Review – 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim (Switch)
Have you ever petted a chinchilla? For the love of God, don’t walk away from this analogy and stick with me. So there’s a chinchilla, this fluffy looking mouse creature that apparently can live to be twenty or more. It’s a doofy looking thing, very cute, but hey, it’s a mouse. You hear that it’s soft, but so what? So many things are soft. Then you finally get a chance to sit down with one, have it docile on your lap, and you pet that chinchilla. Holy crap, it’s so soft. It transcends what you thought softness was. It’s a brand new bar for things that didn’t even exist previously, and now it’s firmly established in the mansion of your mind, number one with a bullet for “soft.” It’s now a new standard for excellence that, just seconds ago, mattered nothing to you. For me, sitting down to play 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim is that new standard of excellence.
For those unaware, 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim is a VanillaWare title published by Atlus, who has been killing it recently in terms of games for the Nintendo Switch. 13 Sentinels made its debut on the PlayStation 4 just two years ago, making this “port” for the Switch still comparatively fresh and new when considering the recent Chrono Cross release (and we’ll talk about that another day). Some may speculate that the Switch is actually receiving the canceled PlayStation Vita port that was being made in tandem with the PS4 version, and if that’s true then kudos to VanillaWare. Work smarter, not harder.
In 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim, you have to combine the ideas of 2.5D storytelling with multiple protagonists and real time strategy combat as you wrap your head impossibly around one of the most complicated story presentations I’ve ever experienced. It’s like if someone saw Neon Genesis Evangelion and said, “I like this, but I really believe it can be more complicated.” The 13 Sentinels are literal giant robots that are piloted by thirteen high school students who seem to come from all over history. With a principal majority originally from 1985, you also have students from post-war 1945, semi-future 2025, and deep future 2188, all coming together to fight the Deimos, which are kaiju-like beings that can/will destroy the whole planet. So a bunch of people from across various timelines, all universally linked by attending the same school, need to come together and fight demons in their big robot suits. Got it.
Except that’s not even close to the entirety of the story, which would be several pages unto itself. Each and every one of the thirteen has their own storyline to follow, and you need to explore them as they overlap and you figure out what the hell is going on. One character is working undercover to figure out who’s helping the Deimos, even if they’re doing it subconsciously. One is suffering from amnesia and thinks they killed someone, even though they almost definitely didn’t. One girl is having such an E.T. adventure that she can’t even remember to change out of her gym clothes and is running around in 80’s short shorts for a majority of the game. And someone is almost certainly a dead person brought back to life with a new soul or brain or whatever, but the school nurse who also wears a leather catsuit sometimes isn’t being very clear. Did we fail to mention this is anime as fuck? Because it’s anime top to bottom, and I hope you’re here for it, because it never relents.
When it’s distilled down to its essence, 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim isn’t a game that’ll necessarily excite players as much as it could. The adventure aspect is usually quite low stakes, involving walking around, talking to characters and using a thought cloud to remember items and interact accordingly. So if someone mentioned a character’s name, you can think about it to get more details, or you can choose that name from your cloud and talk to another person to get information they know about the aforementioned person. Only it’s not like the trial and error point-and-click style of the Sierra Adventure days. If you can’t utilize an idea to further the game, you aren’t given the option. You can only function with what works and what the developers mapped out. Theoretically, this takes the excitement out of figuring out what needs to be used and said.
However, there’s a lot that’s happening in real time within 13 Sentinels that requires you to be aware and make choices. You sometimes need to show patience and just wait for other characters to finish talking before you can make another choice. Sometimes you need to grab someone before they go off to class, otherwise that route slams shut. Most adventure modules have branching paths that actively open and shut as the world turns, meaning that you can and will want to go back and see what would have happened had you moved quicker or slower. It’s the detail of a visual novel with the quick thinking that comes with a living motif within the gameplay. If you want, you have hours upon hours of going back and finding out more things.
And, honestly, players will want to. It’s not just that there’s quality here in 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim for presentation. Anyone can craft together a game that looks good in stills and cutscenes. It’s that Aegis Rim is the snappiest, most responsive non-first party title I’ve ever played on the Switch. From the second you boot up the game, there’s no letdown or lag that comes in any moment. You transition between scenes seamlessly. Load moments are carefully hidden when darkness fades or you get the ominous “to be continued” when a chapter ends.
