Vanillaware She is back. Distancing himself from the fantasy perspective to which he has always accustomed us, he dives headlong into the sci-fi genre by exploring it in an almost integral way both on the artistic front and on the content one. 13 Sentinels Aegis Rim is a heartfelt love letter to science fiction that sees the thirteen protagonists engaged in a desperate struggle to save their world. Oscillating between splits of school life, temporal leaps and scorching battles aboard mecha, one is dragged into an intricate and fascinating story, full of narrative ideas. It is certainly not a game that will meet the taste of the mass and even the die-hard fans of the software house could have great hesitation in facing the purchase, considering the so atypical cut of the gameplay and the fact that it is strongly diluted by a very narrative component. full-bodied. However, it is a title capable of intriguing curiosity from the first moment and by delving into it it is easy to be charmed. 13 Sentinels could for many turn out to be almost a video-playful act of faith, a risk in short, but one that is absolutely worth taking.
The boys who jumped in time
Once upon a time, or maybe it was two, but in reality it was five. The brilliant and complex story of 13 Sentinels is in fact punctuated by ben five timelines ranging from the 40s to 900, in a succession of situations that we will always see from the perspective of different characters and never with a real narrative constancy on this front. It is impossible to describe or even hint at the plot of the last work written by George Kamitani without revealing some small detail that can compromise the exceptional sense of discovery that the title constantly manages to offer. Although the first few hours can be decidedly chaotic, incredibly you never really lose the thread and, even though we move from one character to another almost non-stop, witnessing a narration that cannot be more suspended, we remain glued and more and more intrigued as the story unfolds. After the prologue (indeed, i prologues) which also serves as a tutorial for both the visual novel and combat phases, the title is divided into three distinct sections: one dedicated exclusively to battles, one for the history and one for all that we could define related to lore. The distinction between the narrative component and the more expressly playful one hides a double meaning, on the one hand it is a mere system to differentiate as much as possible the two different souls of 13 Sentinels, on the other it has almost a meta-game subtext, since the fights aboard the robots are perceived by the protagonists as a distant and almost ethereal dream. Although it is possible to choose practically at any time to switch from one to the other mode, the game will force us to face some clashes only after completing narrative portions, and vice versa. However, the beating heart of the game remains the visual novel component despite the indispensability of the clashes and while boasting a decidedly high level of writing, while leaning on almost all the stereotypes and clichés of the genre to which it belongs, as well as that of shonen manga, which strongly contaminate the narrative cut, in some traits it could be too verbose or detached for a slice of the public. Being more spectators than players in these long sessions, one can have the impression of suffering the story in an all too passive way, it is not that we can really speak of a defect but perhaps a minimum of more interaction, or the illusion of itself, would have strongly benefited the production definitively removing the possibility of running into some phase of "tired".
The cast results, while showing also in this case all the existing archetypes, one of the main strengths of the title. The thirteen protagonists are excellently characterized and although they seem cut with a hatchet in the early hours, immersing oneself in their stories and wearing their clothes, an unexpected depth and characterization is discovered, always supported by an excellent artistic style, which makes it impossible not to become attached to each of the main characters. The development of the plot leads us to discover and weave bonds with the other boys, united by the red thread of destiny that harnesses them to the fierce fight against the Kaiju. There is no need to spend many more words on the characterization, writing and script of 13 Sentinels Aegis Rim, in this respect the work of Vanillaware is almost perfect and to leave her without a voice would be a real crime.
The furious fights between mecha and kaiju represent the other side of the coin of 13 Sentinels, and are expressed in a real-time turn-based rpg system, which seems to wink at the RTS genre, also thanks to the isometric view of the fights , but it offers us the possibility to calmly select the actions to be performed, blocking the action once a character has been selected. Up to six pilots can be deployed on the field, who will command four different types of mechs: Melee, All-Rounder, Sniper and Flight Support. Born in different eras, mechs differ both in appearance and, above all, in the set of active and passive skills to be used and therefore knowing how to build a varied team prepared for any eventuality is quite essential, at least on paper. For example, the titanic melee robots can cause devastating damage to opponents but are slow and unable to hit flying enemies, while the air support team can move quickly and without having to exploit the intricate city streets to pass from one zone to the other, but their shots are anything but powerful. We must therefore be careful about the positioning of our team and try to move frequently in order to avoid enemy shots, often able to make our mecha unusable in a single shot. In this case it is necessary to remove the pilot from the collision, get him off the Sentinel and then get back on board, remaining however strongly exposed to enemy shots, which in this case would prove to be lethal. Although it all turns out easily simple and assimilable and unfortunately not backed by a particularly captivating visual component, indeed, the title proves to be profound enough in this sense to be able to create the right number of variables to make the battles much less trivial than they seem at first glance.
