With a gorgeous visual style, a fascinating sci-fi plot, creative narrative gameplay, and deep tactical battles – 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim is one of this year’s best and most unique games.

Vanillaware, the creator behind 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim, describes their game as “Heavy Rain meets Pacific Rim.” More accurately, it is a narrative-driven game with real-time tactical battles, rich in all things sci-fi.

All the Sci-fi You Need

Let’s start with the story of 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim, as it is a narrative-driven title. While the creators refer to it as a cross between Heavy Rain’s branching narrative and Pacific Rim’s “robots vs. kaiju” premise, the game offers way more. The story finds inspiration, and sometimes directly quotes, every sci-fi concept you’ve ever read, watched, or even thought of.

The story follows two major story arcs – the final battle against the kaiju, and the events that led up to it. Like any good Japanese story, Earth’s last hope is a group of 13 highschoolers piloting giant mecha. We experience the story from each of the teens’ point of view.

Each of our 13 heroes lets us experience a different part of the grand story in a different style. For example, Natsuno Minami, who is an alien movie buff, has to hide a tiny alien called BJ from the mysterious Men in Black in a plot that kind of resembles E.T.

13 Sentinels takes inspiration from War of the Worlds, Terminator, and many, many more

But E.T. and Men in Black aren’t the only sci-fi movies that the game references. 13 Sentinels takes inspiration from War of the Worlds, Terminator, and many, many more. These stories might not seem related, but the game manages to blend them expertly, to create a coherent and impressively complicated plot. The localization team has done excellent work in translating all the nuances that would have otherwise been lost in translation.

Whatsmore, the game doesn’t focus on our heroes’ mundane school life. Instead, it’s jam-packed with time travel, robots, aliens, and glorious sci-fi. 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim’s story really made me realize just how much I love the genre.

The story may be complicated and even confusing. However, the game makes sure to record all story events in chronological order, which can help you piece things together with ease. 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim can be very intense and tough to process at times, so I had a hard time playing when I wasn’t fully concentrated. But this is a game worth focusing on.

13 Sentinels Aegis Rim combat

Piecing It Together

You progress through 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim is in three modes: in Destruction, you fend off waves during the final battle against the kaiju; in Remembrance, you play each of the 13 characters’ stories; finally, in Analysis, you can read and uncover index entries from the game’s many mysteries. Progression in every mode is dependent on the others, and so do the 13 stories. This way, the game lets you uncover the more significant story twists in a logical order but still gives you plenty of freedom.

The different stories split into scenes. I prefer to describe the game as an adventure game, but this particular bit might be more similar to a visual novel. Most scenes can progress in different ways, depending on your actions, which will lead you to further discoveries. For example, at the beginning of Iori Fuyusaka’s story, we get to pick where to eat out with the other girls. Our choice between Crêpes or Ice Cream will eventually drive the story into different scenes. The game keeps giving you opportunities to explore other options so you can discover all that the game has to offer.

You make these choices using the Thought Cloud. As you progress in each character’s story, they learn new keywords, much like classic adventure games. They can use the Thought Cloud to ponder over these keywords or use them on something or someone.

Progression is always interesting, even when you revisit the same scenes over and over. It’s not hard to make things go a different way using the Thought Cloud. It’s easy to use, and you never need to brute force your way through by clicking everywhere like you sometimes had to do in old-school adventure games.

Destroying Kaiju Has Never Been This Fun

When you’re not learning about the memories of the 13 heroes, you’ll be entering the Sentinels and fighting kaiju as part of the final battle that determines the fate of humanity. These battles play like real-time strategy titles, which is a surprising genre to mix with an adventure game. Somehow, much like the rest of the game, it works excellently.

13 Sentinels Aegis Rim combat

The battles in 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim are surprisingly deep but simple to grasp. You send a team of 6 attackers, with the rest of our heroes staying behind to protect your base. Your goal is to wipe out all kaiju on the map, or survive long enough for the city’s defense mechanism, the Aegis, to activate and destroy all kaiju in the vicinity. As with many arcade games, you get scored on your performance. There are also a few side objectives to complete, which give you plenty of reasons to replay battles.

The Sentinels split into four models, and every character has a different set of abilities and skills that make them unique. This way, each character can fit into different combat roles and open different synergies. Each type of Sentinel feels efficient and necessary, and they all have satisfying moments. Among my favorite tactics was to fly into a swarm of flying kaiju with my flying Sentinel and use an attack that sends dozens of missiles flying in every direction to wipe it out. It’s incredibly satisfying to see all the kaiju pop and explode.

13 Sentinels Aegis Rim

While the battles play out in real-time, the game does pause to give you the time you need to make a move. There’s no resource management or structure-building involved, and the battles are simple enough for players that aren’t used to real-time strategy.

Wonderfully Hand-made

Besides having an exciting story, unique gameplay, and action-packed combat, 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim is also one of the prettiest games I have played this year (and ever). The water-painting aesthetic of the characters and environments are iconic to developer Vanillaware, but this is one of their finest works. You could take any single frame from the game and make it a desktop wallpaper.

The game doesn’t show you the detailed kaiju and Sentinels during battles, and instead makes them look like a hologram. Every one of your Sentinels’ abilities has an animation that shows you exactly how it’s activated and what cannons come out of the mech, which is incredibly cool.

13 Sentinels Aegis Rim kitty

The game is fully-voiced in both Japanese and English, and both are wonderfully done. While the soundtrack isn’t as quite catchy as some other Atlus games, it still begs another listen. Every track sets the mood of the scene it’s in – the combat music features some of the best tracks, with a combination of techno, synthwave, and classical music, which create an epic and tense feeling.

13 Sentiments

13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim is one of the finest games I played this year, and I’m dying to tell more and more people about it. Whether it’s the branching story or the tense battles, every aspect of the game made me want to play more of it.

It can be a bit intense at times, and its story can be hard to process, but these emphasize just how sophisticated 13 Sentinels aims to be. As a longtime sci-fi fan, I fell in love with it from the first moment. Every scene in the game made me appreciate the genre even more. So if you love sci-fi, enjoy story-driven games, or are fascinated by its unique aesthetic, 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim’s mysteries are waiting for you to solve them.

Developer: Vanillaware

Publisher: Atlus

Release Date: Spt. 22, 2020

Genre: Adventure, RTS

Available On: PlayStation 4

Reviewed On: PlayStation 4

Our 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim review copy was provided by the publisher.

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