Wow, what a ride 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim is. Vanillaware — the talented Japanese developer behind impressive action games like Dragon's Crown Pro and Odin Sphere: Leifthrasir — is back, and it's trying something totally new with its latest release. 13 Sentinels is primarily a visual novel with some very light puzzle solving, topped off with addictive strategy-based battles. At its best, it's a captivating, mind-expanding experience.
13 Sentinels tells the story of 13 teenagers who end up having to defend humanity from an all-conquering army of giant monsters. Naturally, each highschooler pilots their own Sentinel — hulking robots capable of going toe-to-toe with mankind's mysterious enemy. At a glance it's a very anime storyline, but that brief synopsis doesn't even begin to scratch the surface of what 13 Sentinels is all about.
We can't (and won't) spoil anything in this review, but trust us when we say that 13 Sentinels goes above and beyond everything that you'd expect. The story itself is told in non-linear fashion, as you jump between the 13 protagonists and gradually uncover the huge, tangled web that connects them.
Having to keep track of 13 main characters may sound like a headache, but the game does a phenomenal job of developing its cast over the course of its 30 hour runtime. Snappy, well written dialogue keeps things moving, and it feels like every scenario ends in at least one brain-bending revelation. 13 Sentinels features an almost absurd amount of twists, but the fact that the game is able to keep you invested is testament to how endearing its characters are, and how well told its story is.
Again, this is a wild ride, but despite the overall complexity of the title's narrative, it's rarely overwhelming. Sure, there are times when an exposition dump will leave you scratching your head, but when context does eventually arrive — perhaps as part of another character's tale — everything clicks into place. In short, the story of 13 Sentinels is masterfully worked.
That said, we do think the game loses a bit of its edge later on. Without going into any detail, the plot does start to get a little predictable, and just kind of eases towards a conclusion with no real momentum. Don't get us wrong, it's still enjoyable, and by this point you're already entrenched in the game's world, but it it does feel like 13 Sentinels unleashes its best moments long before the credits roll.
As for the gameplay that surrounds this twisting and turning narrative, there's not a lot that you have to concern yourself with outside of the previously mentioned strategy battles — but more on those later. In true Vanillaware style, the game is made up of beautifully drawn 2D environments. Each chapter of a character's story takes place within a set number of these environments, and while you are free to wander around, there's no real exploration — you're simply tasked with walking from one conversation to the next.
There is some puzzle solving here and there, but it's very basic. For example, you may have to interact with certain objects in a certain order, or you might need to visit a particular area before you can enter another. Characters are also able to pick up on keywords in conversations, which can then be used to unlock different paths in their story. But again, the implementation is basic — it's always obvious as to which keywords need to be used and when.
What's more, there are branching paths in each character's tale, but you always end up going the right way eventually. There are no alternate endings to be found here, but that's just the kind of story that 13 Sentinels wants to tell. And honestly, it works. A lot of visual novels have a problem with being too drawn out, but 13 Sentinels never outstays its welcome, despite its length. You can jump in for ten minutes at a time and experience the game in episodic chunks, or you can sit down for a mammoth five hour session. Instant load times and the ability to save anytime, anywhere help make it a very accommodating release.
But we know what some of you may be thinking. You want to know whether the combat system gets in the way of this fantastic visual novel experience. Don't worry — we wondered the exact same thing. When we first saw the tactical battles on display during Japanese livestreams, we didn't have a clue what was going on. But thankfully, having played through the whole game ourselves, we can say with confidence that the monster-mashing battles are actually a highlight.
Battles take place separate from the individual character stories, but they still need to be completed in order to progress through the game. They're difficult to describe, but they feel great to play thanks to satisfying visual effects and an excellent user interface. The gist of it is that each map has a 'terminal', which must be defended at all costs. Monsters will swarm the terminal from multiple directions, and you'll need to make use of your squad's various abilities in an attempt to eliminate the enemy.
Combat plays out in real time on a top-down map, but the action pauses whenever you're commanding one of your characters. You can move them around the map, or activate special attacks, which are determined by the type of Sentinel that they pilot. Some are best suited to long range combat, while others will need to get up close and personal with the invaders.
