13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim

13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim is a video game developed by Vanillaware and published by Atlus for the PlayStation 4. It was released in Japan in November 2019 and worldwide in September 2020. The game is divided between side-scrolling adventure segments and real-time strategy (RTS) battles, and follows thirteen high-school students in a fictionalized 1980s Japan who are dragged into a futuristic war between mechas and hostile Kaiju in a non-linear narrative.

Director and writer George Kamitani conceived the game in 2013 following the completion of Dragon's Crown, originally pitching it for a toy line. 13 Sentinels began production two years later, discarding the toy line element under Atlus. The production proved challenging for Vanillaware, as the studio dealt with workload and development challenges. Contrary to previous works, Kamitani both worked on the script alone and handed character design duties to Yukiko Hirai and Emika Kida. Hitoshi Sakimoto and his studio Basiscape, who handled music for Vanillaware's past games, revisited their roles.

Originally scheduled for a 2018 release on both the PlayStation 4 and PlayStation Vita, the game was delayed to 2019 with the Vita version being canceled. The English localization by Atlus West proved challenging due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It saw a slow start in sales upon its release in Japan before eventually exceeding Atlus's expectations, going on to sell over 400,000 copies worldwide. Critical reception has been generally positive, with praise going to its narrative and art design, though several reviewers faulted the RTS segments as the weakest part of the game.

13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim is a video game where players take control of thirteen different characters, who interact with each other to build a larger narrative. The gameplay is split into three sections: Remembrance, with exploration and dialogue taking priority and advancing the narrative; Destruction, where characters equip mecha and engage in pausable real-time battles against enemies; and Analysis, a glossary which documents event scenes and important items and characters.

During the Remembrance segments, the player explores two-dimensional (2D) side-scrolling environments, interacting with elements of those environments in a non-linear manner. Several elements move in real-time regardless of the player's actions, and choices can be made which alter the outcome of some scenes. Keywords spoken by characters and obtained items are added to a Thought Cloud database, which can be accessed to trigger both internal monologues and initiate new dialogue. Once learned, keywords are carried over into other earlier or parallel scenes, which in turn unlock further story routes and options. The character stories are tracked with a flowchart, with players able to jump between scenes to try different keywords from the Thought Cloud. If a wrong choice is made during one section, the game rewinds back to the beginning of the day so players can select the right choice. To reach that point faster, events the player has already seen can be fast forwarded.

The battle system of the Destruction mode takes the form of a real-time strategy scenario, with up to six chosen characters using Sentinels to fight off waves of enemies called Kaiju defending a terminal. The terminal's health is determined by which units are in place, and if all units are defeated, the hub is overwhelmed and the game ends. Gameplay can be paused, allowing for Sentinels to be moved and actions such as combat and support abilities to be carried out. The section is completed when the hub is successfully defended against all waves. Battles pit Sentinels against Kaijuu with differing strengths and abilities such as flight or extra defence, requiring one of the four Sentinel types; some Sentinels are strong against flying enemies, while others do better against large ground-based forces. They also have different attack ranges and movement speed. Sentinels have at least one basic attack that costs nothing, and additional abilities that cost a resource called EP; EP can be recovered by defending. After acting, each Sentinel has a cooldown timer before it can act again. Damage can be repaired by Sentinel pilots, but this requires leaving the Sentinel and leaving them vulnerable to attack. The player can also trigger limited-use "Terminal Commands", special field-wide abilities such as an EMP which use up a dedicated energy gauge. Characters level up with experience points and gain passive bonus effects, while Sentinel abilities and attributes can be raised using Meta-chips gained during battles.

Analysis takes the form of an index where event scenes and information on people, items and concepts are archived. Mystery Points, earned through Destruction mode, are used to unlock new index entries in Analysis. As the player advances, character narratives are locked off until something else has taken place in another section of the game. These unlock conditions can include unlocking entries in Analysis, advancing stories in Remembrance, or tackling particular battles in Destruction.

