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  1. #1

    [PS4] 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim

    I was pretty psyched up for this one, I mean, Vanillaware and giant robots? Sign me up! Only for Vanillaware and Atlus to hide the demo behind a pay wall, and the cheapest is a roughly 2000yen digital pack with the demo, digital artwork, and PS4 theme.

    But I did cough up those yen and after downloading around 2GB, I'm here playing the Prologue to 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim.

    And...well, it has completely defied my expectations. Not for the art direction, we're talking about a Vanillaware game here, but for its structure: 13 Sentinels is a point-and-click adventure game, at least in the Prologue, with you controlling directly a character and moving him or her to the next active spot to interact with it and progress to the story.
    Well, in fact, this is even less than a point-and-click adventure, at least in those you had to solve puzzles to progress, here you just need to walk to a location and press circle to start a new sequence. It's the bare minimum of a game, and it's only a step above visual novels in interaction because you need to move your character around and not simply witness a wall of text.
    I don't want to say this but this the idea that David Cage has of a game, only that he puts QTEs in his...things (I can't really call Cage's productions games, sorry)...while in 13 Sentinels you're just a passive spectator of events that unfold in front of your characters. The only interactions are walking around, interacting with objects or other characters, and hit the triangle button to see what your character is thinking about something.
    I truly wasn't expecting this. Yes I know Vanillaware is more than just their more recent action games, but as a game 13 Sentinels fails, it's just pressing buttons to progress through a very pretty cutscene. Now, I've only played through a third of the Prologue and things might get more "interacty" as the story goes on, not to mention this is not the final game, but well, colour me disappointed.

    Kinda.

    The Prologue features 13 characters, each starring in a 10 to 20 minutes long segment introducing them and the story. The Prologue starts with you controlling an high school guy in 1985. After him you unlock three other character, and so I choose a girl. Again, her story is in 1985, only that the classroom looks different. The third guy, whom you saw with the first character, starts as an astronaut. Oh Wow. And then the game goes back to 1944. With the same character. Oh, not only giant robots abut also time travel? OK, this interesting.
    No matter how little of a game there is in 13 Sentinels (or at all, depending of your definition of videogame), the story is interesting. The bite-sized introduction really keep you guessing and make you wish for more, plus the art direction is absolutely wonderful. It controls alright (again, for how little control you have) and my first comment about not being able to run while moving quickly evaporated as locations turned out to be small and perfectly sized for your movement speed. Dialogues get straight to the point, a huge thing for me, and so far all characters have kept an excellent pacing in showing you the story.

    So, 13 Sentinels might not be the game I was expecting, but at least the story looks good.

    I've also took a video, but I messed up the audio mixing so I need to re-render it. Will be ready tomorrow.
    Last edited by briareos_kerensky; 10-12-2019 at 06:46 AM.

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  5. #5
    So, I said I would write some final thoughts on this Prologue demo, but in reality there's not that much to say in addition to what I've already written.

    The Prologue demo is a visual novel, no more no less. There are no QTEs, no multiple-choice dialogues, no puzzles to solve. You simply need to find the next active spot and then dialogues will ensue; at times you need to hit triangle to rear what the character you're controlling thinks, and other you need to hit triangle, select the correct thought and deliver an item to another character.
    I don't really consider this structure worthy to be called "game", so the only things left to speak about 13 Sentinels are how the story develops, its pacing, and how good it's written.

    And I can't hinde that the story has me very interested, the whole time-travel thing seems well structured, with different starting points, twists, and non-linear storytelling keeping interest high; the structure reminds me of Odin Sphere, only brought to the extreme with many more characters and even more intertwinment.
    The pacing is good, dialogues get straight to the point and they are never too long between interactions, although I did feel a bit bored at times, especially when I had to interact with the game to get the story going...which is kinda ridicolous not wanting to interact with 13 Sentinels when you have a pad in hand.
    I can't go into detail on how well the story is written due to the language barrier and that I've only see a glimpse of it (although I don't expect the whole game being longer than 10 hours), but considering what I've seen, I won't be disappointed.

    I will get the complete game when it comes out in the west despite being very critical of its lack of interaction and general distaste of "passive" visual novels (I consider Phoenix Wright and the like "active" novels). I think 13 Sentinels will get a lot of criticism from people that were expecting Vanillaware to deliver yet another action game though.

  6. #6
    The complete game is finally available in Japan, and here are some impressions of it after going halfway through it (if the completion percentage is to be believed).

