If you’ve played video games for a while, I’m sure you know that feeling I’m about to describe. The feeling accomplished but empty inside when you complete a truly amazing game. Perhaps later on you will find that your enthusiasm for playing other games has waned since you doubt that your next game will give you the same feeling. Extra points for those games that gave you a whole new experience that you haven’t had in your gaming career yet. For me, this game was 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim when I played it in 2020. It was my personal game of the year 2020, and it’s now one of my favorite games of all time. Now, in 2022, more players will be able to experience this brilliance for the first time as the game makes its way to the Nintendo Switch. The question is, can the Nintendo Switch port support the PS4 version?
The story of 13 Sentinels is impossible to describe without spoiling the experience, so I’ll do my best to explain it as spoiler-free as possible. You play as 13 characters whose stories are all intertwined, and each of them contributes to the overall plot of the game. The premise of the story is that kaiju have started attacking their town, and these 13 characters have robots called Sentinels to help them fight off the invasion. As a player, you must piece together the background elements of the story as you pilot the characters in their fight against alien invaders.
13 Sentinels is an absolute masterpiece of storytelling in video games. After the linear prologue/tutorial is complete, players have the choice of how they want to approach the story. There are three different modes: Memory, Destruction and Analysis. The Remembrance prologue gives you 7 of 13 characters, and you can choose which character you want to return to. You unlock the other characters by playing Remembrance. This way, how you experience 13 Sentinels will likely be different from how another player experienced it. There is no right or wrong way to progress through the story, and the game will prevent you from learning certain critical information before you have the context for it.
One of the most appealing parts of 13 Sentinels, at least to me, was how it constantly kept me guessing what was really going on in the plot. Usually I can fairly reliably guess where a story will go once I’m about a third of the way through, as clues will usually emerge to point to a certain conclusion. However, 13 Sentinels kept me thinking about new scenarios and how to integrate the new information I just received. You could come up with a theory about the direction of the story, and the game would give you a new clue 15 minutes later that would completely invalidate your theory. The theory building alone kept me engaged the entire time I was playing.
You might be thinking that if the game’s story twists so much, it must be impossible to keep track. Fear not, that’s where Analysis mode comes in. The Event Archive tracks all the scenes you witness throughout Remembrance Mode, and there are also “Mystery Files”, a collection of names, key terms, locations, and more. Whenever you discover something new, Analysis Mode will update and highlight any new information you just learned. This way the game will never spoil anything for you in advance and you can keep track of everything you have learned. This mode makes what should be an almost impossible-to-follow story quite easy to follow.
What most 13 Sentinels fans might be curious about is how the Switch handles Destruction Mode. Playing Destruction Mode on the base PS4, and even sometimes on the PS4 Pro, would cause the frame rate to drop sharply as the screen began to fill with enemies. Prior to this port’s release, I wondered if the Switch would be able to handle some of the most intense battles. The answer Vanillaware gave me was, yes it is possible. Overall, the Switch version functions essentially the same as it does on the base PS4, and maybe even slightly better. There also didn’t seem to be a reduction in the number of enemies during battles, which would be a way to help the Switch’s performance. The various kaiju still fill the screen, and the infamous “Missile Rain” attack can still slightly lag the game, but I’m impressed with the Switch’s overall performance on this game.
However, what’s most worth discussing is how the Switch version makes some changes to combat as a whole. Destruction mode has often been cited as the worst aspect of gaming on PS4. The PS4 version’s Destruction mode was pretty laid back. The fight wasn’t too difficult, even in Intense mode. The famous Sentry Gun strategy was the great equalizer and rarely any of the levels seemed difficult until the last maps. However, Vanillaware has adjusted the 13 Sentinels fight for the Switch version, as if to address those complaints about the fights being too easy. Sentry Guns have been significantly nerfed, removing one of the foundations of successful battles in the PS4 version. With much less emphasis on Sentry Guns, combat is now more comprehensive and it feels like every character has a much bigger role to play in battle. Intense mode now feels like a legitimate challenge, and it’s made me change my strategy a lot since playing on the PS4.
Part of that boils down to a change that was announced before this port was released: new weapons. Each Sentinel pilot now has two unique skills they can unlock and use in battle, and it completely changed how I viewed some of their roles. There are four different “generations” of Sentinels, and each has their own part of the fight they’re good at. The first generations hit hard, but they lack anti-aircraft equipment, the second generations have a wide variety of equipment for different situations, the third generations are the best for clearing mobs and the fourth generations provide support from the sky. In the PS4 version, only about half of the pilots had some kind of unique gear they could use that made them different from their counterparts. Now everyone feels different, and I believe these changes are a definite positive in terms of Destruction Mode engagement.
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While the PS4 version looks slightly better, the Switch version still retained that stunning aesthetic of the PS4 version. The lighting in various scenes is always a spectacle. The sun is still shining through the school’s windows, illuminating the room with a beautiful golden glow, and the subtle light changes in the darker scenes accentuate the characters. Playing in handheld mode also allowed me to get a closer look at character models, and I was able to see some of their more subtle facial expressions more clearly. I played on the Switch OLED, which may have helped make those scenes stand out more, but it still looks good on TVs.
To complete the game, 13 Sentinels also has a spectacular sound department. The themes of 13 Sentinels are varied, but the battles place a particular emphasis on electronic music. Themes like “In the Doldrums” and “Good Times”, give off that soothing vibe of school life, “Staring into the Void” is a beautiful piano theme that gives more punch to more melancholy moments, and themes of combat like “Leucine” and “Deoxyribose” motivates you for combat. I would also be remiss to point out one battle in particular that has you fighting to an idol song like something from the Macross anime. On top of that, 13 Sentinels has both excellent English and Japanese voice acting. The localization team at Atlus also went back and fixed some weird, mistranslated lines from the English dub of the original PS4 version.
Vanillaware has handled 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim’s Switch port with great care, and with some of the changes, may even be better than the PS4 version. While I was hoping Vanillaware would go back and add a few new scenes they previously cut from the game, I’ll also happily take the changes to Destruction Mode. Now that a Switch version is available, I hope more people can experience this masterpiece of modern gaming. 13 Sentinels flew under the radar on PS4, so now I hope the spotlight will shine on this excellent game after word of mouth has spread. If you love RPGs, have an affinity for great stories, are in the mood for a good brain exercise, or are just looking for a great 30-hour gaming experience, look no further than 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim.