Another Whiff of Vanillaware: 13 Sentinels and Dragon’s Crown Pro

Remember when Vanillaware could release several games in close proximity? That’s difficult for them these days, but their development habits had to adjust with the changing market, like other studios.

Around the time they released titles like Muramasa: The Demon Blade and even Grand Knights History, the company was capable of releasing games quickly without straining themselves. The titles were developed by at least two different teams, though some elements were outsourced to other studios to speed up development. But the pace at which they could release titles changed when they shifted to HD development. This was immediately noticeable with their first HD project, Dragon’s Crown, where they had to put other projects on hold because the game needed the entire company’s focus. One such project was the western localization of the aforementioned GKH, which XSeed had to cancel when Vanillaware couldn’t spare the developers for it.

Now, we’re again seeing how straining HD development is for them with 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim. The title was first shown at Tokyo Game Show 2015, a little over two years after Dragon’s Crown released. While it appeared there was a chance it could arrive in 2016, that not only didn’t happen, it didn’t appear during the year at all. It finally reemerged at this year’s TGS, and though the developers didn’t elaborate on why it went dormant for so long, they revealed a little more on how the game will work — but just a little.

The debut trailer showed and the newest one reaffirmed how 13 Sentinels will be about high school students who pilot mechs, and will be set in Japan circa 1980. Seven boys and six girls will get in the robot “Sentinels” to fight and avert their supposed fate of ultimate destruction, and players will venture through the perspectives of each of them. Director George Kamitani explained that the setting was chosen for nostalgia’s sake, and it sticks out compared to the overabundance of modern Japanese titles that occur in the present day. Though Kamitani didn’t provide the character designs himself this time, which were instead handled by Yukio Hirai, they’re made in the traditional Vanillaware style.

This game will also inherit another Vanillaware tradition in having fanservice, this time in the form of how the students will be naked while inside their Sentinels. Get ready to see some interesting camera angles to hide the “good” parts.

Curiously, they’re still not ready to fully elaborate on its gameplay features. The trailer only provides brief glimpses at the actual gameplay, but Kamitani explained that the game will be split into adventure and strategy combat portions in Famitsu magazine. Those strategy combat portions somewhat resemble a shoot ‘em up, but whether players will fight from different angles is unknown. In any case, the fusion of the two gameplay concepts makes it appear as if this will be new territory for Vanillaware. This will be one of their more experimental games, compared to the side-scrolling action/RPGs they’re popular for.

13 Sentinels is due for a release in Japan sometime in 2018. It was confirmed for western territories at E3 2017 earlier this year, but wasn’t given a release timeframe. It should arrive close to the Japanese release, though.

In the interim between their main game releases, Vanillaware has also been releasing (through publishers, of course) enhanced ports and remakes of older titles for those who either want to reexperience them, or missed them the first time. Muramasa Rebirth for Vita was the first, which made several changes to complaints people had with the original (like the option to map jumping to a button) and added four DLC quests. Odin Sphere Leifthrasir, however, was more a remake than a remaster, since the team significantly altered many gameplay features — for the better. The next game that will receive this treatment is coming in the form of Dragon’s Crown Pro for PlayStation 4.

Pro will have more in common with Muramasa Rebirth than Leithrasir, as it’s an enhanced port of the last-generation fantasy brawler. It’s why it will support cross-play and cross-saving with the last-gen versions. It will also have 4K support, so its artwork will look extremely beautiful on TVs capable of displaying the resolution, and a rerecorded orchestral soundtrack. The Pro version should be worthwhile for anyone who missed the original (like me), but whether it can be recommended to those who already own that version will depend on what they think of the price.

It could be a hard sell to PS3/Vita owners at the 7,980-yen price it will launch at in Japan — a higher price than the last-gen version when it launched. They might find the “Royal Package” limited edition worth buying at 12,000 yen, though, which will also include the entire three-disc orchestral soundtrack, a 12-page booklet including liner notes and artwork, and the Digital Art Collection DLC. The game will release in Japan on January 25th, and should arrive worldwide shortly afterward.

Despite some development hurdles, Vanillaware will truck along fine. They’re also currently hiring staff for an unannounced project, which could imply that they want to have the necessary staff to develop more than one game simultaneously. They could reveal another project after Dragon’s Crown Pro releases, but in the meantime, keep your eye out for more 13 Sentinels info as its currently-unknown release date approaches.

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