13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim[a] is a cross-genre video game developed by Vanillaware and published by Atlus for the PlayStation 4. It was released in Japan in November 2019, and is planned for a worldwide release in September 2020. The game is divided between adventureside-scrolling segments and real-time strategy battles, and follows thirteen high-school students in a fictionalized 1980s Japan who are dragged into a futuristic war between mechas and hostile Kaijuu. Originally scheduled for a 2018 release on both the PlayStation 4 and PlayStation Vita, the game was delayed to 2019 with the Vita version being canceled.
Director and writer George Kamitani conceived the game as a departure from the studio's traditional fantasy-setting video games following the completion of Dragon's Crown, originally pitching it for a toy line. 13 Sentinels began production two years later, discarding the toy line element under Atlus. The production proved challenging for Vanillaware, as the studio dealt with various workload and development challenges due to the game's greater scope compared to past games. Contrary to previous works, Kamitani both worked on the script alone and handed character design duties to Yukiko Hirai and Emika Kida. Hitoshi Sakimoto and his studio Basiscape, who handled music for Vanillaware's past games, revisited their roles.
13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim is a video game where players take control of thirteen different characters, who interact with each other to build a larger narrative. The gameplay is split into three sections: "Adventure", with exploration and dialogue taking priority and advancing the narrative; "Battle", where characters equip mecha and engage in pausable real-time battles against enemies; and "Archives", which documents event scenes and important items and characters.
During the adventure segments, the player explores two-dimensional (2D) side-scrolling environments, interacting with elements of the environments in a non-linear manner. Several elements move in real-time regardless of the player's actions, and choices can be made which alter the outcome of some scenes. Keywords spoken by characters are added to a "Cloud Sync" database, which can be accessed to trigger both internal monologues and initiate new dialogue. The character stories are tracked with a flowchart, with players able to jump between scenes to try different keywords from the Cloud Sync. If a wrong choice is made during one section, the game rewinds back to the beginning of the day so players can select the right choice. To reach that point faster, events the player has already seen can be fast forwarded. Some sections of character narratives are locked off until something else has taken place in another character's narrative.
The battle system takes the form of a real-time strategy scenario, with up to six chosen characters using Sentinels to fight off waves of enemies called Kaijuu defending a terminal. The terminal's health is determined by which units are in place, and if all units are defeated, the hub is overwhelmed and the game ends. Gameplay can be paused, allowing for Sentinels to be moved and actions such as combat and support abilities to be carried out. The section is completed when the hub is successfully defended against all waves. Battles pit Sentinels against Kaijuu with differing strengths and abilities such as flight or extra defence, requiring one of the four Sentinel types; some Sentinels are strong against flying enemies, while others do better against large ground-based forces. They also have different attack ranges and movement speed. Sentinels have a basic attack that costs nothing, and additional abilities that cost a resource called EP; EP can be recovered by defending. When used, each ability has a cooldown timer before it can be reused. Damage can be repaired by Sentinel pilots, but this requires leaving the Sentinel and leaving them vulnerable to attack. The player can also trigger limited-use "Terminal Commands", special field-wide abilities such as an EMP which use up a dedicated energy gauge. Sentinels can be upgraded using experience points and upgrade items called Chips, with increased experience levels unlocking new character-specific perks.
13 Sentinels is primarily set during a fictionalised version of the 1980s in the Shōwa period, but also jumps between Japan during the later years of World War II and the distant future. The story follows its thirteen protagonists, all of high school age, as they are dragged from their normal lives into a fantastical war against invading alien forces, fighting their Kaijuu army using the Sentinel mechas. The storyline is split between multiple characters, and by following each character the player aims to avert a disastrous future for mankind.
The scenario follows the perspective of thirteen different characters. While several characters are native to the 1980s, several come from either the future or the era of World War II. They are Juro Kurabe, an otaku who accidentally summons a Sentinel; Iori Fuyusaka, an outgoing student troubled by strange dreams; Ei Sekigahara, an amnesiac young man pursued by a mysterious organisation; Keitaro Miura, a young man from World War II-era Japan; Takatoshi Hijiyama, Miura's underclassman from the same time period; Nenji Ogata, a good-hearted delinquent; Natsuno Minami, a track team member fascinated by the occult and UFOs who ends up travelling between time periods; Shuu Amiguchi, a playboy delinquent with a kind heart; Yuki Takamiya, a notorious sukeban (delinquent girl) and childhood friend of Natsuno; Tomi Kisaragi, a girl from the near-future sent into the 1980s; Megumi Yakushiji, a girl from the near-future obsessed with Juro; Ryouko Shinonome, a sickly girl tasked with pursuing an escaped prisoner dubbed "426"; and Renya Gouto, who leads the Sentinel pilots.
