13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim has been out in the wild since 2019, and I missed it the first time, but thanks to the hard work by Vanillaware, I got a chance to get my hands on the Nintendo Switch port. With publisher Atlus backing the project, there seems to have been a lot of love and care put into this project as the final product shines on all fronts. With a blended style of gameplay that explores both side-scrolling literature adventure and full-blown real-time strategy battles. While tackling storylines from the past, present, future, and alternate timelines, you could say that you will have your hands full.
There is a lot to swallow early on in this mixed bag of affairs. To start things off, you are thrown headfirst into the deep end as a confused and scared young teenager. Usually, you would get a little warning before you are transported in a giant sentinel mech and pointed towards the nearest Kaiju. Iori, having to sink or swim, barely manages to eliminate the threat to Ashitaba City with the help of Renya and his on-the-fly explanations. However, just as fast as you were thrown into her situation, the narrative shifts completely, waking up in a Highschool classroom as a different protagonist named Juro.
I may be a sucker for mech battles, but I was immediately intrigued and that feeling only solidified as I began the alternate half of the experience. As you progress through 13 Sentinels, you will periodically jump through 13 different storylines that all intertwine in mech battles, multiple timelines, and personal endeavours. It was all presented in a manageable and astonishingly crafty sub-system of game sections, collectibles, and upgrade modules that gave all three district elements of the game something to strive for.
The initial battle was part of the ‘Destructive’ portion of the game, which plays out as if you are watching a holographic board game with a hard-hitting soundtrack to keep tensions high. Leaning into the RTS components, the city is your terrain, which offers a playground to move and deploy each Sentinel as they become available. This section of the game did lack some design details, namely the Kaiju being a red blob. Story-wise it made sense, as it’s only a representation of a Kaiju on a digital map, but it would have been nice to see a bit more detail during the conflict.
There also may be a limitation to the Switch as the buildings and some Kaiju had a bit of blur around the edges, but even with all the explosive action on screen, frame rates held true and the whole experience was visually impressive.
Having a team of six Sentinels rain down clusters of missiles, bust out special finishers, and slink in and out of combat to repair was like watching a neon rave party on screen. Building a diverse team pays dividends and perfecting your strategy to time your cooldowns or minimise damage to the city, and with the addition of a bit of party management, all lead towards a ranking system per engagement.
The higher the rank the more ‘Mystery Points’ you can earn, which come into play in the ‘Analysis’ portion of the game. Furthermore, the more consecutive fights you pick without resting, the higher the reward stake can be raised, but this comes at the risk of your team’s overall health.
To cleanse the palate of destruction, the ‘Remembrance’ mode will slow things down to let you connect which each protagonist through the non-linear storytelling sections. Playing out as an interactive visual novel-like adventure with some beautiful water-painted art style and sombre yet invigorating music. The player will gather information that can be accessed in your handy thought bubble to connect with other characters in some deep and moving moments. With both Japanese and English voice work available and access to switch at any time meant you could find the perfect voice for your favourite character.
Since there are 13 characters to get through, you will have to move between the timelines and places in equal parts. I found this was an excellent way to keep the ideas fresh and a sense of euphoria flowing. If I was locked into only one side of the story from start to finish, only then to go back and start again, it would have completely changed the experience.
Where these two separate experiences come together was the ‘Analysis’ portion of the game which used the rewards of ‘Destruction’ and the intel of ‘Remembrance’ to complete the picture. Being able to cash in the Mystery Points to uncover more intel to piece together the bold and increasingly riveting plot with the flowchart of events was a satisfying payoff for all the work put in to get to this point.
13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim was an astonishing achievement in blending gameplay elements. Its story was varied, unique, and insightful while the strategy was engrossing, fun, and addictive. Another excellent addition to the Nintendo library, one which benefits from the handheld mode as it was very hard to put down.
- Three staged approach to gameplay build the holy trinity of game experience
- Beautiful water paint art style during the Remembrance portion of the game
- RTS style combat was straight forward, fun and addictive
- Voice acting and writing harmonised well across all storylines
- Sound design and soundtracks fluctuated to meet all emotions
- Story pacing continued to ramp up and hardly missed a beat
- Kaiju’s lacking any real design during conflict made fights a little less impactful