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13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim Hands-on Preview

Vanillaware have made a name for themselves as a champion of painterly and lush 2D visuals. All of their projects have their distinct visual flair that makes each one stand out from their contemporaries, and 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim proves to be their most ambitious yet.

Since 2007, George Kamitani and the boys have used the same system to animate innumerable moving pieces into a walking and talking character. The effect is marvelous in the hands of Vanillaware’s artists, who make characters that are living paintings.

Various angles are accounted for, pieces slightly stretch and each frame blends into another very naturally, creating an illusion of more depth and volume than there actually is. The virtuouso ambition that the artists strove for is humbling and staggering to see in motion.

Great care has been given to animation. 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim does feature many protagonists with their own story to tell and animators went to great lengths to ensure each one had their own bespoke body language. One example is the athletic female character who has a very unique stride to her walk/run cycle, indicating her passion for track.

As early as the prologue, 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim is dense with impressive attention to detail and flourish that shows that people who worked on this truly cared. Even the script is chock full of tons of sci-fi homages and subtle references to movies, anime, and literature that likely inspired the team.

The story begins with a very simple premise of high-school students piloting large mecha who battle with kaiju. The stakes get high as attacks from these behemoths attack Japan in the middle of what is seemingly normal high school drama. There are hints of a much more complex plot that lean heavily into hard science fiction.

Most fans of past Vanillaware games are going to be utterly bewildered by 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim. The developer has made a name for themselves for making mostly action-RPGs, but the team’s earliest efforts was a little-known real-time strategy PlayStation 2 title; GrimGrimoire.

George Kamitani has grown as a developer and as an artist since. With 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim, the battles have become surprisingly less showy than what Vanillaware fans might have come to expect. For a game that is so visually striking during the narrative and exploration segments, the battles are depicted very minimalistically.

The battles with the kaiju are fairly simple yet accessible in their design. Abilities come with cost and have their own unique range or pattern. Some characters have longer cool-downs depending on what generation mecha they pilot, and some of them can fly.

It may not look like much, since all mecha and kaiju are represented as simplistic symbols on a rudimentary city map, but the encounters and scenarios prove to be stimulating enough. The flow of battle is swift and easy to learn, since the goals are a made very clear.

There is a window that shows an animated vignette of what each attack does. At the earliest moments in 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim, the mecha and kaiju are surprisingly low-key and are barely shown.

Coming into this with the right expectations will lead fans into having a good time. If you are expecting Dragon’s Crown or Muramasa: The Demon Blade, this is not an action-RPG at all. This has more in common with a visual-novel or adventure games, but with strategic battles to spice up the scenario.

Hitoshi Sakimoto and his boys with Basiscape are famous for their music that has always been associated with high-fantasy. 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim is a big departure for them since it is set in a sci-fi game. Sakimoto proves he has range with his techno flair that sets a mood that is still distinctly his style.

The story and scenario shows a lot of promise in the earliest moments of the prologue. There is hardly a dull moment and the localization does seem faithful so far. The pacing moves at a brisk clip, hardly wasting a moment and is building up to something greater.

Anyone interested in a dramatic science-fiction story told with beautiful visuals and powerful music will find 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim interesting. Vanillaware hallmarks are accounted for: fetishistic rendering of delicious looking food and sexually charged imagery. This is going to be an unconventional game, but that is what makes it so interesting.

13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim was previewed on PlayStation 4 Pro using a preview build provided by Atlus. You can find additional information about Niche Gamer’s review/ethics policy here.

Images: PlayStation Store, Amazon

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Fingal Belmont

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A youth destined for damnation.