Welcome to Speed Take, a style of writing where I sit down, get words on a page on a topic without doing much research and drafting, and send it out to all of you when I’m done. Today, I wanna talk about something that slapped me in the face like a wet fish tonight: the similarities I see between 13 Sentinels Aegis Rim, and The World Ends With You, while attempting to spoil neither.
Just for context, I have finished TWEWY and read through the post-game content, but I’m only about a third of the way through 13 Sentinels. Spoilers in the comments will be removed on sight, and the only spoilers I’ll be talking about in here are with regards to the core gameplay and “style” of both titles. Basically, if I think you could get it from the box art or manual, I’m considering it fair game. Got it? Let’s jam.
I think “Cult Classic” is exactly the way to describe The World Ends With You, since the game reportedly sold okay in the West and worse in Japan; just to give you an idea, the game came out the same year as the handheld ports of Final Fantasy I, II, and IV, Dragon Quest IV’s DS port, Final Fantasy Tactics on the PSP, and Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII. That’s a recipe for any game to be absolutely buried on the DS, especially a new IP with an unconventional control scheme. Despite that, the game was a critical darling, doing as well in reviews (and sometimes better) than Crisis Core, a higher-definition bigger-name action RPG.
In some part, I’d argue that TWEWY’s absolute abandoning of conventional RPG standards worked in it’s benefit. The combat is a unique spin on action RPG combat, featuring a control scheme that uses both the DS’s buttons and touchscreen in tandem to create a complex, difficult to learn but mesmerizing battle system. I never imagined controlling two fights at once would feel good or intuitive, but the Stride Cross Battle System (please make normal names Squeenix) works incredibly well once you have a sense for it. The pins, which function as equippable moves, generally all have unique properties, and for a normal playthrough, the player is genuinely allowed to (and sometimes required to) experiment with their gameplay styles, forcing constant evolution to avoid falling to some of the more dangerous foes found in the late game. Between that, the musical style drawing heavily from 90s and 2000s sounds, and the story being an ever-changing twister (ha) of motivations and actions, as well as one of the best uses of an amnesiac protagonist I’ve seen, TWEWY represents ambition achieved. It’s a title that welcomes the kind of person who loves being taken on a thrill ride in a story, unable to predict what’s around the corner at any point.
As I stated above, I’m not done with the game yet. I need to genuinely find the time to sit down and drink it in, because 13 Sentinels Aegis Rim is the kind of ever-changing twister TWEWY turned out to be. Everything so far has lined up in place, and I can make guesses and predictions on what’ll happen next, but I’m genuinely always impressed with the kind of swerve the writer George Kamitani comes up with. Much like I think a player going into TWEWY has to have blind faith that it’ll all come together in the end, I think someone going into 13 Sentinels has to adopt the mindset I have; it’ll all make sense once I’ve got all the puzzle pieces together. However, at 300k sales as of January 2021, it’s not quite a “powerhouse” like it could be in my eyes.
A large part of that has to come down to the conceit behind the game: it is, in a non-spoiler way, absolute sci-fi. Somehow, it manages to weave every trope and convention I can think of, and still manage to surprise me every time I pick it up and go through a new story segment. The visual novel adventure gameplay mixed with some light puzzle solving help keep me engaged enough to push onward to the next big reveal. This works in tandem with an interesting tower defense style mode, where the titular “13 Sentinels” and their pilots defend a point on each map from being destroyed or invaded. On the surface, it looks like an RTS, but if I had to define it, it’s more like if Super Robot Wars had an ATB system and more interactive maps. Pilots perform moves with cooldowns, and move around in real time as enemies move around the map. Once a cooldown is up, you can select a new action – attacks, moving, defending, or ejecting to repair a Sentinel – which restarts the cooldown again, much akin to an ATB system in a turn based RPG. All in all, I think it makes for a wicked cool new kind of strategy game that I would love to see expanded on someday, although I can imagine it doesn’t have mainstream appeal at all in the way something like Fire Emblem does.
Conclusion: Two Cult Classics
I think I’ve dropped enough hints in here indicating what I think is similar and what makes these two an interesting pair. It’s not every year we get games that buck conventions both in storytelling and in gameplay, and even less frequently do we get titles like these that require such a willingness to hold on and expect everything’ll be okay in the long run. To me, this is part of what makes them so amazing to me, and likely to others as well. These two exude confidence in their writing and premises, and hold no prisoners in their gameplay concepts and what they demand from a player. They aren’t crowd-pleasers like best selling triple-A titles are, and they aren’t trying to appeal to that crowd. These cult classics, TWEWY and 13 Sentinels, are made for the cults that’ll love and adore them. Give them a chance if you think it might be you; you never know if one’ll be your new favorite game until you’re in.