Review

13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim Review – Wow, Cool Robot!

  • First Released Sep 22, 2020
    released
  • PS4

A tale of love and war machines.

Despite what the box and blurbs might tell you, 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim isn't really a game about piloting giant robots. I mean, sure, you do fight off massive swarms of building-sized creatures hellbent on total destruction in an alternate-universe 1980s Japan at some points. But these seemingly model-kit-ready metal combat suits are just a plot device, a cog in the story. In actuality, 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim is a character drama: a twisting, turning sci-fi epic jumping through time and dimensions as it follows the lives of its numerous teen protagonists. Missiles, Gatling guns, and armor-crushing metal fistcuffs are merely a side event to the everyday drama of highschoolers who find themselves unwilling pawns in a bigger game with the fate of the world at stake. And you know what? That's great. Once the narrative of 13 Sentinels sinks its hooks into you, you want nothing more than to go along for the ride up until the very climax.

13 Sentinels is a unique, genre-mixing experiment. It takes elements of point-and-click adventure games, visual novels, real-time strategy games, and tower defense games, mixing them together to create an experience that's quite unlike anything else out there. Things get rolling when young Japanese highschooler Juro Kurabe is called upon to fight a horde of alien invaders in 1985, only for the story to flash back to earlier that year, then over to young soldiers in 1945 wartime-era Japan, then to two schoolgirls witnessing a crisis in the year 2025. You immediately meet a huge cast of characters across different eras, learning that there is one constant: the existence of Sentinels, massive human-piloted robot weapons who exist to protect the world from otherworldly monsters.

No Caption Provided

The game is split into three parts: a Remembrance mode where you uncover the story piece by piece, a Destruction mode where you use giant Sentinel mechs to protect the city from invasion, and an Analysis mode that collects all of the information and story scenes you have discovered through gameplay. Remembrance is presented as an episodic series where you explore and interact with various environments and characters to advance the plot. Destruction, in contrast, is an overhead-view strategy segment where you use the Sentinels to defend a critical underground access point from invading forces.

The narrative sequences of Remembrance take up the good majority of the game's playtime. Each of the 13 main characters' individual adventures occurs at a different time and place, but every story eventually intertwines, with some crucial events playing out through the perspectives of several cast members. Gameplay is fairly basic: You can walk around to talk to other characters, stand around to observe the environment, and examine particular objects in an area. Occasionally, key words will be added to a character's "thought cloud," which acts like an item inventory; you can ruminate on the topics via an inner monologue, bring up thought cloud topics to others, or utilize physical items. Progress happens when you hit on the right dialogue or action.

You only control one character at a time, but you can swap between characters' stories as you see fit--though you may find yourself locked out of a character's path until you have made significant progress in others' storylines and the mech battles. The nonlinear, non-chronological storytelling presents you with many mysteries and questions which you must piece together to get a bigger picture of what is actually going on--and how to save everything from absolute ruin.

13 Sentinels does a great job telling an engaging story from several perspectives; not only does everything fit together, but the characters have distinct, well-defined backgrounds and personalities to avoid confusing the audience. Each of these 13 characters’ individual adventures is a treat to unravel as more and more important events, revelations, and romantic entanglements come to light.

There's Juro, a nerd who loves obscure sci-fi B-movies and hanging out with his best friend after school. He shares a class with Iori, a somewhat clumsy girl who keeps falling asleep during school because terrifying dreams keep her up at night. Meanwhile, resident UFO and conspiracy nut Natsuno may have just found the secret of a time-travelling alien civilization in the girls' locker room. She just met Keitaro, a guy who seems to have been spirited here from wartime Japan, and who also might have a thing for her. Shu is a spoiled kid with a thing for the school's resident tough girl, Yuki, who is too busy investigating mysteries around school to care for his advances. But why is Ryoko bandaged up, constantly monitored, and gradually losing her sanity? And why is Megumi hearing a talking cat ordering her to attack her classmates?

13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim captured on PS4
13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim captured on PS4

That's just a sampling of the many character mini-dramas you see throughout the game, as the ordinary lives of these kids get flipped upside down and a massive, reality-changing mystery unfolds. Ultimately, however, the story works because the individual character drama is so well done, with each character's tale playing a key role in the bigger, overarching sci-fi plot.

It also helps that the story sequences in 13 Sentinels are fantastic to look at. Developer Vanillaware is known for its vibrant, colorful 2D artwork in games like Odin Sphere and Dragon's Crown. While 13 Sentinels takes place primarily in a more "real-world" setting than those fantasy-based games, the beauty of Vanillaware's 2D artwork is still on full display. The environments are filled with little details that really make them come alive, from the reveling drunken bench-squatters by the train station entrance to the crumbling, shaking foundations of ruined buildings in the apocalyptic futures barely standing among the husks of dead invaders. Character animation is also excellent, with many characters featuring fun little facial and body movement quirks that bring out elements of their personalities.

13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim captured on PS4
13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim captured on PS4

Perhaps the biggest problem with the story segments, however, is that they are notably more enjoyable than the real-time strategy portion, where the gigantic Sentinels are supposed to really shine. The Destruction portion of the game is a mix of quasi-RTS and tower-defense mechanics: You command up to six individual Sentinel units in a usually-timed battle to protect a defensive node from a lengthy enemy onslaught. Each unit has a specialized role (such as melee, support, flying, etc.) and offensive and defensive skills, which can be individually upgraded to your liking through "meta-chips" earned in battle and from completing story episodes. If you either wipe out all of the enemies or manage to hold the fort for a specific amount of time, you win.

