Atlus is a company that’s sometimes been dubbed a ‘modern Square’ in that it’s become the place in the current industry to get well-budgeted RPG experiences that are equal parts traditional and experimental. It may be known most for its Persona and Shin Megami Tensei games, but the company also sometimes puts out something decidedly more odd, like 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim. This is a release that could best be described as a visual novel, but that genre description doesn’t do justice to what 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim manages to achieve. Whatever you want to call it, Vanillaware's 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim is an experience quite unlike anything else on the Switch right now, and we think you really ought to give it a look.
13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim follows an ensemble cast of protagonists as they fend off an impending alien threat, utilizing the power of advanced mech suits to accomplish their goal. The story spans several decades as it follows characters in different eras, all roped into the central conflict for different purposes and with distinct motives driving their actions. Natsuno’s story, for example, follows a girl with an obsession for movies about aliens who discovers a cute robot named BJ in her locker room, kicking off an adventure in which she crosses time and space to help it find what it’s looking for.
Sekigahara’s story, on the other hand, is about an amnesiac boy who wakes up in an alley with a dead woman next to him, and his adventure initially follows him trying to piece together his past while evading a group of men in black hot on his tail.
Perhaps the most fascinating part of the narrative is how it’s conveyed to the player; 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim unfolds as more of a mosaic than it does a straight line. Each character’s narrative plays out across 10-15 minute chapters, and you can choose to progress any character’s storyline in any order you want. The only exception to this is that doing too many consecutive chapters of one character’s story will eventually lead to a ‘lock’ on that character until you’ve seen certain events unfold in other storylines. Some characters’ stories begin farther along in the timeline than others, and they often jump around decades, making it all but certain that the chapter you just completed won’t have a ton of direct continuity with the one you’re just about to start.
It's amazing that the narrative works as well as it does, despite this initially confusing, multidirectional approach to storytelling. New plot twists come at the end of nearly every chapter, yet it never feels like anything is spoiling a development that takes place in another storyline. Rather, each plot twist is giving you yet another piece to the puzzle of the overarching mystery, as you slowly tease out an understanding of what caused the main conflicts and what each character’s true motives are. It’s almost certain that any two given players will have explored this narrative in a completely different order than each other, which makes for some fascinating discussions when talking it through with someone else who has played.
The main drawback to this multidirectional approach, however, is that it can take quite a while before you finally ‘get’ what the narrative is going for. For the first ten hours or so, it can be a lot to take in as you’re hot potatoed from one narrative to another and positively bombarded with a cavalcade of new characters, time periods, and incidents, all of which are connected in ways you aren’t yet aware of. Just when you feel you’ve finally found a foothold in the narrative, you’re whisked away to another one that’s initially completely unrelated. All of this is important exposition to lay the groundwork for what comes later, but it can feel a little overwhelming when you’re squinting at a character and trying to remember if they showed up in that one scene from an earlier storyline or if they’re someone entirely new.
Luckily, the developers knew that it could be a lot to track and included some helpful features to assuage this. There’s a large “Analysis” segment in the main menu that acts as basically a gigantic archive that collates all the characters and events so far, giving you more detailed entries to read through that update as you encounter new developments. What’s more is that there’s a timeline which shows exactly when events occurred in relation to each other, and the gaps in this slowly become filled in over time. While it can be irksome to have to occasionally dive into essentially a reference guide to keep all the details of the narrative straight, we appreciated the forethought that went into making it as easy as possible to understand the story.
You’ve probably noticed that almost the entirety of the review up to this point has been about the story and that’s because 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim is pretty much all built around dialogue. The meat of this game isn’t quite a visual novel, but gameplay is more akin to an old-school point-and-click adventure. Progressing the narrative is usually as simple as finding the next person you need to talk to or the next thing in the environment you need to examine. Occasionally, you’ll get a new addition to your ‘word cloud’ which is sort of a stand in for your character’s inner thoughts, and it’s here that you can learn a character’s thoughts on certain people or things. Also, you occasionally use it for some light interactivity, such as when Natsuno stuffs BJ into her gym bag.
