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I’ve grown fond of PlatinumGames over the years. They have a pretty good track record and Bayonetta has become my favorite character action series. When I heard about Astral Chain, I was immediately interested simply because Platinum was behind it. I watched the trailer and thought the dual-character concept was a neat idea. Developed by PlatinumGames and published by Nintendo, Astral Chain was released for Switch in August, 2019. It’s a hack and slash game where you play as cop and can summon creatures known as Legions to help you solve cases and defeat enemies.
Set in the future in a megacity called “The Ark”, the world is under attack by interdimensional creatures known as “Chimeras” which reside in the “Astral Plane”. The story revolves around the protagonist and his or her twin sibling Akira. They join Neuron, a special police task force, as new recruits. Neuron officers utilize Legions to fight Chimeras and solve cases. Legions, themselves, are Chimeras tethered to Neuron officers. The protagonist proceeds to investigate Chimera attacks, solve cases, and save humanity. Personally, I thought the plot was a little bizarre. It was definitely inspired by anime which I don’t watch a lot of but the action and cool factor kept me engaged. Astral Chain does have solid world building and good character development. The voice acting is okay and not all interactions are voiced so you’ll be forced to read from time to time.
You’ll have to create your character before you can jump into the action. You can walk, run, crouch, and perform an evade move. If you evade at just the right time, you’ll enter slow motion for a brief time. Once you acquire the Legatus Unit, you can use the IRIS tool to analyze foes and see important information in the world. The Legatus also lets you to summon Legions. There are multiple difficulty modes or play styles and the story plays out in Files with multiple cases per file. Cases are basically missions. Red Cases are major and Blue Cases are minor and you’re rewarded for solving them and many Files have you investigating and solving cases before getting into the action of your primary case or mission. You’ll have to interact with NPC’s and your character will take notes based on what they said. Legions can help you find clues and solve cases. You’ll have to apprehend criminals, retrieve items, and even play minigames.
Your character is equipped with an X-Baton that’s capable of transforming into three different weapon types – a baton, blaster, and gladius. They each have their ups and downs and you can switch between them on-the-fly. You can punch and kick and perform combos and you can also perform sync attacks with your Legions where you can send your Legion out at the end of a combo to inflict damage. I will say the controls take some getting used to and can sometimes feel convoluted. There’s all kinds of moves and actions you can perform, plus you have to control the Legions and I found it very easy to fumble around with the controls or press the wrong button in the heat of battle. Also, despite being able to control the camera manually, it can often work against you, positioning itself at terrible angles, which is more of an issue during combat. I would frequently fall off ledges in the Astral Plane areas because I messed up the controls or didn’t have a good view of my surrounding area while I was quickly moving around and engaging enemies in battle.
There is a co-op mode which we didn’t try. The second player will control the Legion independently. You’ll get to utilize five Legions total and they each have different abilities. For example, the Sword Legion can cut through energy currents, you can attack enemies from long distance and retrieve items out of reach with the Arrow Legion, you can wear the Arm Legion like armor and it can pick up and move heavy objects, the Axe Legion can protect you from certain environmental hazards and detonate certain objects, and you can ride the Beast Legion or have it track scents and dig up buried items. During battle, Legions will attack enemies on their own and you can teach them skills which are special moves. Once summoned, a Legion will fight for as long as the limiter gauge allows but you can call it back at any time. Once called back, the gauge will fill up rather quickly. You’ll have to utilize Legions to make difficult jumps and solve puzzles. Furthermore, they can be a crucial part of combat. You’re essentially controlling two characters at the same time and you can switch between the different Legions at the press of a button. The Beast Legion riding can be frustrating, especially when attempting any kind of platforming. The controls are touchy as in one slight movement of the stick results in the Beast Legion moving several steps in whatever direction you dictate.
Exploring the world, solving cases, and defeating enemies will reward you with resources and money. You’re also rewarded for completing certain tasks. You can spend money and resources to upgrade your X-Baton and Legatus, and strengthen your Legions. You can buy various items from merchants and vending machines and sell anything you don’t want. Combat and Recovery items come in two varieties. Permanent items which you keep and Temporary Field Supply items which are lost at the end of files. Health items restore health, you can utilize explosives and drones during combat, and certain consumables provide temporary benefits. Your Legatus has an AED which will bring you back to life if you die. It essentially represents your lives. However many batteries it has is how many lives you have. Upgrading your Legatus can increase different AED properties as well as the limiter gauge max. When you upgrade the X-Baton, you unlock new moves and increase the amount of damage it inflicts.
Strengthening your Legion is one of the cooler aspects of the game because it adds some depth to the gameplay. Using resources like material and gene codes, you can increase a Legion’s attack damage, defense, and unlock new skills and additional ability slots. You’ll collect ability codes by defeating enemies and you can apply them to your Legions and swap them out with others at any time. There’s all different kinds of abilities and they all have different properties which will affect your Legions. Experimenting with different combinations of codes is all part of the fun. Furthermore, you can assign skills to each Legion which you can activate manually during combat. To further customize your Legions, you can visit the Legatus Terminal at Neuron HQ to perform maintenance which is basically like cleaning them and change their colors.
