This week in Zero Punctuation, Yahtzee reviews 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim.
Spoke a bit too soon last week, when I said I was going to stop listening to weebs; obviously, if I was, say, sitting next to a weeb on a long plane flight and happened to let it slip that I used to watch Pokémon as a kid, then I'd have no choice but to listen to a weeb, continuously, for the next four or five hours. And it's because I listened to some weebs this week that I had a go on 13 Sentinels: Anus Rim-- I mean, Aegis Rim - oh god, I swear you people are trying to make this easy for me now - an anime visual novel crossed with tactical combat game that's a few years old, but only just got ported to the Switch, which is probably the best place for it, 'cos it makes it much easier to hastily hide under the bed covers when you hear your mum coming in.
But to my own surprise, I got kind of into it, and this wasn't like it was with Persona, where it hooked me with an intriguing original premise before it gradually devolved into the standard "teenagers use the power of friendship to kill God" plot. 13 Sentinels' plot is so blisteringly standard as anime goes, it sounds like a joke; it centers around a bunch of high school students who have to pilot giant robots, and the method they use to summon their giant robots is to hike up their miniskirts and flash their juicy thighs like desperate hitchhikers. Like I said, it sounds like a joke; I haven't even mentioned that there's a talking cat in it, or the part where the teenagers can only pilot their giant robots by stripping completely naked and rubbing themselves on the equipment. Why's that, game? "Oh, because clothing might interrupt the cyber-neural control interface or something." So why are some of the characters still wearing spectacles and hair ornaments? "Oh, who cares?! Come and look at this anime teenage girl take all her clothes off, straddle a robot vaulting horse, and arch her back like a cat being stepped on!"
So what did I like about this game? "Oh, don't worry, Yahtzee; you've made that perfectly clear." Shut up, you! Trust me, this isn't my sort of porn, and even if it was, there are plenty of places I could go to get it that wouldn't be so infuriatingly coy with the camera angles. My interest was fueled on three fronts: first, the high school visual novel part existing alongside giant robot battles triggered the same thing Persona did, my enjoyment of normal life juxtaposed against the bizarre as a theme; second, this is one of the more unique ways I've ever seen a video game story being brought across; third, the story in question is completely fucking barmy.
I mean, we start with the nice, straightforward opening premise of thirteen high school kids who have to pilot giant robots to fight an alien invasion, and within a few hours, it's turned out some of them are time travelers from the future, and some of them are time travelers from the past, and some of them are secretly robots, and one of them's secretly a man. That's not even getting into the talking cat! Also, you're shown all of the events of the plot essentially in random order, which brings me back to the unique way the story is brought across.
How it works is, first, you go through some quick prologue chapters and introductory battles that introduce us to all thirteen main characters and tutorializes the basics of the combat, and then, once that's over with, the game essentially does a great big vomit in your face. "BLEH! Here's all the character plotlines! BLEH! Here's all the combat missions! BLEH! Here's the archive library that serves as the corkboard and ball of red string you're going to need to figure out this load of old bollocks; away you go!" What, so it's on me to decide what order to do everything in? I can't handle that responsibility; I went to an improvised jazz club once, and woke up in an alleyway with the neck of a double bass stuck up my arse.
But I randomly picked a character, and the next chapter of their story proceeded to heap another dollop of confused testicles onto my already fully-loaded plate. The story chapters consist of a fairly typical visual novel experience: wandering around a paper puppet theater, clicking on stuff until either the dialogue starts repeating itself or we trigger the next plot flag. And generally, that flag can be relied upon to make something completely barmy happen, which is part of what kept me interested, because somehow, it was always something new and barmier. "Oh, I suppose we'd better deliver these papers to the staff room; tumpty-tum. Oh no! I'm about to be squashed by a giant robot containing my future self with unfeasibly large breasts! (Cliffhanger fade to black.)" But then, if we take on that character again, we're back in the staff room, and they're thinking, "Boy, it sure was hard getting away from my big-titty adult self! Anyway, about those papers." And now we have to find the other plot flag that can also be triggered in this room. "Oh, turns out, I can go to the vending machines now, where an assassin from another dimension holds me hostage with a phaser gun; perhaps this is my opportunity to confess my undying love for him."
In time, I found there is sort of a linear order to things; some chapters don't unlock 'til you do certain other chapters, or complete the combat missions up to a certain point, or stick a banana in your ear and drop-kick a lesbian. And just for fun, I decided to see how far I could get in the story before I had no choice but to do a combat mission, and I meant "just for fun" quite literally, because the combat missions are absolutely no fun.
They consist of staring at a radar screen where some glowing dots represent our squad of miniskirt-wearing giant robots, and then some more glowing dots appear, representing the baddies; we tell whoever's nearest to fire some ballistic glowing dots, and then the evil glowing dots disappear. "Phwoar, that sure was an epic apocalyptic conflict that we just implied happened! Anyway, fuck off back to the mission prep screen and spend ten dull minutes choosing your upgrades." Which is always a struggle, because I can only decide what to upgrade by knowing what my shortcomings are, and I don't seem to have any; baddies show up, I react, the baddies go away. I was five-star S-ranking every mission on my first go with no effort; any amount of upgrading feels like mounting a nuclear reactor turbine to my bike to help me turn the handlebars. And this was on Medium difficulty! Christ knows what Easy is like; I imagine you could accidentally five-star S-rank Easy Mode by knocking the controller on the floor while the system's turned off.
But because I put off the combat missions for as long as I could, I found myself unable to continue the plot until I cleared about twelve of the fuckers in turn. It's a wrecking ball of tedium: you can shove it away as hard as you like, but it's going to swing back and deck you sooner or later. Christ knows I made an effort; "Just a few more of these missions that are about as exciting as working a shift on a supermarket checkout that, for some reason, has five marginally different barcode scanners", I told myself, "and we can get back to very nearly looking up teenage girls' skirts!"
But I just couldn't do it; eight missions in, I officially stopped caring about the future lady's unfeasibly large breasts and gave up to do something else. See, 13 Sentinels should've realized that the war in the future isn't the interesting part of Terminator 2; the interesting part is when the T-800 finally learns what it is to cry, and then goes fuzzy for a few seconds and turns into a shredded wheat advert from the 90's, although that might just have been the version I taped.
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