13 Sentinels

Game Info

13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim

Review

Leading up to the release date of 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim, I saw a lot of enthusiasm for it online from Vanillaware fans. I’m not one of them – I played maybe 10 or 15 minutes of Dragon’s Crown, and haven’t tried any of their other titles. However, the idea of an adventure game with mecha intrigued me, and I made sure to pick 13 Sentinels up day one.

(Or visual novel with mecha. I don’t want to start an argument about genres here! I know Japan doesn’t draw a distinction between the two like the West does. But given the lack of narration, I’m going to stick with the “adventure game” term.)

The game is a hybrid of two separate modes – Destruction, a real-time strategy game, and Remembrance, an adventure game. (There’s a third mode in the menu, Analysis, but it’s effectively an in-game encyclopedia.) The player is forced to go back and forth between the two modes; progress in Remembrance is gated on progress in Destruction, and vis-versa.

Remembrance is definitely the starring role here. The game has a large main cast – thirteen high school students in 1985, pilots of giant mecha called Sentinels. How 1985 got the technology for the Sentinels is explained, but that mystery only scratches the surface of what’s going on. Unfortunately, I can’t really talk too much about the story without spoilers. But when the box calls it a “sci-fi mystery epic”, they aren’t overstating the scope of the story.

The gameplay in Remembrance is on the light side for an adventure game. There’s no pixel hunts; the only inventory you have is your Thought Cloud, a list of phrases that you’ve encountered through the story that are important. You can choose where to go, who to talk to, and what words from the Thought Cloud you need to use with them; but there’s always one right choice to continue the story, it doesn’t really have any branching.

The other gameplay mode, Destruction, is a real-time-with-pause strategy game. That is, while events occur in real time, once you select a unit the battlefield is put on hold until you finish giving them their orders. You’re only able to bring along about half of your units, so based on the enemy unit types the game warns you about, you need to select the best mix of units to bring along.

I played through the first 75% of the Destruction mode on the Normal difficulty level, before lowering it to Casual once enemy healing units were introduced. The game doesn’t punish you in any way for selecting the lower difficulty – nothing in-game is hidden that I could find, and all the trophies could still be unlocked.

I don’t know how much depth Destruction has, especially on lower difficulty levels; towards the end, with my upgraded units, I was pretty well able to steamroll the CPU. But that didn’t stop it from being fun – there’s something about repeatedly sending Super Large Missiles into enemy hordes that I find pleasing.

This is not a quick game – it took me a touch over 40 hours to complete the main story and all the unlockables, with some post-finale Destruction levels still untouched. I would guess probably two-thirds of that was in Remembrance, and the remainder in Destruction, but that’s just a guess.

Summary

Destruction alone might have made for an okay game, but Remembrance elevates 13 Sentinels to greatness. I can’t recommend this epic story highly enough. ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐, Recommended for everybody.

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