There’s a difference between a game getting overlooked and a game being under rated. There are some games that are pretty well known but tend to be labeled as a bad game for one particular aspect or another and then being written off for years to come. Take a game like God Hand for example as it wasn’t truly appreciated until years after it’s release. 13 Sentinels isn’t like that though. Most reviews I have seen for the game praise it to no end, and rightfully so. It really is a game that was simply overlooked, being released at the wrong time and just going unnoticed. This is a massive shame as anyone who has actually played the game will tell you. It’s provides a very unique experience with a crazy yet still understandable story that isn’t too hard to follow. And seeing as the game has been given a second chance with it being ported over to the Switch recently, I feel like now would be a great time to talk about it and hopefully get some people interested in giving it a go.
13 Sentinels, or it’s full title 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim, is a game developed by Vanillaware and published by ATLUS. You may recognize the two studios as they have worked together in the past on games like Dragon’s Crown and Odin Sphere. Vanillaware is probably best known for the amazing visuals in each game they develop though, as they are always a sight to behold. Something that is very much true for 13 Sentinels as well. And while they aren’t the most well known studio, they have plenty of fans around the world. Myself included! So why is it that 13 Sentinels didn’t seem to make as much of a splash as any of their other recent titles? Well, I believe there are a few factors that contributed to this. First, the game was originally released in November 2019 in Japan, but due to COVID complications, localizing was much slower than they were expecting and the game didn’t see a world wide release until September of the next year. This combined with the fact that the release of the PS5 was just on the horizon at that time meant it was very much over shadowed. A massive shame as it lead to a lot of people missing out on one of Vanillaware’s most unique titles!
13 Sentinels takes a lot of inspiration from famous sci-fi works. From the Terminator to War of the Worlds to even E.T. And they are not ashamed to show this off! They are clearly proud of it as they give plenty of direct references. They reference plenty more than just those three as well, but I don’t want to point out each one as they can certainly spoil somethings about the plot if I go in to deep. And that is certainly something I want to avoid with this review as the game’s story is easily one of the best aspects of it.
The game, as you may have guessed, is about 13 Sentinels, giant robots that were built to fight off alien kaiju, giant monsters, that are coming to invade the planet. But more specifically, the game is about the 13 characters that pilot each of the Sentinels. I’m not going to name all of them here, as that would take quite awhile, but each are high school students who are all connected to one another in someway. Telling their stories, and how each of them find their way to the final battle with the kaiju, is the main focus on the story. And the way Vanillaware decided to go about this managed to keep me glued to the game from start to finish!
The game is split into three different sections. Destruction, Remembrance, and Analysis.
Destruction is the RTS (real time strategy) section of the game where you face the kaiju invasion that all of the characters’ stories are leading up to head on. Remembrance is the visual novel section that let’s you play through each characters’ stories and uncover what is really going on behind the scenes of the invasion. And finally Analysis, which doesn’t really involve much game play as it’s just a section that compiles all that you’ve learned so far in the story in case you need to reference back to something if you’re lost or want more information.
After the game’s tutorial and introduction, you can play through the sections however you’d like to. Although, there are certain times in both Destruction and Remembrance where you’ll be stopped and need to progress in the other in order to continue. This is mainly to make sure the story doesn’t spoil itself. In the end, you’ll need to finish all of the characters’ stories before getting to the final stage of Destruction. Personally, I got through as much of the story sections as a could before going over to Destruction, and while I would recommend playing this way as it gives more context to that section, it’s really up to you how you want to go about playing and figuring out the story.
Speaking of the story though, it is truly fantastic. I won’t be going too in depth talking about it, since I would hate to spoil it, but I have to at least bring up how crazy and complex it gets but still manages to remain really easy to follow! This mainly comes from how the story is told. While it seems a little disjointed to jump around 13 different stories spread out between 13 different characters, you eventually start to understand how each overlaps, explaining more of the overall story as it goes. There are even times where you can’t progress in one character’s story until you finish a part of another so you aren’t completely lost. Beyond that, these sections aren’t completely linear. You won’t just be mashing through text and reading the whole time. Each has branching paths that you’ll need to follow. But unlike with other games where some paths are right and the others are wrong, all paths are the right path!
