By Leaana Khan
Image Source: USgamer
13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim is a real-time strategy RPG developed by Vanillaware and published by Atlus for the Playstation 4. It was released in Japan in November 2019 and got a global release in September 2020. The game is split into a side-scrolling visual novel type segment and real-time strategy battles. The game centers around thirteen highschool students in 1980s Japan fighting in mechas called Sentinels in a sci-fi style war against robots known as Kaiju.
While this initial description may sound a bit lame and unoriginal, the mechanics of the game and the plot keep the story interesting with things like time-travel and branching storylines that already took place in the past. After the prologue, the story starts off a bit tame and full of classic slice-of-life anime tropes, but it slowly escalates into one of the most convoluted but well thought out plots I’ve ever seen in a video game.
In the story mode, you choose between any of the thirteen main characters as you look back at all the events in their lives that got them to the point in the present where they fight the Kaiju. The game is balanced by having certain events or battles locked behind completing other events that reveal new information regarding the mysteries of the story. The characters’ stories themselves are intertwined so it’s very interesting to see one event from the perspectives of different characters. Seeing events through different perspectives can also shed light on the context or reasoning behind certain occurrences in other stories.
All of the main characters are complex and well written and I enjoyed going through each one of their stories. None of their stories ever felt boring or repetitive, and there were times where I would desperately go through battles to see what would happen next in a character’s story.
The game starts with lots of unanswered questions and mysteries that you could try to solve, but I guarantee that almost all predictions you initially make will be incorrect. As the story progresses, you learn the truth behind the phenomena and mysteries surrounding the world of the game until you beat the battle in the present.
As you play through the story, you also go through the “Destruction” segment of the game. This is where the combat happens alongside the visual novel. The combat is unique in the sense that it’s strategy based, but takes place partially in real time. Before each battle, you select up to six characters to fight on the front lines in their Sentinels. On the battlefield, you defend a terminal for a specific amount of time, or you defeat all enemy Kaiju. In combat, you select a unit, which can then move across a grid or use one of its many abilities. Different attacks have different ranges, damage, and costs and they must be used strategically and in a timely manner to win.
Once you understand the capabilities of your team and get used to the combat, it becomes extremely satisfying to play and see an entire map full of enemies disappear after a difficult move. The game’s difficulty is flexible throughout the game. In the normal setting, fights were perfectly balanced and had just the right amount of difficulty in each fight. However, if it’s too challenging or too easy for you, you can change the difficulty level at any time during the game.
The third segment of the game doesn’t have any gameplay but it’s an extremely helpful tool for keeping track of important information and events. This segment is called “Analysis” and it contains files of every important person and object you discover throughout the story. While playing the game, I would check back here often and collect my thoughts after receiving information.
In addition to the gameplay or plot aspects of this game, the music and voice acting of this game are great. The music ranged from Showa-era compositions to 80s Japanese City Pop depending on what era you were in within the story. The English voice acting of the game is quite remarkable, especially given that the cast members had to do most of the recordings in their own homes at the start of quarantine. While I strongly recommend using the English voice acting, you can switch to the Japanese voices in the game as well.
With that being said, the main reason you should play this game is the fascinating plot and setting. It was so difficult to put the game down because I wanted to know more and solve the mysteries the game presented. Without spoiling anything, the themes of this game are valuable lessons that aren’t conventionally told in video games like this which makes 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim one of the most unique and underrated games I’ve played.