To enjoy 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim is to embrace confusion. The game, originally launched in 2020 on PS4, is hard to describe, with gameplay spanning multiple genres and a non-linear story involving everything from time travel to android doppelgangers and only getting weirder from there. It requires a lot of gamers, but the result is one of my favorite science fiction stories for years – and not surprisingly, it fits well with the Switch, with a new version of Nintendo’s tablet launching today.
For a more detailed overview, here is my review from when 13 Guard posts debuted first. But the short version is: the game is a mix of a visual novel and a real-time strategy game that follows more than a dozen characters across events spanning centuries. It’s a tale that likes to fool you. At first glance, it seems like a simple classic mech vs. kaiju story where the RTS parts of the game involve high school students piloting powerful mechs to fight an invading alien force. These sequences are simple yet satisfying as you move characters across a grid to destroy increasingly insidious creatures and unlock new abilities along the way.
For the most part though 13 Guard posts is a visual novel in which you follow the stories of about a dozen Japanese high school students through a handful of different eras beginning in the 1980s. These unfold as side-scrolling vignettes, where you can explore a little, but mostly you read / listen to dialogue. It certainly requires a little patience. The most interesting thing about the story, however, is its structure. At almost any given time, you can choose from a handful of different character stories so you can follow the path that seems most interesting to you. The non-linearity made me feel more invested in the story, as if I was researching different leads to find out what the heck was going on. 13 Guard posts also introduces a fascinating feature called a cloud of thought, which is basically like a video game inventory, apart from ideas, which adds a dynamic feel to conversations.
13 Guard posts also does an incredible job of slowly revealing itself. Although at first glance it seems that the kaiju invasion story, with a little bit of teenage drama for the sake of good order, eventually becomes a far-reaching, complex tale of, among other things, the future of all mankind. I do not want to spoil any of the big revelations, but it took me probably 10 hours before I had any idea what the game was really about. The way it puts on strange and interesting narrative breadcrumbs helped me pull myself through the early feeling of being completely lost.
This was of course all true before, but the structure of mouth-watering episodes does too 13 Guard posts an ideal Switch game. I’ve been playing the first few hours so far, and most of that time has been spent in bed, squeezing in a few more episodes before I go to sleep. Each episode lasts maybe 20 to 30 minutes as well, making it easy to play in short series. It’s a lot like reading a good book – just one where you have to pause for a few chapters to play a quick game of chess. The game is identical on the Switch otherwise, but the portability is ideal for the game, making it easier to choose between enjoying the story or binging it.
It means that 13 Guard posts still retains some of its rough edges on the switch. As fascinating as the story may be, it is incredibly demanding; you really have to believe that these hours and hours of complete confusion are going to pay off. And while the game has beautiful 2D visualizations – something the developer Vanillaware is known for – it has some, let’s say, questionable character designs that can acidify the experience.
Still, if you can look past it, it’s worth pushing through the first feeling of confusion. Because even though confusion can often be a bad thing, this just makes the piece of story together even more satisfying. 13 Guard posts brings together so many high-level concepts in one experience – including among many others, Groundhog Day-like repetitions, time-traveling robots and a talking cat with a magic gun – but somehow in a way that ultimately makes sense. And now you can solve the mystery pretty much anywhere.
13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim is available now on Nintendo Switch and PS4.