13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim is a game I’ve been looking forward to for a while. Years of delays did little to reduce my interest in Vanillaware’s latest project, and positive impressions of the Japanese release only made me more excited to try the final product. After getting my hands on the opening few hours of 13 Sentinels, I’m left with a mountain of questions, and an urge to go back and keep playing.
My time with 13 Sentinels was centred around the game’s prologue, with opening chapters for 7 of the 13 main characters. After a brief starting sequence, you take control of Juro Kurabe, a high school student from the 80s who is a big fan of old sci-fi movies — something that his friend Kyuta is more than willing to tease him about. Despite his seemingly normal life, Juro can’t help but feel that something is happening in the background. Though his opening chapter is relatively short, his fears are shown to be more than justified.
It’s made clear from the very start that this story is being told in a non-linear way, as you switch between multiple characters and jump between different parts of the timeline. It’s definitely more than a little confusing to follow, though the game does give you a few tools to sort through all the information that is thrown at you.
First is the event archive, giving an overview of each event you have viewed, complete with its date and supporting cast. There are also mystery files, which unlock after certain story events. These files give some extra details about various parts of the story, such as character profiles and item descriptions. There’s not too much to work with at this early point in the story, but both of these features are more than welcome when it comes to making sense of the events taking place.
Getting an idea of how many branching paths the story will have is hard during the prologue, as it didn’t seem like there were any meaningful choices that could be made. There’s definitely potential for a variation thanks to the thought cloud system. Important phrases and objects are stored here, giving your character a chance to think about their meaning, or use them as a talking point with another character. The opening chapters seemingly required me to use everything that was available to progress the story, though future chapters might branch out depending on which thoughts you choose.
One impressive aspect of 13 Sentinels’ storytelling is how conversations are handled. As you’re chatting with someone, characters in the background could start a conversation on their own. It may seem like a small thing, but it makes the world feel more alive. This is one area where I’d love to try out the English dub since keeping an eye on multiple subtitles isn’t exactly easy, though that won’t be available until launch.
All of this is tied together with the beautiful visual style that Vanillaware are known for. If you’ve played any of their previous games, you know what to expect: large, expressive sprites and stunning environments. Vanillaware’s obsession with creating detailed food isn’t as prevalent during these early stages of the game, though I do have a sudden craving for yakisoba pan…
In contrast to the impressive art used in story sections, battles in 13 Sentinels are a more subdued affair. Allied sentinels and enemy kaiju are represented by simple 8-bit sprites, and your view of the battlefield is zoomed out considerably. Obviously this is all done to make the hectic encounters more readable, even if the change in visual style is a little jarring at first.
During the prologue, each chapter is separated by a tutorial encounter, letting you get to grips with the real-time battles. For these early missions, the main objective was to protect the terminal, a device that can be used to shield each city from harm. By defeating waves of enemies, the Aegis defence system would active, destroying any remaining kaiju in the area.
Access to different sentinels and weapon loadouts during the tutorial was limited for the sake of simplicity, giving access to a small selection for all but the last mission. Each sentinel had access to three pieces of equipment, ranging from basic fists and missile launcher, to placeable mines and turrets. Everything is paused while selecting an action, so figuring out your next move is never too overwhelming.
Early battles ended quickly, letting me mow down a few waves before moving on to the next story segment. These brief sections were fun, even with the limitations and more simplistic visuals. Battles still have their stylish touches, including flashy explosions and beam attacks, and I’m looking forward to seeing how later counters up the ante. One conversation hinted at customisable weapon loadouts, which should allow for some varied Sentinel builds.
13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim is looking to be a gripping adventure, blending together a multilayered time travel plot with Vanillaware’s trademark art style. It remains to be seen whether the strong opening act is an indication of the game’s quality overall, but I’m more than looking forward to finding out.
For more info on 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim, check out the official website. It launches September 22 this year for the PlayStation 4.
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