Each File will take you different areas around the Ark and you’ll engage different types of enemies, most of which are Chimeras. The enemy variety is quite impressive. Every now and then you’ll have to engage humans and Aberrations which are humans transformed into deadly creatures from being exposed to the red matter left behind by Chimeras. Chimeras come in all different types and most of the bosses peppered throughout the game are Chimeras. Some can fly, some utilize long ranged attacks, others can freeze you, they’ll jump around, run around, and they usually appear in numbers. Some Chimeras can aid others or have specific traits that require the use of specific Legions to take down. The game does a good job at encouraging you to use different Legions and try different things. The combat can be extremely fun but when there’s a lot going on and if the camera isn’t playing nice, it can be easy to take damage or not see certain attacks coming. You are scored at the end of battles so taking a hit you didn’t see coming can be frustrating if you’re the type of person who likes to chase high scores. You’ll have to learn when to engage enemies at close range and from afar. You’ll need to pay attention so you can initiate sync attacks at the exact right moments. You’ll have to memorize enemy attacks and behaviors to know when to move, when to evade, and when to strike. There’s definitely depth to the combat and the battles can get really chaotic. They do get more challenging as you progress. However, I can’t say the game is super difficult. At least not on the Casual difficulty which I equate to Normal and you can change the difficulty at HQ and at the start of each File.
For most Files, you’ll start cases at Neuron HQ where you can manually save your game, buy and sell items, upgrade your X-Baton and Legatus, and access your Locker where you can change your character’s appearance. Most of the areas are somewhat open, allowing you to freely roam around them with barriers blocking access to certain paths. You’ll often enter gates to the Astral Plane and while these areas look cool, they all look the same and become repetitive after a while. I prefer the environments set in the Ark because they offer more visual variety. The Ark is a megacity so you’ll navigate around a lot of urban-looking areas but you’ll also traverse through different buildings like the Aegis Research Institute and mall among some others. There are some cool sequences where you have to ride a motorcycle and engage enemies and there are some stealth encounters peppered throughout the story. The game does start out slow in my opinion and it definitely holds your hand in the beginning. You will have to solve puzzles that require the use of Legions and most of them aren’t that difficult to figure out. There’s going to be some platforming and you’ll have to avoid environmental hazards from time to time as well. Some areas can only be accessed by utilizing certain Legions so you will have to replay through Files to see everything the game has to offer. Most Files have you performing an investigation and solving cases in the first half and the second half has you engaging enemies. Thankfully, the various cases, items, and what I refer to as collectibles scattered throughout the environments encourage exploration so there’s a nice balance of exploration, puzzle solving, and combat and all three can feel rewarding.
The cel-shaded art style in Astral Chain looks phenomenal. Other than some noticeable jaggies and pop-in from time to time, the entire visual presentation is vibrant, colorful, and everything looks slick. The developers nailed the cyberpunk look and feel of the world and they successfully managed to create different atmospheres for The Ark and Astral Plane which is another dimension. But as mentioned earlier, all of the Astral Plane areas look the same so the environments can become repetitive if you spend a lot of time there. The character models look good but the NPC animations can appear stiff. The soundtrack is full of different genres of music and the different songs do a good job at capturing the mood of each scene or scenario. You can go from dramatic orchestral-sounding stuff to metal when enemies appear. The sound effects are good with satisfying sounds of strikes and blasts and the Legions and Chimeras will roar and make different noises during combat. On the technical side, the frame rate did tank during the more hectic battles but I encountered no major issues.
There’s no denying there are obstacles to overcome in Astral Chain. The camera isn’t perfect and the controls can feel cumbersome at first but, overall, I really enjoyed my time with this. I felt the game was slow to start but the beginning gives you plenty of time to get used to the mechanics and take everything in. When I hear the name PlatinumGames, I think of crazy action and at first, I thought spending half my time running around solving cases, puzzles, and exploring would get boring but it didn’t. You’re rewarded for almost everything and most of what you find and earn throughout the game can be used to customize and improve your character and Legions. Legion strengthening can be addictive, it adds some depth to the game, and encourages experimentation. The dual-character concept makes Astral Chain a unique experience. Surviving battles will require you to work together with your Legions and the combat is more than just mashing buttons. Knowing your enemies, when to evade, and getting the timing down are all part of it. There’s a lot to see and do here and plenty of reasons to return.
I would absolutely recommend Astral Chain to anyone. It’s got something for everyone thanks to its great balance of action, exploration, and puzzle solving. It has solid world building, good character development, satisfying combat, and the experience as a whole feels rewarding. Astral Chain can be a lengthy experience if you take the time to explore and solve all of the cases. It took me almost thirty hours to beat the story. Finding everything, completing all of the cases, and going for better rankings is what should keep you coming back. Definitely check out Astral Chain.