I struggle to think of any game I’ve played quite like 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim.
It’s easy and convenient to pin it into genres like Adventure or Strategy, yet everything it does within those base parts feels as intricately thought out as its gorgeous environments and designs. Normally I don’t like diving right into blatant praise for a game, but Vanillaware’s penchant for illustrative prowess deserves that sort of open admiration.
Even within 13 Sentinel’s prologue that aspect shines. Sunsets douse classrooms in golden hues while cyan cyber-luminescence finds its way into several aspects of the game’s increasingly sci-fi lean. Every character feels thought out in how they stand and move and emote – the flippant flirt Shu Amiguchi is prone to rubbing a hand on the back of his neck when he thinks while the only thing more prominent than classic punk Nenji Ogata’s pompadour is his exaggerated slouch. Seeing each member of the casts’ quirks in motion is a treat in and of itself, particularly as the game works through introducing them.
Those personalities and plights come to the forefront in sectioned off storylines, each with a member of the cast as its lead. These freely feature other, “main” characters in supporting roles, showcasing relationships and different perspectives compared to when you’re controlling them. Those aspects are nothing new, but spreading it across thirteen leads is a feat made all the more impressive by how interesting it all is.
So far I’ve seen events in no less than three time periods, with some characters shifting freely (or against their will) across them. Learning who everyone is from their own point of view is one thing, but dialogue in other stories and the game’s RTS sections hint at an ultimately unified (though perhaps uneasily so) group. Every bit of dialogue and plot development is a step towards that outcome, with plenty of twists and teases of what’s to come along the way.
No time is wasted when it comes to making the story’s science fiction inspirations known. In its earliest hours I could pick out blatant homages or nods to E.T., Terminator, War of the Worlds, Men in Black; and more general ideas from kaiju and giant robot sub-genres. Even magical girls get name checked, and amnesia rears its befuddled head as a plot device. What could have been a grab bag of references instead feels like a thought out system of interweaving ideas all its own. After all, if massive mecha piloted by high school students can exist then why not time travel?
Breaking up the story portion of 13 Sentinels are RTS-like sections that have the characters in their Sentinels and defending cityscapes from invaders. The seven or so segments that make up the prologue-adjacent tutorial do a decent job of introducing what these characters can do as pilots. You’ll learn that different generations of Sentinels have different capabilities and specialties, while each of the teens will have a different load-out of skills even with shared generational traits.
These are rendered as markers on voxel-infested maps, standing out compared to the rest of the game’s exceptional, trademark visuals. Thankfully those flourishes are put to good use, both for showing the characters in their Sentinels’ cockpits and in illustrated animations that pop up to show what each of your attacks actually looks like in-universe.
From this early preview it’s too soon to make a determination on this corner of the game’s strategic strengths – a genre that’s fairly well represented on Switch. To its credit, 13 Sentinels still manages to stand out in this half of its makeup, though I’d be lying if I said the cross-character narrative wasn’t the more alluring of the two. Ultimately it’s their unity that makes this game what it is, and I’m excited to see how it all combines as things progress.
With only its earliest few hours complete, I’m hooked on 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim. I’m finding myself turning to it in the evenings before bed, unwinding from the day by absorbing as much of this dense and intriguing game as I can. I’ve only been in control of half its cast, and barely scratched the surface of those so far. If this first impression and the glowing reception of its original release are anything to go by, Switch owe it to themselves not to miss 13 Sentinels when it arrives on April 12th.