Narrative Review Strategy Visual Novel

13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim – Review | 13 is Lucky for Some

Vanillaware is one of those rare developers that seem to constantly produce gold but with a real niche appeal. Ranging from RPGs to beat ’em ups, Vanillaware has now shown their hand with a real-time strategy meets visual novel title. Ladies and gentlemen, it’s time to look at 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim.

All Equal Measures

Despite the mix of genres, it wouldn’t be fair to say it’s an equal split. 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim is first and foremost a visual novel. It’s so much a visual novel that it feels like the “RTS” sections were a late addition.

The game has quite an extensive prologue section that roughly clocks in at around 4 or so hours. Here you’ll get a brief introduction to all 13 protagonists of the game, the outline for the main scenario, and an introduction to the Mecha aspect of the title.

While this is a nice and hefty introduction, don’t expect to have much of a clue about what’s going on by the time the curtains draw on the prologue. It merely sets up the events of the game and gives you the smallest taster of what to expect from this multipronged sci-fi-infused assault.

So Many Stories, So Many Parts

13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim does the narrative equivalent of spinning many plates at many times. Naturally, the story spilling over 13 perspectives is already a pretty meaty feat, but then you have the scope of the main narrative.

With as few spoilers as possible and in no particular order you have to deal with themes such as time travel through several different periods, alternative timelines, brainwashing, Kaiju invasions, an E.T inspired story, and conspiracy theories. All this is before you even factor in the “Terminator 2: Judgement Day” inspired War that acts as a full stop to the present timeline.

13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim is set around a Japanese High School. As such, it’s no surprise that you also have to follow the social and love lives of the characters, how they weave in and out of scenes, and what their bearing is in the grand scheme of things.

While initially quite hard to follow, things do start to click as the story progresses. That said, it’s riddled with Sci-Fi clichés and references, so it does help a lot to have some familiarity with 80s/90s films and pop culture. It’s not only often referenced, but almost directly copied at points.

You’d be surprised at just what a good job Vanillaware has done fleshing out not only a giant narrative and believable world but also 13 completely different character stories. Despite their intertwining design, even on their own, they do a great job of keeping you gripped from start to finish.

13 Sentinels Aegis Rim - Movie Reference

Imitation is the Sincerest Form of Flattery

As mentioned earlier one of the characters’ tales involved a story not so different from that of E.T. It’s even to the point she even mentions how closely it resembles that film, though with a cheeky name change to avoid any legal complications. This is countered by another character who is dealing with being out of their timeline, in a different body to give humanity the edge when the Kaiju appear.

Never once did I manage to predict exactly where the story would go. It kept me gripped and the alternative timelines allowed for a little creativity in the writing.

While some may debate whether this is a “visual novel”, it kept me glued to my Nintendo Switch with its writing alone. It caught me off guard, as I’m more of a “pick up and play” kind of fella. Unlike many of my fellow writers on NookGaming with their 100+ visual novel reviews, I’m not into visual novels myself.

I fell in love with the characters and had some genuine laughs and feelings of sadness. Towards the latter half of the story, I couldn’t have been more pumped if I tried. The writing combined with the outpouring of love for 80s Sci-Fi resonated in a way I struggle to put into words without reeling off spoilers. Take my word for it; if you’re a fan of anything I mentioned about the story, that alone justifies the investment in this title.

The Great Divide

Much like the game, the gameplay is split into two distinct sections, exploration and combat. It’s not all reading and decision-making here!

Exploration sees you wandering around a set area in 2D, speaking to people, and performing actions in an almost “point and click adventure” style of gameplay to trigger one of the many timeline deviations.

This is achieved by talking to certain people, leaving areas at certain times, or using the thought bubble option. Key people, discussion points, or items can be activated. This triggers new events such as handing someone an item to make them leave or mentioning a dream to someone that can lead you on a new path.

13 Sentinels Aegis Rim - Combat

Suit up and Ship Out

Combat makes up the second part of the game. These are Real-Time-Strategy sections. They’re set in a “future” where the Kaiju have now attacked and your protagonists are trying to defend the city with their Sentinels.

You are presented with these scenarios separately from the exploration, but they are required to open timelines further and naturally tie into one another. It’s advised to play as much exploration as you can until you reach a dead-end, then progress through some of the combat sections to avoid spoilers. 

The combat shows the map of the city and you can move your chosen characters’ mechs across it. You choose their attack and have to defend the Aegis in the center of the map.

This works as a fusion of RTS and Tower Defence with a focus on waiting for skills to cool down and using the right Mech for the right job. Some mechs are more defensive, whereas some are more capable of taking down flying Kaiju.

It’s fun, if not a little barren. Considering this team made Odin Sphere and Dragons Crown, it’s a massive letdown to see how hands-off the combat is.

A Living Picture Book

The presentation in 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim is phenomenal for the most part. The OLED Switch absolutely makes the colors pop. Anyone familiar with Vanillaware and their titles will be instantly familiar with their identifiable art style – it looks like a traditional Japanese drawing brought to life.

The characters all animate beautifully and the first time you see one of the Sentinels your jaw will swing with how detailed the drawing is and how seamlessly it moves. It can almost convince you that it’s 3D.

The voice acting regardless of which language you choose is just top tier. Again this is typical of a Vanillaware title, but they really nail their roles and draw you in. I personally played through with the English Dub and have zero complaints about it.

13 Sentinels Aegis Rim - Two Girls and Robots

Not Just Gold in these Mines

My only complaint with the presentation lies with my only issue with the game; the combat portion of the title.

When you have such brilliant designs in the visual novel and exploration parts, it felt like a letdown to have just a 3D model of the city and all the Kaiju and Sentinels represented as Orange 3D shapes with no battle animations. You know something went wrong somewhere.

While you have explosions and attacks flying across the screen, when you think of what could have been and wasn’t it does ultimately drag you down somewhat. Even more when you think of the grand scale of Mecha Vs Kaiju combat.


13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim is a 35-hour love letter to Japanese Manga and late 80s to early 90s Science Fiction with outstanding writing but ultimately average combat sections.

While I did enjoy the city defense aspect of the game, it stunk of missed opportunities. It didn’t have that same allure, love, and feeling of weight and scale that the other half of the game had.

I’m not a fan of visual novel gameplay, but I enjoyed nearly every hour with 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim. While it’s also available on other platforms, playing it on the Switch allowed me to pick off story sections in my spare time, and I think that helped keep my interest.

While not the perfect game I wanted it to be, it’s close. But as we know close is no cigar. That said, I still suggest if you have an interest in the genres mentioned above you put 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim on your list ASAP.


Platforms: Nintendo Switch

Want to see some Strategy titles? How about checking out Utawarerumono: Prelude To The Fallen, a highly recommended SRPG/Visual Novel.

Many thanks go to Atlus for a Nintendo Switch review code for this title.

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