Astral Chain is a brand new Nintendo Switch exclusive action-adventure game by Platinum Games that do a lot of new things for both the genre and studio. Featuring a new ‘Legion tethering’ system that enables you to control the main character and his ‘Legion’ partner at the same time, the game certainly features a gameplay style we’re not exactly used to. Read on to find out how Astral Chain fares in our review.
Announced back in February of this year, Astral Chain was one of my most anticipated games of the year due to the involvement of Director Takahisa Taura, making his debut as a Director after previously serving as the Game designer of Nier: Automata, one of my favorite games of the generation. Legendary game developer Hideki Kamiya of Resident Evil 2, Devil May Cry and Bayonetta fame were also working on the project as a Supervisor. With some of Platinum’s brightest stars working on the project, the Switch exclusive was something all Action game fans had on their radar.
The first thing you’ll notice about Astral Chain is the art style, which was created by legendary Manga artist Masakazu Katsura. Couple that with colorful cell-shaded graphics and cyberpunk setting, the game is one of the most unique looking in recent years.
Astral Chain puts you in control of either the female or male twin Police Officer who both get recruited to a special wing of the Police called “Neuron”. This is due to their strong innate ability to bond with human-modified “Chimeras” called “Legions”. With humanity driven to extinction by these Chimera monster, it’s up to our twin protagonists to use the enemy against them using the titular Astral Chain to control the Legions.
I loved the opening section of the game as right after pressing start the game puts you in an explosive motorcycle section which is followed by a brief introduction to the gameplay basics. Astral Chain doesn’t waste much time with the introductions and quickly introduces you to the world, the stakes, characters, and gameplay.
Most of the story takes place on The Ark, an artificial Island created by humans to escape the Chimeras who had made the rest of the world uninhabitable. The aforementioned creates are alien lifeforms from another dimension who can open gates to come in and out of their dimension, often taking away humans with them when they go back. Our protagonists are two of the very members of the police who can fight against the Chimeras due to their ability to bond with Legions. There aren’t also many Legions going around so its a war of few against the many. The story is a huge step above previous Platinum titles and isn’t that much all over the place. The writing does a decent job at carrying the plot, with the stellar voice cast also deserving a mention for their splendid role work.
As with all Platinum Games titles, except for Nier: Automata, Astral Chain’s gameplay is what we’re all here for and boy does it not disappoint one bit. A huge upgrade of the simplistic battle system of Automata, Astral Chain can be best described as a balance between super fast and super slow action gameplay. The fighting isn’t as combo heavy as Bayonetta and instead focuses on dodge timing and moving around your enemies. While fighting bosses and tougher enemies, placing yourself and your Legion is key, with the end goal being able to deliver critical hits to the head and from the back. The game also features some RPG elements, so you’ll be able to see how much damage you do with each attack with the damage indicators.
When Astral Chain was initially introduced the whole chain system seemed like a gimmick, and this impression stayed true until I was a few hours into the game and the gameplay completely opened up. I was gobsmacked by how wrong my initial impressions ended up being compared to the rest of the game. Controlling your player character and the Legion is so much fun and provides such a unique play style that I’m so glad Platinum took the risk to bring in the innovation. Overall Astral Chain’s battle system is one of the finest action game systems ever created and just thinking about how a potential sequel could improve it further is just making me feel giddy inside.
Astral Chain isn’t just flashy battles though, as if you remember from before, we’re playing as a police officer which comes with its duties. This “downtime” mainly involves detective work, where you investigate crime scenes, help out citizens with their problems and other sidequests. All of these activities are completely optional, so if you want to get straight to the story bits or fighting segments then the game allows you to do so.
The game also has a great feature called “Unchained Mode” intended for casuals who just want to enjoy the game’s story. Unchained Mode makes the game almost play itself, even allowing you to see certain combos and actions that you may not have hit before. It’s certainly something that you can choose if you hit a tough boss as it can be toggled from the menu before you enter a mission. It’s similar to Nier: Automata’s Auto Mode for those who played that game.
Nintendo’s on a roll this year with excellent exclusive titles which are further cementing the success that the Nintendo Switch has proved to be. Platinum Games, on the other hand, are finally hitting their stride after a few years of struggles, delivering great actions games that deliver up to their promised potential. Astral Chain, in short, is one of the best games of the year and one of the finest action games ever made.