If you’re unfamiliar with Vanillaware’s work, you’re really missing out. Generally known for side-scrolling hack and slash games with gorgeous visuals (like Odin Sphere and Dragon’s Crown), they decided to change it up and try something very different. They did thankfully keep those same gorgeous visuals, but have changed the gameplay up with Real-Time Strategy, which is quite the departure for what we expect from them. How does this change-up compare with their previous efforts? Read on to find out!
13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim has two main modes- Remembrance and Destruction Mode. Remembrance is the mode that tells the many series of events that make up the game’s storyline. You’ll play from the perspective of 13 characters from different eras, with each of their stories ultimately leading to the final battle against the Kaiju- a form of machine-like invaders coming to destroy the world.
Gameplay-wise, it’s very much a case of walking around, talking to characters, and accessing different words in your Thought Cloud. The Thought Cloud is a collection of keywords you use to either hear the character’s thoughts, or to bring up that topic with another character. The game also displays a flowchart of the different paths each storyline can take, and you’ll occasionally need to replay sections and try something different to take the story in a different direction.
The way this game’s story is told is obviously very non-linear and very fragmented. It’s such a unique way of telling the story because it is up to the player to try to piece the story together. You can tell the lengths and effort the developers went through to tell such a complex story while only revealing what they needed to until you progress further. I can imagine the writers of this game with plenty of flowcharts and planning to ensure everything connects together, as it is anything but a simple story.
This works for and against the game though. Me personally, I love a good complex story, complete with twists that totally change how you see things. I’m not going to lie, 13 Sentinels contains a very complex, but at times convoluted, storyline- complete with time-travel and many Science Fiction tropes. It’s so convoluted and complicated that even Hideo Kojima would be proud.
Because of its complexity, it ends up being a very compelling and immersive story where you just want to learn more and more, and that forces you to want to play more. But to its detriment, there were times it started becoming unnecessarily complicated and does start to overstay its welcome. When you’re playing through a long story, is incredibly complex and detailed, and is told in a non-linear fashion, it becomes very difficult to piece together. Thankfully there is an ‘Analysis’ mode that contains what’s called Mystery Files to help recap everything that’s happened, and you’ll most likely be referring back to these to make sense of everything.
To keep the pacing running smoothly, the game will only allow you to play up until a certain point with each character until you’ve progressed with other characters, ensuring the story is told the way the developers intended. When you really dive deep into the story, you’ll easily be able to appreciate how difficult this would have been for them to pull off.
By the end of the game, everything will start to make sense, and you’ll even start to appreciate the sheer amount of detail put into this game’s storyline. There are so many plots, sub-plots, and twists, that for some people this will be an absolute joy to experience. On the other hand, for those who like a more simple story, will find this difficult to be engaged in. Even though the story did become a bit over the top at times, it still does a great job of building momentum and drip-feeding you twists and reveals to constantly keeping you invested, and to me is one of the best storylines to come out of 2020.
Destruction Mode is the actual gameplay portion of the game, where you’ll take part in many small RTS sections that also tell the story of the game’s final battle against the Kaiju. Here you select up to 6 of the 13 characters/sentinels for battle, each with their own combat style (melee, all-rounder, long-range, and support). Before you start the battle, you’ll be given a little rundown on what to expect, and this is great in determining your team setup.
Be warned though as there is quite a bit of micro-managing here, as you’ll be dealing with 13 different characters, all with their own set of stats and skills that can be unlocked and upgraded. I think it’s great how the game encourages you to play through both modes alternatingly because you earn meta chips (the game’s XP) through playing Remembrance mode to then spend in Destruction mode. Plus if you progress too far in Destruction mode, you’ll be locked out until you progress to a certain point in Remembrance mode.
The actual gameplay and battles do feel like a more basic version of RTS gameplay, as it really it a simple matter of selecting each character abilities, moving the cursor over the enemies, and watching the destruction occur. Of course you’ll be encouraged to use certain attacks on certain enemies, but I never felt myself having to think too hard. It’s not the deepest RTS you’ll ever play, as the RPG mechanics seem to have a bit more focus than the combat itself. That being said, it was still extremely satisfying to select an AOE attack and fire missiles at a massive group of enemies, taking them all out at once.
To be honest though, this was my least favourite part of the game, but that’s only because of the quality of the story and storytelling. The RTS is still fun, but I was always happy to get a couple of battles out of the way to then jump back into the great story in Remembrance mode.
13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim contains one of the most complex, detailed, and immersive stories you’ll play through in 2020, maybe even this whole generation. It does an amazing job of constantly adding more and more layers of plot that will keep you engaged from start to finish. At times it will feel a bit over the top, convoluted, and overwhelming, but it was certainly worth it by the time the credits rolled.
The RTS gameplay, while not as in-depth as other games in the genre, is still a lot of fun. There seems to be more emphasis on the RPG mechanics than the actual strategy, but still ended up becoming a solid and satisfying attempt at Real-Time Strategy.
Overall, as disjointed and fragmented as this game can be, it still manages to come together in a meaningful way that was well worth the experience, even if it did leave me in a state of confusion many times over.