Vanillaware has shifted from gameplay-focused experiences to a story-driven one with 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim and here's my review.
I've seen 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim referred to as a Visual Novel, a real-time strategy game, or some sort of combination of the 2 but in my opinion, it really isn't either of those things. Yes, its campaign is essentially divided into story-driven components and an overhead battle system but those aforementioned labels don't actually fit all that well. For starters, the story-based portion could be considered an adventure game considering you walk around, talk to folks, think about key words, and present those concepts to people in order to progress the story. It's kind of like a point-and-click adventure game but an extremely barebones one. Meanwhile, the combat has you command an army of 6 mechs in order to fend off an encroaching alien army yet there certainly isn't much strategy involved. To me, it felt more like a typical command-based JRPG setup where you just happen to move your party members around a map.
With its premise out of the way, let's discuss the story since that composes a huge chunk of the experience. Keeping that in mind, if you don't enjoy story-heavy games then you should definitely avoid playing this since it will likely bore you to tears. On the other hand, those who love becoming entangled in complex plots that involve loads of characters will absolutely love their time with 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim. In fact, it does an absolutely brilliant job of telling its story through the eyes of 13 protagonists and the plot even jumps around chronologically both in its story-telling and time travel aspect. Although this is all cleverly accomplished and will keep you hooked within its sci-fi world, it must be said that the story is full of ham-fisted references to classic science fiction books and films as well as plenty of banal minutiae that it feels downright self-indulgent at times. Is it art? I don't know. I'm a game reviewer, not an art critic.
Expanding on what I mentioned about the core gameplay, 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim both impressed and disappointed me. Its adventure segments where you think about key words then present them to certain people sometimes feel redundant since the sequences merely test your ability to present the correct key words at the right time. If you mess up, you can try the scenario again. This can be quite irritating and tedious at times and I often wished that the story was simply presented via dialogue scenes and decisions.
Along the same lines, the combat also has its highs and lows. On the plus side, wiping out hordes of aliens with devastating attacks feels awesome, especially when you set up cool defenses and position your party members in advantageous places. However, battles often boil down to simply going all-out with your attacks so there really isn't much need for strategy. Even when I didn't put much thought or effort into fights, I'd often get awarded an S rank at the end. Did that ever feel rewarding? No, it did not.
Finally, although the adventure portions are generally hit or miss, one component that consistently impressed me was how much narrative content there is to discover via the Event Archive and Mystery Files menus. By completing battles and working through scenarios, you can unlock loads of information in these screens either after performing certain actions or through redeeming points. So, if you really want to get lost in tons of story info, you'll gladly spend hours trying to unlock and read every last tidbit.
13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim is certainly not a game for everyone. If you love story-heavy experiences and relish details that others may find dull then you'll wholeheartedly embrace it. At the same time, those looking for rewarding strategy combat will likely be disappointed.
- + Interesting story that follows 13 distinct protagonists at various time periods
- + Although simplistic, combat is quite cathartic
- + Lots of narrative content to discover
- - Adventure segments can feel redundant
- - Battles are too simple and easy
- - Story can be a bit self-indulgent at times