Sunday, 8 November 2020

13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim ★★★★★


There are few game companies that can boast as impressive a résumé as Vanillaware. For nearly 15 years, they’ve released titles that combine innovative gameplay with gorgeous visuals, and many such as Muramasa: The Demon Blade are revered as cult classics. They’re a developer that definitely doesn’t play by the rules, and in typical fashion, they’ve waited until the end of this console generation to release their first game for it - 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim. Set in an alternate version of 1980s Japan, the story follows 13 high schoolers as they’re dragged into a futuristic war between kaiju and mechs, with the future of the human race at stake. With a rich pedigree of great games and an intriguing premise, would Vanillaware succeed once again with 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim? Read on to find out…

Firstly, this is one of the most impressive narratives ever committed to the medium of video games. The majority of the story is told in Vanillaware’s classic 2.5D visual novel style and comprises of 13 interweaving stories (one for each main character). While it starts off pretty small scale, focusing on relationships between the high schoolers, it’s not long before you’re swept on a journey through space, time and alternative realities. Over the 30 hour playtime, it’ll blow your mind as deftly as it’ll tug on your heartstrings, and manages to juggle several heady themes without feeling overwhelming.



There is an element of puzzle-solving and choice within the plot, but these are pretty superficial in the grand scheme of things. While there are branching paths for each character, they'll always get you back to the fixed, intended ending. This isn’t really a criticism, as it means the plot remains tight and focused, but it’s something to bear in mind so you don’t go in with false expectations. 

The storytelling is broken up by strategy battles that take place between your team of mechs and the kaiju. You’ll have a ‘terminal’ to defend as your enemies encroach from all sides. Although there’s often a lot happening on-screen at any one time, it’s actually relatively straightforward, and quickly becomes addictive, offering a nice change of pace to keep the main narrative from ever dragging.

As expected 13 Sentinels looks brilliant too. Vanillaware are renowned for their art style, and this is probably their best work yet. Character designs are toned down just a little, making our heroes feel more grounded compared to the outlandish narrative. But all the charm and personality the developers are known for hasn’t been compromised, making this an experience that will stay with you long after you finish playing.

To wrap up, 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim might not have garnered the headlines compared to other games released this year, but we’d consider it one of the most essential plays of recent memory. It combines accessible gameplay with an outstanding narrative and art style, and it wouldn’t be an exaggeration to call playing it a transformative experience. If you own a PS4, you need to play this game.

★★★★★
Tom Baker




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