13 Sentinels is primarily set during a fictionalized version of 1985 in the Shōwa period, but also jumps between 1945 during the later years of World War II, 2025, 2065, and the distant future of 2105. The story follows the perspective of thirteen characters. While several characters are native to the 1980s period, several come from either the future or the era of World War II. The storyline is split between these characters, and by following each the player aims to avert a disastrous future for mankind. A recurring location is Sakura High School, which multiple characters attend across different time periods. The story is told in a non-linear format, switching both between different protagonists and the events of the final battle against an army of Kaiju, otherwise known as the "Deimos", giant monsters who arrive in 1985 and attack Japan. Each of the thirteen protagonist's arcs culminate in summoning a Sentinel, a mecha designed to fight the Deimos which also has the ability to travel between different eras.

The thirteen protagonists are:

  • Juro Kurabe, an otaku who is troubled by strange dreams
  • Iori Fuyusaka, an outgoing student who likewise has dreams similar to Juro
  • Ei Sekigahara, an amnesiac young man pursued by a mysterious organization
  • Keitaro Miura, a young man from World War II-era Japan
  • Takatoshi Hijiyama, Miura's upperclassman from the same time period
  • Nenji Ogata, a good-hearted delinquent
  • Natsuno Minami, a track team member fascinated by the occult and UFOs
  • Shu Amiguchi, a playboy with a kind heart who discusses his dreams with Juro and Iori
  • Yuki Takamiya, a notorious sukeban (delinquent girl) and childhood friend of Natsuno
  • Tomi Kisaragi, a girl from 2025 sent to 1985
  • Megumi Yakushiji, another girl from 2025 who is in love with Juro
  • Ryoko Shinonome, a sickly girl tasked with pursuing an escaped prisoner dubbed "426"
  • Renya Gouto, a stern young man from 2065 who ultimately leads the Sentinel pilots

There are several notable supporting characters:

  • Chihiro Morimura is both the school nurse and the teacher for Kurabe and Fuyusaka's class
  • Tsukasa Okino is a genius student with deep knowledge of the Sentinels, who frequently cross-dresses as a girl
  • Chihiro is a mysterious girl who Miura considers his sister but who later accompanies Gouto during several sections
  • Kyuta Shiba is one of Juro's best friends, but possesses a hidden agenda
  • Erika Aiba is a student who tags along with Takamiya as they solve mysteries surrounding the Sentinels
  • Tamao Kurabe is a woman from the 1940s who closely resembles Aiba
  • Tetsuya Ida, while ostensibly a part-time instructor, is the chairman of the covert Special Investigations Unit (SIU) in 1985
  • The small robot BJ accompanies Natsuno on her journeys through time
  • Fluffy, a talking cat, strikes a deal with Megumi to "save" Juro
  • Miyuki Inaba is a famous idol within the 1980s period

In 1985 Japan, Kurabe, Fuyusaka and Amiguchi experience shared dreams, either of themselves fighting previous wars against the Kaiju or of what appear to be older versions of themselves in the future. They are later seen by Morimura, who Kurabe learns is administering an unknown medication to some students; Kurabe is referred to in Morimura's notes as "Juro Izumi", an identity he cannot remember. Takamiya is blackmailed by SIU member Ida into monitoring students at Sakura High School. Yuki's friend Minami finds a robot called BJ; assumed to be an alien, BJ is an AI robot from 2105 searching for its Sentinel. Yakushiji, from 2025, is approached by Fluffy, who says he can bring back "Izumi" if she shoots select people with a special gun. Gouto and Shinonome both work for the SIU, recruiting Kisaragi from 2025 after the Deimos attack her time period. At a later point, an amnesiac Sekigahara wakes up next to the murdered Morimura, ending up pursued by SIU operatives. In 1945, Miura and his little sister Chihiro live with Tamao Kurabe, and are friends with Hijiyama and newcomer "Kiriko Doji", later revealed to the cross-dressing Okino. Shortly after Okino takes Hijiyama to 1985, the Deimos attack 1945. Tamao vanishes upon being "killed", Gouto kidnaps Chihiro, and Miura accidentally travels to 1985 using a Sentinel.