There are several notable supporting characters. Morimura is both the teacher for Juro and Fuyusaka's class and the school nurse. Tsukasa Okino is a genius student with deep knowledge of the Sentinels, disguising himself as a girl in the 1940s to learn about the time period. Chihiro is a mysterious girl; sporting an implanted personality, she accompanies Renya. Kyuuta Shiba is an apparent friend of Juro, but possesses strange powers and a hidden agenda. Erika Aiba is a student who tags along with Takamiya as they solve mysteries surrounding the Sentinels. Tetsuya Ida, while ostensibly a part-time instructor, is the chairman of the covert Special Intelligence Agency. The small robot BJ accompanies Natsuo on her journeys through time. Shippo appears as a talking cat, striking a deal with Megumi to "save" Juro.
13 Sentinels was developed by Vanillaware, a Japanese game developer who also worked on Odin Sphere, Dragon's Crown and Muramasa: The Demon Blade; notable for their usage of 2D art in an industry predominated by the usage of 3D graphics. Vanillaware founder George Kamitani, who also directed Odin Sphere and Dragon's Crown, returned to serve as director for the game while handing the character design duties to Yukiko Hirai and Emika Kida. The game was produced by Akiyasu Yamamoto of Atlus, a role he had fulfilled for Odin Sphere. It was the team's first game to use a contemporary or science fiction setting, as all their previous projects had used high fantasy settings. The concept originated in 2013 following the completion of Dragon's Crown. Tired with spending so long in fantasy worlds, Kamitani wanted to create a science-fiction story set in the time of his youth in the 1980s. He also wanted something on a much smaller scale, as Dragon's Crown was a huge project for him.
The game was originally pitched to an unnamed media company on the basis that it would be used as a basis for a toyline, with the marketing focused exclusively on Japan and having a small budget and low sales margins. As part of the initial pitch, Kamitani created mechas with hulking designs inspired by Robot Jox, then created a "gap in expectations" by having a setting and characters inspired by shōjo manga. He was about to push forward with the project in this form when he remembered Atlus had been given right of first refusal as part of their contract to fund Dragon's Crown. Frustrated with the other company's demands and uncertain that Atlus would approve of the concept, Kamitani nevertheless showed it to them. Atlus, who was searching for a game to market internationally, immediately accepted it without the need to incorporate the toy line marketing. Despite these changes, the overall story concept remained intact and the final scene was unchanged from the original draft.
Full production began in the summer of 2015 following the completion of remakes of Muramasa (Muramasa Rebirth) and Odin Sphere (Odin Sphere Leifthrasir). The game was originally in production for PlayStation 4 (PS4) and PlayStation Vita (Vita). At the time of its announcement, the game had only just entered full development and there were very few assets to show. The game was originally scheduled for release in 2018, but in November of that year Atlus delayed the game and cancelled the Vita version due to the longer time needed for development. In response to this, so players would experience what to expect from the game's characters and narrative, a demo-type release called 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim Prologue was developed. Based on feedback, the development team were able to make adjustments and additions to the game based on feedback from Prologue.
Kamitani's original concept had seven or eight characters, but as the first artwork for the concept was published in 2013, he decided to increase the number to thirteen; this exponentially increased the company's workload. Prior to incorporating mechas, the story revolved around young people with superpowers inspired by the TV drama series Night Head. Due to lacking excitement and overt science fiction elements, he rewrote the premise. Kamitani based the narrative on the original video animationMegazone 23. He was originally planning to use the Jules Verne novel Two Years' Vacation as inspiration. In the final product, the characters Renya and Megumi are based on the novel characters Gordon and Cross. The narrative structure also drew inspiration from Western thriller fiction. In contrast to his work on Odin Sphere, where he had created the overall story while other writers worked on the game scenario, Kamitani wrote the entire scenario of the game himself both in and out of office hours over the course of three years. Kamitani chose to set the game in 1980s Japan due to his own experience; his knowledge of the modern Japanese school system was limited, and the lack of mobile phones in that era allowed for more face-to-face conversations between characters in-game.
The original scenario timeline ran from the 1940s to the 1980s, but when Atlus took over the project Kamitani expanded the scope into the near and distant future. Kamitani wanted to create a mecha-themed story for a modern audience, as many of the most memorable genre works (Mobile Suit Gundam, Neon Genesis Evangelion) were by that time several decades old. At one point, each of the thirteen protagonists had twelve possible story paths, making for a total of 165 possible variations. Due to the production timeline and the need to reveal the story mysteries, Kamitani had to cut a lot of planned optional comedic and bonding scenes between characters. Several of the surviving routes went through extensive revisions, with some planned scenes such as a coffee shop location being cut, but a key theme that came with its shōjo manga inspiration was romance.