Each character is given a map that you can always reference whenever you’re in their story. This let’s you see which paths you have taken and what leads you down each. And it even gives you hints about how to go down the other paths, explaining what connects them and what you need to know! I remember when I first saw this map I was really worried this meant I had a chance of missing some key story stuff by simply picking one wrong dialog option or not investigating a certain item in a scene. But it was actually the opposite! The game very much wants you to explore each and every path to uncover everything. Which meant I could go through the story without any worry at all. A massive weight off my mind, honestly. I would adore seeing other story heavy games with multiple paths taking inspiration from this. But like I said before, I don’t want to get too deep into things. If you are at all interested in the story, it’s best you go in as blind as possible. I’ll leave it here by saying that I absolutely loved the story from start to finish though! I highly recommend giving the game a look for the story alone even.
But let’s move on to the game’s other big section and talk about Destruction. As stated before, this is the RTS section of the game where you have to use the Sentinels to defend the city from the kaiju, either by destroying them all or by surviving long enough for the timer to run out.
You start by selecting six Sentinels with the other seven taking up defense rolls for the fight. There are four different types of Sentinels that all do better in certain situations compared to others. Like the Generation 1, or G1, Sentinels are great at close range battles but are terrible at long range and they can’t attack flying enemies. The Generation of the Sentinel is really what determines the biggest difference between each. However, the pilots also have their own unique skills. They mostly extend to team composition and positioning on the map. For example some characters will get a boost when placed near a character they have a personal connection with or just being on the same time, while others have skills that give them a boost when no one else is positioned close to them at all. They vary a lot more than just positioning but those are just some examples. These skills are something else you need to consider when deciding on your team. And what team you pick for each mission can really be the difference between winning or losing depending on the type of kaiju that appear. Luckily, the game lets you know ahead of time which kaiju are most likely to appear so you can keep this in mind when forming your team. You can also upgrade the Sentinels and unlock new abilities for them with Metachips, which you can earn through playing levels in Destruction as well as from finishing a section of someone’s story in Remembrance. After that, you deploy into the mission and it’s up to you to defeat the kaiju and defend the city!
Now while I honestly had a lot of fun with Destruction, it didn’t feel nearly as polished as Remembrance. Vanillaware is best known for more action heavy games, to my knowledge, this is the first time they are attempting a more strategy focused game so it’s somewhat understandable that the RTS elements might be a bit lacking. As such, if you are getting this game because of the Destruction section specifically, you are probably going to be disappointed. The combat is rather basic all through out the levels. And while new kaiju are introduced very frequently to make sure things don’t get too stale, none of them really shake things up much besides a few of the later bosses. It should also be mentioned the combat isn’t too difficult either, even on the hardest setting. It certainly does up the challenge but it didn’t make me feel like I really needed to change strategy too much from the lower difficulties. So again, while I had a lot of fun with Destruction it still didn’t really stand out much. It isn’t bad but it isn’t amazing either. At the very least, you shouldn’t get bored while playing it though, which is good as this is where the conclusion of the story is. But the story really is the main focus of the game, so keep that in mind if you’re thinking of picking it up.
While the RTS elements leave a little to be desired, they offer more than enough to not get bored of them and you get some more story in between each of the levels at least. Something that should be more than enough motivation to see it through to the end of this great game.
It’s a real shame how overlooked 13 Sentinels is though. Just for it’s story telling alone it should be praised and recognized. Despite the fact that this game was technically released a long time ago, I wanted to write this review in the hopes that it will spark some interest in at least one person and motivate them to give it a shot. Especially with the Switch port being released recently! I played the PS4 version of the game, and loved it, but I think the game honestly makes a perfect fit on the Switch. Picking it up for a bit to play through one character’s story path or to play through one level of the Destruction only to put it back down would work perfectly. And with how popular the Switch is, maybe now 13 Sentinels will finally get noticed!
But those are just my thoughts! What are some of yours? Going to give 13 Sentinels a try now? What games do you feel have been overlooked despite how great they are? I’d love to hear your thoughts so don’t be shy!
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