Reviewing good ports is quite weird. It’s so easy, and dare I say fun, to review a bad port. You can ironically find yourself just writing on and on about the many ways the developer failed to capture the ambition on much less powerful hardware. Maybe it says something about me that I find it easier to write about low-quality ports, but let’s not unpack that at this time.
Let’s get this out of the way early. 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim on Nintendo Switch is a magnificent port of one of the best games I’ve played in years. Vanillaware games are visual showcases for their team of artists, and 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim is the best of the best. If any aspect of its presentation had taken a serious hit in pursuit of compromising with Nintendo’s far weaker piece of hardware then there would be no point in porting it at all. I was willing to take minor sacrifices if the core experience remained intact.
But no, the game has seemingly not taken any major visual hits in the slightest. I played a bit on my TV, and it looked quite good, but I wasn’t going to pass on the chance to play this on my Nintendo Switch OLED Model. The visuals are fantastic in every regard, I don’t know who ported it or if it was handled in-house, but they’re damn good at their jobs. From hand-drawn backgrounds to sprites, the game is a treat for the eyes. With such a wide variety of time eras and aesthetics, 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim creates a sense of visual cohesion that’s unmatched.
I had played the entire game to completion about a year ago, and the story is bound to please fans of drama and sci-fi. It casts an extremely wide net and executes its ideas in such an approachable and novel fashion that its story lands really well. It’s one of those games where almost anything can exist as a spoiler. Look up absolutely nothing, and avoid reviews that try to get too in-depth on the details of the story if you can.
I know that does nothing to sell a large portion of you reading this who will be experiencing it for the first time, but if that level of vague praise is enough for you to get excited, this is the game for you. It certainly was for me. While I’m not as hot on the story’s conclusion as many of my peers are, there’s no denying that the ride offered here is one of the finest you’ll experience in recent memory. The way the non-linear narrative proceeds with such confidence despite the numerous possible entry points is commendable for a story with such a large scale.
I can’t give enough praise to the way it combines the best parts of visual novels and point-and-click adventure games with Vanillaware’s stunning side-scrolling presentation style. Maybe that sentence might read like a load of nonsense to you, but if you like at least one of those three things you’re in for a treat. The exact way each of the narratives play out based on your choices is the game’s strongest aspect in my opinion. Gathering information and trying to use the flowchart to unlock new scenes that could open up entirely new character stories is some of the most fun I’ve had playing an ADV game. The cascading series of mysteries that continue to expand that game’s scope is so cool, you really need to experience it if you enjoy non-traditional storytelling.
My original playthrough was with the English voice track, so I decided to mix it up this time with the Japanese one. There’s no wrong way to experience the story, both audio tracks are outstanding and thankfully there’s no noticeable quality reduction. If you have ADHD like I do, you can even pause at any moment and change them mid-scene. The music also sounded great, so that’s worth commending as well.
I found myself leaving the game idle quite often thanks to how soothing the music can get. 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim conveys such a strong vibe, and I think atmospheric games like this excel so much more on handheld devices than on TVs. Everything I’ve previously mentioned comes together in such a high-quality package and the parts of this game that I value the most are carried over perfectly in this port.
The most surprising aspect of the game is how well it handles real-time strategy (RTS) combat. The Switch version might be a miracle port, but expecting better performance than the console it launched for (and also struggled to keep a consistent framerate on when things get hectic) was always unreasonable. I think most of us assumed this was where most things would be cut back, and in a way that’s exactly what was done… kind of. I’m just baffled that it manages to run and looks so good. The 3D buildings haven’t had any noticeable reductions in quality, and look crisp on the OLED Model’s screen.
Many small changes were made to keep battles running well, but I wasn’t expecting rebalancing the game to be one of those. If you’ve played the original game, you know Sentry guns were quite busted. They were perfect for people like me, who wanted to feel good about beating an RTS on normal difficulty while being horrible at RTS games. The number you’re allowed to use at once has been reduced, making them no longer such a dominant strategy. The game will be harder because of this, but with two new weapon options for every character, your options won’t be as limited as they might seem.
The RTS part of 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim, while very well made, was never the reason why I got invested. I’m glad it’s as deep as it is for those who love those kinds of games, but don’t let it deter you. I don’t like the genre, and the mechanics are good enough for me to get invested. If it still doesn’t click with you? No worries. Lower the difficulty and enjoy the ride of the story. For this revisit, that’s exactly what I did. I’ll definitely be going back though when I have more time, because the combat rebalancing and new weapons make for the definitive experience in my eyes. Just make sure you’re in the right mindset to kill some Kaiju in real-time.
13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim was originally planned to launch on the PlayStation Vita, but that version was canceled as delays continued to stack up. I know now that it probably wouldn’t have been able to handle the game, but it’s been nice to imagine the dream portable 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim for years. We don’t have to do that anymore, thankfully, and it’s even better than we could have imagined. This didn’t change my mind on the story, which I must stress is quite incredible despite my qualms, but I did find new reasons to appreciate the parts I enjoyed already. The RTS battles aren’t perfectly stable, but the rebalancing is appreciated and they’re still more than good enough for how large in scale they can get. Maybe talking about good ports isn’t the most interesting, but the best part about them is that they can speak for themselves.
Version Tested: Nintendo Switch
Review copy provided by ATLUS