As a narrative genre, science fiction has limitless possibilities. It encompasses distant concepts such as time travel, rampant monsters, android assassins, and more. Even with all of that at hand, most sci-fi stories limit their scope to exploring a few big ideas. However, 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim does not show such restraint. It’s an all-inclusive, luscious feast that draws inspiration from every corner of the sci-fi realm; It’s War of the Worlds plus The Terminator plus Neon Genesis Evangelion plus several other well-known media that would spoil important plot points if I mentioned them. But here’s the most amazing part: it all works together. Crazy history and magnificent art are the main attractions of 13 Sentinels. It features tactical combat as well, but the game is primarily a visual novel about a group of teenagers piloting giant armored suits called sentries. They do this to save the world from an invasion of seemingly alien beasts, but the characters also face their own personal drama along the way, navigating their relationships and desires amid the impending crisis. I love how the tale gradually changes its focus, starting with a familiar setup of school life before layering on the more extravagant developments. For example, one girl has a crush on a cool new student, while another befriends a mysterious robot. I won’t spoil any revelations or surprises here, but I was ultimately happy with the trip. It sometimes relies too much on tributes rather than its own ideas, but even as a tour of popular sci-fi concepts the story is entertaining. While you still move through a lot of dialog boxes, 13 Sentinels gives you more agency than classic visual novels. Your actions won’t change the end result, but I’ve always been impressed with the modularity of the narrative. The protagonists have their own arcs divided into chapters, and you can switch between them freely. You can get to know the UFO obsessed girl and then move on to the boy who loves kaiju movies. My original intention was to complete an entire arc before moving on to the next, but that’s not possible; your progress with certain characters depends on meeting other conditions, so you should leave them partially completed and follow further discussions. However, these bottlenecks are not frustrating. Instead, they create mystery and anticipation, sometimes leaving cliffhangers that got me excited to unlock the next sequence. Some character arcs can only continue after you complete certain battles, which is the other major component of 13 Sentinels. You engage in tactical combat in different sections of the city, launching missiles and lasers against advancing hordes of enemies. The best thing I can say about all of this mode is that it’s thankfully low-key; the fights aren’t hard enough to be a big obstacle to your progress (unless you define them too much), so you can go through a number of them and return to the story. I like systems that support combat, like purchasing and improving moves for each of your 13 Sentries, but your time on the battlefield doesn’t have the depth to make all this tinkering exciting. Combat encounters aren’t even cool to watch as the tactical mode uses simplified and generic representations that don’t do the action justice. It’s a shame the Sentries are underwhelming when you’re in the cockpit, as their designs look great when you see them up close in the narrative campaign. Unlike visually bland battles, the story scenes all feature beautiful 2D artwork. You watch striking sunsets and visit cozy homes filled with delicious food, while controlling characters brought to life by stylish animations that express their personalities. Stunning art is the hallmark of developer Vanillaware, and that tradition continues here – as long as you’re not in combat. Previous Vanillaware games have included fantasy-inspired dishes like Odin Sphere, Muramasa, and Dragon’s Crown. With 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim, the studio doesn’t just dip its toes into science fiction; he plunges into the depths with a story inspired by the most emblematic works of the genre. While that doesn’t make for the most original plot, it’s still a fun and ambitious experience that combines high school drama and huge robots in one (mostly) beautiful package.