13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim
Channel Your Inner "Gundam" On The Go
Originally released for the PS4 in 2020, 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim combined tactical RPGs and Japanese B-Movie Kaiju films into one Anime-esque package. We actually took a look at the PS4 version around the time of its release, but personally speaking this is the first time I've played this title. With that said, my first impressions for 13 Sentinels are legit both first impressions for the Switch as well as the game itself. A lot of comparisons I see others make with this game is "Persona but with mechs." I'm inclined to disagree with the "Persona" comparison, but it is equal parts "school life" and equal parts "blow stuff up in a giant mecha."
The developers, Vanillaware, are best known for their work on Odin Sphere and Dragon Crown, the latter most infamously known for its unabashed lewdness. What Vanillaware has in common spanning across its titles is its impressive art and visual designs. Everything in 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim is hand-drawn, featuring its iconic 2D perspective while on-foot. Inside the mech, the scene shifts to an isometric grid system, not unlike similar Tactical RPGs. While the graphics here are minimalist, cut-ins showing the mecha's firing animations during previews and the explosion of numbers leave a lot to the imagination. There is the occasional dialogue between characters via status reports that makes each fight a bit more personal.
13 Sentinels Takes Epic Battles And Makes Them Simple
The game begins with a student named Iori who summons a mech, placing her and the player in the middle of combat. With a navigator serving as the game's tutorial provider, the player learns how to control their mech. Those who played a TRPG, like Triangle Strategy, will understand the absolute basics here. Players can move their mech and then use an action that targets one or multiple targets at once. Some actions cost resources, which can be restored by guarding. Guarding, however, will pass their turn.
Initially, the objectives are to destroy the enemies known as "Deimos" as well as defend a chokepoint from the enemies. However, most of 13 Sentinels take place outside the mechs, on foot. The narrative in 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim is a tad difficult to follow at first. Like the movies that the game occasionally references, Aegis Rim relies on the perspective of multiple characters across various time periods to tell its story. There isn't a "designated main character" as each protagonist is required to piece the entire plot together. After the prologue, players are introduced to Kurabe which kicks off the game's "on-foot" tutorial.
When Your Favorite Movies Become Reality
Almost immediately, Kurabe hits all of the notes that a "main protagonist" would in a game like this. Plain in appearance, aloof, taking each day at a time and having one quirk based on a passion. This passion, of course, is related to the main theme of 13 Sentinels itself, the mechs. While having a conversation with his best friend, a mechanic is introduced known as a Thought Cloud, breaking into an internal monologue. As the protagonists talk to others, new information is acquired in real-time and is accessed via their inner thoughts. These thoughts can be reflected on or brought up to whoever they are in a conversation with.
This type of contextualization is the main feature in games such as Life Is Strange True Colors, where better context serves to understand the plot. There are instances where talking to others in 13 Sentinels and exhausting their dialogue will offer insight into other characters and the world around them. Other times, it's used to progress an objective the game presses on the player. The mechanic is seamless as well as the conversations in-game, with multiple happening all at once much like an actual classroom.
Wibbly Wobbly And Timey Whimey
While the premise is easy to follow so far, the story's pacing quickly spirals into overdrive thanks to a neat trick known as time travel. Throughout the first hour, certain protagonists are leaping through decades from the past and the future at any given time. Some try to prevent events from happening while others are trying to capitalize on the confusion. Regardless, it's imperative for the player to pay attention to the time cards as a new chapter begins. While it's assumed that the kaiju fights are "present day," the on-foot sections range from "a few days" to "a week ago" respectively.
So when a chapter begins in 1945, with certain characters warping to and from this time period, it gets difficult to follow if you don't pay attention. During the end of the tutorial battle, a third Sentinel user appears, piloting a mech that belongs to someone else. The relationship between the original owner and the current pilot is interesting, which leads to the next section and what I like most about 13 Sentinels Aegis Rim thus far.
Representation Matters And 13 Sentinels Represents Well
This deserves its own section altogether as this category caught me completely off guard. It's rare to see representation done seriously and not played for laughs. In Aegis Rim's case, it plays it seriously as a part of a character's trait themselves. Remember how at one point the story shifts 40 years in the past? That chapter centers around a young soldier named Takatoshi Hijiyama who is going after a young woman named Kiriko Douji. Unfortunately for Hijiyama, he loses track of Kiriko and she ends up disappearing from his grasp. After a chance encounter with another time traveler named Gouto, he ends up in the same time period that Kiriko ends up. This is not before Gouto reveals that "Kiriko" is actually a man whose real name is Tsukasa Okino.
Wanting to know the truth for himself, as well as wanting to be reunited with the one that got away, Hijiyama makes due to fit in with the crowd, one yakisoba bread at a time. He reunites with Okino in a chance encounter who comes clean that he took on the identity of Kiriko because he could pull it off. What makes this exchange important is that Hijiyama does not treat Okino with any disdain upon knowing the truth. In fact, his feelings for Okino, while subtle, are present, such as when Okino flirts and teases Hijiyama. Eventually, Hijiyama pilots Okino's mech with Okino serving as his navigator as he remains low-key from his pursuers.
The Characters In 13 Sentinels Are Very Well Written
Anyone who knows me knows I adore it when games are inclusive in this way. Proper LGBT representation is rare but when it's pulled off successfully, it's a great feeling. Okino is a guy who doesn't mind cross-dressing and the relationship he has with Hijiyama is as a romantic love interest. It's not played for laughs or for a gag, it's earnest and honest. Another thing 13 Sentinels Aegis Rim does well is that it doesn't follow cliches. Iori and Kurabe are the "lead" protagonists yet they do not fall for each other.
Iori has her eyes set on Gouto from the beginning and Kurabe has a budding relationship with someone else as well. Iori and Kurabe are close platonic friends, going against the trope of "the two protagonists must be love interests!" In the first hour, I was impressed how mature of a game this was and I was interested in knowing more about the game's world. Sure 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim has very simple gameplay, but it makes up for it with its art, narrative, and characters.
It's a shame that 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim is not released on other platforms as you'd expect at least a PC release. However, the fact that this was released on the Switch is great for those who wish to have their mecha action on the go. I feel like of all the games that could have been on the portable console, this was a good choice. This is definitely worth a pickup, regardless of platform, but the Switch version trumps due to the accessibility. If you really don't care about trophies, this is the way to go.
13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim is now available on the Sony PlayStation 4 and the Nintendo Switch.