Screenshots and videos make this combat system seem more complicated than it actually is. The game's prologue does a great job of easing you into the way things work over the course of several tutorial missions, and different enemy types are introduced at a very manageable pace. Later on, you're able to upgrade your mechs, and your pilots learn powerful new skills as they gain experience. It all gets rather addictive, and battles soon provide a welcome change of pace from the engrossing story.
It's also worth noting that 13 Sentinels offers up a range of difficulty options — the easiest of which makes combat far less demanding. If you just want to focus on the plot, casual mode is the way to go, while hard mode will put your knowledge of enemy units and on-the-fly tactical adjustments to the test. Your difficulty settings don't impact the story, and there are no Trophies tied to them.
We've always been huge fans of Vanillaware's visual style, and it's safe to say that 13 Sentinels is another gorgeous game. The character designs, the animation, the colours — it's a pleasure to behold. Even the user interface — as mentioned earlier — is immaculate. Everything's just so neat and polished, slick and stylish, elevating an already engrossing experience.
13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim is a phenomenal visual novel — and a surprisingly great strategy game. In trying something different, Vanillaware has crafted one of its best games yet. It's got an engrossing story that's absolutely packed with mind-blowing twists and endearing characters, all wrapped up in a gorgeous visual style. Don't sleep on 13 Sentinels — it's one of 2020's finest.
If anyone's got any questions about the game or the review, let me know and I'll try to answer them.
Thanks for reading!
@ShogunRok Do you think this game could have run on Vita?
Have had this on preorder for a while and was nervous as I hadn't heard any play test feedback. Extremely relieved and excited to hear that it's superb!
Will finish off Avengers before next week so I have all my time to focus on this - is the Platinum trophy difficult?
@Enuo Certainly not at this resolution! But... Maybe. If the battles had their visual effects seriously toned down and scenes had some lighting and details removed.
@StarGeeek Play through the whole game once, and you should have the Platinum. It's pretty easy, assuming you like the game enough to finish everything.
I'm missing just one Trophy from my review playthrough — but the list is still in Japanese, so I don't know what it is!
This really isn't my cup of tea, but at least let me compliment you Pushsquare, for the increased amount of reviews the last days. Love them!
Love most of Vanillaware's games, so I was going to get this regardless of the reviews. I have been intrigued by this game since its announcement...
Nice review though.
Japan never move out of their high schools
Been waiting so long for this, really glad it's been worth the wait! Planning to pick it up as soon as I possibly can.
I'm a fan of vanillaware games so of course I'm gonna buy this, I think I'll play this after I finish ghost of tsushima. I hope vanillaware make dragon crown 2 as their next games 😃
@Enuo Great question. Still annoyed it got cancelled. Even if it is understandable
Muramasa the demon blade give me a port for ps4.word up son
looks like this should have been strictly a light novel instead. the gamplay (mech battles) portion looks very simplistic and borderline an afterthought. or maybe they just didn't have the budget? such a shame considering vanillawares track record.
Was considering preordering as I feared this would have a limited release but everywhere with it before had a £49.99 listing. Finally found a sub-£40 listing and this review made me put money down. Have been trying to avoid preordering non special editions but desperate to play this and any brick and mortar store likely to ask for £50.
Pity us on the Eastern side of the Atlantic aren’t getting the art book.
@Enuo It’s a shame the Vita version was canned as I much prefer VN’s on a handheld. Feels more like reading a book.
Nice, been looking forward to this since it was announced, always enjoy Vanillaware's games. Reviews have mostly been very good so eventhough I still won't be sure about the combat until I get the game, I'm optimistic.
Wow!... amazing!. I knew Vanillaware would not disappoint!
It is finally (almost) here! Day 1.
I just finished collecting the last few Vanillaware games a few weeks ago. I'm excited to finally play this. Feels like we've been waiting for forever.
@Porco The battles are an instrumental part of the game — they even have a crucial part to play in the story. Without them, so many of the game's concepts simply wouldn't work.
I was sceptical of them at first as well, but they're genuinely a really good addition. I found them seriously addictive by the end.
