13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim, from its very outset, feels like it is about connections. How do we interact with the world around us? How do our lives intertwine with and affect the people in our community? How do our relationships with the people close to us change and develop based on the situations? This is absolutely a science fiction epic involving kaiju, the effects technology can have on different time periods, and the roles certain people can play when those who are ordinary are in extraordinary circumstances. However, as I went through the prologue, it’s the way people reach to one another that hit me the hardest.
As you might expect not only from a title with 13 protagonists, but a Vanillaware game in general, 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim splits up its narrative among the major cast members. This is especially helpful in its opening moments, as it helps exemplify both the ordinary and extraordinary elements of each person’s life. We see each person humanized in these first hours with them. Juro is an ordinary, agreeable boy who loves mecha and kaiju movies, gets along with his classmates, and comes across as fairly dependable. Iori might appear to be lackadaisical or even lazy, what with her following the cliché of a young woman running to school with toast in her mouth and into a boy she immediately feels an attraction too. Natsuno has a penchant for aliens and wants to join NASA for that very reason. Nenji and Takatoshi might both appear to be delinquents.
Vanillaware swiftly uses each of their introductory chapters to defy expectations people might have. Juro runs an ordinary in-school errand and delivers paperwork to the nurse’s office, after discussing certain movies about mechs and strange dreams with a classmate. However, other documents he finds on a nurse’s desk are suspicious and get him wondering about a person with a familiar face. Takatoshi has been searching for a person for quite some time, with the result leaving him a fish out of water in an unfamiliar place and searching for more answers in his prologue. Everyone has these additional circumstances and issues they’re coming to terms with in their own way.
And it’s that overlap that helps provide context and humanity, even in these early moments. These people connect and overlap in different ways in 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim. When Juro is going through his introduction, Iori is a minor character he wakes up, and Shuu is someone his friend wants to catch and borrow a movie from. You see Usami talking with another classmate in the background, but doesn’t interact with her. Nenji seems like just another person for Takatoshi to beat up and seems like trouble. When Natsuno and Yuki are talking, you can see Iori coming and going from her classroom in the background.
These overlapping opportunities and extended cast even allow you to see relationships develop and form in battles. During the prologue, the earliest fights are more about learning how the real-time strategy elements work and getting comfortable with each character’s Sentinel. But, they also serve as means of seeing how people react to situations.
Takatoshi’s is something of an in-your-face bruiser, with one of its most striking attacks allowing him to leap toward an enemy and attack it. Meanwhile, your first introduction to Keitaro and Natsuno establishes them as ranged attackers who could hit a whole line of enemies moving down a city street, if you get the angles right. You see how people interact in their daily lives and how that might differ once they’re in the cockpits.
Even another one of 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim’s gameplay elements helps establish this as a game that is very concerned with its characters and their relationships in its initial hours. One of the first things the prologue does is introduce the Thought Cloud system. Essentially, the game can feel as much like a visual novel as a strategy game. As every protagonist goes about their lives, they can pick up keywords as a result of their experiences. These are added to their Thought Cloud, where you can take a moment to think about what they know about a topic and educate the player more about them.
More importantly, these Thought Clouds allow you to explore connections and engage in deeper conversations. You not only use have the current protagonist “think” about that topic. You can use them in conversations with other people. Which means you get to propel stories forward, learn more about what’s going on around you, dig deeper into the story, and even see how people react and grow closer to each other.
As I went through 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim’s prologue, I was constantly struck by how much the little things mattered. The interactions between people, the folks you’d see going about their own stories in the background, the sides you weren’t seeing until later, and everything is constantly moving and growing. By the time I had experienced even only the the first six characters’ introductions, I was struck by the depth these people had and the relationships I was watching grow.
13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim will come to the PlayStation 4 on September 22, 2020 outside Japan, and an English dub will be added in a free update at launch. You can learn more about the game in Siliconera’s interview with Producer Akiyasu Yamamoto.