Sekigahara's route originally had a shōjo manga-style romantic choice between Fuyusaka and Shinonome, but this was changed to make Fuyusaka the only choice. One of the core mysteries were the characters of Fuyusaka, Morimura and Chihiro, who were different incarnations of the same character, with her designs and portrayal showing the alternating charms of different ages. This section of the plot, which was a key part of Gouto's scenario, underwent major revisions late in production. Okino, created by Kamitani on Hirai's request for a "unique" character, was based on a soft-spoken character from Tottemo Hijikata-kun, a 1980s manga series. The complex relationship between Hijiyama and Okino, which used both comedic and romantic elements, was inspired by the manga series Stop!! Hibari-kun!.
Art and game design
Kamitani, who previously handed character designs himself in previous games, handed duties to Hirai and Kida due to the writing workload. In the same way, he originally wanted to handle the mecha and kaijuu designs, but only created a few drafts before handing over their designs to other staff members. The character design was influenced by the work of mangaka Akira Kagami, a favorite of Kamitani in his youth. Hirai was given the stylistic direction of "girls and robots" for the character designs. Unlike past Vanillaware games like Odin Sphere and Muramasa, which repeatedly used the same 2D background environments for their event scenes, the team created different backgrounds for several event scenes in the game and experimented with using some 3D assets for additional layering in these scenes, increasing development time. The added depth also created problems for the team with conveying emotions during cutscenes. During production, the character designs of Ryouko and Megumi were switched to better fit their emerging story personalities.
The team's aim was to push the boundaries they had previously established for 2D artwork in video games. In contrast to the fantasy landscapes of earlier Vanillaware titles, 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim was set in drabber modern environments featuring concrete and metal. To ensure a similar vibrancy to their earlier projects, the team leveraged the lighting effects to create an equivalent atmospheric effect. As with previous titles, during adventure segments the camera was fixed to mimic the experience of watching a stage play. To achieve a suitable depth of field, Vanillaware "[placed] objects within a layered three-dimensional space" and adjusted the lighting to create the illusion of distance. The battle level designs were directly based on the graphic design of Gunparade March and Fantavision, with the blue-hued character portraits being based on the monitor displays and lighting of Alien.
The adventure segments were designed to express the classic style of adventure games with a more intuitive interface design and response, for which the Cloud system was designed. Though Kamitani thought the Cloud system would be simple, its implementation proved extra challenging. The real-time strategy elements were based on Vanillaware's earlier effort GrimGrimoire, with the balance of adventure and battle sections in 13 Sentinels being based on original plans for GrimGrimoire. The adventure sections were designed to feel like the gameplay of Shenmue, though the original plan for a strict time limit was scrapped after negative feedback from staff. As the StarCraft-based gameplay of GrimGrimoire had met with a mixed response in Japan, Kamitani combined it with elements of the tower defense genre popular in the region. These elements were mostly handled by the programming team, led by Kentaro Ohnishi. The Archive was suggested by staff member Kouichi Maenou as a means for players to explore the game's mysteries. This aspect was handled by other staff, as Kamitani was in the middle of scenario writing. He reminisced that due to the various development challenges and his own workload, he felt like an absentee compared to the other staff as there was comparatively little interaction during development. The increased workload, scope, and challenges for the game's development led to significant changes in the studio's usual development cycle.
The music and sound design for the game were handled by Basiscape, a music company led by Hitoshi Sakimoto who had collaborated on other Vanillaware projects. The music was composed and arranged by a team led by Sakimoto, and included Yukinori Kikuchi, Mitsuhiro Kaneda, Yoshimi Kudo, Rikako Watanabe, Kazuki Higashihara and Azusa Chiba. All other aspects of the game's sound design were handled by Masaaki Kaneko.
Sakimoto was contacted by Kamitani at the beginning of development when the New Year image was designed. The first track composed was the opening theme "Brat Overflow", which featured in the reveal trailer and would inform the game's musical style from that point on. He wrote the theme as a "lean motif" that could be incorporated into multiple tracks. The game featured a vocal theme, "Seaside Vacation", performed by singer Hu Ito who was the singing voice for in-game idol Miyuki Inaba. The song was written by Sakimoto. In keeping with the main setting, the song's style was based on Showa-era pop songs, though there were no particular inspirations behind the song and singer. The lyrics were written by Watanabe.
