Astral Chain Review
PlatinumGames goes exclusive with Nintendo yet again.
PlatinumGames has been a fan favorite developer ever since their inception behind games such as Bayonetta, Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance, and Nier: Automata. The developer has also had a unique relationship with Nintendo that has led to exclusives like the Bayonetta sequels and even assisting with the most recent Star Fox game. Now this relationship has resulted in yet another exclusive as they’ve moved onto the Nintendo Switch with Astral Chain.
Astral Chain takes place more than 50 years into the future, where humanity is struggling to survive and has relocated to an island known as the Ark. You play as a member of the Neuron Police Task Force, who were created to combat enemy forces known as the Chimera from another dimension known as the Astral Plane. These Chimera has started to cross over and run wild in the regular world, though only a select few can actually see and vanquish these beasts. Your player character is one of these special people, who can bind with a Chimera and turn it into what is known as a Legion through using your Astral Chain.
The game starts off by letting you create either a male or female player character, each with very few customization options to choose from. If you select a male character, your twin Akira will be a female and vice versa if you pick a female instead. The relationship between both your player character and Akira is central to the overall story in Astral Chain, especially the further the game goes on.
One aspect that does really hurt the story though is the choice to make the player character a silent protagonist. You get the option to name the character at the start and he or she is completely silent the rest of the way. This means Akira really has to pick up the slack for the more emotional moments in the game, which could have been so much more if his or her twin was interacting with dialogue as well.
Astral Chain is split across 11 Files, which have individual chapters within them, along with a special File 12 that serves as an epilogue of sorts. Most Files start off with you being sent off to investigate a Chimera that has broken through to the Ark and you having to track it down to defeat it. There are numerous cutscenes found throughout the game, especially when between Files, that help to push what is a very intriguing story along. You can definitely see some influence here from Neon Genesis Evangelion at times, which is something you do not see that often in gaming.
The Nintendo Switch may not have the graphical capabilities of its counterparts, but there are some definite standouts that show off the visual prowess of the system and Astral Chain is definitely one of those games. Utilizing cel-shaded graphics, the game shines not only in its cutscenes, but also during the combat as well. The contrast between the Ark and the red tinted Astral Plane really help to show off what this game is capable of as a visual beauty for the Switch. The visuals are also accompanied by a stellar soundtrack, which is nothing to be surprised with coming from this developer and their previous pedigree in that department.
Platinum is always known most for their over the top fast paced gameplay and Astral Chain certainly lives up to those standards. Your player character is equipped with a special weapon known as an X-Baton, which can be changed into a few different forms that include a faster yet weaker sword, a stronger yet slower blade, and a gun with range that does not deal a lot of damage. Regardless of the mode you have selected, you can attack rapidly with your X-Baton by pressing ZR an infinite number of times, as there is no stamina meter to worry about.
This may seem pretty basic for Platinum on the surface, but what really changes the game are the Legions and how you use them in battle. While you start off with only one, you can obtain four more Legions throughout the game that each bring something different to the table. You start off with the Sword Legion, with there being Arrow Legion, Arm Legion, Beast Legion, and Axe Legion to come later.
Once you have your selected Legion, you can summon it onto the battlefield to help you in battle while connected via an Astral Chain. This chain can be used in other ways in battle too, including binding enemies to where you can attack them without fear of being damaged temporarily. This strategy doesn’t work on everybody though, so it does not serve as a cheap way to play through the game by any means.
The tandem style action found in the game between your player character and the Legion is something that could have not worked at all in execution, but PlatinumGames somehow made it work to perfection. Using the Legion feels almost seamless, to where you never feel hindered when using them. While not built around it, the game does also offer co-op play where a friend can control the Legion as well, which adds another layer of fun to the experience with how well the two work together. Regardless of which way you are playing, the controls feel tight and as well designed as you’d expect from Platinum.
Each Legion can not only assist you in combat, but they also have special abilities that they can pull off in the overworld as well that you will need to advance through certain sections. There is also the Chain Jump ability, which allows you to make it across gaps using certain Legion that would not be possible otherwise. There are sometimes in the game that you will have to use the Chain Jump ability mixed with other individual abilities for each Legion to advance past some platforming sections, with some of these getting a bit frustrating at times.
While your player character does not have his or her own leveling up system, both your equipment and Legion can be upgraded in the game. Your X-Baton and your Legatus, the device that tethers you Legion with the Astral Chain, can both be upgraded by spending in-game money and special cores you collect in the game. The game goes for your Legion as well, which you can strengthen through a skill tree that uses what are known as Gene Codes that you earn in the game and also variants of the special cores as well for certain techniques. Neither of these felt entirely necessary most of the time, but they still are helpful to have in the game nonetheless.
Astral Chain also implements what is known as the IRIS in multiple ways both inside and outside of battle. During battle you can bring up this augmented reality display to view health information on bosses and other details about enemies you are facing. When just exploring the area, you can also activate IRIS to help with finding objects and people to interact with, as well as easily track down items such as empty cans and item crates.
Using the Legion feels almost seamless
During the journey to stop the Chimeras from breaking out of the Astral Plane, you will face a very respectable number of unique enemies. With as many fights as there are in the game, there is no doubt these enemies will start to feel a bit repetitive eventually, but this never really starts to feel like a problem. The boss fights are sometimes larger versions of existing enemies, while others are exclusive bosses that have no other variants in the game. Bosses as a whole are a lot of fun in the game, with them popping up quite regularly throughout and offering a decent challenge most of the time.
The main story in Astral Chain will take you around 10-15 hours to complete, but there is so much more to do in the game beyond that to keep you coming back. First of all, the game not only comes with three default difficulties, but also a fourth unlockable difficulty that is very worth trying out for a real challenge after the fact. In addition, there are side missions found all throughout the game that you can take on whenever you would like.
With Chimeras crossing over into the regular world throughout Astral Chain, they leave behind something known as Red Matter that is found all around in the game. Your goal within each File is to clean up all of the Red Matter that you can find with your Legion of choice. You will certainly have to explore each area to come even close to cleaning up 100%, so you will likely find yourself coming back to finish this up after the fact.
When it comes to original properties, PlatinumGames are one of the best in the business and they have proven it once again with Astral Chain. Even though the story is held back by the very odd choice to have a silent protagonist, the narrative will still keep you entertained regardless. Platinum’s signature is always the gameplay and Astral Chain delivers in spades with some of the most genuinely fun and satisfying combat you can find on the Nintendo Switch.
While fans are waiting for Bayonetta 3 to finally come out, PlatinumGames has released yet another gem on a Nintendo platform with one of their best and most entertaining combat systems to date in Astral Chain.
- Available On: Nintendo Switch
- Published By: Nintendo
- Developed By: PlatinumGames
- Genre: Action
- US Release Date: August 30, 2019
- Reviewed On: Nintendo Switch
- Quote: "While fans are waiting for Bayonetta 3 to finally come out, PlatinumGames has released yet another gem on a Nintendo platform with one of their best and most entertaining combat systems to date in Astral Chain."