Originally released on the PlayStation 4, Atlus’ and Vanillaware’s 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim has made its way to the Nintendo Switch. It shifts up the visual novel formula and inserts strategic real time tower defense gameplay into the mix. It may not introduce anything extravagant from the PlayStation counterpart, but it’s still a force to be reckoned with even today.
13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim tells the story of its 13 protagonists tasked with the mission of defending their planet from an alien threat fixated on ending humanity. The game dabbles in sci-fi with time travel and mecha. Even if either is not one player’s cup of tea, there’s still a good chance of each character narrative being enough to keep the entertainment going.
As confusing as it may initially be, the story works perfectly when all the pieces fit together. No single character’s story majorly spoils the other with the way it’s been implemented. It will take time to figure out the true direction in which the events are going, but plot twists will keep players company while waiting it out.
One of the strong points of 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim is its wonderful cast of characters. When some of them are together, it brings hilarious moments with them. It has reached the point where I could not stop laughing at some of the moments I have experienced with them. It helps that they each have a strong personality, making them memorable and most even likable.
The game’s story mode is divided into parts between each character. Players are going to have to explore each character’s story and unlock more along the way. Each part is long enough to satisfy and short enough to help prevent loss of interest. Completing a single character’s story means interchanging between the 13 protagonists and advancing in their stories.
There’s going to be a halt for players not keeping up and progressing through the story and battles. It’s balanced for the most part; the last two battle stages will lock battle progression for those who dawdle. Mixing time between the story and the battles is how I got by with long gameplay hours in one sitting, but several breaks were needed when I could no longer progress further in the battles.
13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim meshes a sci-fi mecha visual novel with tower defense gameplay. It extends the simplistic still images from the visual novel game genre with top-down movement and interactions. The game will have players indulging in its story, fighting the threat to humanity, or observing characters eating a variety of tasty food (I’m looking at you yakisoba pan).
Top-Down Movement & Interaction
When not fighting kaiju, players will find themselves exploring small 2.5D sidescrolling areas. They’ll have to seek out interaction points, whether it be characters or objects, to progress further in the story. Sometimes they may even have to wait for events to finish. The premise is simple, the real charm comes from the characters themselves and the splendid voice acting that follows. While on the topic of voice acting, it’s sensational how the character’s voice is enhanced when scrolling through options from the Thought Cloud.
The key to progression is straightforward for those who may feel like they are stuck. The Thought Cloud will show players the list of options left to read. Interaction points pop up along the way, sometimes even opting players into opening the Thought Cloud to interact with the character or object. Unsure whether it was a bug or by design, it sometimes may not be obvious where players need open the Thought Cloud to approach an object to interact with—although such scenarios occur rarely.
Occasionally, players will have to open the Thought Cloud and read through options they previously did. The good news is that the game includes a fast forward option to skip reading the text already seen. The new, unread text does not have this option, making it easy to differentiate between the two and only read what matters most.
13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim’s combat looked confusing to me on the first impression. I was new to tower defense games and thought that this may not be the one for me, feeling as though its story would have to pull me through it. This mindset of mine did not shift until the mindless button-smashing tutorial stages ended. From there, it did not take too long for my addiction to grow until I desired even longer stages. Those longer stages never came; after, however, many more stages did.
The concept of combat stages in this game is simple. Players must protect the terminal until clearing the objective. This objective primarily consists of finishing off waves of enemies and/or defeating bosses. Lose the terminal or have a character die and it’s game over. While the latter may seem easy, it’s surprisingly not, as to lose a character means having their Sentinel’s HP as well as theirs reduce to 0.
There are going to be a lot of sparks on the battlefield from using lasers, numerous missiles, and close combat techniques. Even though a lot happens on the screen, it’s entirely possible to keep up with everything. Players will have to block aerial attacks, eliminate kaiju that activate shields to protect their companions, and clear the hordes of enemies that swarm their way. It’s fast-paced combat that eases up during skill selection screens, allowing enough time to think.
It’s the little details that matter during combat. The sound of the missiles launching, hitting their targets, and the voice acting in between all heighten the quality of the game. The only downside is that the voice acting can eventually feel repetitive when characters are weakened since the same lines are used repeatedly.
The game has three difficulty modes: Casual, Normal, and Intense. The waves of enemies can get overwhelming at times, but deploying the right number and types of candidates can immensely help with this. Each stage allows players to deploy up to 6 party members; lowering this number greatly increases the challenge from opposing foes, granting control over how tough the combat stages can be.
Each sentinel generation has a different purpose and bringing along the right one helps deal with specific threats. Failing to do so can bring additional challenges to the battlefield. Some will need EMP skills to ground aerial enemies so that floor-based allies can swiftly finish them off. Others may need defensive mechanisms to prevent floods of missiles from crippling the terminal. These are just some examples of what to expect.
Characters all have cooldown periods. This means players can only deploy a character twice until a necessary waiting period is over. This means careful consideration must be taken when choosing characters for a stage. Some of the stages may also insist on deploying specific characters in return for reward bonuses.
While grinding a lot in this game is not necessary, there are several ways to increase the sentinel’s strength. Most won’t be necessary when playing on casual or normal mode. Switching from normal mode to intense mode for one of the earlier, cleared stages wouldn’t provide much of a challenge.
Making the sentinel the strongest it can be will require grinding. Players will need to redo battles and farm points to max out skills, stats, and levels. Out of the three, skills are the easiest to fully upgrade without much grinding, however, that changes when trying to max out every character’s skills.
Post Game Content
Players are not stuck with having to replay all the combat stages at the highest difficulty mode (Intense) when done with the story mode stages. An endless number of combat stages become available after clearing the story stages. Similar to previous stages, players will be able to select the difficulty mode they wish to challenge them at. One thing is certain, though. They will be more challenging than what was previously fought.
Leveling up characters and distributing points to strengthen both skills and Sentinels wouldn’t be in vain because of the additional post-game content. Both boss stages and regular stages will be available similar to the climbing structure of story stages. There just won’t be any narrative during these battles; only stages to engage enemies in combat.
Graphics and Performance
Games with a lot going on simultaneously have a chance of framerate drops on the Nintendo Switch; however, 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim runs flawlessly on the console. The art looks great and motion brings out each character’s personality. Each character’s walk is distinctive from the other. It’s a shame that sentinels and kaiju do not have their own models on the battlefield (instead, players can hover over an enemy’s symbol to preview their appearance), but it doesn’t take long to forget this idea.
13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim has a lovely soundtrack that sets a futuristic tone to battles with the help of the robotic AI voices. It always manages to get me excited for a battle and helped calm my mind while destroying waves of kaiju. Even when exploring the 2D world for interaction points, its soundtrack has never let me down. It captures the apocalyptic atmosphere, the mysterious settings, and the dramatic moments well.
Even though its story can be confusing at first, 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim triumphs the charts for its engaging narrative and its astounding voice acting to reinforce it. Even if not a fan of mecha or the sci-fi genre, its charming cast of characters and captivating tower defense gameplay can surprise. Players seeking story-driven games should definitely give it a shot; its combat gameplay can sneak up on them.
13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim gets a 9/10.