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13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim is bursting at the seams with originality, from its graphics to the way each player can experience the plotline in a slightly different order, to the combat system and the overarching story found within. Vanillaware’s distinct art style can be seen front and centre in 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim’s presentation, with the watercolour-esque backgrounds and genteelly-coloured characters meshing with giant enemy monsters powered by futuristic technology. Combat also stands out from previous Vanillaware titles as well as its recent compatriots; the tactical-like gameplay encourages rotation of multiple party members in and out of the active roster, while also challenging players to ensure the best pilots are on the ground to battle giant kaiju foes.
I’ve never enjoyed a game where I spend the majority of time thoroughly confused and dying to know what comes next like I did in 13 Sentinels. Once players complete the introduction to several of the game’s key characters, in what order each piece of the storyline is tackled is up to choice and chance, though some storylines are gated by progression in others, so certain crucial plot points will always occur around the same time. No matter where the characters are (or even when the characters are) it’s a rollercoaster of emotions from start to finish. Even months after completing the game, I still think back to the amazing way the plot weaved together seemingly unrelated characters into a cohesive narrative, all while evoking strong emotions. It really stands out as one of the most original RPGs of recent times.
Since its initial Japanese release in 1997, Love-de-Lic’s Moon: Remix RPG Adventure has been a white whale for many western gamers. Thanks to Onion Games, they finally got to experience the anti-RPG in 2020. Although its central quest — cleaning up an imperiled kingdom after a Dragon Quest-style hero’s monominded march to victory — is less novel these days, its heart, humor, and surreal, clay-like aesthetics remain singular. Moon’s true hero, the player, brings order to his game-within-a-game world by making friends with its inhabitants and sending the souls of animals slain by the false hero to the moon. Hanging out in this world is a cozy experience punctuated by curious, occasionally obtuse, challenges. Whether it’s learning the schedule of a reticent townsfolk, chilling to eclectic jazz, or solving a goofy word puzzle to save a soul, there isn’t anything else quite like it.
Yakuza: Like a Dragon takes our third-place spot for Most Original RPG because, let us be real, the game is utterly ridiculous for all the right reasons. As a love letter to the Dragon Quest series, Ichiban and crew run around Yokohama getting into turn-based battles, going to the unemployment office to pick up new jobs, and fighting villains such as a giant iRobot. Ichiban’s vision of Ijincho sees players meeting twisted versions of ninjas, perverts, yakuza, and even evil cranes. This game is bursting with originality and it’s a trip from beginning to end.
by Anna Marie Privitere, Zach Welhouse, and Sam Wachter