Odin Sphere's one of my favourite games and I quite like Dragon's Crown too so I'll be sure to pick this up at some point! Really does seem quite different to Vanillaware's usual fare
It’s funny because I’ve been playing a lot of Dragon Crown as of late and here is another game by Vanillaware. I almost didn’t notice this game, but I’m definitely getting this.
Excellent review and made better by the score!I really love Vanillaware games and have had this on preorder for a while.
@FX102A Ooo where did you find it. 50 seems a bit pricey but id be tempted if there is a deal to be had
@Xaessya It's an interesting phenomenon. Aside from the fact that, of course, most anime-style things are generally targeted to kids and up, I think it has something to do with the adult culture in Japan. In a certain sense, the journey to adulthood has a lot of restrictions, exemplified in the work culture that permeates Japan - work hard, then work harder. High school in that scenario represents a period of real freedom, and I think it tickles the nostalgia bone for a lot of working adults in Japan. They look back fondly on their time and the possibilities, so they're drawn towards things that expand on that time period. Just a rambling thought, would be interesting to research
@Rob_230 Both 365games.co.uk and Base.com have them at approx. £40. Other sites I’ve yet to check are Smyths Toys and The Game Collection.
This sounds so good. Just pre-ordered for a mere £38. Can't wait for it to arrive.
@FX102A Amazing, thanks. I hadnt thought to check Base, despite having an account. Sorted, i'll get on this. Thank you
Glad you’re reviewing different types of titles more often and not just AAA games.
Okay, I already had this preordered just on the studio and looks alone but this review has me hyped. Looking forward to soaking it in when I get the time.
@ShogunRok Post a pic of the missing trophy in your list and I'll see if I can read it. Probably can't but you never know! I have a bit of Japanese knowledge.
@Matroska That's a very kind offer but I'm wary of posting it because it might be a spoiler (I believe it's a hidden Trophy). It should be updated to English shortly anyway, and then the Platinum is all mine.
@ShogunRok Ah ok, understood. Come to think of it, if it's a spoiler I'd be spoiling it for myself too. 😅
Hey man! I saw one of the trophies is for S-ranking all the missions. Is that tough? Did you snag that one?
I got confirmation my copy shipped... cant wait. Love Vanillaware!
@Agramonte Same! Mine's on the way. Can't ruddy wait.
@joejohnquinn I did yes, but it took a few tries. The Trophy is easy enough to get on normal difficulty once you know what you're doing, but if you're having trouble, you can always set the battle difficulty to casual. Getting S rank on casual is VERY easy.
You can also replay battles later on, with all of your units levelled up. This also makes getting any S ranks that you missed a lot easier.
Looks brilliant. A shame about the Vita version though, I’d absolutely have got it on that!
Argh, my copy isn't here yet. Damn you, The Game Collection.
Been playing since Friday; seems online retailer broke street date! Now having to order another copy though as I only discovered yesterday GAME was offering the artbook 😓
Well done Vanillaware! My copy arrives Thursday.
Why have they all got big fat heads like Steve Bruce?
@ApostateMage Can't comment on that due to story spoilers.
(They're all part of a cult called the Children of Bruce.)
Just got my copy. Looking forward to going through it. As much as I've loved its more action-oriented games it will be cool to get a different kind of experience from Vanillaware.
@ShogunRok So I finished the prologue a bit earlier. I got a trophy and decided to look at the trophy list and noticed that more people have the trophy for 20 mystery files than they do for finishing the prologue - I only had 12 mystery files and 2 mystery points though. Can you remember if you had 20 (or more) and got the trophy before you finished the prologue? It's making me feel like I've messed up.
@Matroska Hmmm, I don't think it matters when you actually get the mystery files — you can unlock them throughout the whole game. I also don't think you can mess up progression at all. You can miss out on some scenes (I did on my playthrough) but those scenes end up being dead ends in the story. I still ended up unlocking every mystery file by the time I was done.
It's weird that people have unlocked that Trophy before the prologue but I wouldn't worry about it. I think overall it's near impossible (or outright impossible) to actually miss things of importance in this game.
Can't wait for this to come to Switch
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