There is a fine line between art and actual gameplay. Vanillaware looks to obliterate it. Games by Vanillaware are undeniably gorgeous, memorable, and distinct. I still remember the first time I laid eyes on Odin’s Sphere on the PS2 and Muramasa on the Wii. The studio is a master at creating art within a 2D plane with beautiful intricate sprites and animation that are among the best you will ever see in gaming. But Vanillaware games don’t come often. It’s been 7 years since the release of Dragon’s Crown on the PS3 that we’ve had a new IP from the legendary studio. So, imagine my hype when I went into 13 Sentinels, a new IP, somewhat blind, and found out that they have completely went with a non-platform genre and instead something that has more in common with graphic adventure games. The studio reinvents itself again!
13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim is a non-linear graphic adventure game set in Japan in multiple timelines. You see the story through the point-of-view of 13 different characters, with each of their stories weaving in and out of each other (sometimes in unexpected ways). As a character, they find themselves being involved with time-travelling robots called Sentinels – while also confronting Deimos (giant alien Kaijus that look to destroy EVERYTHING).
Now while these all seem like a typical anime story, what sets it apart is the meticulous detail the developer’s adds to it. Character development in 13 Sentinels is top notch. Kids feel like kids, adults like adults, and the shock of the world casts multiple thematic holes across the larger in game universe. Make no mistake though – you still have the typical Japanese gangster, tomboy, rich kids, love interest, etc. But each has their own depth and motives with some cool twists in the story along the way.
13 Sentinels is also a game of three parts that are split into sections: Remembrance; the graphic adventure segment where you will spend most of your time in. Destruction; an RTS-type game where you control the Sentinels to fight off Kaiju. And Analysis; a glossary of the events, characters and items you’ll find in the game.
At first Remembrance feels more akin to a visual novel, but things couldn’t be further from the truth. While you don’t collect items, you will attain sets of keywords as you progress through the game that allows you to branch off the story into different routes. As a longtime fan of LucasArts games, I was stoked to find out that it reminds me more of the classic adventure games I used to play when I was younger like Full Throttle or Maniac Mansion: Day of The Tentacle.
Remembrance is also gorgeous. While longtime Vanillaware fans might have expected this from the studio, I still find myself blown away by the creativity of the team while working on a limited 2D plane. The world feels bustling and moving, and even ‘waiting’ in a scenario can open up options for you to learn more of the story. The main draw? The huge Sentinels and Deimos are radically portrayed in the mode as gigantic as the developers can make them. It gives such scenes a scale that you rarely see in the genre.
While Remembrance is the biggest draw of the game, Destruction is the meat in order to progress through the game. It was a little jarring at first to see that all those cool Sentinels and Kaiju designs are represented as tiny 3D models in the mode, but in the end, I was charmed by the simplicity of it that reminded me of classic SRPGs on the PS1. In this mode, you control a group of 6 Sentinels trying to fight off waves of Deimos as they try to destroy terminals located across cities in Japan. You get more powerful throughout this mode as your characters level up as you progress, whilst also upgrading your sentinels with the use of Meta Chips that you gain during battles. Players will learn to use which Sentinels is important in this mode, as some are more well equipped to handle certain Kaijus than others, while also frequently having to rest some characters between levels.
Graphically, what’s there to say? This isn’t a game of counting Ps and trying to measure framerates. This is anime coming to life. This is the labor of a world class animation team hammering out the highest production 2D Visuals in modern day gaming. Landscapes are intricate, characters are meticulous, and Kaijus are gargantuan. This. Is. Breathtaking.
Music and effects are as great as the visuals themselves. Characters are well acted in both English and Japanese, with the music being composed by the legendary Hitoshi Sakamoto; a veteran in the industry that worked on various Vanillaware games as well as the Ogre Battle, Final Fantasy, and the Valkyria Chronicles series. Tunes run the gamut of somber, frenetic, and chaos. Truly memorable work.
It is safe to say that 13 Sentinels is definitely one of the BEST games of 2020. It is a three part game pack that quickly turns into an addictive escapade as you find yourself trying out creative strategies to take down wave after waves of Deimos. With a great story, incredible visual direction, rocking soundtrack, and rousing story, 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim, is a definitive play for any fan of anime, science fiction, or visual novels. Vanillaware knocked it out the park.
A Review code was provided by SEGA Europe
Developer: Vanillaware / Publisher: SEGA | Atlus
Release date: 22/09/2020