PlatinumGames' latest title has no shortage of style and substance!
My experience with PlatinumGames’ library of stylish character action games has been pretty consistent across their many illustrious titles. The gameplay and mechanics across games including the Bayonettaseries, The Wonderful 101, and Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance were always unique and exciting, but they were often tricky to learn and unforgiving to newcomers. It took some time and effort to get a handle on everything each game had to offer, but if you really work at it, you can pull off some amazingly fluid and flashy stunts. As I took the long and grueling climb up each learning curve, I was always able to look back on how far I’d improved from that lowly consolation prize I earned at the end of each level at first. Astral Chain for the Nintendo Switch offers that same kind of Platinum-quality satisfaction with gameplay as relentless as it is rewarding.
When humanity is under attack from otherworldly creatures known as “Chimeras,” their only line of defense is the elite special task force Neuron. In this gorgeously-sleek cyberpunk world, you play as the newest recruit on the Neuron force, and use the power of your Legion companion to fight against the Chimera threat.
Combat relies on both physical force and the strength of your multiple Legion types. You have your own melee attacks and long range weapons you can use to pummel the enemy, but the real battle begins when you summon your Legion. They can attack independently of your actions, so you can take on multiple foes at once or even avoid damage while your Legion does the fighting. You can also coordinate with your Legion to stun enemies and pull off an endless array of flashy combos; if you’re feeling saucy, you can even split the Joy-Cons and have a friend control the Legion during battle.
Each of your Legions even has unique abilities to aid you in combat, as you’re able to switch between a Sword type, Arrow type, Armor type, and more. You can also upgrade each one to make them even stronger. It’s just like having a Jojo's Bizarre Adventure stand, and who wouldn’t want that in a video game? But the extra challenge comes from not being too reliant on your Legions in a fight. If they’re out for too long or take too much damage, you won’t be able to summon it for a while, severely limiting your combat options. It’s a pretty intuitive way to vary up your gameplay and make sure that both you and your Legion get a piece of the action.
This is where that infamous PlatinumGames learning curve comes in. There are tons of tricks and mechanics to learn such as perfect dodging and slow-motion counterattacks to maximize your fighting capabilities. But they aren’t for the faint of heart. Astral Chain’s combat can be merciless for first-timers as you try to wrap your head around everything you can pull off. Controlling your Legion simultaneously with your character can be daunting and finicky at first, especially when you’re trying to avoid enemy attacks. If you don’t know what you’re doing right away, and you’d be excused if you didn’t, the game will be quick to punish you with a brutal Chimera hit or a discouragingly-low combat grade. As of this writing, I’m still trying to get a handle on Counter Slashing and timing my dodges better.
But the last thing you should do is give hope. Like any great character action game, Astral Chain encourages players to improve on their skills and get better as time goes on. It’s a lot of hard work, and you can expect a fair share of Game Over screens. But with enough effort and a little grit, expert-level Chimera fighting will be like second nature. If the battle gets too tough, you can always lower the difficulty, although you won’t receive letter grades on the easier settings.
Much like Platinum’s critically-acclaimed NieR: Automata, there’s a lot more to explore in any given level than just finding the next horde of enemies to beat up. As a police officer, you’re typically assigned to go out in the field for various assignments. While taking on the Chimera threat is the main priority, you can also help out citizens with a variety of sidequests that can include anything from fetching a soccer ball for children, finding lost cats, or chasing down regular criminals who are up to no good. You can even conduct some menial tasks like picking up trash or cleaning up Chimera corruption spots for a little extra cash. Your Legions can also help you overcome platforming challenges and uncover secrets hidden throughout an area.
You’ll even conduct some detective work during many of your assignments. Using your all-seeing IRIS to get a scan of the environment, you’ll be able to track people’s movements, view bullet trajectories, and examine items to collect clues for your case. You can even use your Legion for gathering intel. Legions can’t be seen by regular humans, making them great for sneaky recon. When citizens aren’t keen on giving you information, you can position your Legion to listen in on their conversation.
Once you have enough clues, you can consult with your team and run down the information you gathered. As your crew asks questions about the case, you’ll have to offer up the correct information to make the police work go as smoothly as possible. You’ll even be graded at the end of your case depending on how well you put together the info, so be sure to have your detective hat on for these sections!
Having these in-between portions is an excellent way to prevent combat from becoming too monotonous. The integration of regular police work woven with Chimera fights truly enlivens the world of Astral Chain. Without thinking, I found myself compulsively seeking out empty soda cans to throw in trash bins and deliberating every piece of information I had to get a good grade on a case. Each case I’ve taken on so far is sprawling with extra goodies and side content without any of it ever feeling too tedious. I often look forward to my next assignment every time and seeing what else I can find.
During your downtime as a Neuron operative, you’ll spend time in the Neuron HQ. As you might guess, there’s even more to do here on each floor of the facility. You can chat with your fellow officers to purchase items or upgrade your equipment, and you can also interact with some of the stranger characters at the precinct and fulfill sidequests for them. You can even replay previous missions to find more secrets and get better grades.
In the Locker Room, you can customize the look of your character. You’re free to change up anything from your skin color to accessories to outfits and beyond. You can also customize the look of your Legions at the Legatus Terminal. Here, you can change your Legions’ color scheme and even give each of them a special bath to keep them clean and combat-ready!
If you’re a new player, however, you’ll probably be spending most of your time in the Training Room. Here, you can play and replay tutorials for combat and movement so you can hone your skills at your own pace. You can choose specific mechanics to practice or take on enemy hordes to perfect your dodging and adjust your tactics. If you check back often, you might find some fellow Neuron operatives who will offer some special challenges.
This is the perfect place to help you surmount that learning curve I mentioned earlier. I’ve already spent a number of hours trying to polish my gameplay in there, and I can tell you from experience that it helps a lot. There’s no shame in spending as much of your time as possible in the Training Room making sure that you and your Legions are in tip-top shape and ready for the next assignment. Even at its most brutal, Astral Chain wants you to improve.
The PlatinumGames logo is traditionally a seal of quality for any video game, and Astral Chain is no different. Though the combat can be difficult to come to grips with, the game gives you plenty of resources to help you get better. It also helps that there’s plenty of police work to do outside of the battle. I had no doubt that Astral Chain would live up to the Platinum standard, and it certainly doesn’t disappoint in that regard.
The only question left: Are you ready to join Neuron?
+ Challenging yet stylish action
+ Plenty of side content to keep you busy
+ Great custom options for your character and your Legions
+/- Combat can be brutal at first, so you’ll need time and effort to get the hang of it
Carlos is a freelance features writer for Crunchyroll. Their favorite genres range from magical girls to over-the-top robot action, yet their favorite characters are always the obscure ones. Check out some of their satirical work on The Hard Times.