So, 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim is definitely less of a ‘game’ than some may prefer, but we’d say that it proves to be better paced and more interesting than many a visual novel. This isn’t just clicking through thousands of lines of dialogue — you are actually moving your character around the environment and engaging in relatively brief, natural conversations before moving onto the next thing. Each chapter being around 15 minutes keeps things from feeling like they’re dragging on too long, and this short length per chapter means that there’s no unnecessary filler gumming up interactions. It feels like every scene is there to fill a specific purpose in driving forward the plot and the individual character’s growth, making for a thrillingly well-paced experience that easily hooks you in.
It's not all dialogue and interactions, however, as there is a relatively small portion of the overall experience that plays like a more traditional strategy game. In these RTS portions, shown from a top down, city-wide perspective, you play as various members from the story as they’re piloting the eponymous Sentinel mechs to fight off enemy forces. The goal is usually to either defend a point on the map for a certain amount of time or to wipe out all opposing enemy forces, and you do this through an interesting ‘stop and go’ system that somewhat mirrors ATB combat from Final Fantasy. Every character has a cooldown until their mech can act, and once their turn comes, all action onscreen briefly stops to give you time to plan out the most effective action to take.
Sentinels have different strengths—such as proficiency in taking down flying units or having several effective close range options—and you select from a small pool of actions governed by ‘EP’ (basically mana) to keep you from spamming the most powerful abilities. Each action then affects any enemies within a given zone, which gives you the opportunity to squeeze a little more utility out of each one if you manage you line up your shots just right. For example, a rail gun shot creates a narrow, long zone in front of a mech that annihilates anything in its path, while a salvo of missile strikes all fall within a big circle you position over enemy forces.
The team feels quite well-rounded in terms of offensive and defensive capabilities, and this is only bolstered further by how pilots and mechs can be upgraded using Meta Chips you get from beating enemy encounters. New attacks and skills can be bought and loaded into a character’s loadout, making their mech that much more powerful while giving you something meaningful to work towards as you push through wave after wave of battles. We appreciated this effort to bolster customization among your team, and especially liked that there’s a built in system to keep you from favoring any characters too much.
See, each battle has you splitting your team into offensive and defensive teams, with the former being the ones you micromanage and order around while the latter hang back around the objective and fight off any enemies that slip through the cracks. Being on offense is taxing for the pilots, however, and they can only go so many battles before they experience ‘Brain Overload’ and need to be cycled into the defensive team for a few waves to recover. Through this, the player is thus incentivized to pay attention to properly outfitting the whole team; nobody here really feels like they’re stuck on the ‘bench’.
Performance in each battle is then graded based on criteria like how much damage your team took, how much collateral damage happened to the city, or how fast you took down your foes, and this adds up to the rank you receive for that mission. If you succeed in a battle, this also then feeds into a ‘win streak’ that lets you bolster your high score by chaining battles together, but at the cost that your team doesn’t get the chance to restock and heal between battles. This brings in a nice extra layer to the strategy, then, as you’re not just planning out individual battles, but how many battles you think your crew can do before they need to take a breather.
These RTS portions act as a nice palate cleanser for when it feels like the story is becoming too much, although it must be said that the gameplay here clearly isn’t the main draw of the experience. The lack of enemy variety and diverse level design makes battles blend together over time, and even on the harder difficulties, most of the encounters aren’t all too challenging to win. Still, it’s hard to be too bothered by any relative shallowness here, as it’s a great way to get a break from the story while still staying engaged in the world. Not only do these battles have some of their own story content to them, but they’re also key to unlocking Mystery Files in the archive to learn some important details about the ongoing mystery.
13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim may tell a compelling story and have some enjoyable RTS segments, but all of this is boosted to a much higher level by the spectacular presentation. In the storyline segment, each scene is characterized by some impressively detailed, hand-drawn backgrounds that have an appealing painterly quality to them. Each screen looks like a piece of concept art in the best way, creating a seamless transition from the artists’ pens to the live game. The RTS segments are much more rough around the edges, but in a way that feels intentional, as if you’re viewing a battle map through the lens of Sentinel. Streets are outlined with neon blue lines and enemies are represented by simple voxel designs, while the screen shake effects when you set off a bomb or unload a clip from a machine gun go a long way towards selling the sheer weight of your actions. Plus, there are some impressive particle effects on display when you blow up a legion of foes, sending swarms of embers swirling in all directions.
