Astral Chain Review

 

 
Overview
 

Genre: Action
 
Rating: M
 
Release Date: 30th August, 2019
 
Overall
 
 
 
 
 
4/5


 

Positives


- Vibrant world with interesting lore
- Fast, frantic action
- Balanced exploration, action and platforming sequences
- Great range of music

Negatives


- Story is a bit slow to start
- Focus on exploration may disappoint some gamers


Posted August 27, 2019 by

 
Full Article
 
 

Nintendo fans have enjoyed several Platinum Games titles over the past six years. The Wii U received exclusives The Wonderful 101 and Bayonetta 2, as well as a port of the original Bayonetta. Those latter two games also graced the Nintendo Switch last year, and now Nintendo fans are treated to yet another new and exclusive IP. Astral Chain might not be quite what fans have come to expect from Platinum, but nonetheless it’s a quality gem that has more than a few surprises and is another must have game on Nintendo Switch.

Astral Chain is set in the year 2078 where the world is under attack by interdimensional beings known as the Chimeras who have forced humanity to flee to a megacity called The Ark. To combat the threat, a special Police Task Force known as Neuron is formed and after years of research, the group develops the technology to force Chimeras to be subservient. Tethered to an officer via a psychic chain, the creatures are referred to as Legions and are widely considered to be humanity’s last hope.

Players assume the role of one of two twins, both of whom are new recruits for Neuron. You can decide your gender, skin colour, hair style and colour, and eye colour. Later in the game you will unlock outfits and other visual accessories to customise the look of your avatar even further. Regardless of which twin you choose to play as they will mostly be mute throughout the story, while the other twin will do a majority of the talking when the scene requires it. It does take the story a little while to get moving as the first few hours are mainly spent introducing the Legions, but once things pick up you learn a lot of the world’s lore which is rich with history and there are even a few surprising plot twists. The game also doesn’t take itself too seriously – there are some wacky, seemingly random characters that are lovable and provide great comic relief.

Your main goal in the game is to put a stop to the Chimera threat. To do this players are armed with a baton weapon that has three different combat modes. There’s a quick staff, a slow but powerful ranged sword and a pistol for long-range attacks. There are no complicated combo moves to remember for this weapon – it’s all handled by a single attack button. The real fun comes from the Legions, those fantastic beasties which are chained to your arm. You can let the Legion fight autonomously or you can direct it using the right analog stick. The chain itself comes into play here as well – guide the Legion around an enemy and the chain will wrap around them and stun them for a few seconds. If an enemy is charging at you, use the chain to block and fling them back. The chain also lets you jump towards your Legion or calls it back to you instantly. It’s fast, frantic action and is exciting to behold.

There are five different Legions to unlock throughout the story, including Sword, Arm, Arrow, Beast and Axe. Sword is the first Legion at your disposal, focusing on quick melee strikes while also having the ability to cut through energy waves. Arm can surround itself over the player, allowing them to hover over hazards while also unleashing a barrage of punches. It can also pick up heavy objects and throw them at enemies. Arrow is your long range Legion, firing various bow attacks and also letting you take control to hone in and fire at specific targets. Beast is a wolf-like Legion which you can ride to avoid being blown away by enemies who attack with gusts of wind. You can also use Beast’s abilities to dig up enemies who have burrowed underground. Axe can counter blocked attacks and also create protective barriers around both it and the player. Each Legion genuinely feels unique and is suited to different combat situations. It’s even just plain fun to mix it up while in the thick of battle. Once you get your head around the controls and learn how to coordinate with your Legion, you’ll feel like an unstoppable force.

Unlike other Platinum titles, Astral Chain’s combat isn’t the sole focus. There’s also a large emphasis on exploration and platforming, making this one of the developer’s more unique experiences. Throughout the story players will be able to explore suburban and city sandbox environments while investigating incidents that have occurred in those areas. Players act as a detective, recording NPC observations in a notebook and watching security footage to conclude what happened and where they should head next. There are also plenty of optional side quests ranging from capturing criminals, recovering a balloon that is stuck in a tree, or reuniting a lost child with their mother. Each side quest only takes a few minutes to complete, ensuring they don’t become too overwhelming and detract from the main plot. For completing each task players are awarded money and ranking points which can be used to upgrade Legion abilities as well as their own base stats, so there is an incentive to explore each environment.

There are also moments where players are pulled into the Astral Plane, which is the dimension where the Chimera are from. In contrast to the sprawling city environments, the Astral Plane is more minimalist. It’s clean and bare, featuring a linear pathway for players to navigate. There are moving platforms, switches that need to be activated to progress and hazards such as crumbling floors. 

Astral Chain does lean more towards the exploration and platforming than its action sequences. This may disappoint some gamers, but it does feel balanced and ensures the sequences don’t get repetitive. It has also allowed for Platinum to create a more vibrant world to explore. One moment you can be in a sprawling city complete with neon lights and entertainment. The next you can be exploring a poorer district where apartments are crammed together and children play in small alleyways. The Legions’ abilities can also be used during the exploration segments; such as using Beast to track a person of interest by sniffing an item, or using Arm to open locked roller shutters. It goes a long way in making the Legions feel like they have practical use as opposed to being a gimmicky combat initiative.

There are a couple of other neat features that will occupy your time. You can collect biographies and character models by taking photos of the enemies and NPCs using the in-game camera. There’s an Orders menu which lists challenges for players to complete throughout the game and gain costumes as a reward. You can also go back and replay chapters on higher difficulties to unlock more Legion combat abilities.

Astral Chain features cel-shaded graphics which gives it a distinctive anime vibe. The game is locked at 30 frames per second, but action remains fast and fluid. I did notice some frame rate drops when fighting larger bosses or when there were several enemies on screen at once, but this was infrequent. Likewise, the game ran smoothly in handheld mode and the text was readable despite the smaller screen – something a surprising amount of Switch games often overlook!

Most of the main story missions feature full voice acting, though side missions are only presented via text. The soundtrack is varied, with electronic, orchestral and metal music being used to convey the mood of the scene. In more general settings the music is electrical, but as the action ramps up the dramatic orchestral tunes come into play. And of course, boss battles and other intense moments appropriately feature metal music.

Astral Chain is one of the more interesting titles to have come from Platinum Games. The developer is known for its action games, and yet Astral Chain is more about exploration and platforming. The action that’s there is fast and frantic, but the other sequences are a welcome change of pace as they allow you to delve deeper into the game’s world and lore.


Joseph Rositano

 
While Joseph's main hobby has always centered around video games, he's also taken an interest in movies, musicals and traveling around the world. No one quite knows what Joseph's true motivations are, but rest assured he is always planning his next grand adventure!