LTTP: 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim

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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

Ratings Guide

Dragon’s Crown Pro Review

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I try to finish the games I start. I really do. It may take me a while to do so but I try to watch the credits roll on all the games I start. Every once in a while, a game like Vanillaware’s Dragon’s Crown Pro comes a long and just bounces off me. No matter how hard I try, there’s a sensation of dread when playing these games. It doesn’t appear immediately but it eventually seeps in and I just want to stop playing.

I tend to find Vanillaware games to be lookers and generally pleasant on the eyes. Most of Dragon’s Crown is appealing but a sizeable chunk of it was decidedly not. I would go as far as to describe these parts of the game grotesque. I’ve seen my share of questionable boob physics in my day but Dragon’s Crown depictions are just off-putting. I caught glimpses of the eclectic exaggerations in Odin Sphere but Dragon’s Crown took it to a whole new level. I just didn’t like how they portrayed humans in this game. Somebody should have reigned in the boob and muscle sliders. I’m fine with larger than life characters once in a while but this was too much.

Of the six available, I chose the most normal looking class: the elf and her trusty bow. By the third mission, I was already growing bored of her skillset. Compared to the sorceress and other classes, the elf was tame. Her moves weren’t flashy or bombastic. I felt that because she was a normal looking class, her skills reflected that. The other classes were given flashier spells that buried the poor elf’s arrows with an avalanche of special effects. I found having to scrounge up arrows to be especially tedious when other classes could just stand in place a recharge.

I am an optimist so I didn’t let my relatively boring class choice deter me from pushing forward. I was curious what each new level would bring. It turns out, I was moving from locale to locale slaying enemies, collecting loot, and vanquishing bosses. What I didn’t expect was that I would be forced to revisit those locales again, and again, and again. I have no problems revisiting locations but to revisit them so soon, and so frequently was too much of an ask. I needed to grind out quests and run through the same levels and scenarios that were presented to me the first time around. I think it would have been easier to accept retreading the same levels again if I didn’t have to go through the exact same motions. Dodging lava waves is silly the first time around, but having to repeat it is too much of an exercise in patience for me. 

I would have felt a greater connection to the loot grind if it didn’t feel like busy work. I felt like I was going through the motions to stay competitive. The armor or weapon selections didn’t yield visual changes neither so it was very apparent that I was going through the motions to make the numbers bigger. 

I would have tolerated all the above if the moment to moment gameplay was exciting but it wasn’t. I don’t like how the characters moved on screen. I felt their movements felt stiff and awkward while shifting up and down the plane. I would have preferred if they stuck to the fixed 2D plane like in Odin Sphere. Glimpses of fun juggles and attacks could puffed up here and there but my class wasn’t meant to deal high flying action from the get go so I was limited. I felt like I was flying and free in Odin Sphere. I felt the exact opposite with Dragon’s Crown. 

I don’t know who thought it would be a good idea to interact with the background with a cursor but I cannot think of a more jarring and disconnected feature. It was like someone saw all the beautiful backgrounds and was convinced that people should spend time pixel hunting. Thankfully it’s largely optional. 

I tried playing this game via co-op with my girlfriend but she lost interest rather quickly. I don’t blame her. I stuck around until my character reached level 16 and the game “opened up” but I didn’t see anything worth drawing either of us back. It’s a shame. On paper this sounds like a fun romp but, in reality, I cannot think of a game that actively repelled me away from it..

I don’t like it

Ratings Guide

Odin Sphere: Leifthrasir PS4 Review

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It took Atlus 8 years but they addressed my complaints towards Odin Sphere. I wanted a more hack and slash experience and with Odin Sphere: Leifthrasir, I got exactly what I asked for. They retooled the game to be more action friendly, doubled the target framerate to 60FPS and bumped the resolution to 1080p. With all the changes and the time between the remaster and original PlayStation 2 release, this felt like a brand new game.

I remember the slowdowns in the original release of Odin Sphere vividly. It was painfully sluggish and not the gratifying slowdown that I can relish in when I’ve inflicted too much chaos on screen. The Lefthrasir release managed to maintain a smooth 60FPS for a fast majority of the game. It’s only when I’ve dumped Whirlwind, Cyclone, Volcano and Killer Cloud potions into a group of enemies along with my character’s own flurry of attacks that the framerate buckled. I would have preferred the game to cope better with those situations but there was so much happening on screen, I tolerated it.

As profound and eye opening as the performance improvement was, the more action oriented tilt to the game lent itself to a more stylish and flashy game to play. I was flying around across each area scooping up enemies into the air and unleashing beautiful fury with incredible ease. I was having a blast and thought this was exactly what I hoped for.

With these changes in mind, I thought I would be able to enjoy and breeze through Odin Sphere with renewed vigor and enthusiasm. However, I ran into the same brick wall that hampered my enjoyment the first time around. The was too long and recycled too much content for little story gains. I understood that they were telling an intertwining story from multiple vantage points but was it necessary to cycle through the same environments with each of the five characters?

I felt it was unnecessary to visit the Fire Kingdom or Horn Mountain with every character. Fighting the same bosses with multiple characters devalued everyone’s accomplishments. I lost track of how many times Odette, Odin and other big wigs were defeated by my hands only to have them survive or die for story reasons.

I gave up on the original release of Odin Sphere in the middle of chapter 4 before calling it quits. I managed to will my way through to the end of Leifthrasir and found the pay off a little on the the nose. I love the voice talent involved — I was pleased by another appearance by Junpei’s voice actor — but subtlety wasn’t Odin Sphere’s strong suit. The story was laid out through repetition and the deft touch of a mack truck. As a result, the ending wasn’t a surprise at all. In fact, the real surprise was the comprehension test at the end. I genuinely enjoyed the process of piecing together the final chapter.

With experience comes a better understanding of systems and how games generally operate. I leveraged and exploited the alchemy, planting and cooking systems to greater affect in Leifthrasir and refined even more as I progressed through the game. It was telling after revisiting my first “character build”, Gwendolyn, and discovering how low her stats were compared to the latter characters. I guess you can attribute that refinement down to repetitive nature of the game but I wouldn’t say it was worth it.

Odin Sphere: Leifthrasir is the best version of Odin Sphere available. It’s technically superior and many of the gameplay refinements yielded a more action oriented game which I hoped for. I enjoyed playing as all the characters and was genuinely curious until the credits rolled. Unfortunately, it’s a game from an era that valued quantity over quality and in the case of Odin Sphere, quantity hurt quality. There were sound mechanics and systems in place but there wasn’t enough narrative content to stretch the game to towards the 30 hour mark. I would have been satisfied with two-thirds or even half of that.

It’s okay

Ratings Guide