Astral Chain is a game that I am happy I gave a chance to win me over. When I first started it up, to say it felt a little rough around the edges would be an understatement, I was struggling to find the motivation to even finish the first level. The moment you summoned your Legion for the first time, I became really concerned, thinking to myself ‘Oh no, is this really all that there is to this game?”. Luckily after an hour or so of playing, it really did open my eyes and start winning me over. Many hours in, I was completely engrossed in the action, having a blast fighting monsters alongside my Legion companion. This is the kind of fun action adventure game that I have come to expect from Platinum Games, and while it is not perfect, it is definitely worth it. Read on to find out why!
Developer: Platinum Games
Platform: Nintendo Switch
Release Date: August 30th, 2019
Astral Chain is Platinum Games bread-and-butter – an over-the-top, heavily stylish action game with a little bit of sprinkled in crime-solving. The player has access to three weapons that they can swap to on-the-fly: a baton, a handgun, and a gladius sword.
Despite having access to all the weapons, I found myself using the sword almost exclusively. The gun felt completely useless and the baton was just not as good as the sword was. Perhaps I just was not using them to their full potential, but at the end of the day the sword was my killer of choice.
On top of the player being able to deal out devastating combos on their own, they also have access to Legions, captured monsters with different abilities. When the game starts, you will only have access to one, but by the end you will have several that can be swapped on the fly.
Of all the Legions I used, I enjoyed using the 3 Legion you acquire the most. It has large hands that deal devastating heavy blows, and can machine gun like a JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure Stand.
In some ways, it felt like I was playing as V from Devil May Cry 5, with my beast out doing its own thing, leaving me with little control over it, but over time I realized that was not the best comparison. Instead, I think Astral Chain’s combat is unique to itself, crafting its own identity.
It took me a while to get used to the fact that I did not have complete control over my Legion, in fact this was the largest hurdle for me to get over when I started the game. I did not enjoy that my best combos felt like they were based around something I did not control.
But after a couple hours of playing, I got used to the combat and actually began to feel like it was a better for a player like me. Astral Chain allowed me to deal out massive amounts of damage and do some awesome looking combos with the help of my Legion after I learned how the controls worked.
There is also an in-depth mechanic that allows you to unlock skills and abilities for your legion as you gain experience and resources. While I found that the Legions themselves were strong enough on their own, over time as I unlocked more and more pieces of their skill tree, they began to turn into absolute weapons of mass destruction. This along with the option to equip abilities to them and upgrade your own equipment helps to round out the combat system of Astral Chain.
Outside of combat, there are things in the real world you will need to accomplish to clean up a crime scene. You will need to go around, asking people for information, finish minor tasks, solve puzzles, and kill small monsters.
While Astral Chain is not a long game, it does follow the Platinum Games formula of having a great amount of replayability. As you move through levels, you will come across areas or zones that you can not get through on your first time through, so you will have to come back.
This is an intelligent way to create replayability within the game without it feeling like I was being punished for not having the correct equipment the first time around. Rather, I feel like these were created to be a reward for players who pay attention and want to again that little something extra to rank up their officer.
There are also little bits of personality that bring the world of Astral Chain to life that always made me smile. Things like being rewarded for picking up cans or doing side quests to help out stray cats. A nice side activity before you go back to killing monsters and saving the day.
Another thing that Astral Chain has that really appeals to me as a fan of collectibles is the camera. After you obtain a camera, you can take pictures of every NPC and creature in the game to unlock their profile and information back at HQ. Getting pictures of all your friends and finding out their back stories is really fun.
Things that are as simple as one or two lines of text add a whole lot to a character and you get to know them better. Sometimes you run into a character who is peppy and enthusiastic or maybe you run into a character hides in a dark hallway who wants to give you tarot card readings. Astral Chain goes above and beyond your standard action fair.
The controls are simple to grasp and easy to understand, which I think is great for an action game. You do not need a complex control scheme to create something that has depth, I mean look at games like Bayonetta, Metal Gear Rising: Revengenace, and Devil May Cry.
You did not need to know how to play a piano in order to play those games, but you could still do some awesome combos if you knew what you were doing. Beyond that, the gameplay is great, with a great sense of replayability, tons of side objectives and missions, and a generally enjoyable atmosphere, Astral Chain may be one of the first games I push myself to 100% in a long time.
Also, the game has a co-op option where one player plays the protagonist while another plays as the Legion. Despite this being in the game, I did not get the chance to test out the couch co-op for myself, but it is still something to keep in mind if you and a friend want to work together to save the world!
