13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim Preview Impressions – After releasing last year in Japan, 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim is finally getting a western release – and not a moment too soon either. A world away from the beloved likes of Odin Sphere and Dragon’s Crown, Vanillaware’s latest effort 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim looks like it could easily be the Japanese studio’s best effort yet if first impressions of the game are anything to go by.
13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim Preview Impressions
Completely Different From Anything Else Vanillaware Have Done To Date
Right away, 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim wastes no time in ensnaring players with its multi-layered and compellingly sophisticated narrative; one which breathes new life into the shopworn anime/manga trope of awkward teenagers finding massive mecha and saving the world from an invading force of vicious Kaiju. Indeed, 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim leans deeply into that particular storytelling trope; showing a school student hurrying across town before a mysterious blue light emerges from her body and causes a previously unseen and towering mecha called ‘a Sentinel’, to activate.
Essentially split into two primary sections, it’s certainly fair to say that 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim is a world away from the more immediately satisfying likes of Odin Sphere and Dragon’s Crown. The first and most compelling of these sections are the story exploration sections where you wander around a series of two-dimensional environments, speaking to characters, learning key phrases and then using those phrases to initiate conversations with other characters in turn.
It’s simple stuff sure, but by indulging in this primary aspect of 13 Sentinels, the game reveals the substantial width and breadth of its narrative which encompasses a time-travelling, multiple personality hook that is quite unlike any other story I’ve ever seen before now. Though it feels like that the prologues for each character merely scratch the surface of what looks like a grandly complex narrative, I cannot wait to witness the final result – if only to see if developer Vanillaware can keep the whole thing thundering along its conclusion without being crushed under the weight of its plot devices.
It’s also in these sections that Vanillaware’s trademark artistic talents are brought to the fore, as all manner of townships, classrooms, city streets and rural plains are decked out with that same sort of gorgeous, watercolor style artwork which has long been synonymous with the Japanese developer. In fact, I’d even argue that when applied to more ‘slice of life’ settings like this, this particular art style really sings in a way that the more fantastical settings of previous Vanillaware titles were unable to achieve.
Undeniably, some disappointment is felt once 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim shifts into its battle segments however. Essentially a series of interconnected and pausable real-time battles, these conflicts abandon the jaw-droppingly gorgeous art seen elsewhere in there game and instead embraces an isometric and minimalist 3D map visual style that is so initially jarring that it looks like it belongs to a different game altogether.
Once you get past the visually reductive veneer that 13 Sentinels employs here, an unexpectedly tactical affair begins to blossom. In every encounter seen in the prologue, the goal remains the same – a central defence hub must be defended from waves of Kaiju aggressors, whereupon you win if you destroy all the enemy waves and lose if the enemy manage to destroy the defence hub, or if they manage to kill one of your Sentinel pilots.
Where things get a little deeper is in when different Sentinels and Kaiju types clash in battle, as each have unique strengths and weaknesses that affect how they’re used on the battlefield by the player and CPU opponent respectively.
With four different Sentinel types at your disposal, it’s up to the player to make the most out of the bespoke abilities and skills that each Sentinel type leverages. For example, one Sentinel type might specialise in extreme range attacks, and can wipe out a big group of weaker Kaiju before they even get close to the defense hub, while a different brawling style Sentinel would be best suited for cutting through the thick shields of a super strong, singular Kaiju foe.
Building further upon this concept is the fact that the pilots of these Sentinels must be defended at all costs. Should a Sentinel absorb too much damage it will automatically begin a repair cycle in order to mend the damage, but yet at the same time the pilot is ejected onto the battlefield and is immediately vulnerable to attacks from Kaiju forces.
Should the pilot be killed the mission will end immediately, so whenever a Sentinel appears to be on its last (sometimes literal) last legs, it makes a lot of sense to move it somewhere safe away from enemies where it can repair in peace and reenter the battle later on. It’s little too early at this point to properly ascertain just how much depth the battle portions of 13 Sentinels will boast, but on a fundamental level at least in this very early portion of the game, these sections prove satisfying if not especially thrilling or ground-breaking.
So far then, and bear in mind this preview is based off of the prologue sections only, 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim looks to weave something of an enduring mystery that I cannot wait to see more of. With its smartly written dialogue, interesting characters, innovative storyline and oddly endearing pausable turn-based battles, 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim is quite unlike anything else Vanillaware have ever done and for that reason alone, I can’t wait to see where this crazy and visually opulent ride goes.
13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim releases for PS4 on September 22, 2020. Look for our review soon!