’m including in my list of games I’d like a memory wipe on so I can play them again for the first time. It’s just that good. The feels are bombastic. The overall plot is great, and the ending is even greater!
What makes me dock off a point in the overall score is perhaps the post-game content. It’s disappointing when the game has banked hard on the plot that after finishing it, you just feel forlorn and empty because you want more and there’s nothing there anymore. And I do want more (*cries*). The game definitely pushes you to complete everything in one playthrough because it’s vital to the plot so I am a little letdown that I won’t be seeing much more canon content post-game. But hey, it’s an excuse to create fan content for this! Like Thanos said, I’ll do it myself! Though, I gotta say, playing it for the second time after knowing the whole revelations of the story definitely makes all the character routes sensible and less confusing this time around.
We recommend you play 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim. It’s seriously a must-play.
This review was made via a PS4 copy of the game provide by the publisher.