Meanwhile, the sound design is stellar, with every line of dialogue having both an English and Japanese voiceover. Each actor brings something unique and memorable to their role with various accents and inflections, while the overall sound quality is pleasingly sharp, which is all the more impressive considering that most of the English audio here was recorded from the voice actors’ homes during the pandemic lockdowns. It’s hard to say which of the English or Japanese cast is ‘definitive’ for the experience, but whichever way you choose, you’re sure to get a consistently high-quality performance throughout the whole script.
As for the soundtrack, there’s a nicely ‘cinematic’ feel to the way that the music ebbs and flows with the pace of the narrative in the storyline portions. It’ll jump from playful to serious to curious all at the drop of a hat, perfectly punctuating plot events and lines of dialogue as they’re playing out. In the RTS portions, the music then shifts to being much more energetic and electronic to match the intense and desperate vibe that most fights have. This is the kind of soundtrack that’ll have you searching through YouTube for playlists after you’re done with it; we’d certainly recommend you play with headphones in portable mode if possible.
13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim is a wonderful achievement for dynamic storytelling, as it puts forth a compelling and multifaceted narrative that’ll keep you guessing right up until the very end. This excellent story, combined with enjoyable combat portions, a striking art style, and some top-notch voice acting make for an experience that you won’t want to miss out on. It’s the kind of game that’ll have you wishing that you could play it again for the first time, just so all its best elements could be new again. We’d give 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim a strong recommendation, then, to anyone who has even a passing interest in visual novels. Even if that doesn’t describe you, we’d still say to give it a shot; you might just be surprised at how well it grabs you.
I bought a copy on PS4, but never played it. Might sell it and grab this on Switch instead. It's nice to see Vanillaware return to Nintendo.
Really keen for this one. Got my physical copy preordered and planning to play it day one for sure.
This game seems interesting to me… I have a lot of RPGs/Visual Novels I want to get on 3DS, but maybe in a year or two, I might get this, because it looks quite good. I also love the art style.
Played this on PS4, double dipping on this release. A must-play for science fiction & anime fans. Easily Vanillaware's most beautiful game too, which is saying something.
Surprised it apparently runs well, many people online were convinced that wouldn't be the case.
Anyway, a lot of people seem to love this game so I may get it down the line.
If there weren't 9 unfinished Switch games waiting on my table I'd buy it day 1...
Ah good. Thanks for the extensive review. I was awaiting a review before proceeding with the purchase. I know it has been recieved well on other platforms. Think I'll go ahead and purchase.
Must have for me!! One of my most anticipated games of the year.
@SwitchVogel Did they fix the English translation compared to the PS4 release?
This game floored me when I played it on PS4. Absolute must play game imo.
I remember the ps4 one getting such good reviews that I added it to my watch list but never ended up buying it since I don’t play the ps4 enough. May just have to get it on the switch. Does it run well since it was made for other systems first?
@SwitchVogel I enjoyed your review here, which was clear enough on almost every point to help me decide about this novel/game.
By definition, I suppose, this cannot be called a Real Shin Megami Tensei Game™, but I am compelled to ask nonetheless: does the narrative (if not the gameplay, or the challenge level) have that hardcore, unrelenting quality associated with the best Atlus-made games? Narrative éliteness is hard to define, I know, but your opinion would be welcome.
@SigmaNoire Only 9? Lucky you. Between this, Kirby, Lego Star Wars and Switch Sports I have no idea where I'll find the time to play all these.
If I didn't own this for PS4 already I would had bought this for Switch since Visual Novel type games work better with a Hybrid console.
Absolutely fantastic game. RTS stuff when isolated could've been made more interesting but most of your play time will be with the story anyway, and that story is exceptional. Complicated but told in such a way that makes sense of it all. Would consider it a must-play for anyone going in for the story, just don't go in expecting a ton from the abstract mech fights.
