An unmissable masterpiece – Le Siskiyou

Image credit Nintendo

Have you ever experienced any medium, be it a movie, show, or game, and thought to yourself, “dang, that was a masterpiece?” For example, in the fall of 2020, I played this little game called “13 Sentinels”, developed by Vanhillaware and published by Atlus. I remember first hearing about “13 Sentinels” when the game debuted at the Playstation 2015 Tokyo Game Show conference. I thought the game had a beautiful art style.

After a hectic development cycle, “13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim” was released exclusively for PS4 in Japan on November 28, 2019. Then on September 22, 2020, it was released in America and Europe. Then finally, on April 12, 2022, a port of the game was released on the Nintendo Switch; Hopefully I can persuade some players to get on board with “13 Sentinels”.

“13 Sentinels” is an odd mix of genres in both gameplay and storytelling. With its gameplay, it’s part visual novel and part adventure game, and other parts it’s this weird mix of real-time strategy and tower defense. At the same time, the story draws heavily from Japanese media like Gundam, Evangelion, Godzilla and American movies like ET, The Terminator, and The Matrix. This unique blend of storytelling is told in a non-linear fashion. Through 13 different perspectives, you often switch back and forth throughout the story, heading into this epic sci-fi tale with insane twists and turns that can only happen with video games. If what I said sold you on this game, please don’t read the rest of this review; go out and buy this game and get as blind as possible. Believe me, this is one of those pieces of media where it’s better to know less before the journey begins. However, if you need more convincing, read on.

“13 Sentinels” tells the story of 13 Japanese teenagers who each pilot a giant robot known as Sentinels to save their city from giant monsters known as Kaiju, who seek to destroy it. The story is divided into two modes, Destruction and Remembrance. In Destruction, the gameplay of this mode is a mixture of real-time strategy and tower defense. At the start of battles, you choose six characters and take them into battle. They must protect the Aegis and the city. The game is over if the health of the Aegis or the city drops to zero. Likewise, the disappearance of all the pilots. Victory is achieved by eliminating all Kaiju during this battle or by holding out long enough for time to pass for the Aegis to activate. Each character belongs to a different class of sentinel across generations. First-generation Sentinels wander and lack ranged attacks, while fourth-generation Sentinels can fly but only have ranged attacks and have the weakest armor. You need to think carefully about which pilots to bring into battle. If a pilot is transported into battle too many times in a row, they will eventually have to set up a battle and you will need to complete at least one match before they can be used again. Between battles, you can upgrade each of the pilots with the points you earn during battles and complete character chapters in memory mode. In terms of difficulty, I played the game normally on my first playthrough on PS4. Other than a few battles towards the end of the game, I didn’t find it too difficult. Although I haven’t completed the game on Switch and I’m only about a quarter of the way through, I’m playing on a harder mode. With some of the balance changes made to the Switch, which made things a bit trickier, I noticed I had more close calls than on PS4, but I’d still say the game as a whole is rather easy.

A sampling of the types of battles you see in “13 Sentinels”. Screenshot taken by Dakota Runyon-Trapp, credit “13 Sentinels”.

Then you have Remembrance Mode, the true heart and soul of “13 Sentinels”. In Remembrance, you play through each of the 13 characters’ stories, leading the way for them to come together and take on the Kaiju. One element of the story is time travel, and although you spend most of the story in 1985, you will travel between several points in time, starting in 1945, just at the end of World War II, and still in the 22nd century.

The types of stories told by each of the characters vary widely. For example, you have Juro Kurabe, the game closest to the main protagonist. His story mostly focuses on him hanging out with his best friends as they share their love for the Kaiju movies, but he has some weird dreams that almost feel like memories. You have the story of Megumi, whose boyfriend Juro Izumi lost all memories of her after being injured in a battle, and she ends up making a deal with a talking cat to complete a task to restore her memories. There’s the story of Sekigahara, who wakes up in an alley with no memories, a gun in his hand and the corpse of a school nurse next to him. The objective of his story is to regain his memories, while fleeing a crowd dressed in black. You also have Miura, a teenage WWII soldier, who is sent 40 years into the future only to find that his country has lost the war and finds no trace of his little sister. There’s also Natsuno’s story, which has her befriending an alien robot trying to find Sentinel number 7. This storyline is inspired by the movie ET These are just the setup of some of the 13 characters and stories individual characters of the game. Often, these characters intersect and intertwine. For example, the latter two, Miura and Natsuno, will usually appear in each other and serve as each other’s love interests. At the same time, Natsuno’s best friend Yuki has her own story, as does Miura’s best friend Hijiyama. You’ll also get plenty of great character interactions in destruction mode.

Examples of the Souvenir section of the game. Screenshot taken by Dakota Runyon-Trapp, credit “13 Sentinels”.

While at the start of the game, its story is linear. Once you’ve completed the prologue, you have more freedom in how you experience the story. As you choose to experience, not only are the characters in any order, but you can also switch between characters in any of their many chapters. Overall, you’ll need to complete both Remembrance and Destruction to complete the game and see the ending.

The art style of the game is beautiful. It’s a 2D art style, and the developer hand-drawn all the characters and backgrounds. There is no similar art style that I have seen in any game outside of other Vanilla works like “Dragon’s Crown” and “Muramasa the Demon Blade”. The animations are very expressive and reveal small details about each character and the environment of the game. The soundtrack of this game is also fantastic; there’s a lot of variety in the tracks, from intense battle themes to more low-key ones that fit the characters’ daily lives. My favorite track is “Seaside Vacation”, a track that plays during a particular battle near the end of the game and the end of the game. As for the dub, it provides both the original Japanese audio and an English dub. I did my initial play on PS4 with Japanese audio and am currently replaying the game on Switch but using the English dub. I’m happy to say that whatever your preference, the actors in the English and Japanese dubs do a fantastic job as the respective characters.

In short, “13 Sentinels” is an incredible experience worth playing. The combat, while easy, is great fun if you’re a fan of strategy games like me, and the game has an easy mode, so if you’re feeling overwhelmed and want to experience the story, this is the mode for you. The story is amazing and kept me constantly guessing what was going to happen next and ended with an incredibly satisfying one that tied everything together so well in a way that might have seemed impossible at first. Now I don’t usually give scores, but if I were to give “13 Sentinels: Anything it would be a 10 out of 10. The game is up there with “Red Dead Redemption 2”, “Nier Automata” and ‘Persona 5’ for best PS4 game, and up there with ‘Xenoblade 2’, ‘Fire Emblem Three Houses’ and ‘The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild’ for best game on Nintendo Switch. to own on either platform.

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