With plenty of major releases for other platforms delayed until next year or the upcoming console generation, all eyes were set to focus on the Nintendo Switch this year. The Switch was certainly due for an abundant year, and Astral Chain revealed as a surprise in the February Nintendo Direct looked like the kind of high-octane action the console needed to complete it’s already impressive library.
Fresh off the heels of the award winning Nier:Automata, renowned action game developer Platinum Games grabbed a lot of attention during the Astral Chain reveal showcasing what seemed to be a mix of the anime Psycho-Pass, JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure and classic Character Action gameplay with impressive artwork and visuals that pushed the Switch to its limits.
Did Platinum Games deliver yet another award-winning smash hit? Did the Switch just get a new franchise that’s worthy of a sequel? Is Astral Chain really the ultimate exclamation to the year of the Switch releases? Can you save humanity from the scourge of the Chimera? Let’s dive into an interdimensional portal and find out.
There’s no question: Astral Chain is a gorgeous game. With impressive character and model designs that stretch the limits of the Switch hardware and memorable “Legion” companions and “Chimera” beasts to fight, this is Platinum games at its finest when it comes to design. The fire effects and environmental destruction are particularly impressive for a console like the Switch.
Despite all of the visual fidelity, the Switch runs the game well, sticking close to its 30fps target while maintaining close to 900p in docked mode and close to 720p in handheld mode. It’s really a treat to play especially on handheld as it’s the best looking action game on the console right now. There are a few dips here and there but nothing that affects the flow of battle or important exploration parts.
On the Sound department, the game has its share of satisfying music tracks that dramatically shift during exploration and battle parts. The game even has its own anime-type intro song called “Savior” which is an excellent track that sets the stage for the game’s cast of characters.
In terms of sound effects, Platinum also hits us with its best. Legion and Chimera have distinctive growls and roars, weapons sound sweet when they hit, and while not everything is voice acted, the English and Japanese voice acting both deliver the kind of tone that comes in an anime-type game.
Mechanics (4.7 / 5)
Platinum games are known as the King of Action games for a reason – they always deliver. And Astral Chain is no different. The action part of the game plays really well with combat systems that flow together with different varieties which you can switch to on the fly.
Your main weapon is the X-Baton, a high tech standard police weapon that can switch between a baton for fast attacks and combos, a gun for those pesky flying enemies, and a Gladius mode, basically transforming it into a greatsword for some two-handed whacking. Each weapon has its own combos, charge attacks and other attacks available as you level up your X-Baton.
Your other “weapon” is your companion Legion, tamed interdimensional beasts captured as humanity’s last form of defense. There are 5 kinds of Legion in the game, each with their own unique weapons, skills and movement abilities that are essential to progressing through the game.
The Sword legion is your main companion from the start of the game and allows you to slash through enemies and obstacles; the Arrow legion is your main form of ranged DPS and your means of sniping away at larger bosses; the Arm Legion can go “Ora Ora” like Star Platinum, lift obstacles, and can also be worn by the character like enhanced armor; the Beast legion can be ridden for fast traversal and for some treasure digging; and the Axe Legion has a force field that can protect you during tense moments.
The player gets introduced to each Legion early on, but you only really get to know them as you add them to your roster 1 by 1 throughout the story. Each of them is essential to progress as some of the most interesting mechanics of the game is traversing through the platforming parts using the different skills of your chimera. It’s really satisfying to be able to use these beasts for more than just fighting.
It takes some getting used to trying to control 2 characters at the same time with both analog sticks, but once it clicks, it really comes together as a game with lots of surprising depth. The most satisfying mechanic during battle is the Sync attack where with the right timing and the right press of the button, the player can deliver a devastating stylish attack together with your Legion. Another awesome mechanic is using the chain that links the player and his/her Legion to bind the enemies or to reel them back during a charge attack. And it wouldn’t be a Platinum game if you couldn’t finish off each Chimera with a finisher attack.
After each battle, the player is of course graded on how well he/she did, and much of this is tied to whatever Equipment you have on your legion and your skill tree for each Legion. Each legion has its own unique upgrade tree, which will take you more than one playthrough to complete, but generally I found that sticking mostly to one Legion worked well enough for me in most battles.
