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July 2022

13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim

Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4
Genre: Action
Publisher: Atlus
Developer: Vanillaware
Release Date: April 12, 2022


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Switch Review - '13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim'

by Chris "Atom" DeAngelus on April 7, 2022 @ 12:00 a.m. PDT

13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim is a 2D sci-fi video game that takes place in a modern setting punctuated with giant mechs.

Buy 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim

When it released in late 2020, 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim was a pleasant surprise. The latest game from Dragon's Crown developer Vanillaware, it mixed visual novel with strategy gameplay. Vanillaware's titles are often strikingly beautiful and feature exaggerated colorful art, amazing hand-drawn sprites, and the tastiest-looking food. It was nice to discover that 13 Sentinels would finally make its way to the Switch a little over a year since the original release. It's even nicer to discover that the Switch release is just as good as the original.

13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim tells the story of a group of teenagers who can pilot mysterious robots known as Sentinels against armies of invading giant Kaiju. It might sound cliché, but the plot quickly gets far more complex. It's nearly impossible to discuss most of it without spoilers. One character comes from 1940s Japan, another has what seems to be an evil twin, a third is working with a mysterious force behind the scenes, etc. I won't spoil the plot events because half of the fun is discovering them, but know that 13 Sentinels has a twist in almost every chapter, and it urges you to see how all of the complex narratives can come together.

13 Sentinels is divided into two significant parts: an on-foot exploration mode and a combat segment. The story mode functions much like most visual novel adventures. You take control of a character and move them through the environment, solving puzzles and seeing plot beats. Each member of the main cast has their own individual story, but most of the narratives cross over in some way. The only way to grasp the entire story is to finish every character's storyline. You can't play most characters' plots straight through, so you need to hop from character to character to advance the overarching story.

Returning to the game after originally finishing it on the PS4, I have a greater appreciation for 13 Sentinel's story. The first time through, it's easy to get caught up in the constant twists, red herrings and misdirections and not appreciate the smaller moments. Once you know where everything is going, it becomes clear how meticulously crafted everything is and how well everything slots together, which is genuinely impressive for a game that involves mind-bending time-and-space shenanigans. The characters are easily the strongest part of the tale, and there are some heartfelt friendships and romances . I was never sure how things would go until I reached the end. I stand by my feeling that the ending is perhaps a touch too neat and tidy, but it is nice to have an ending that wraps up instead of leading into a sequel.

Combat in 13 Sentinels is still an odd duck. Most mecha-themed games put a huge amount of emphasis on the robots, but 13 Sentinels almost entirely obfuscates them. Combat is presented on a wireframe "war map" where everything is represented by simple icons and abstract images. Swarms of deadly Kaiju are dots on a map that swarm toward colored objectives. It's an unusual style that initially seems weird considering how engaging the adventure mode visuals are, but it works well.

Combat is done entirely in real time and is focused on quantity over quality. Most of your mecha are equipped with lots of incredibly powerful area-of-effect attacks; some can devastate huge chunks of enemy formations, while others can block and slow down enemy Kaiju before they reach critical areas. Every action you take has an associated wait time, so you need to think carefully before you act. The wrong action leaves your precious robots as sitting ducks. You can upgrade your robots to specialize in different things, so robots with theoretically similar skillsets can be specialized.

It's vital to manage your pilots. In theory, your goal is to finish an entire segment of fights without needing to take a break, but that comes with consequences. The more you deploy a pilot without letting them rest, the greater the chance of them getting overwhelmed and being forced to rest. As such, you need to manage the pilots you deploy and shuffle them around; that's made more complex by the addition of various character-specific skills that buff their abilities when deployed with other characters. You sometimes must gamble if it's worth sending out your best fighter for one more round versus letting them rest but having to fight with a weaker character instead.

Overall, the combat is fun, if overly easy. A lot of the moment-to-moment decisions boil down to judicious application of the biggest, most ridiculous gun you have, and by the end, your character feels overwhelmingly overpowered. That makes sense for the storyline, but it can leave some of the biggest threats feeling like they need more. It's not a bad little RTS, but it isn't something that will carry you if the story doesn't.

I was pleasantly surprised to discover that this worked better on the Switch's handheld screen than I had expected. On the PS4, I occasionally found the mass of missiles and Kaiju difficult to read, and the same is true of the Switch version, but it's not any worse. It feels quite good on a handheld, and it adds to the sensation of ordering soldiers around. I can't complain about how it turned out, but I'm sure some would prefer the big screen.

13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim is a perfect game for the Switch. The visual novel adventure gameplay translates almost perfectly to a handheld format, and I found it to be more fun to pick up and play in short spurts versus needing to park myself in front of a TV. Even the more obscured mecha combat work well in a handheld format. The gameplay and story still feel fresh and engaging, and those who've already finished it once might find something to enjoy here. It's easy to recommend to anyone who has a taste for mind-bending 999-style games, and it's likely to please a few newcomers as well.

Score: 8.5/10

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