Enjoy 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim is to embrace confusion. The game, which originally launched in 2020 on the PS4, is hard to describe, with gameplay that spans multiple genres and a non-linear storyline that involves everything from time travel to Android doppelgängers and only becomes weirder from there. It’s asking a lot of gamers, but the result is one of my favorite sci-fi stories for years – and, unsurprisingly, it fits perfectly on the Switch, with a new version for Nintendo’s tablet launching today. today.
For a more detailed look, here is my review from when 13 Sentinels made its debut. But the short version is this: the game is a mix of visual novel and real-time strategy game, which follows more than a dozen characters through events that span centuries. It’s a tale that likes to trick you. At first, it looks like a simple, classic mech vs. kaiju story, where the RTS portions of the game involve high school kids piloting powerful mechs to battle an invading alien force. These sequences are simple but satisfying as you move characters around a grid to destroy increasingly devious creatures, unlocking new abilities along the way.
Mainly, however, 13 Sentinels is a visual novel where you follow the stories of a dozen Japanese high school students through a handful of different eras, starting in the 1980s. exploration, but more importantly, you read/listen to the dialogue. It certainly takes a bit of patience. But what is most interesting about the story is its structure. At almost any time, you can choose from a handful of different character stories, letting you follow the path that feels most interesting to you. The non-linearity made me feel more invested in the story, like I was investigating different leads to find out what was going on. 13 Sentinels also introduces an intriguing feature called the Thought Cloud, which is essentially like a video game inventory except for ideas, adding a dynamic feel to conversations.
13 Sentinels also does an amazing job of slowly revealing itself. Although it initially sounds like that tale of kaiju invasion, with a bit of teenage drama thrown in for good measure, eventually becomes a sprawling and complex tale about, among other things, the future of the entire human race. I won’t spoil any of the big reveals, but it probably took me 10 hours to get a feel for what the game was really about. The way it presents some weird and interesting narrative breadcrumbs helped me to overcome that first feeling of being completely lost.
This was all true before, of course, but this bite-sized episode structure also makes 13 Sentinels an ideal Switch game. I’ve replayed the first few hours so far, and most of that time has been spent in bed, squeezing in a few more episodes before going to sleep. Each episode is maybe 20-30 minutes long as well, which makes it easy to read in short bursts. It’s a bit like reading a good book – one where you have to pause every few chapters to play a quick game of chess. The game is identical on Switch otherwise, but the portability is great for gaming, making it easier to choose between savoring the story or binging.
It means that 13 Sentinels 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 those hours and hours of utter confusion are going to pay off. And while the game has beautiful 2D visuals – something developer Vanillaware is well known for – it has, shall we say, dodgy character designs that can spoil the experience.
Still, if you can look past that, it’s worth overcoming that initial feeling of bewilderment. Because while confusion can often be a bad thing, here it makes putting the story together all the more satisfying. 13 Sentinels crams so many high-level concepts into a single experience – including, among many others, groundhog day-like repetition, time-traveling robots and a talking cat with a magic gun – but in a way that ultimately makes sense. And now you can solve the mystery from virtually anywhere.
13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim is available now on Nintendo Switch and PS4.