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13 Sentinels Aegis Rim Switch Review: "An Ambitious And Compelling Story"

13 Sentinels Aegis Rim Switch Review: "An Ambitious And Compelling Story"
Images via Vanillaware

Written by 

Tarran Stockton

Posted 

5th Apr 2022 15:00

Releasing two years ago to strong critic and fan reception on the PlayStation 4, 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim has now been ported to the Nintendo Switch, a platform that arguably makes more sense than any other for a visual novel experience. It's a game noted for its multilayered, complex storytelling, that can often leave you more confused than in-the-know, while also featuring a tower defence component that ties directly into the bigger picture. How has the jump to a new platform worked out, and how does the game hold up?

Curated Confusion

13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim Nintendo Switch Review 1

It's fair to say that 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim can be a difficult game to grasp at times, but Vanillaware's uncompromising dedication to telling the story it wanted to tell works out for the better. In its simplest form, the game tells the story of thirteen characters who come together in some way or another to fight off a kaiju threat with giant mechs, but in practice it works out to be a lot more confusing. 

In fact, 13 Sentinels is a game that relishes confusion to the point of utter ridiculousness, telling a grand and ambitious science fiction story across a series of non-chronological chapters and characters. These are shown through a mode called Remembrance, jumping back and forth between the different characters and timelines in a visual novel format that also takes plenty of inspiration from adventure point and clicks of the 90s. You'll get lost in the narrative frequently, but as everything begins to build up, and you face revelations that re-contextualise everything you've seen, it starts to fit into place. 

As a linear story, 13 Sentinels would still be engaging throughout, but the choice to chop it up into interwoven chapters forces you to dig through the mystery and misdirection. It would have been easy to mess this up, but the complexity works to enrich the overall story, leaving a lasting impression punctuated by the moments of discovery and revelation. 

It's also worth noting how deeply the game steeps itself in its sci-fi influences, some of which are immediately obvious from the get-go. This is another aspect that can leave you scratching your head early on as the game jumps from genre to genre, trope to trope, but it never feels derivative of the media it's inspired by. Whether it's War of the Worlds, E.T., Pacific Rim, or the multitude of other properties that combine to develop the world of 13 Sentinels, they all feel celebrated equally for their place in sci-fi canon and in inspiring this world.

Thoughtful Conversation 

13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim Nintendo Switch Review 2

The Remembrance mode is the main draw here, and the place you'll spend the majority of the game. While it plays like a visual novel, it takes things a step further by engaging the player more thoroughly in the characters. Firstly, you have the option to move freely in a side-scrolling fashion that also implements the 2.5D perspective, letting you move toward or away from the screen. This also means you can interact with the characters you want in a specific scene, which leads to some optional conversations and revelations that you have to seek out yourself. 

One of the more interesting design ideas for this mode is the thought cloud. This serves as a menu where you can ponder concepts, people, or things that you are introduced to during the story. It also lets you use these ideas as a springboard for beginning conversations, which feels like a natural way to gameify your thoughts and add another layer of interactivity to the conversations. Sometimes these function like puzzles that gate progress, as you need to find a specific piece of information to use in a conversation, but not all of them work smoothly, leading to some sections that will leave you wandering back and forth trying to figure out the solution. These were few and far between, but it ruined the flow of the story in some sections.

 

War Of The Worlds

13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim Nintendo Switch Review 3

The other main mode you'll take part in is called Destruction, which showcases the large battles against the kaijus, sitting at the end of the story chronologically. During the prologue, these battles are placed between Remembrance chapters to teach you the basic mechanics, but once this ends, you can dive into any mode freely. Destruction plays out in a real-time with pause format with tower defence elements, as each battle sees you defend a point called the aegis. 

The battles give you some strategic options thanks to team compositions, unit placement, and upgrades which can be bought between fights with Meta Chips. These are earned based on your performance at the end of each fight, taking into account how well you protect the aegis and your sentinels. On normal difficulty, the battles were fairly straightforward and fast-paced, and while some busier moments where the city is swarmed with kaiju provided moments of tension, it mostly felt like a chore that prohibited me from spending more time with the characters in Remembrance. 

Destruction also doesn't quite capture the chaos of mechs fighting kaijus. One issue is that all units are only displayed by icons, instead of the actual monsters and machines which occupy the battlefield. It's certainly more of an aesthetic gripe, but it made it harder to connect with the battles and made them feel slightly underwhelming on the whole.

Making The Switch

13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim Nintendo Switch Review 4

As a port, the Nintendo Switch is definitely the premiere way of experiencing this game. For the most part, it's not a particular tasking game anyway, but it infamously had performance issues on the PlayStation 4 that sullied it for some people. These largely seem to have disappeared, meaning 13 Sentinels looks gorgeous and runs brilliantly. Some of the more chaotic moments in Destruction can cause a bit of lag, but it's never enough to outright ruin your sessions outside of being a little distracting. 

The Remembrance mode feels at home on the Switch, and makes for the most natural way of experiencing the visual novel parts of the game. On my Switch OLED, the game looks beautiful, making the muted painterly artstyle and lighting effects pop even more than they did in the original release. 13 Sentinels' structure also feels perfect for handheld gaming, as experiencing the chapters in short bursts gives you time to think about the events, and as bedtime 'reading' it's unmatched in its propensity to keep you dreaming of its world.

Perfect Pastiche

13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim Nintendo Switch Review 5

13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim tells an ambitious and compelling story that takes an anaconda's worth of twists and turns, but it's careful to never overwhelm you to the point of exhaustion, while remaining grounded enough in its characters and concept to deliver everything with a bang. While the other half of the experience is pretty unremarkable in comparison, it doesn't prevent 13 Sentinels from standing high as an example of video game and science fiction storytelling.

 

7/10

Reviewed on Nintendo Switch. Code provided by the publisher. 

 

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