We take a look at Atlus and Vanillaware’s newest release 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim, and what it offers to players.
Title: 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim
Platforms: PlayStation 4 (reviewed on)
Release Date: September 22, 2020
What is it about giant robots fighting an apocalyptic alien threat that brings out the most intense and philosophical conversations about humanity, post-modernism, and religion?
I love a great story.
Great stories allow for examinations of every theme imaginable, from childhood, justice, and fear, all the way to the human condition, the morality and meaning of sentience, and the complex and confusing paradox of life. They have relatable characters that the audience can feel attached to and even project themselves onto, thus bringing the audience closer emotionally. It can help people process new ideas and emotions and even come to terms with the situations and events in their lives.
Atlus has been putting out plenty of great stories recently, and their most recent release, 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim, is no exception. Despite having an engaging and deep combat system that could be hours of fun, it is 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim’s story that is really the highlight of the playing experience.
We take a good look at everything from the overall presentation, to the combat system, and finish strong with a section over the story.
It should come as no surprise that this game is absolutely beautiful.
I’ll start with the boring stuff, i.e. the menus. I know, I know, menus are not the sexiest thing in the world to talk about, but a great game has to have a great UI. The game must communicate everything the player needs to know in both a concise and clear manner, keeping menu time short while not sacrificing information. At the same time, a great menu does not deliver too much information to the player, for risk of overstimulating or confusing the experience.
For examples of great UIs, think of Persona 5, Dead Space, or Brutal Legend, which are all extremely different in their formats, style, and even genre, but are similar in their ability to communicate and perfectly display information back to the player.
That being said, this is one of my favorite UIs I have had the opportunity to experience recently.
The main navigation menu that helps players navigate to the section of the game that they would like to play is simple but beautiful, all three panels being beautifully hand-drawn and colored well to stand out but also not disorient. This menu has great music to help get players back into the necessary mindset for experiencing this title (think detective action hero). This menu is easy to navigate, having just three options that are self-explanatory.
(This is such a small thing, and maybe it is more of a personal thing, so it is not being included in the praise above, but the menus also roll, meaning if you go all the way to the rightmost option and press right, it will move your cursor over to the left-most option. This makes navigation easier and cuts down on menu time, even if by actual seconds.)
The sub-menus are just as easily navigated and well communicated, despite being unique and very different from the main menus. The character select menu for the combat section is particularly brilliant, with its clear communication, brilliant character art, and easy navigation, despite being jammed full of information and options.
In the story segments, you really do not need the pause menu, everything you need is on-screen or a triangle button touch away, but even it is a beautifully colored and masterfully crafted rundown of your current location, situation, and all of your options. It is this special attention to detail that makes games greats and I would implore all future developers to study this as inspiration for future projects.
In the combat segments, a ton of information has to be communicated and I have not seen many developers get this kind of communication right. However, 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim not only properly communicates all of the necessary information but simplifies it in a way that helps keep the game fast-paced and moving. The pilot health is displayed in the top right, both with numbers but also health bars that are easy to understand, the attack sizes and strike zone are shown clearly using different methods, the enemy types and health are clear as day in their sprite design and the bars above their head.
However, you did not come here to hear me fawn about menus, you came to hear about the art.
Most everything in the story segments of this game is hand-drawn and makes for some stunning visuals.
The characters are all distinct, memorable, and stand out against the wonderfully drawn backgrounds. Their animations may be simple, but it is rarely distracting and typically just serve to put the character models on display.
A small thing I want to note here is that unlike a ton of Japanese media, there are no sexualized minors and very few sexualized characters overall in this title. This is mostly a cultural difference issue, so this is not a slight at the games that do it, or a judgment against developers who do, but instead an appreciation of the media that does not do that.
The combat portions of the game do not utilize the hand-drawn style of the rest of the game, instead of being almost entirely computer-generated. The different sprites are bright and unique and clearly communicate which ally or enemy type you are looking at. The attack animations are simple but effective and impactful, but more about that in a bit.
If I had to complain about something: The thought cloud does not just feel low effort in comparison to the rest of the game, it feels like the lowest effort went into its visual design possible. It is very plain, unorganized, and ugly. It is such an insignificant complaint however that it barely affects my overall thoughts on the design. Also, while the music is good, none of it is extremely memorable, and honestly, it is barely noticeable most of the time.