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SummaryA clever gimmick transforms a mediocre plot into a storytelling masterpiece
The GoodCalling 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim an graphic adventure would be an overstatement. Yes, the player can move the characters around and activate hotspots, but the game is almost completely linear and 95% of the time is spent talking. But it doesn't matter because it is disguised in one of the most gorgeous 2D graphics I have ever seen. The backgrounds are fantastic and the character models are detailed. The budget was obviously not endless (the animations are stiff and some of the backgrounds are reused a bit too much), but overall the game is a joy to look at.
But that wouldn't help without a solid story, and 13 Sentinels delivers on that front as well. It has a very fascinating mystery which is told through the eyes of 13 protagonists. Those stories use a fragmented order which was a great choice because the plot itself is only mildly interesting in itself. Thanks to this gimmick and the adequately written dialogue it works exceptionally well. For a Japanese game, the dialogue is on the point and mostly avoids unnecessary babbling.
Additionally there is a combat component in which the team uses mechs to fend off enemy assaults. The player can freely switch between the adventure and combat mode, but because of their intertwined checkpoints (to continue with battles, the player has to have reached a certain point in the adventure part and vice versa) both have to be finished. Originally I didn't like combat too much because its narrative is set after the adventure part and it is too easy, but I quickly warmed up to it. Unlocking more and more mech abilities is satisfying and it serves as a welcome diversion after spending much time talking.
The BadThe game has a rough start: because of the fragmented storytelling and the huge amount of characters it took me a long time until I understood the foundation of the story well enough to get excited for it. I don't hold this against the game, but the Japanese names made it even harder to understand who is who - thankfully the player can use the codex at any time to look most names up.
Unfortunately the last fourth of the game holds no surprises. The big reveal happens shortly after the midway mark (the exact time may change depending on the playing order) and then the plot just goes through the motions. Don't get me wrong, the story never becomes boring, but the end isn't very exciting either. I didn't like the school setting and the romances. It may be because I played too many games about teenagers lately, but especially the romances were just too superficial.
However, my biggest issue is easily named: the fast forward for already seen text doesn't work for battle debriefs. This means you have to hammer the skip button when replaying battles for a better score. But the fact that I voluntarily replayed battles often enough that this annoyed me says a lot about how much I enjoyed this part of the game...