Third time’s the charm with Vanillaware and I. I tried Odin Sphere, but found the original PS2 release onerous to play. (The remaster was only marginally better.) I didn’t like Dragon’s Crown Pro either so I really didn’t pay much attention to 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim until I started seeing the praise and noticing that it wasn’t a beat ’em up game like their previous works. I was cautiously optimistic so I put it on the watch list and finally picked up a copy during Boxing Day 2021.
I generally like the look of VanillaWare games despite their grotesquely proportioned women. Things were looking up for 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim though; it only had one character was stupidly busty. The rest of the cast was fine, but a majority of them weren’t instantly memorable. Generic anime high schooler was a very common through line.
VanillaWare aren’t a big budget studio and they tend to wring out a lot of use with what they make. With Odin Sphere and Dragon’s Crown, the backdrops, character animations, and gameplay ideas were reused to their breaking points. Unfortunately for beat ’em up styled games, that breaking point hits me very fast.
13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim mitigated wearing out their assets in a few ways. Firstly, they developed a story that justified the need to see events from different character’s perspectives. They made it actually interesting to revisit areas to reveal meaningful story tidbits.
Secondly, they metered out exposure by splitting up the gameplay and story segments and then gating progress based on the different characters and battles. Subdividing the story into different character arcs may have been a source of frustration early on, but it ensured I wasn’t burning out on any one thing too quickly; they saved me from myself and I ended up appreciating it.
The story started off quite slow and reserved. After the tutorial and character introductions were out the way, the pace and science fiction tropes began flowing. The tropes may sound like a knock against 13 Sentinels, but there were so many of them that it somehow all gelled together to create something that compelled me to come back to on a nightly basis.
I was initially invested because of the strategy gameplay scenarios, but by the end, I just wanted to know how this wild story pieced itself together. I was content with the ending and even got a tiny bit misty eyed with some of the revelations and moments in the epilogue.
I had reservations about the size of the cast. I thought I would lose track of storylines and wondered how many of them would resonate. As it turns out, if you spend enough time steeped in this game (just over 30 hours), you get to know everyone and everything rather well. Thankfully they included an easily accessible events timeline and information files that I could peruse at any time for a refresher.
I don’t think it’s a controversial opinion, but I despised the selfishness of Megumi Yakushiji.
Whenever I feel a strong negative reaction to a character’s actions, and discuss hypotheticals with my fiancee about a character’s decisions, I praise the writers for making me care enough about their story. While her choices ended up working out, her motivations were not just and nobody will ever call her out on it — in fact, she gets a very happy ending which upon reflection, sends the message: Obeying talking animals and shooting your friends with mystery bullets always pays off.
The gameplay half of this game was very straightforward, but I felt like I broke it from the get go. As soon as I was able to generate A.I. controlled interceptors and sentry turrets, I kept dumping upgrade points into it and then kept spamming them in battles. I S ranked every mission except for the last couple on the first try. I figured the game would force me to change tactics at one point, but it turns out that investing in drones, chainsaw swords, and EMPs was enough to bulldoze everything. Don’t get me wrong, I still found it satisfying to stomp through the hordes of enemies, but I was hoping for a bit more variety in the objectives.
I ended up liking 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim quite a bit, but when I evaluate its component pieces, I realized a lot of what I liked about it was in the cutscenes and story payoffs. The strategy gameplay missions were serviceable if not repetitive. The adventure/story segments were not interesting mechanically often exposed the limits of asset variety as well. What made this game work was how the gameplay, story, and mysterious context of everything melded together to deliver an experience that warranted all that repetition. Intrigue and curiosity took me a long way with this and thankfully for me, I had boatloads of both.
I liked it