The musical style of the game was driven mostly by Basiscape based on the game's premise. Compared to his earlier work with Vanillaware, Sakimoto worked more on keeping a unified musical image. The music was themed around techno, but the team worked to keep melodic balance in the score. Its theme was "juvenile", with Sakimoto needing to redo his early work with Kamitani's help. Though Kikuchi and Watanabe was new to Vanillaware titles, both Kudo and Kaneda had worked with the studio on Odin Sphere and Muramasa. Kudo, Kaneda and Kikuchi handled the battle tracks based on Sakimoto's direction for tracks which changed based on the player's progress through the stage. A recurring need for the score was to balance electronic and orchestral elements throughout the score. The two gameplay modes had different musical styles; the adventure sections used "analog" sounds and a focus on atmosphere, while battles made heavy use of electronic elements and rhythm. Some of the earlier tracks overtly used Showa-style composition, but as the setting was already heavily based around the Showa period, the music shifted to be less period-specific. Another difference compared to earlier Vanillaware projects was that more of the tracks were designed with a specific story-based theme, such as shopping in the high street. Due to the changes made to the game, the themes consequently needed a lot of adjustment during production. The placement of some songs within particular scenes, such as a sombre piece accompanying a comedic moment, were done by Kaneko based on his interpretation of a scene.
A soundtrack album is set for release on February 27, 2020, the physical version being exclusive to Atlus's online store. The album features four discs, and has a cover art drawn by Hirai. The album also released digitally worldwide through iTunes. The album included the full version of "Seaside Vacasion", and versions of the battle tracks which ran through all their variations before sequeging into the victory theme. A mini soundtrack including ten tracks from the game was packaged with the special edition of 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim Prologue.
Voice recording for the script ran concurrent with the script writing and revision process, with six different recording sessions for various actors happening during production. Several of the actors were fans of Vanillaware's titles, and enjoyed voicing the characters. Due to the plot point surrounding Fuyusaka, Morimura and Chihiro, all three shared the same voice actress Atsumi Tanezaki. As scenes were recorded out of story order, the recording team needed a dedicated work sheet showing which scene called for what emotion so the actors would not make any serious mistakes with characterizations. Kaneko had a difficult task balancing out the music and dialogue in different scenes, made more complicated by the scenario's complex structure. Full voice acting, including the Cloud dialogue sections, was a later addition chosen to promote player immersion. Due to this task, Kaneko had to carefully sync voice clips with key words from the Cloud so that it would not sound like random noise, along with filtering the music and environmental effects so the voice work came through clearly.
13 Sentinels was announced at the 2015 Tokyo Game Show. Prior to the announcement, the game was first teased in a preview video in July 2015 as a collaboration project between Atlus and Vanillaware following the public reveal of Odin Sphere: Leifthrasir. The delay and cancellation of the Vita version was announced in November 2018.13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim Prologue was released in Japan on March 14, 2019. It came in both a standalone edition and a special edition which included artwork and a mini soundtrack. A demo that allows players to access the first three hours of the game was released in Japan on October 30, 2019. The game was released in Japan on November 28, 2019. An Asian release for Hong Kong, Taiwan, South Korea, and Southeast Asia was published by Sega on March 19, 2020.
13 Sentinels was originally set to be released outside of Japan on September 8, 2020 before being delayed until September 22. Pre-orders will include an artbook, with limited quantities for the game's physical edition. The localization was led by Atlus West's Allie Doyon. She commented that the project's voice director had a difficult time explaining the complicated storyline to the actors, saying she lost count of the number of times they used the phrase "wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey" to explain it. As there was no lead protagonist, each actor only got their own side of the narrative and the team had to ingegrate the recordings with this separation in mind. The team were beginning English dub recording when the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted their schedule. The studio heads, voice actors and localizers collaborated on a solution, with the actors doing the rest of their recording using conference call software within makeshift sound studio environments set up within their homes. Doyon referred to 13 Sentinels as her favorite video game project up to that point in her career.
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During its opening week, all retail versions of the game sold just over 34,200 units, debuting in fifth place in the charts. These low sales were blamed by Kamitani on the game's blend of genres, difficult production, and releasing alongside other popular titles. While initial sales were low, positive word of mouth from both players and other industry figures caused sales to increase, resulting in stock shortages. It remained in the top 30 best-selling titles into January, with total physical sales of nearly 59,500 units. By this point, physical and digital sales had reached 100,000 units. In their fiscal report, Atlus said that 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim exceeded their sales expectations.
The game won the awards for "Best Scenario" and "Best Adventure Game" at the FamitsuDengeki Game Awards 2019, whereas its other nominations were for "Game of the Year", "Best Graphics", and "Best Rookie Game".
It received a nomination in the "Media" category for the 51st annual Seiun Awards in 2020, the only video game nominee that year.
Robert Ramsey of PushSquare gave the game a 9 out of 10 in his review. He praised the story, characters, tactical combat and artwork, but noted that the story loses momentum at points.
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