As a narrative genre, science fiction has unlimited possibilities. It encompasses far-flung concepts like time travel, raging monsters, Android assassins, and more. Even with all of this within reach, most science fiction stories limit themselves to exploring just a few big ideas. 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim, however, shows no such reluctance. It’s an all-encompassing, meaty feast that draws inspiration from every corner of the science fiction kingdom. it is The war of the worlds plus The terminator plus Neon Genesis Evangelion plus some other well known media outlets that would spoil important plot points if I mentioned them. But here’s the most amazing thing: it all works together.
The Bonkers story and beautiful art are the main attractions of 13 Sentinels. There is some tactical combat as well, but the game is primarily a visual novel about a group of teenagers piloting giant armored suits called Sentinels. They do this to save the world from an invasion of seemingly alien beasts, but the characters also deal with their own personal drama along the way, managing their relationships and desires amid the looming crisis. I like how the story gradually shifts focus, starting with a familiar school life, before moving on to the fancier developments. For example, one girl has a crush on a cool new student while another becomes friends with a mysterious robot. I won’t ruin any revelations or surprises here, but I was ultimately happy with the trip. Sometimes it relies too heavily on tribute rather than its own ideas, but even as a tour of popular science fiction concepts, the story is entertaining.
Though you still go through a lot of dialog boxes, 13 Sentinels gives you more freedom of choice than typical visual novels. Your actions won’t change the bottom line, but I was still impressed with how modular the narrative is. Protagonists have their own arcs divided into chapters and you can freely jump between them. You can get to know the girl possessed by UFOs and then switch to the boy who loves Kaiju movies. My original intention was to finish a full arc before moving on to the next, but that’s not possible. Your progress with some characters will depend on whether you meet other conditions. So you have to leave them partially finished and follow other topics. However, these bottlenecks aren’t frustrating. Instead, they build puzzles and anticipation, and sometimes leave out cliffhangers that got me excited to unlock the next sequence.
Some character arcs cannot continue until you have completed certain battles. This is the other main component of 13 Sentinels. You will conduct tactical battles in different parts of the city, releasing missiles and lasers against hordes of advancing enemies. The best I can say about this whole mode is that it’s graciously low-key; Battles aren’t difficult enough to be a major barrier to your progress (unless you put them tough), so you can plow through a series of battles and then get back to history. I like the systems that support the fight like buying and upgrading moves for each of your 13 Sentinels, but your time on the battlefield doesn’t have the depth to make all of the tinkering exciting.
The combat encounters aren’t even cool to watch as the tactical mode uses simplistic and generic representations that don’t do the action justice. It’s a shame the Sentinels in the cockpit are disappointing because their designs look amazing when you see them up close in the narrative campaign. In contrast to the visually boring battles, the story scenes all offer a nice 2D illustration. You’ll watch sweeping sunsets and visit cozy homes full of delicious-looking food as you control characters that come to life with stylish animations that express their personalities. Breathtaking art is developer Vanillaware’s trademark, and that tradition continues here – as long as you’re not in combat.
Vanillaware’s previous games include fantasy-inspired dishes like Odin Sphere, Muramasa, and Dragon’s Crown. With 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim, the studio not only dips its toes into science fiction. It jumps into the deep end with a story inspired by the most famous works of the genre. While that doesn’t result in the most original plot, it’s still a fun and ambitious experience that combines high school drama and giant robots into one (mostly) beautiful package.