There are an almost infinite number of science fiction stories to tell and Vanillaware found a way to tell a dozen of them at once. 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim breaks its interconnected story down into thirteen separate story paths following separate protagonists, all of which explore different science fiction plots. Natsuno Minami’s path is an ET riff, Nenji Ogata’s centers on a time loop (like Edge of Tomorrow or Source Code), Shu Amiguchi starts to see that his reality might be artificially constructed, and so on. It mostly works and regardless of the execution it’s a lot of fun seeing how these different story types all coalesce into one narrative. The game telegraphs its inspirations from other popular media, specifically in the 1980’s setting that 13 Sentinels mostly takes place in and the nods to popular franchises (you’ll receive intel on movie riffs like “Exterminator”). The fragmented story format mostly works too. I would get unreasonably excited when one protagonist’s story would seamlessly fill in details in the next story I played through. It’s a neat trick and they drop just enough hooks in each separate character path to keep you guessing with enough crossover between them (often one sequence will offer clarity on another). I could guess a lot of the mystery long before they were revealed but the characters and twists kept me interested. Not all of the paths are exciting though and Iori Fuyusaka’s is the worst of the bunch. What starts out intriguing quickly dead ends into a rote love story that sidelines all the interesting themes of identity that surrounds her character.
Full Story Spoilers Ahead
It’s fairly obvious from the jump that Fuyusaka and Chihiro Morimura, the school nurse/shady business dealer, are connected. They both have the same flowy hair and other characters like Juro make explicit remarks about their similarities, even confusing them in his dreams. 13 Sentinels doesn’t hide this but rather leaves the actual answer elliptical to keep you guessing as to the nature of their connection. Is Morimura the future version of Fuyusaka? Or is Fuyusaka a clone of Morimura? Maybe an android? Identity is a huge theme of 13 Sentinels and Fuyusaka isn’t the only character having to deal with questions about potential other selves and lives. Juro Kurabe, Shu Amiguchi, and Fuyusaka all have dreams of events taking place in the future with them as adults. The weird thing is that they all have different names; Izumi, Ida, and Morimura respectively. Both Juro’s and Shu’s story paths have them reckoning with questions around their assumed identities, but Fuyusaka’s deprioritized that in favor of something far less interesting. Her path gestures toward that potential though. Her story starts with her dealing with sleep deprivation due to the vivid dreams of apocalyptic futures. She finds an unexpected connection with both Juro and Shu who have also been having similar dreams. She also accidentally runs into a mysterious boy and falls instantly in love with him. Want to guess which plot point they end up following through on?
Fuyusaka’s promising story ends up taking a swerve toward tragic romance at the halfway mark, making Iori a secondary character in her own arc. The boy, Ei Sekigahara, turns out to be a future assassin performing secretive work that has something to do with saving the world. He’s a pivotal character in the wider story, someone who can be seen as friend or foe depending on the perspective. He seems to be working outside the major mysterious figures, primarily Morimura and Tetsuya Ida, and his intentions are unknown. Sekigahara’s storyline is great, but that means that it completely subsumes Fuyusaka’s. Her story becomes dedicated to finding ways to bring them together either her following him into dangerous scenarios or being put in danger. One scene where Iori and her friends are being harassed and then cornered by gangsters comes across as exploitative especially when its only reason is to make Ei’s rescue look cool. Fuyusaka’s motivations become winning the stoic man’s heart instead of pursuing any answers of her own. She’s the naive girl who wants to fix the man, which is stock romantic plotting we’ve seen a million times before. Fuyusaka isn’t even interested in finding out more of Sekigahara’s mysteries, leaving her storyline devoid of revelations in a game that relies on them.
13 Sentinels leaves answers about Fuyusaka’s identity to other character’s storylines. You find out that she is genetically identical to Morimura, a new version of her created in this timeline. The dreams Iori’s been having are all memories from Morimura, memories that were implanted so Morimura could slowly overwrite her personality with her own (similar to Juro and Shu). This is revealed without Fuyusaka present meaning we don’t get her reaction to a version of herself that was actively trying to erase her. It robs the reveal of any thematic resonance and again shifts it away from Fuyusaka. The reveal is instead framed around Morimura and her acceptance of mortality. Her project to overwrite Fuyusaka is a failure and she realizes that she can’t extend her life by doing so. It’s the culmination of a big arc for Morimura and what should have been a bombshell for Fuyusaka. Fuyusaka herself never gets to address it. She’s always used as a vehicle for someone else’s character growth.
Problems with Iori’s character extends into other parts of the game. She’s primarily used for “shipping” purposes in a game that usually balances plot and romance fairly well. All of the characters express romantic feelings toward one another (Ogata & Kisaragi, Amiguchi & Takamiya) that are interwoven into their respective paths. For Fuyusaka, that is her path. Her relationship to Ei becomes her identity and even her upgrades in battle revolve around him. 13 Sentinels even adds a weird instance of queer baiting during one of the battle scenarios. The mission ends with Fuyusaka finding she has feelings for Takamiya after she cares for her. The game plays it for comedic value as Iori gets confused about her feelings and walks right up to almost saying she’s gay… until backing down and shouting that Ei is the only one for her. This is stock anime devices but it doesn’t make it any less unnecessary.
Anthologies are hard to make consistent and 13 Sentinels falls into the same trap. The majority of the character stories are interesting, but Fuyusaka’s falls well below any of the rest. It fails to give her any interesting thematic material to grapple with instead highlighting how interesting another character’s story is. Which is a shame since it started so promising. In a game that’s so tightly plotted, Fuyusaka’s could have used another revision.