13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim (PlayStation 4) Review

By Sandy Kirchner-Wilson 15.09.2020 2

Review for 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim on PlayStation 4

13 Sentinels was originally slated for a 2018 release on PS4 and Vita but, after some developmental hell, the Vita version was shelved and the PS4 version pushed back. Now, in 2020, it's time to release this interesting new title. Vanillaware developed many great artsy games over the last few decades, such as Muramasa: The Demon Blade and Odin Sphere, and it has quite the cult following. Its games are typically published by Atlus and, this time, it's a PS4 exclusive release. Robots in 1980s Japan? Sign up for some craziness!

13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim has quite the interwoven story. It's set across a huge time period, with the majority of gameplay taking place during 1980, and the story revolving around a school. Not wanting to spoil story events, this review will be light on those details. Players control a variety of characters over the course of time, from sporty high-schoolers to mysterious amnesiac boys. The setting is a very bleak world where Kaijuu and robots are warring over the Earth with the biggest and most important story details clearly being inspired by sci-fi novels, like War of the Worlds. This is a clear departure from Vanillaware's previous fantasy titles. At its heart is a massive narrative experience where the story is the standout feature and is the overall endpoint or focus of all side activities, the largest of which is battling.

Screenshot for 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim on PlayStation 4

Forgoing Vanillaware's signature side-scrolling artistry, battles are a tactical affair where multi-sentinel battles more be co-ordinated against the aforementioned invaders. This takes the gameplay style of RTS (Real-Time Strategy), and while this begins simply, it gets increasingly difficult as the game goes forward, adding in new elements to each battle. The general setup requires playing defence for a certain amount of time. Defending the terminal in each level is interesting as enemies will essentially make a bee-line for it sometimes, meaning you must get between the enemy and terminal, shooting down rockets and trying to clear out hordes using area attacks - it's quite visceral. Everything runs in real-time, except for when picking attacks from the menu, using a pseudo turn-based system similar to Final Fantasy's Active Time battles, with recharging action bars. It's fun to play but is definitely the worst element due to its repetitive nature and simple mini-game-esque visual design.

Adventuring / exploring is handled in Vanillaware's usual style, allowing some direct control over the current character within a 2.5D space. This is where most events take place and character stories are explored in a rather interesting way. Similar to the town in Dragon's Crown, there are lots of characters to interact with, each of whom will have dialogue either relevant to the on-going situation in the level or something that tips the character off about the larger picture. These sections have a lot of dialogue but it's all voiced and the translation is great. This dialogue is supplemented by the current character's thought cloud. By pressing triangle, it's possible to get their thoughts on key events, items, and even their own personal life. These thoughts do a lot to progress the individual character motive and to explain relationships between different plot elements. This thought state is elevated further with unique character thinking poses and walk cycles.

Screenshot for 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim on PlayStation 4

After the tutorial levels, which take their time explaining the battling and setting up the story, the player is dumped onto a new menu screen, which holds the three main modes, two of which are explained above. There is Fighting, Adventuring and, finally, a mode called Analysis. Here it is possible to replay events from the story, see an unravelling timeline of events as the story jumps around them, and it's also where the story is wrangled into a nice, easy-to-follow linear storyline. It's the mode that completes the feel of Aegis Rim offering up a fullness that would otherwise be missing. It's after this mode is unlocked that the story and battling diverge slightly, with both battling and adventuring sporting their own completion status and being autonomously available for most of the proceeding gameplay loop.

Screenshot for 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim on PlayStation 4

The aesthetic design of 13 Sentinels is excellent. It has a much bleaker feeling than most of the developer's other works, sporting much more realistic locations and character designs, yet it manages to hold on to that unique George Kamitami styling, which is surprising as the character design wasn't done by him this time. Environments benefit from superb amounts of detail, with tons of new effects, the most standout of which is the amount of animation on elements like crowds and scenery. There is a scene with a motorbike riding on the city ring-road that will absolutely blow you away. It's an extremely gorgeous creation… that is, when it's in the adventure scenes.

The battle layout and design feel like another game entirely and they don't feel like the main focus. It has simplified sprite visuals akin to a hacking mini-game in, say, Deus Ex, which is disappointing given the excellent designs of the enemies and Sentinels. However, this is all supplemented by great sound design, lovely deep bassy explosions and footsteps, splashing water, gusts of wind, and more. They paint a lovely sound canvas. It also has mostly sublime music, although the main battle theme does grate a bit during the tutorial levels.

Screenshot for 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim on PlayStation 4

Cubed3 Rating

8/10
Rated 8 out of 10

Great - Silver Award

Rated 8 out of 10

It's great to have a new Vanillaware title on PS4. The bleak future presented with a writhing tangling plot makes for an excellent setting, showing that the team isn't just a one-trick pony. 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim is hampered by a slightly tedious battle system but, luckily, the adventure and story scenes are excellent and easily elevate this to greatness. An excellent, unique, niche title that is absolutely recommended to fans of Vanillaware and those who like things to be a certain flavour of Japanese.

Developer

Vanillaware

Publisher

Atlus

Genre

Strategy

Players

1

C3 Score

Rated $score out of 10  8/10

Reader Score

Rated $score out of 10  0 (0 Votes)

European release date None   North America release date None   Japan release date None   Australian release date None   

Comments

I was looking forward (?) to this game.  I had heard though the battle system was really pathetic.

Dragon0085 said:
I was looking forward (?) to this game.  I had heard though the battle system was really pathetic.

I did find it to be the weakest part of the game. Almost like another game inserted into this amazing story and world. It's functional and can be fun in the complex scenarios but they ultimately detract from the wonderful artistry of the rest of the title.

If it had shared more with the rest of the game I think it would have made the title feel properly mind blowing XD

( Edited 17.09.2020 20:26 by Sandy Wilson )

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