13 Sentinels is a difficult game to discuss when it comes to the narrative because of its nature as a science fiction mystery story. To describe anything other than the tutorial in detail risks revealing key insights that subtract from the fun of unraveling the mystery. So rather than write a review that attempts to dance around it, I decided instead to throw caution to the wind and simply discuss the moments of the story that impacted me the most. If you haven’t played 13 Sentinels but want to, or think you could want to, I recommend you bookmark this article and come back when you have finished the game. While I’m not a believer in the idea that spoilers can totally ruin a game experience, knowing so little about 13 Sentinels when I played it contributed to the positivity of my playthrough. In short:
MAJOR SPOILER WARNING
DO NOT READ PAST THIS POINT IF YOU CARE ABOUT 13 SENTINELS SPOILERS
Now with that out of the way, let’s dive in! I am going to list these moments roughly in order from “that was pretty neat” to “holy wow that blew my mind.” I’m also using the word moment very broadly here to mean anything from “one specific scene” to “the dynamic of a relationship throughout an entire character arc” – in other words, don’t get too caught up in the rules because ultimately I’m just going to talk about the stuff that made me the most excited, impressed, or otherwise happy while playing the game. So now without further ado, moment #5!
#5: Kisaragi and the Dead Kaiju
13 Sentinels is a game in which time traveling mech pilots use their giant robots to battle “kaiju.” Now I’m not a major connoisseur of Japanese culture but I came into this game with an understanding of kaiju as giant monsters. Godzilla, Mothra, stuff like that. So when the enemies we were fighting – called kaiju – were by all appearances just a bunch of robots I found myself wondering what was up with that. This was further confounded by the fact that most character stories tend to take on a different flavor of sci-fi story depending on the protagonist. Natsuno, for example, interprets pretty much everything through her lens as a UFO enthusiast and thinks of the kaiju as aliens, while Megumi is convinced by the talking cat Fluffy that they are remnants of an ancient civilization and thus more magical than scientific in nature.
When Tomi Kisaragi ends up stranded in the destroyed future, she is led to the remains of a dead kaiju and there finally gets an opportunity to look at the monsters up close and personal. We learn here that the monsters are robots, as I expected, but we get an even more interesting reveal too – they are robots designed by Shikishima Industries, the same company that created the Sentinels which the characters pilot into battle. Shikishima is a big question mark throughout the story and their motivations are skillfully kept unclear for a significant period of time. The fact that they developed the very monsters threatening to tear reality apart helps to keep that mystery alive. I’m not a big fan of aliens as a plot device, so this also was a moment where I breathed something of a sigh of relief. I could see the game firmly moving in the direction which I personally found to be the most compelling out of all the possibilities presented so far by the various character vignettes.
#4: Ogata’s Time Loop
Nenji Ogata was a character I discovered relatively late into my run of 13 Sentinels. I met him in multiple other storylines before ever reaching his, and had a conception of him as something of a punk whose story would probably not involve any of the more fantastical elements of the game. I just figured I’d be punching dudes in the streets or something. But the hook for Ogata’s story is quite different from what I was expecting. Ogata and Kisaragi are stuck in a time loop where they are doomed to die on a derailed train. The only way to stop it is for Ogata to find a “key” of an unknown nature.
One reason I really liked this concept for Ogata’s story is because it created a diagetic reason for the flowchart mechanic used in the game’s remembrance mode. Most of the characters start in the same situation every time in a manner similar to Ogata, but time has actually passed. Or they don’t have a flowchart at all and each time you play their story is totally linear. With Ogata, there’s a stronger justification for why he is going through the same motions each time, and you really have to dig in to see the ways in which the loop subtly changes in order to discover new information. Not every character story I expected to like turned out the way I hoped, so I was happy to see this one surprise me.
#3: The Girl’s Bathroom Fire
In the story of Yuki Takimiya, you investigate the disappearance of her childhood friend Natsuno. During that investigation you learn that ever since the day of a fire in a particular girl’s bathroom, Natsuno has not been seen at school or at her home. At one point Yuki investigates the bathroom and discovers that the damage is not consistent with a fire; doors are dented in or clawed to pieces, chunks of the wall are smashed away, and a toilet is crushed. What the hell happened here? The way I played through the game, I didn’t learn the truth until later when I played through the scene from Natsuno’s perspective.
Natsuno actually witnessed a battle between two androids. One was the android disguised as Erika Aiba whose true identity was Tamao Kurabe. The other was an android disguised as Tomi Kisaragi whose true identity was prisoner 426. 426 had hostile intentions towards Natsuno while Tamao was protecting her. At one point in the battle, Tamao steps away victorious, but it is at this point that I learned about a particular dangerous ability possessed by 426: the power to switch bodies with other androids. 426 had swapped into Tamao at some point during the fight, and she uses the moment when Natsuno is unsuspecting to shoot her. It’s a great moment on its own but the broader story implications are really what got me here. I started speculating about who – or what – else that 426 might be able to pose as. It was at this moment that I began to suspect Fluffy (the cat I mentioned back at #5) was actually 426 manipulating Megumi to their own ends. As it turns out, I was right! This was one of the few twists in the game that I managed to successfully predict, and beyond that the moment stands out to me because of how much it got me thinking and speculating about the story. Some of 13 Sentinels’ best moments are the ones that make more questions as opposed to the ones that offer answers.