They're super proud of this Switch port. Early previews all saying it looks great, runs great, early review copies confidently sent out...
I'm on it.
I bought and played this game at the start of 2021 on PS4, I absolutely recommend this game to everyone. It handles managing 13 protagonists so well and has one of the best stories I've seen in a video game. 13 Sentinels is one of a kind that should be played by as many people as possible, whether on PS4 and Switch and I'm glad to see more people get the chance to play it. I'll be double dipping on the Switch version. The game was originally meant to release on Vita before being cancelled so this will be the chance to experience the game in handheld with an OLED screen.
This was my GoTY in 2020, definitely recommend to any visual novel fans. It's true story is a little confusing at first but it's satisfying when it all comes together.
Purchased a copy on general principle with the hope that Vanillaware ports more of their games to Switch. Dragon's Crown, Muramasa, Odin Sphere, etc.
I got it on the PS4 and pretty quickly decided it wasn't really for me. Probably should give it another shot since it seems to be pretty universally beloved but my first impressions of the aesthetic, tone, and premise were pretty meh.
I’m still unsure, might wait for a sale.
Cannot wait to get this and play it!
@SigmaNoire Only 9? I got about 90, lol
One of the best games of the last couple years. Absolutely loved this game on PS4. Every time you think the game has dealt its narrative hook to you, you soon discover that things still aren't what they seem. Amazing stuff.
Just seems a bit expensive for the type of 'game' it is. Disco Elysium has only just released and is 33% cheaper, so I suspect I'll go there first and pick this up down the line. What sort of play time can be expected from 13 Sentinels?
The RTS gameplay puts me off but I am really interested in the story/artstyle and music.
Check out how long to beat for a playtime estimate.
If you’re on the fence, I’d recommend waiting. SEGA/Atlus games go on sale quickly and frequently. See SMTV as a recent example of this.
The PS4 version regularly goes on sale for $20-30; I expect the Switch version will be on sale in a month or so too.
I played this on PS4. It was some of the most engrossing story-telling I've experienced in a while in gaming. But, boy it got worse toward the end, and the ending was very bad lol. I wouldn't trade my time with it though, and the journey through it was definitely a 9/10 for sure.
Joy: Enjoyable RTS Combat
Con: RTS gameplay can get repetitive
Held off getting this on console for the Switch. Day 1.
This and Nier Automata were two PS4 titles I've wanted to play for ages, so Aegis on Switch was a thrilling announcement and I preordered a physical copy right away. I've played through about half of the demo on the Japanese eShop, and was maybe hoping for more in the way of mech-on-kaiju combat, but the story quickly drew me in.
I imagine this will be a great title for off-TV play on my OLED, while Star Wars and Kirby will get the big-screen treatment. Meanwhile the backlog continues to grow... ^_^;;;
9/10! Wow. Video review please!!
Played it on PS4. One of the few games I consider a perfect 10.
I really like the idea of it, but I've been spoiled on some of the story threads and they're just really dumb and I can't get past that.
I didn’t think I would buy this game again, but buying it again gives me an excuse to fo back and experience the story one more time. I really enjoyed my first playthrough.
I was about to say how clever it was that the screenshot following the confusing beginning was a character saying “sorry for the confusion.” But then the site reloaded and changed the screenshot location. Thought that was clever.
While the game looks great and seemingly plays well I’m afraid it won’t sell overly well. I am hopeful though as this could potentially determine whether or not a Dragons Crown port is in the cards.
Of course what we really want is mainline Persona on the Switch. But then again I’m reminded of all the places I’ve had employment before and it’s always the same problem. Nonsensical decisions from a deaf management team.
This game is largely VN storytelling focused with RTS gimmick tacked on. People that complained about Triangle Strategy because “you didn’t fight a lot” or “lots of reading” are gonna make similar complaints with this game.
If you enjoyed TS though you should have no issue getting into this game
So hyped to play this on my Switch OLED! I'm glad to see it reviewed well. I pre-ordered a copy last week. I'll probably buy a copy for PS4 also, if it goes on sale again.
