13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim's Story Is Wild, And I Kinda Like It
Developed by Vanillaware and published by Atlus, 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim is coming to PS4 on September 20.
You'd think that hearing a cat suddenly talk would have been the point in 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim where I lost it. But no, it was the "one year later" that got my head tilted in bewilderment at this part adventure game, part real-time strategy game.
The plotline of 13 Sentinels is wild in a way that plenty of anime and manga fans can probably recognize. Within its first few hours:
- You meet a dude who finds out he's caught in the midst of a conspiracy where everyone around him is hiding his true identity from him
- A girl who has nightmares about the future
- An alien-obsessed track star meeting a robot and trying to hide it from some mysterious men in black
- A man struggling with his feelings for who he thought was a cute girl but is actually a crossdresser who dislikes binary roles
- A teacher admitting to her student that she would have loved him if he had met her while she was in high school
- A boy who wakes up to a girl on his TV asking him to save her
- A high school girl who beats up thugs on the regular
- Giant mechs tasked with defeating giant kaiju monsters
- And an amnesiac outlaw who's crossed dimensions.
- Oh yeah, and a talking cat who claims he's actually an alien from a long-dead civilization and is now on Earth to try and prevent humanity's destruction
It's like the set-up for every type of traditional sci-fi anime is jam-packed into 13 Sentinels' prologue. Every trope you can think of is here, all weaving together and growing in complexity based on their relationship to one another. It's as exasperating as it is intriguing. I actually made it quite a ways through the prologue before losing it and having to pause and take a break--I was playing as one of the 13 protagonists in 13 Sentinels, a quiet high school girl who lives in the year 2024. She fits the shy but smart, black-haired beauty trope to a tee. She then meets a boy under mysterious circumstances who seemingly dies in her arms and the screen fades to black. Then the words, "one year later" pop up, revealing it's now...1985.
I'm pretty sure I screamed something along the lines of "that's illegal" or some such; I can't really remember beyond the fact it was way too late at night for me to be shouting at the top of my lungs.
There's a lot about 13 Sentinels that's likely to just pass over your head in the first few hours--I know it did for me. That's because the game's story isn't chronological. You play through pieces of each of the 13 protagonists' stories and these pieces themselves see some of the characters travel through time, have visions of the future, reminisce about the past, and travel between alternate realities, so some of the events in the small contained pieces aren't even told in the order they happened. It's fairly confusing at first, but after sticking through the three-hour prologue, I found myself invested in more than a few of the protagonists' stories.
And that's likely 13 Sentinels' biggest strength. With 13 characters that each have their own routes, you're bound to like at least one of them. Maybe it will be the high school punk with a heart of gold or the sly teenager who loves to find dirt on her enemies or the World War II soldier seemingly coming to terms with his sexuality. This helped me get through the stories of the characters I wasn't immediately smitten with; at the very least, every protagonist's story crosses into the others. You're likely to learn more about your favorite characters and what happened to them whether you're playing as them or one of the protagonists you don't like as much. The animations of each character are occasionally a little awkward or unrealistic (I laughed out loud at how ridiculous the school nurse walks, you'll know it when you see it) but the voice acting is really good--it really brings life to each character. The preview demo of the prologue only has the Japanese VO with English subtitles (which, frankly, is how I want to play) but there's an English dub coming in a day one patch.
At least in the prologue I played through, every chapter of each character's story started in the adventure game phase. You explore areas and learn about the people and the environment to collect knowledge and items that you can then use to solve small puzzles and push the plot forward. Maybe it was just because it was a prologue but it all felt really hand-holdy, and I was a bit disappointed with just how easy the puzzles were to solve.
The real-time strategy game elements at the end of each chapter were far more compelling. It seems like every protagonists' arc will ultimately end with a final battle which the game continues to return to after each adventure game section. Though battles begin extraordinarily simple, they grow in complexity and enjoyment. Each protagonist pilots a different Sentinel (a giant mech) and you use the strengths and weaknesses of each one to battle against the kaiju attacking Japan.
Some Sentinels are geared towards long-range combat, others are solely melee-focused, and others offer different means of support. You need to account for Sentinel and enemy placements, your overall objective, targets you need to defend, and the cool down timers on certain abilities. It's pretty fun by the end of the prologue chapters, when the game largely stops being a series of tutorials and actually puts you up against threats you need to strategize against. The end of the prologue also offers the choice of cranking up the difficulty on combat encounters, and I'm very interested to see just how difficult 13 Sentinels can be.
When it comes down to it, I think 13 Sentinels' success is going to be tied to how well it can actually pull together the stories of its 13 protagonists. Like I said before, several of these stories go to far out places and it's difficult to see how all of them can possibly come together into something cohesive by the game's end. But, at the very least, the prologue has sold me on a few of the characters' stories and I like the real-time strategy mech vs. kaiju combat, so I'm down to see whether 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim can pull off its seemingly convoluted narrative when the game releases for PS4 on September 20.
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