In recent years, Japanese developer Platinum Games has been on a roll. Everything that they can come up with from stories, settings or gameplay mechanics turns out to be gems that bring action games of the highest class. From the beautiful Bayonetta to the much-praised Nier Automata or Vanquish, time and again they seem to surpass themselves with a new unique concept in the action genre. Now it is Astral Chain’s turn and yet again everything seems to fall in place to become something beautiful.
In the year 2078 the Earth is no longer as we know it. So called chimeras came from another dimension and transformed into horrible monsters called aberrations. They have eradicated life as we know and humanity has now withdrawn to what we call “the Ark.” The last bastion where man tries to live on. You play with a male or female twin character. Brother and sister are both police officers on the Ark to keep the artificial island at peace and deal with the rare occurrences of chimeras. However, the fact that you meet a one of those on the ark is quite rare and that is why the twins can actually do some normal police work as well – until they are summoned in a field where exactly such a monster causes devastation. However, it is quickly discovered that they are absolutely powerless against the being. You can’t even see it.
Here the two meet the Neurons Special Forces, who are trained to deal with the unnatural beings. For this purpose they use their legions – tamed and chained chimeras that follow their ruler and are extremely powerful. And as luck would have it, the heads of Neuron had been watching the twins for some time now, so in this mission their receive their supernatural power in the form of their own legion. From here the adventure begins of the two heroes, who are then involved in more and more terrible scenes. The whole story has been written in a fascinating way and is completely spoken with English voice overs and text. Platinum Games often makes crazy games, but this is one of their more serious works. And although the story is sometimes somewhat predictive, there are quite a few plot twists that keeps it all interesting.
The gameplay is more or less divided into two parts, which merges seamlessly. On the one hand there is the research phase, in which people search through various locations to find evidence, talk to people and in many cases perform more or less detective work. These are often small secondary tasks, all of which are fairly simple, but are a nice way to cool down after intense battles. Here and there, however, you must also collect clues to eventually find out why someone just disappeared. At the end of such a section, all clues become a whole and depending on whether you choose the right match for the dialogue, you will be rewarded for this. All the research and the choices you make are always simple and should not become a real problem. To make it all a bit easier, you also have an IRIS scanner in which you can find all the tracks more easily via vitual reality. In the end it usually comes to a fight or you see that the chimera has dragged a victim into its astral dimension, into which you dive in to fulfill the second part of the assignment.
Unlike the normal world, the astral region is not so peaceful – it is, after all, the world of chimeras. The most interesting aspect of the game emerges in these areas: the fighting. These are, as we are used to from the developers, very varied in design and also extremely well developed. To protect himself against the monsters, which can occur in a number of variations, the main character already has several attack possibilities thanks to a special baton that he uses. This can take three forms from the start: a short, fast version, a kind of broadsword form and the transformation to a firearm. Each of these forms has its own combo and will be supplemented during the game with a few options to make the fighting for your own character more interesting.
But the fighting only becomes more interesting when you bring out your own legion. In the course of the game you get five different legions, with which the standard combos can be expanded or changed. With them you can perform powerful final attacks, but also several special maneuvers: because the legion is permanently connected to the player via a chain, it can easily be led around an enemy to bind it to this chain and give it a temporary stun. In addition, you can also use your chain to hurl a charging enemy back. Each of the five legions has their own special skills that make them unique in any situation and they can move and attack on their own so that you don’t have to constantly look at it if you don’t want to. But you have to be careful: your own helper cannot stay in the field indefinitely. An indicator shows how long your legion can stay outside before it has to be withdrawn for a short time. And the monstrous helper is also not invincible: if it suffers damage, the limiter display decreases rapidly and if it drops below zero, a legion cannot be called out for a certain time. You also need to be prepared for attacks and you have no block function – just a dodge button, where a perfect roll at the right time offers the possibility of a counterattack, whether you are alone or with a legion by your side. In the end there is another way to fight, but this includes story spoilers that you would rather experience yourself.
After completing certain fights you get a score and therefore a rank, money and also some kind of job points. Ranking is just the conclusion of each chapter to see how well you score in the game. However, there is no point-based system based on combos, as was the case with Devil May Cry or Bayonetta, but rather a system that rewards efficiency and cleverness. So you can try to kill all enemies as quickly as possible to get a decent time bonus – or you can continue methodically, choose different combos and different legions and eventually collect bonuses for the techniques used. In both cases it is possible to get the highest rating so that you can choose how you want to do this. You can compare the Job Points with a light form of experience points, where you can raise your life energy with said points or get cosmetic items as a reward.
If you have problems with the opponents, it is worth upgrading. You can only improve your own equipment at the head office, this allows you to learn new techniques or increase the limiter display – you do this with money and materials. It looks a bit different with the legions: to improve them, you need gene codes, which you only get by defeating enemies. This allows you to unlock new status bonuses and skills, similar to a skilltree in other games. However, there are no large, different trees for the different legions. Each just follows a path where you can determine what to unlock first.
Astral Chain is an action game, but not a short one, it took us about 25 hours to reach the end, while exploring as much as possible along the way. In addition to the main story, you also have some side missions, items and battles that you can undergo, and these can be quite tricky. In addition, you can collect character and opponent data for your own database by recording them in snapshots – where you can even take selfies. All legions and the character itself can be adjusted to a certain extent (in the case of legions, however, limited to the color) and there are more than 180 in-game achievements that grant items, accessories and other small bonuses when accomplished . If that is not enough for you, try to get the best score anywhere, which is made very easy here: it is always possible to jump into a selection screen and from there to certain parts of a chapter, so you always have a very fast access to all possible rank battles. The title offers three levels of difficulty, making it as easy or as hard as possible to play the game all by yourself – so that you can either fully concentrate on the story or get the challenge you come to expect from a Platinum title. It is also possible to play the entire game in co-op, with one player taking on the human character, while the second plays with a legion. In general, the game offers a complete package that you will not easily get away from and even have you play with a friend.
Visually Platinum would not be itself if you do not see beautiful explosions conjured on the screen in combination with smooth gameplay in a cell-shaded coat of paint. However, during play I saw only one problem and that is the fact that many areas that you visit feel similar – be it in the astral area or in the real world. Although new sections are opened to go to completely different places, unfortunately, new areas often resemble areas that you have seen before. In terms of music, however, you get something wonderfully orchestrated . In addition to catchy theme numbers, the sound in each section fits very well with the gameplay and will not be boring in the long run. A minor downside perhaps is that your own character, as so often does not say much, while both side characters are completely voiced compared to who you originally chose as a playable character.
When I heard about Astral Chain, I was quite interested. Platinum Games always knows how to make a good action game. They have now proven this yet again with another direct hit. The gameplay is very fluent and learned quickly, even with a puppet from which you delegate the strings. Although the story is quite serious this time around, I enjoyed it a lot and eventually learned more about the world that the developer has built for us. With more than 20 hours of play time – only for the first run – they have delivered a lot of content and if you still want to collect everything, you will be very busy for a long time. Last but not least, the title also looks great, the effects sound great and the soundtrack is just right. If you like action games and want something other than DMC or Bayonetta, you can’t ignore Astral Chain.
Astral Chain is a fast-paced action game that only the Platinum Games experts can deliver: fantastic battles and a great story go hand in hand in this Switch exclusive.