Astral Chain’s story feels confusing at times, but is mainly used as a vehicle to get the player out into the field to destroy monsters. The year in 2078 and the world has become more or less uninhabitable after creatures from another dimension called “chimera” began to appear through gates, attacking humans and dragging them back to their own dimension.
All remaining humans live on an artificial island named the Ark which was believed to be safe from the chimera attacks, and was at least for a while. The chimera also leak corruption out that can turn living things into monsters if the corruption level is too high.
Humanity has been pushed to the brink of extinction because not just anyone has the ability to fight the chimera, in fact most people don’t even believe they are real. In order to combat this extra-dimensional threat, a secret police organization called “Neuron” was established and works alongside the traditional police in order to take down the Chimera.
These Neuron officers are selected due to the fact that they have the ability to control chained Chimera, which are then redubbed as “Legion”. Despite Neuron having dozens of members, the resources required to create a Legion is large, and at the beginning of the game, only five people have one of their own.
The protagonist, their twin sibling, Jin, Alicia, and their father Max Howard, all have the ability to control their own unique Legions. They lead the charge against the chimera that had begun their attack upon the Ark, using both their impressive combat skills as well as their Legion to bring them down.
With the protagonist and their sibling being freshly transferred to Neuron, they are sent on their first mission with the team. During the excursion, the protagonist is caught off guard and dragged into the enemy dimension. Before long the rest of the team show up to back him as he takes down a strong Chimera boss.
Unfortunately, the redshift corruption from the otherside of the gate begins to take a toll on everyone’s bodies and they become weakened, allowing their Legions to break free from their chains and attack them. You are the only one that has the ability to retain control over your Legion making you the only one who has any ability to fight back against the other Legions. After escaping the back through the gate, you are the only one with the ability to take down the Chimera that threaten the Ark and are made the new leader of the Neuron task force.
As you complete missions, you will take on larger and stronger Chimera, all while trying to find the Legions that have broken free so that you can rebind them, bringing them into your own arsenal. While the main plot revolves around beating back the Chimera attacks, there is also an emerging plot in which one of your boss’ former pupils from twenty years ago reemerges to launch her own attacks on the Ark. So now you have to fight a battle on two fronts, one against the Chimera, and the other against this mysterious woman and her strange wormlike monsters.
Here is where I may catch some flak for this review, I found the graphics of Astral Chain to be very hit or miss. At times the game can look incredible, using its cell shading to create an awesome and unique look, but at other points it looks bland or even unappealing.
While the graphics themselves are good, it was some of the character models that really felt hit or miss for me. In particular, I didn’t like the look of the female protagonist, her face bothered me enough that I went with the male character instead.
Luckily, any issues I have with the main cast ends there, all the main characters look great, Alicia, Jin, Max, Yoseph, Marie, Olive, Brenda, Yappy, etc. They all pull off the cell shading perfectly and help bring the Ark to life. The cell shading is so heavy and stylized that feels like Astral Chain is a comic book, and the way the game plays out, it is an appropriate aesthetic.
The environments of the Ark are nothing to write home about, they are your standard cyberpunk looking affair, but they help build up the world of 2078 Earth, while the alternate dimensions feel like the player is running around inside of a computer virus. Again, they are nothing too exciting, but the focus is always going to be on the action while on the other side of the gates.
The sound design of Astral Chain is good for what it is. While the music is not as catchy or immediately recognizable as Platinum Games’ other titles, it still gets the blood pumping and got me in the mood to kill some monsters, which is exactly what I wanted. The voice acting is hokey but decent, fitting the game like a glove. It makes Astral Chain feel like a B sci-fi movie, which is great.
One choice that I found interesting is that whichever character that the player chooses to play does not speak, but their sibling does. For example, I chose to play as the male character and he is a silent protagonist, but my sister speaks. Meaning the sibling will always speak, while the protagonist never does. While this choice was odd, it did not take me out of the game that much.
Though Astral Chain is not perfect, it is still an awesome game. It is more or less what people wanted out of the game and was more than what I expected. It is pretty decent action game with an interesting premise, fun characters, and an interesting world.
If you were looking forward to Astral Chain, I doubt you will be disappointed. If you were on the fence about it, I hope that my review has pushed you over the edge to making that purchase.
Pick it up, kill some monsters, crack a Monster, enjoy yourself. This is a video game, and video games are meant to be fun. Mission accomplished Platinum Games.
Astral Chain was reviewed on Nintendo Switch using a review copy provided by Nintendo. You can find additional information about Niche Gamer’s review/ethics policy here.