Developer: PlatinumGames Inc.
Rating: T For Teen
What can be said about Astral Chain besides it being a game of Cops and Robbers with a dash of JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure? PlatinumGames’ debut Switch title brings a chaotic package that offers a fresh narrative and insane gameplay. Your mission awaits, should you choose to accept it.
Mild Language: Characters will often use the words, “sh**”, “b****”, “a**”, and “d***”.
Drug and Substance Use: In certain areas in the game, characters are portrayed to be under the influence of alcohol or a fictional drug called Blue Evolve.
Mild Violence: Gameplay has the player character using melee weapons and guns to fight mostly humanoids and animal-like creatures and sometimes humans. There are a few scenes that show characters actively stabbed but no blood is depicted.
In Astral Chain, you take control of one of the Howard twins as they begin their police careers as members of Neuron, a special task force that combats hidden cosmic terrors known as Chimeras. Luckily, you have your own otherworldly creatures called Legions that fight by your side. As you keep the peace of the Ark, an enormous floating metropolis, a coordinated Chimera attack threatens the Ark and the dark secrets surrounding the Legion creatures are revealed.
Astral Chain is a beast of a game with large environments to explore, a simplistic yet incredibly varied combat system, and a ton of sidequests that builds on the history of the world. Honestly, I haven’t felt there’s been as compelling a world in a PlatinumGames title since their halcyon days as Team Clover with Okami. Considering this a Switch-exclusive title, Astral Chain pushes the upper limit of the console and once again proves PlatinumGames always gives their full effort (fingers crossed that the studio is working on a Switch port of my favorite Wii U title, The Wonderful 101).
The presentation is definitely top-notch, and the game runs really well even when undocked. Despite the game maintaining a more-or-less locked 30 fps, the in-game world features several object-dense environments that not only make the world appear alive, but also establish much of the nuance and history described in the lore. The game also pulls off a cyberpunk aesthetic that I didn’t consider possible: what’s seen from the side of authority. As your progress through the game, you’re not always taking on larger-than-life monstrosities. You work the beat: coming to citizens’ aid, assisting officers in their own tasks, and holding true to the expectations citizens have for an officer.
The side quests were the most enjoyable part because I wanted to glean more of the atmosphere. The in-game achievements also help with the exploration. There are specific pictures to take in each chapter with the camera feature (complete with selfie mode and image filters), a toilet fairy (yes, you’re reading this right) who asks for paper, and cleaning up Red Matter residue left from Chimera attacks, just to name a few.
The Legions that you obtain can assist you in exploration as well. Legions are chained to you by a tether, allowing you to control their movement with the right analog stick. Each Legion has a unique action that can interact with NPCs or an environment object. You can also manipulate the tether to wrap around enemies or targets.
However, the game can feel sluggish if you try to complete everything on your first playthrough. I would recommend taking your time and return to pick up any missing missions after unlocking all five Legions. Mastering the game and knowing the missions you want to complete after finishing a chapter will make replays much faster.
Now to the nitty-gritty, combat. I’ll be honest; the combat isn’t as deep as other Platinum titles. Combo variation is fairly simplistic and input moves are universal among all the Legions you can acquire. As you progress through the game, you’ll gain experience points that you can delegate among your Legions to unlock nodes that will either unlock moves, increase stats, or add equip slots. Pieces of equipment serve as modifiers that increase nuanced stats like movement speed or the length of your Legion’s tether. Some equipment can even add new moves to the Legion you equip it to.
Despite the overall lack of depth, I did notice a couple neat tricks at your disposal. For one, the aforementioned tether bind can be used in combat so you can lock down enemies you struggle with. Also, due to the physics in the game, some technical “jank” can happen. I wasn’t able to recreate it but I was actually able to convert a ground combo then launch them into their air and snipe them to oblivion as if recreating a Marvel movie moment.
Your character and your Legion can attack separately as well. This allows you to attack enemies on separate sides or play around with whatever set up you want to go for. The strength in Astral Chain’s combat is revealed against bosses and unique enemies rather than mobs. Learning your setups and when to switch your Legion can destroy bosses in mere seconds. Locking down an enemy without ever giving them a chance to attack is one of the most satisfying feelings when playing.
That being said, combat can still feel stale if your equipment or preference of attack doesn’t change. I personally like the Sword and Beast Legions. The Sword Legion is a strong all-rounder that you could focus on for the whole story. The Beast Legion gets some interesting skills that immobilize groups of enemies and has some of my favorite combo enders.
The story, unfortunately, has some issues. While the premise and world-building are fantastic, the main plot suffers from weak development in its latter half. The finale is still executed really well in the classic PlatinumGames fashion but there are a few glaring plot points that are not resolved and will definitely bug you if you’re a stickler about details. However, the story is still a fun time and has some great emotional payoffs. Your twin sibling gets their own character arc centering around their struggle in being compared to your own character while both of you strive to meet the same goals.
In summary, Astral Chain raises the bar for quality on the Switch and is a must-have title. I realize not everyone will appreciate Japanese action games from Platinum and Capcom as much as fans like me. But I truly think these games have proven to be signs of passion and quality time and time again. And with Babylon’s Fall on the horizon, PlatinumGames shows a strong future.
The Bottom Line
Astral Chain delivers the full PlatinumGames package while revising a number of gameplay elements that allow more players to appreciate the studio's love for combat.