These battles certainly have their moments. It's immensely satisfying to plan out a strategy and watch it play out--or to decide to go HAM with your best weapon and watch a couple dozen enemy drones explode simultaneously in a flurry of fireworks (which are enough to make a standard PS4 model slow down). Eventually, however, the game stops introducing new and interesting threats, making these strategy bits feel less exciting as you progress. The gorgeous 2D visuals and animation are also replaced with a bland, blocky 3D map that isn't anywhere near as pleasant to look at for long stretches of time. While there's a good amount of inter-character bantering and key story revelations before and after these combat sequences, you can't help but feel like they can often be a roadblock to enjoying the more interesting story parts of the game--especially since clearing certain enemy waves in Destruction is necessary to open parts of the story in Remembrance.

But ultimately, the biggest problem with 13 Sentinels is that a chunk of the game is merely good while the majority of it is outstanding. The stories of these kids and their giant robots absolutely consumed me during my playtime, and even now, I'm ruminating over certain plot points, events, and relationships, wondering if I should go back through the archives to see what I've missed. I don't think I'll forget my time in the 13 Sentinels world, and I doubt you will, either.

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The Good

  • Beautiful artwork, detailed environments and lots of animation in the adventure sequences help bring the game's world to life
  • Non-linear, out-of-chronological order story presentation makes putting together the full picture more engaging and fun
  • A large cast of interesting and likable characters helps bring you deeper into the game's tangled web

The Bad

  • Strategy segments are the weaker part of the game, with less variety and uninteresting visuals

About the Author

From the moment Heidi started, she found it hard to tear herself away from the ongoing sci-fi teenage drama unfolding in 13 Sentinels. She completed the game in 31 hours on the standard difficulty level. She's still missing 5% of the Analysis section, though. Review code was provided by the publisher.
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jenovaschilld

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13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim-

I had never even heard of this game, and follow JRPGs and all RPGs pretty closely. Luckily.... or Sadly, because gamespot repeats every article a few dozen times to bait google algorithms, now I am dying to play this game.

I cannot find it anywhere for cheap either, arghhh.

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twztid13

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Darn, i really loved vanillaware's other games, but it seema this is more like a visual novel with a very minimalist battle segment thrown in occasionally. I love story, but i need more than this offers for gameplay to keep my attention, i think. Too bad there's no demo of at least the battle portion.

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jenovaschilld

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@twztid13: Do not under estimate games like these. Like movies or TV shows that people think would not be up their alley, a finely crafted game of any genre is better then a mediocre game of a preferred one.

Grab this game when it is on sale or part of the PS now collection of the 100 exclusives when it rotates around. Or see if this game isn't part of the summer sale next year.

And most importantly remember that you can get a refund for any game (within reason of time played) if you just ask. Yes it may take a try or two, an email or three, and my favorite, an email to your states Better Business Bureau. I personally have always gotten a refund for any game I have needed to. Like SimCity 4, diablo 3, AC, FO79, whether digital or physical, walmart or amazon. And some games with 20 hrs or more.

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twztid13

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@jenovaschilld: will do, thanks for the info.

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sakaiXx

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Cannot wait for my copy!

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sladakrobot

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aww,should sladakrobot get a PS4 to play a game about robots?

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jenovaschilld

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@sladakrobot: Get a ps4 for 200 or under, there is a massive back catalog of these strange and wonderful JRPG exclusives that can be found for cheap. From the Atelier series, to Niers, tales of, and Person 5 R, and many hidden gems by Atlus, and even Koemi. Also try older exclusives like The last Guardian, a game I appreciated even more after two play throughs.- (Robots are complicated, but a fantastical beast that takes to training like a ...cat would, priceless. )

Thing is, there really is no compelling reason to buy a ps5 or xbox at this time. While they do have the ability to upscale and play many games at higher FPS and resolution, these above games look just fine as they are. I mean what is the dollar value of upscaled 8th gen games comparatively, as they look and play awesome on 8th gen consoles.

Wait a year for the 9th gen consoles to not only come out with truly desirable 9th gen games designed for 9th gen consoles, but also become available or instock. By next year, will probably have a price drop, (the xbox one went from $500 down to $350 black friday one year later). You can really enjoy some of the best exclusives for very cheap if you have not had a 8th gen console yet. And then give the ps4 away to family as a gift, or trade it in on the 9th gen consoles.

More importantly, a ps4 now for robots, is Bender approved.

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twztid13

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@jenovaschilld: genuinely asking, what is koemi?

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jenovaschilld

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Edited By jenovaschilld

@twztid13: https://www.koeitecmoamerica.com/games/ these sorry spelling.

try this one, it was so great, so fun, so enthralling...... and if anyone saw me playing it, I would be so embarrassed. https://store.steampowered.com/app/658260/BLUE_REFLECTION__BLUE_REFLECTION/ ps4 and steam

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twztid13

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@jenovaschilld: i waa thinking u may have meant koei-tecmo, but koemi was really a word on urban dictionary, so i thought maybe there were a genre or company that i hadn't heard of, lol. Great info & advice, btw.

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Regent192

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@sladakrobot: nope, get the ps5 and a switch :)

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twztid13

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@Regent192: good luck, plus that's 4x as much.

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13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim

First Released Sep 22, 2020
released
  • PlayStation 4

9
Superb

Average Rating

5 Rating(s)

7.2

Developed by:

Published by:

Genre(s):

Content is generally suitable for ages 13 and up. May contain violence, suggestive themes, crude humor, minimal blood, simulated gambling and/or infrequent use of strong language.
Teen
Fantasy Violence, Language, Partial Nudity