Each mech can learn, equip and enhance different skills, active and passive, be modified (in the later stages of the game) to hone their skills and even the pilot enjoys perks that can increase his adaptability during the course of the clashes, or give it a very personal edge and role. While robots can have protective shields to apply to companions, devastating laser cannons and EMP waves that can stun and knock down opponents, pilots can be harder to land or faster to move outside Sentinels, or even, strengthen according to the growth or decrease of the party members deployed in the field. Furthermore, the city bases to be protected are connected to a neural network that can be exploited in battle with formidable skills and attacks but to be exploited sparingly, given the low number of uses allowed to us. The variety is also reinvigorated by an optional challenge system, which places additional conditions on each clash, increasing the complexity of the same and therefore leading the player to have to sharpen his wits and think better about each action to complete the challenge. being careful to also satisfy the scoring system and get the coveted S Rank in every fight. In short, 13 Sentinels presents a small but fundamental difficulty scaling system, which is essential for the most demanding players, in the face of an underlying ease that would otherwise compromise their enjoyment. Unfortunately, the aesthetic appeal already mentioned above, very much slows down the enthusiasm and hardly manages to offer the pathos of a conflict of this magnitude, making the battles a bit cold in terms of characterization and often not very attractive. This is the only flaw on which you can point the finger, although it would have been decidedly difficult to find a solution able to effectively embrace the playful formula adopted, especially considering that the game was initially born to also come out on the unfortunate PS VITA. In principle, turning a blind eye to the artistic front of Battle Mode, even in this sense the game works and entertains, but without having the same bite as the rest of the production.
Given Vanillaware's resume it seems almost superfluous to tell the goodness of the artistic profile of 13 Sentinels Aegis Rim, although the cut is less whimsical of titles such as Dragon's Crown and without taking advantage of the bright tones of Muramasa: The Demon Blade, Yukiko Hirai and Emika Kida create a much more "calm" composition with soft colors, the light outlines of the characters approach the appearance of watercolor pencils and perfectly returns the dreamlike and almost ethereal flavor that the story wants to express. Considering then the theme of the harrowing struggle for the salvation of the Earth and the bitter implications of the plot, the style creates a perfectly guessed contrast that manages to be fully consistent with what 13 Sentinels tries to be in every little corner. The character design of the protagonists - as well as of the mecha - is excelled, while remaining very sober and devoid of frills or excessive characterization peaks but rather, it strikes precisely by virtue of a simplicity that is never trivialized. The splendid illustrations of the backdrops, as well as the care for the individual elements of the game, frame a beautifully made fresco in every single scene. On the sound front, 13 Sentinels hits the target again, thanks to a soundtrack with electronic tones and an ever-pressing rhythm, with that Japanese imprint that takes you back to Ghost in the Shell and seems to wink at Phantasy Star Online when it takes breaths wider and more epic. Technically, the game suffers only in the Battle Mode as specified but is forgiven immediately at the first portrait of any character or by randomly choosing one of the settings of the title. Overall, 13 Sentinels is artistically a real gem which further demonstrates the ability of Vanillaware to decline a genre without distorting it but making it unique and precisely with disarming ease.
13 Sentinels Aegis Rim is one of those tough titles to talk about. It is a title probably suitable for a specific branch of players and for this reason it could criminally overshadow even the eyes of Vanillaware fans. This does not in any way imply a defect but rather demonstrates - and it is commendable - the desire of a software house to create its own game without setting itself as a goal to reach as many people as possible by sacrificing their principles or winking at the genres. more noble. Having said that, a large portion of the experience, the one linked to the actual gameplay, is presented in an at least imperfect way, risking to penalize and remove the player, even the most experienced one. In reality, the playful structure of the clashes, although not very square, works and entertains just enough to break the rhythm from the exquisitely narrative phases, which individually could in fact be too verbose but which, on the whole, turn out to be very well balanced. Artistically unassailable, excellently written and temperamentally unique, 13 Sentinels Aegis Rim is yet another Vanillaware pearl that, like all the most precious treasures, risks being buried forever.