Here’s an incomplete list of things you will encounter in 13 Sentinels: a talking cat. Time travel. Time travel, but also not really. Androids. Clones. Android clones. Memory-wiping drugs. A robot that looks like Wall-E. An underground UFO. Oh, and of course it’s the story of 13 highschoolers getting into giant mechs to fight monsters.
To find out how they ended up in those mechs and where the kaiju they’re fighting come from, you follow each protagonist individually. Each storyline unfolds in an achronological fashion to the other 12, so that soon it feels like you’re piecing together a puzzle of stories to form a larger whole. There’s Juro, a normal teenager in 1985 who starts to wonder why he keeps having hyper-realistic dreams that seem to unfold just the way his favourite sci-fi films do. Shu Amiguchi, who’s talking to a famous pop star through his TV. Natsuno Minami, who travels through time with the help of the aforementioned Wall-E lookalike to save him from the Men in Black. Takatoshi Hijiyama, a young soldier who accidentally travels to 1985 from 1945 while investigating a cross-dressing spy and many more things than I have the space to mention. The separate, 30-level “Destruction” mode meanwhile consists of real-time tower defence battles against the kaiju, depicting one large-scale battle that chronologically sits at the very end of the story.
While the side-scrolling mechanics in the story section and the lovely 2D art style make it immediately recognisable as a Vanillaware game, 13 Sentinels is much more story-focused than any of its previous output. The battle sections are a good way to liven up what can otherwise feel like a very static game, but you need to be invested in the characters and the many mysteries that surround them to truly enjoy yourself. At first it’s just a barrage of technical terms and names and random revelations and slowly but surely – actually, never mind, you learn everyone’s names, but the finer detail stays that way, a jungle of wild ideas that’s deliberately a lot to keep up with.