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Interview: Understanding 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim With Atlus’ Akiyasu Yamamoto

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It isn’t often we see new Vanillaware games. That’s because of the time that goes into the art direction and their design. 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim, for example, was announced back in 2015, launched in Japan in November 2019, and is finally appearing worldwide in September 2020. It’s a detailed affair, and Siliconera staff members were able to ask Atlus Producer Akiyasu Yamamoto about what went into creating the game, its characters, and the technology and kaiju they face.

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Josh Tolentino, Siliconera: Which works most inspired you when coming up with 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim’s concept, and how did your past games influence it?

Akiyasu Yamamoto, Atlus: Back in 2013, when the idea of the game was originally pitched, [George] Kamitani-san mentioned that he really wanted to take the battle portion of GrimGrimoire on the PS2 (from NIS) and update it to his liking, so he took this title as a creative challenge of sorts to elevate that foundation, rather than building something entirely new from scratch. He’s also always said he absolutely loves StarCraft, so we agreed to move forward with an RTS system with relatively easy playability and simple tower defense structure.

But yes, this title really, truly includes a lot of homages. While I’m constantly amazed by Kamitani-san’s breadth of knowledge, as shown by the various motifs he woven into Odin Sphere and Dragons Crown, as well his humility (not to mention hunger and drive) that he puts towards the creative process, this game in particular was made almost as a mosaic that includes all the things Kamitani-san loves. Some of those referenced stories aren’t things readily accessible in our region, even with digital archives and streaming.

In a way, I think rather than using them as a way to appeal to a broader audience, the homages in the game are cemented in Kamitani-san’s strong proclamation to the world: “I just love this stuff!” But I personally would love to see players enjoy the game in all kinds of ways, even including the speculating and debating whether twist A was inspired by classical sci-fi story B, etc.

Jenni Lada, Siliconera: What sorts of challenges did you face when creating such a large cast of characters and how did you ensure they would all fit together in 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim’s story?

Yamamoto: This game utilizes a system that hasn’t been implemented in our previous titles, so it’s hard to draw comparisons to other ATLUS x Vanillaware games and explain it concisely. This game was actually built not on the traditional notions of a “game,” but rather the feelings of excitement and suspense that American thrillers and dramas thrive on. Where you don’t fully understand what’s happening, but that keeps you excited to find out what’s about to happen next and uncover the truth.

That being said, even the most well-known and ambitious TV shows still have their stories sectioned off into seasons, with around 10 episodes packed into each one. This allows creators to really hone in on how to tell a compelling story, and keep their audience invested in the plot over a prolonged period. In a fully packaged game experience, the audience expectation is that the story will reach a full, satisfying conclusion by the end of it all.

So with an ambitious narrative like this one, which involves numerous elements foreshadowing mystery after mystery, the fact that we were able to tell one complete story and fulfill that promise within this constraint– spanning 13 playable characters, as promised in the title of the game– is an extraordinary accomplishment that we are all very proud of. This is a game we’re confident in bringing to you all, so we very much hope you enjoy playing it as much as we did making it.

Annette Polis, Siliconera: How did you handle kaiju and tech in all three time periods and show their evolution and growth in each era?

Yamamoto: Considering what a tonal departure this game is from previous ATLUS x Vanillware titles, it may come as a bit of a surprise, but this game has actually been nominated for the Media category for the Seiun Awards, the Japanese equivalent of the Hugo/Nebula Awards. Kamitani-san himself has always said that this game includes everything he’s always loved about the sci-fi genre ever since he was a young student, including kaiju and robots. It’s structured so players can make their own connections and speculations about where a certain idea might have emerged from, only to be blindsided by twist after twist as they continue to solve the various mysteries presented within the game. I personally think that the biggest appeal of the game is precisely how you can’t ever predict where the story is heading, even as you gain a clearer understanding of how the various aspects of the story interlock with each other as you progress. Regardless of how well-versed you are with the sci-fi genre, it’s also designed to make you experience a sort of déjà vu, where certain parts of the game will surely trigger a sense of familiarity and comfort within you, reminiscent of the grand sagas you already like. To those who love North American TV shows like we do, those who love games, and those who love sci-fi, we hope you can try 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim, and make it a global sensation that truly transcends borders. Thank you so much for all your love and support!

Thanks to Akiyasu Yamamoto for answering our 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim questions! Responses have been lightly edited, i.e. paragraph breaks were added, for clarity.

13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim will come to the PlayStation 4 worldwide on September 22, 2020. It is immediately available in Japan. Its manga anthology will appear in Japan in September 2020, and a Iori Fuyusaka figure and Nendoroid are on the way.

Siliconera Staff
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