It is gradually revealed that rather than time periods, the protagonists inhabit five different areas, or "Sectors", which replicate a specific era. In the real-world 2188, a nanomachine virus ravaged the Earth, leaving only fifteen individuals living in a space colony. These survivors were the thirteen protagonists, Okino and Tamao, who would eventually be cloned into the current versions as successors to humanity. The group devised a plan called "Project Ark", which would send their DNA and records of Earth's life and history across space on a self-replicating spacecraft; the events of the game are happening on a distant planet the probe terraformed and the simulation housing and training their minds is otherwise populated by human-like AIs. Project Ark and its population are managed by Universal Control, an AI which erases inconsistencies and falsifies information to preserve the simulation. The 2188 Shinonome, disillusioned with humanity, secretly implemented the Deimos Code; this would cause Shikishima, a mega-corporation that exists in all Sectors, to produce the Deimos. Once the Deimos invades all five Sectors, the simulation resets to sixteen years prior to protect Universal Control, with the fifteen humans losing their memories of the events, trapping them in an endless loop. Some characters survive loops with their memories intact using "Sector 0", a non-spatial area at the system's core.

In one "loop", Izumi and Morimura escaped to Sector 0, returning to the reset 2089. They attempted to change events by destroying Shikishima, but failed. Izumi was imprisoned and dubbed Prisoner 426, breaking free in 2105 when the Deimos appeared. Learning that the Deimos are summoned by nanomachines in the thirteen pilots, Izumi attempted to kill all who would go on to become pilots, but Morimura intervened. In the 2025 of that loop, Ida, an earlier version of Amiguchi, was in love with Kisaragi when she was killed by the Deimos. In the next loop, Ida created an android in Kisaragi's image and implanted her copied memories. Ida also transplanted Izumi's memories into another android for interrogation. 426 switched bodies with the Kisaragi android and escaped. He would eventually transfer his mind into another android, in the form of Tamao Kurabe, in 1985. Discovered by the SIU and suffering heavy damage, he encountered Kurabe and transferred his mind into Kurabe's nanomachines, taking the form of Shiba, a person only Kurabe can see. Fluffy is another form that 426 takes that only Yakushiji can see, manipulating her to further his plans.

Each playable character has dedicated intertwining story arcs, revealing more about individual pieces of the plot. Ida, obsessed with reviving his version of Kisaragi now existing as the idol Miyuki Inaba, wants to perpetuate the loops. He sabotages the Sentinel forces in the current loop's 2065 by creating a virus and tricking Shinonome into implanting it into the Sentinel network, which heavily damaged the memories of Shinonome, Sekigahara and Kurabe. Disenchanted with further loops, Morimura wants to trigger Operation Aegis. This action shuts the Deimos's path to Universal Control, but will trap them in a devastated world for the rest of their lives. Ida is eventually killed, first by a briefly-lucid Shinonome prior to losing all her memories, then finally by Sekigahara after learning that Sector 0 will be erased in the next reset and trap humanity in the simulation forever. Morimura is killed by Chihiro, who houses the personality of the original Professor Morimura. Izumi, initially hostile, reveals his wish to help the group fight the Deimos, giving them nanomachines through his various forms and manipulation of Yakushiji to prepare their bodies for Sentinel control. Fuyusaka and Amiguchi learn of their pasts as respective clones of Morimura and Ida. Minami, Takamiya, Kisaragi, Ogata and Miura cross paths repeatedly and end up discovering several aspets of the backstory through travels to different sectors. Hijiyama helps Okino's research, and the pair rediscover the love their originals shared in the real world. Gouto pieces together several additional details, and persuades Chihiro into supporting the group.

Each arc concludes with the protagonist joining the final battle. When the Deimos arrive, the 13 pilots band together to fight them off. They are assisted by Inaba, who exists in a satellite orbiting the terraformed planet their pods are on. They are also assisted by Chihiro, who despite herself wants to help the others survive. After a lengthy battle, the pilots fend the Deimos off long enough for Inaba to contact Universal Control and shut down the simulation, allowing the pilots, together with Okino and Tamao, to awaken in the real world. Five years later, the pilots have formed families with their loved ones on the new planet. They restore the simulation and all its inhabitants, and plan to use the pods to create bodies for the AI humans so they can all live in the real world. Inaba and Ida plan to live in Universal Control, while Izumi and Morimura reunite and profess their love for one another. A secret cutscene shows the self-replicating machines sent into space by Project Ark have colonized at least one other planet, where the game's events are repeating with some differences.

Tags: Video Games