#2: Hijiyama and Okino
13 Sentinels has a lot of relationships. There are multiple characters who have romantic feelings for other members of the crew, with varying levels of reciprocation throughout. Yet for all these jealous feelings and love triangles, few of the relationships felt to me like they were really given the focus needed to convince me that there was a genuine connection. Lots of situations of loving the idea of a person rather than the person themselves, or establishing that a previous relationship was passionate without any screen time really conveying that clearly. But there’s one relationship where the game sold me, and that’s the bond between Hijiyama and Okino, two young men with wildly different personalities.
Hijiyama originally meets Okino when the latter is disguised as a woman named Kiriko Douji. He falls in love with Kiriko but then is surprised to find that those feelings stay when he learns that she is in fact a man (there’s an argument here too for Okino being non-binary; while that wasn’t my personal read on the situation, if it was yours please don’t feel like you have to agree with me!). Hijiyama struggles to unpack these feelings and frequently denies them, and Okino loves nothing more than that to rub it in by pointing out when Hijiyama gets flustered or jealous. When Hijiyama finally reaches a point of acceptance, it feels truly earned rather than shoehorning a romance in for no reason. And their dynamic – one practical and snarky, the other idealistic and earnest – really helps their moments together to shine. Hijiyama’s story was a pleasure the whole way through as a result. The main factor stopping this from being my number one is that the game’s ending leaves this relationship frustratingly vague even when the most half-assed straight couples get official confirmation of their status.
#1: Kyuta Shiba
A lot of story revelations in 13 Sentinels had me saying things like “what?” “Wow!” “No way!” etc. But only one had me yelling “what the fuck?!” while I stared in wide-eyed awe at my television, and that was the true identity of Juro Kurabe’s movie watching buddy, Kyuta Shiba.
Shiba is one of the first characters that you meet when you play 13 Sentinels, as you have to be Juro first to start the game. He is Juro’s childhood friend, a charming and enthusiastic lil guy who loves sci-fi movies as much as Juro does and helps to provide Juro with new material to enjoy. Everything about Shiba seems on the up and up until a particular scene in Shu Amiguchi’s story. Or well, both Juro Kurabe’s story AND Shu Amiguchi’s story. Because you get to see this scene from both perspectives, but on Shu’s side, Shiba is nowhere to be found. While playing games at Amiguchi’s house, Shiba is at the television during Juro’s version but the seat at the console is empty in Amiguchi’s version.
When I noticed this the first time, I tried to think of a potential explanation for it. Maybe it was two different days? This seemed unlikely because Juro and Amiguchi have the exact same conversation, essentially verbatim, and that seemed too uncanny to be a coincidence. The existence of time travel left the possibility that these discussions were happening in two different time periods. Maybe one was in the past and Shiba wasn’t there that time or something? Although it was weird, it wasn’t the focus of the scene and there’s a lot of weird stuff in 13 Sentinels so before too long, I wasn’t even thinking about it anymore. Then I came to the scene with Keitaro Miura. While speaking with Miura, Juro keeps turning to address comments by Shiba made during the conversation. When Miura cocked his head to the side and said “Juro, who are you talking to?” I completely lost it. The pieces clicked into place as I realized that Juro Kurabe was the only person who could perceive Kyuta Shiba. The strange moment with Amiguchi before now made complete sense, and all at once my brain started churning with the dangerous implications of what it meant for Juro to be interacting with a strange figure that no one else could perceive. After all, deep inside of Juro was another version of himself, Juro Izumi, a figure who I well knew at this point to be the previously mentioned dangerous criminal, 426. In the grand scheme of the whole game, it’s not even that huge of a twist, necessarily – who Kyuta Shiba really is makes a ton of sense in context of who Juro himself is. But the execution of the twist caught me off guard while also filling in so many blanks for me all at once, and it drew my largest and most passionate reaction.
So there you have it adventurers, my top five story moments from 13 Sentinels! The game has an excellent story skillfully delivered in non-chronological fragments that help to maintain the maximum amount of mystery as you progress. But the ending does an excellent job of wrapping everything in such a way where most of the details fill in logically. It was a story I found myself thinking about at work or while doing chores, wondering which characters were connected in unexpected ways or what the true nature and goal of the kaiju forces might be. And while these moments may represent the specific scenes or characters which impacted me the most, the whole experience of the narrative from start to finish is well worth the cost of admission.