It’s effortless to dive in and out of the game’s moments, pulling up the thought cloud and popping it down while you walk or run to the other end of the map. The animation matches the voice work superbly, giving you an even more “anime” feel to the whole ordeal, further driven home by each chapter asking only ten to fifteen minutes of your time, sometimes less. You’re both watching and playing the game, giving you a sensation of control that actually puts you in the game world. It is, for lack of a better word, intoxicating.
Additionally, 13 Sentinels has done the impossible by making me care about RTS elements. Rather than just burn through one mode or another, you’re put in a spot where you can only progress further when more requirements have been met in different places. So, with the RTS, you need to play through to certain points for further adventures for different characters to be unlocked, so there’s the necessity to drive it forward.
But, more importantly, the RTS is fun. Easily switching between different difficulty modes, players have to choose six of their Sentinels at a time to dive into combat against waves of Deimos, ranging from minor annoyances to massive machines with railguns and murder in their hearts. The Sentinels can only do so much combat (usually two fights) before they’re forced to sit out and repair their brains (you know, Sentinel stuff), so players have to constantly keep switching up their teams.
Sentinels come in four different flavors, each with a different approach to fighting, be it heavy or light, aerial or ground. As you make your way through the waves of combat, you level up your pilots based on their contributions to the last fight. You attain new skills passively through leveling, and you can customize the weapons you choose for combat with points accrued from destroyed Deimos. If players really want to, you can spend so much time figuring out the best configuration to make your Sentinel hold up against a truly devastating level of hostility from the higher difficulty levels. Or, if you’re like me and just want to feel like a God carelessly flicking away invaders, keep the difficulty level on casual and stomp all the way through to the end. It’s fun!
In all seriousness, the normal difficulty level gave me the right mixture of focus and fun to make 13 Sentinels seem like a real contender in the RTS field. Watching the enemies drop in, trying to figure out who can throw down sentry guns, who can fill the air with flare mines, who are ready to go and literally leap onto the enemy for maximum impact and excitement…it was a thrill to quickly decide who was going to do what as the enemies came for you.
In order to repair the Sentinel after combat damage, you need to physically leave your robot and have your pilot hide somewhere, praying the Deimos don’t attack that city block or you’ll die instantly and the mission will fail. The whole time, the amazing voicework continues with pilots shouting out updates and trying to coordinate their efforts, giving you the impression of an Ender Wiggin’s type commander for the real fight for the future. Some people may criticize the lack of detail on the fighting field compared to the majesty of the adventure mode, but I dig it. It gives you that real detached, grim combat idea. You can only see grids and lines, but there are real things at stake, and the amount of city destruction by the end takes its toll.
Yet it really is the story and the storytelling that makes 13 Sentinels the most exciting aspect on my Switch in years. Watching the twists and turns unfold in real time as you see who is behind the men in black, the cat assassin, the gender-bending uniforms and everything else is mind melting. You spend close to fifteen hours of game time – chapters upon chapters of learning everything about these kids – and then it all gets blown to hell in an unbelievable right turn that made me double check if I had accidentally started a different game. Again, being able to go back and replay older chapters (and also unlock more archives from the information section) shows you the breadcrumb trail, but it’s almost paradoxical to figure out how the game before and the game now could both exist and be true, but it works. It sincerely does. Where is my 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim show goddammit??
Sometimes I have to end a review saying “this game isn’t for everyone,” and that blows. I want a game to be for everyone, anyone who wants to play it and see what the hype is all about. Elden Ring isn’t for everyone, and that’s fine because it’s hard and Soulsborne hardcore enthusiasts love to hate the thing they love. But 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim should be tried by everyone. If you’ve got a Switch and literally thirty minutes, try it. Give it a genuine go and see what happens in the first half of the hour long tutorial. If you aren’t at least mildly intrigued, fair enough, walk away. But if you can enjoy that thirty minutes, you’re on the hook for hours upon hours of fighting, upgrading, exploration, beautiful design, amazing soundtrack and just some of the tightest coding the Switch has had the privilege to house. You cannot go wrong here, and I cannot recommend it enough. Come as you are. Embrace the future. Save. Everyone.
Spectacular anime design in adventure, minimalist for the RTS to allow for maximum control.
Great combat and utterly engrossing adventure moments to decide the future.
Superb voicework coupled with a stellar soundtrack makes this feel like a AAA production.
Fun Factor: 9.0
Hooking players from start to finish, it’s next to impossible not to continue the ride.
Final Verdict: 9.0
13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim is available now on PS4, PS5, and Nintendo Switch.
Reviewed on Nintendo Switch.
A copy of 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim was provided by the publisher.