13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim (Switch) Review – A Mesmerizing Labyrinth

13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim (Switch) Review

13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim tells the story of 13 teenagers living in a world that’s falling apart around them, and the Switch port captures this thrilling and terrifying mood perfectly. Half adventure game, half RTS, this title celebrates the best of old mecha anime and monster movies. At the same time, it does something entirely new with the beloved tropes and archetypes of the genres. More than anything, however, it tells a multi-faceted and deeply complex coming-of-age story. The result is far better than it has any right to be, especially given the deliberately confusing way the game is structured.

Not only does the narrative constantly jump between characters, but it also jumps between times as well. Since the cast is composed of intentional and accidental time travellers, this means you spend a lot of time trying to figure out which version of the characters you’re currently following. Fortunately, they’re all compelling and likable.

It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim is 13 stories in one and three games in one. Each of its 13 protagonists has its own story campaign which explores their perspective of what happens. Events that are barely touched on or completely ignored in one scenario may form the foundation of another. In order to figure out the truth, you need to play through everyone’s stories in Remembrance mode, earn clues in Destruction mode, and connect the dots in Analysis mode. Only then will you truly understand what seems to have caused time itself to break down in Japan. All the while, a legion of menacing kaiju known as Deimos are preparing to invade.

Bad Future, Good Times

The first protagonist is Juro Kurabe, a seemingly normal 1980s schoolboy. He’s been having recurring dreams about kaiju attacking his city. However, an unsettling discovery suggests Juro may not be who he thinks is. The school nurse has been drugging him for unknown reasons and has a file on his treatment. After a strange encounter, Juro accidentally gets the ability to summon a giant robot–a Sentinel. His best friend knows about the robots and quickly messes with Juro’s memories to erase the incident. However, this plot quickly comes to a halt as the game switches to a new protagonist, Iori Fuyusaka, who is having similar dreams. This sets the pattern for the rest of the game.

13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim Tomi reflecting on the world being destroyed.

After playing through the opening of most routes, you’re set loose to decide who you’d like to follow. Whatever you do with your newfound freedom, 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim’s story is a complex blend of lies, time travel, and lots of retro nostalgia. Each protagonist’s story begins on a very different note, but they all appear in each others’ routes.

The mysterious boy that Iori develops a crush on is revealed to be a dimensionally-displaced amnesiac with a gun in his own route. Meanwhile, the cold and aloof girl who scolds Juro for talking in class is a time traveller from the future who’ll do anything to restore Juro’s lost memories. A character who’s just an annoying flirt in someone else’s story becomes unexpectedly compelling when his very identity is called into question in his own. Everything–and everyone–is connected. This is the game’s biggest strength.

13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim is What Kingdom Hearts Wishes It Was

Many franchises out to try and weave countless intertwining stories into one epic journey. It usually takes them multiple games and ends up being incredibly confusing to follow. 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim is also confusing, but it’s confusing on purpose. Everything that happens in this game happens for a reason. There’s foreshadowing layered on top of foreshadowing. Each character has secrets only revealed in their own story, which explains a lot about their actions and decisions. More importantly, this game’s structure works incredibly well with its time travel plot.

13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim Tomi talking about her destroyed future.

It’s very easy to lose people in a time-travel story, especially if you’re trying to tell a non-linear story in a linear medium. But the inherent interactivity of video games makes 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim something special. Not only can you flit between characters, but you can also switch freely between game modes. Speaking of which, Destruction mode is where the game’s RTS elements kick in. It features three levels of difficulty.

Casual is exactly what it sounds like. You can use just about any tactic and still clear the level. In Normal, enemy units can soak up more damage and feature more dangerous types. Back attacks and special techniques such as Sentry Guns become much more important. You need to pay attention to what you’re doing and what types of Sentinels you’ve dispatched. Intense is absolutely brutal. If Normal demands your attention, then Intense demands you give everything you’ve got. In this mode, the specific load-out of a given Sentinel can make all the difference. Clearing bonus objectives for each battle stage will reward you with Mystery Files to go over in Analysis Mode. This ties Destruction and Analysis together, despite their very different gameplay mechanics.

13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim Analysis mode entry on time travel.

A Game That Plays You

As the story unfurls, the mysteries surrounding the time-travellers, the Shikishima corporation, and the creation of the Sentinels grow thicker. While some of these puzzles are solved for you, 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim openly challenges you to beat it at its own game. That means using Analysis mode to put together the pieces yourself. This title demands a lot of input from the player, even before branching narrative elements come into the picture. The game also leans heavily on its nature as a period piece, presenting a remarkably well-preserved slice of Japan in the 1980s. Its portrayal of the 1940s is understandably more stylized, given the title’s alternate history—and the events going on in our world during that time. Meanwhile, the tantalizing glimpses of the future it provides are almost invariably apocalyptic.

Tutorial battle in 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim.

A combination of cute anime characters and lushly detailed scenes of destruction makes for a striking visual design for the Adventure game portions. The RTS portions feature a much more stylized aesthetic that leans hard into sci-fi trappings. Certain locations are frequently re-used in Adventure segments, including the school hallway and the track and field area. This could be laziness, but in practice, it helps to tie the different stories together. From a different perspective, the same area can become peaceful, dream-like, or threatening. The sound design is excellent and there are some truly gorgeous, sweeping tracks to be found here.

All in all, 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim’s Switch release is a strong success. This game is an incredible experience that doesn’t require you to be a brilliant RTS player–but will reward you for being one. If you enjoy complex storytelling and retro anime, you’ll have a great time. If you prefer games that don’t have required reading, maybe play something else.

***Switch code provided by the publisher***

The Good

  • Stylish visuals
  • Incredibly complex story
  • Spectacular presentation
  • Slick genre-blending gameplay
  • Every character is interesting

The Bad

  • Repetitive environments
  • Starts out very confusing
  • You must figure out the plot yourself
  • Required reading