It’s not all praise for Astral Chain though, as I found the few sneaking missions very dull and tedious. It can be quite annoying trying to trail someone in the game and it really doesn’t fit with the overall flow of the game. At least there’s an option to just go gung ho and forget the sneaking at the expense of a lower rating.
Another important mechanic in Astral Chain is the IRIS visor. It basically works like Detective Mode in the Batman Arkham games, and are essential in finding clues (you’re a cop after all), breakables, items and just randomly reading people’s profiles.
Content ( 3.7 / 5)
Astral Chain is a fairly long action game. I’m used to character action driven games to be around the 15 hour mark or less, but surprisingly, Astral Chain gave me close to 30 hours before I ended my first playthrough. That said, I did a lot of side quests and shenanigans, but I would estimate that a “fast” straightforward playthrough of the game would still at least hit near the 20 hour mark which is still longer than most games in the same genre.
The story progresses in a linear mission-based structure where each case is its own little open world with its own sidequests, hidden paths, and collectibles to find. Each case feels like an anime episode in terms of progress and although the plot is semi-predictable, there are still a few twists and turns that make it entertaining and worth looking forward to.
Outside of the main action in the linear mission stages, there’s a few fun things you can do in the Neuron Headquarters. There are some wacky side quests featuring the adorable Police Mascot named Lappy and its alter ego Marie, training rooms to hone your skills, and some collectibles that come into play post-mission if you manage to find them.
Some of the fun secrets include toilets to find in each of the missions – completion will give you a unique item from the toilet fairy. For feline lovers, there are also cats which you can rescue, collect and feed during your downtime. Each of them have their own names and personalities – it always had me stoked when I found one. Meow!
One of Astral Chain’s strengths is also its customizability. Right from the get go you get to pick whether you’re the male or the female protagonist, how your character looks, your name and everything, and later on you’ll be able to unlock colors, costume options – including some hilarious ones, and even change your Legion’s colors into an Evangelion if you’re able to find it. While your character stays mute throughout the game, there is plenty of customization to be had in order to express yourself.
A tradition of character action games is that they’re made to be replayable and Astral Chain is in the same vein. There are difficulty options to choose from if you want to replay each mission; there are plenty of collectibles to unlock to complete your Legion’s skill tree or to fully upgrade your Baton, cats to collect, IRIS voice options, costumes and colors for yourself and your Legion, and some post game challenges to test your mettle with.
It doesn’t have the most robust post-game options but there’s still plenty enough to extend the game length outside of the initial run.
Features ( 3.4 / 5 )
In terms of Features, Astral Chain has selectable difficulty levels you can unlock after finishing each “Case”. There are more rewards to reap after finishing them on each difficulty, so it gives players some incentive to re-do them.
There is a training mode in headquarters so that you can hone your Chimera-slaying skills at any time, and there’s also a feature where can “maintain” your Legion by scrubbing off gunk accumulated throughout battle. Doing this will ensure that your Legion becomes more responsive to your commands in battle.
And of course there’s the much-loved Photo Mode found in many modern games to add some flavor to your screenshots
You have the ability to change your IRIS voice assistant to other options as you unlock them throughout the game, and the Japanese voice track unlocks after the first mission by doing so in the main menu.
Interestingly, there’s also a Co-op mode in Astral Chain. This allows one Joycon to control your character and the second player’s Joycon to control the Legion. You can activate this mode in the middle of the game at any time. As you might guess, the controls are a mess in this mode especially that the second player is the one controlling the camera. This is a mode which looks pretty cool to mess around with but it’s nothing more than that.
Astral Chain is a fine addition to any Switch owner’s library. It’s truly an exclusive that fans of the character action genre can be proud of. With the earlier part of the year bookmarked by the excellent Devil May Cry 5, it’s fitting that the geniuses behind Astral Chain take their time in the action-adventure spotlight.
With lots of thrilling action, scintillating visuals and lots of Chimera to slay, Astral Chain is an easy recommendation for anyone even remotely on the fence.
Astral Chain gets a 4.1 / 5 rating overall