I totally recommend buying it and supporting Vanillaware. Maybe with luck, we can get the other titles on Switch, like Dragon's Crown, Muramasa, Grimgrimoire...ODIN SPHERE.
I played it in February of last year, and it was one of the best games I played in 2021. It has a LOT of reading, but the story and how it shifts between 13 protagonists is fantastic, and the battles are even quite a bit of fun, even though I thought they looked like they were going to be boring at first.
I played this game last summer on the PS4. It's absolutely incredible. One of the best games I played last year for sure.
Definitely picking this up now that's it on Switch. Visual Novels belong on portables.
@Screen None of my business, but I would advise against judging a story by hearing about certain bits of it - the only fair way is to judge having experienced it in full.
Definitely grabbing this one, hopefully sooner rather than later. If the rest of the game is as sublime as its OST, I'm in for a fun ride.
I'm sure most of it's fine, but in the day of content overload I can afford to miss something.
@CANOEberry It's definitely distinct from Atlus' other work, but I think it's a solid story all around. Great character development and it has just about every trope you could imagine in sci-fi, but it never feels cheap because of it. I'd contend this is one of the best storylines Atlus has done.
This sounds really interesting and I love mixed-genre visual novel plus gameplay. My only worry is that I generally am not good at RTS
Have the PS4 version, fantastic game and one of my favorite from 2020. I'll definitely double dip.
@CANOEberry It's not made by Atlus, It's made by Vanillaware. Atlus is the publisher, not the developer.
@FishyS Normal mode was quite easy (I'm not a fan of RTS). At worse, there is even a casual mode.
I've been looking forward to this one, but I just can't right now. I'm in the middle of way too many games, and I have a bad tendency to drop games halfway through because I hit a wall and something else came out that I'm hyped for.
I like everything I've heard about it, though. And it's perfect for the Switch. Definitely on the buy list.
Darn, i wish this had more compelling game play. I hate visual novels, but love everything else vanillaware made. I guess I'll be skipping this, as i don't care for RTS, either. 😥
@JasmineDragon i do the same thing. This is the first I've known of anyone else doing this. I wish i could force myself to avoid all side quests & play only main story, but my OCD always makes me want to do everything. I will then get halfway & have lost the excitement, so when something else comes out that gets me excited, i move on & put the game on "hold". I always intended to come back to the game i leave behind, but I've stopped kidding myself at this point...🤣
@twztid13 Yeah, sounds like me all right. I just want to ramble and fill out the maps and talk to everyone, and I get nowhere in the main quest. And eventually time runs out, because there's a crazy number of good games out there!
Incredible game. I'm so glad it escaped from the PS4.
Bought the game on sale on PS4 originally. Loved it so much I bought a physical copy later on. Will be buying again on Switch to playthrough once more.
The way the stories come together into one single narrative is insane. Anyone on the fence, please give 13 Sentinels a shot!
I should really be a responsible adult and not preorder this game but holy moly is it tempting. 😭
Anybody ever play Sakura Wars: So Long My Love on Wii? 13 Sentinels reminds me of that, although less of a dating sim?
I bought the PS4 version as soon as it came out. I was really looking forward to it. But it just doesn't do it for me. The visuals really are beautiful, so I do play it now and then just to take in the artwork. But the story and gameplay are, in my opinion, rather lack luster. I see all the glowing reviews and feel like I'm missing something.
@GameOtaku man, if someday Dragon's Crown receive a port to the switch, this day will be one of the best days of my life. Played 100+ hours on Vita alone. This game is a masterpiece.
Wow, this game is incredibly good! I can't put it away and when I have to I just want to jump back in. It has grabbed me HARD! Don't sleep on this one! Story and voice-acting is top-notch!
I do love VNs but not a fan of RTS.
Calling this an RTS is not really true since time pauses when you give cammands. Yes enemies and units move in real-time otherwise. Also your units turns runs on an ATB gauge like in FF7. It's more like an jrpg-rts hybrid.
I put this release on my calendar long ago, and I always look to Nintendo Life for reviews. I guess I'll be buying this game in the future!
Ehh video GAMES shouldn't put the whole actual game part on the back burner. Might as well have gone full visual novel and chopped half the price off.
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