    Compared to the prologue not much has changed: 13 Sentinels is a (very pretty) visual novel. I wouldn't go as far as calling it an adventure game because there are no puzzles to solve, you just need to speak to speak with other people and/or sort your thoughts to proceed. Every chapter is 15 to 30 minutes long, and at times your progression with one of the 13 "playable" characters will be blocked until you either go through someone else's story or, in very rare cases, clear one of the battle scenarios.

    So yes, the complete game has a "game" portion to it, with difficulty settings (3 of them: easy, normal, hard), characters with different abilities, levels, and upgradeable actions. Now, these battle scenarios do feel tackled onto the visual novel/adventure portion, so you can speculate as much as you want tha Vanillaware scrambled to add them after the prologue demo left many people down due to the lack of something more interactive. I think the proof is that you can go through all these battles immediately without story constraints, that the visual novel part merely mentions them, and that battles are very easy to go through. On the other hand, completed story chapters reward players with upgrade points for these battles, and there is a semblance of a proper game portion here.
    I have decided to do these scenarios when they block progression through adventure mode, just to break the monotony...but to be honest I'd rather be playing/watching the main portion than going through them.
    Battles take the form of a real-time strategy game. If you are thinking about Grim Grimoire, well, these battles are far from it. You can deploy up 6 characters, and you can choose between brawlers (strong hand-to-hand combat, limited ranged weaponry), fire support (powerful long-range weapons with long cooldown), flying units (fast and fragile armed with many area weapons), and support (weak, but with shields and healing actions).
    Your objective is to defend a time/space terminal from the Deimos. I think that you'll also lose if the Deimos raze the city in which this terminal is to the ground, but I never went below 90% for that, so I'm not really sure.
    All actions have a cooldown associated to them and characters won't be able to do anything until that expires. Most actions consume EPs, which can be recharged with the appropriate action. Ground units can only move through streets, flying units can go whereever they want. Before issuing an attack order you can take a look at the short animations visualizing the action, and I suggest to do this at least once; first they are Vanillaware animations, so they are good; second because the battlefield isn't particularly rich in detail. Or better, it is, but evey unit is nothing more than an icon, although all enemy icons do resemble what they are if you zoom onto them. The buildings pop up as you move the camera above them , which is a nice effect, and there are a lot of sparkles and visual effects, but it's not Vanillaware's typical style. It does fit the game well, but I think this is another indication that battles weren't meant to be there in the first place.
    Going through the upgrade menus is also a pain, you can improve existing moves and add new ones, but it's character by character even if the robots they pilot are the same, having upgrades working for all robots of the same type would have made going through these menus less tedius.

    Let's now fo back to the main part, the visual novel (or adventure, as the game calls it). It works exactly as the prologue, so I won't go again into detail, but what you have to do is interact with people, and sometimes objects, to start a new dialogue that will move the story forward. What's different between the main game and the prologue is that there are branching paths. Kinda. Pretty soon the story establishes itself as a series of time loops, and a chapter is only complete after going through all of the branching/alternate paths. This might be linear, meaning you just need to go through what the game throws at you, or do something different: talk to a different person, don't talk to anyone at all, search for an object that will lead you to a different place. Unfortunately the latter case is very rare, in fact I've met this only once with one character.
    But...I'm not particularly fussed about this. 13 Sentinels is a visual novel, and I think it's the best VN I played/read/watched (pick the one you prefer) so far. First, there's a proper visual component, with Vanillaware delivering some incredible art, second the story is interesting and, probably more importantly, carefully planned and told in an interesting way. I can't deny that the sci-fi setting helps, but 13 Sentinels keeps thing vague intentionally, giving away subtle clues that you have to piece together, and when things start to click together...well, it's magic. The short lenght of a chapter helps in keeping players interested, like the need to go through different characters to progress through the game. The fact you're not just staring at a textbox but rather going around and interact with characters when you want, is another plus, not to mention that some rare moments are time-driven: maybe you need to speak with a character, but you have to do this before they board a train; there's a handy fast-forward function in these cases, and if you really need help, a flowchart with vague hints is always available.

    13 Sentinels is not a short game (I've clocked 12 hours and reached 48% with the story and went through more than half of the battles), and I'm actually surprised how much I'm invested in it, and usually I don't like narrative-driven games. Maybe all I needed were excellent art and giant robots.

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