- Developer: PlatinumGames
- Publisher: Nintendo
- Platforms: Nintendo Switch
- Release Date: August 30th, 2019
- Price: $59.99
- Date reviewed: September 4th, 2019
- Reviewed on: Nintendo Switch
- Review code provided: No
Astral Chain is the latest game from action game specialists, PlatinumGames. They have had many critical hits but not a lot of mainstream success with only a handful of their games gaining financial prosperity. Astral Chain is everything you’ve come to expect from the developer, an ambitious action game with so much more to it than racking up combos.
From Rookie Cop to Legion Master
You play an officer in the Neuron Police Task Force in a megacity called The Ark which is housing humanity on the brink of extinction by a threat known as the Chimera, who reside in an interdimensional area called the Astral Plane. A hazardous area where a lot of the games combat takes place. The basic plot points reek of Attack on Titan, which is not a bad thing. You start the game off by choosing from twin new recruits of the Neuron Task Force, a male or female. The twin you pick will be the main character who eventually has access to all the available Legions, whereas your twin, who is the younger of the two is more of a side kick. The characters are all well designed, interesting and there’s an awesome mascot character called Lappy who I’m sure you’ve already seen. There are five Legions altogether, the Sword, Arrow, Arm, Beast and Axe all have special abilities of their own and their own distinct play style.
The story is pretty simple, with some of the characters having predictable motives and the story playing out pretty much how you expect. There was a few moments that surprised me during the game and it does flirt with the ever present question, “Are humans the real monsters?” But overall the narrative is relatively straightforward.
Silky Smooth Gameplay
Astral Chain plays like a dream. It’s PlatinumGames bread and butter with an amalgamation of other aspects chucked in. You are ranked in this game not only on your style and substance in the action segments, but also with your detective skills. The way you obtain your Legions is by capturing an enemy known as the Chimera. This is where Astral Chain comes out of its shell. The action sequences in Astral Chain have the tightness of Bayonetta. The Ark is a semi open world similar to what Nier: Automata (of which there are a few Easter eggs) brought to the table, and with your Legion in tact, I get a Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons vibes. Albeit only slightly.
Holding down ZL will give you the ability to move the Legion around freely and you can move both the main character and the Legion at the same time. When you are performing police work and trying to solve cases, it feels like the Batman Arkham games with the Detective Vision in that game which is similar to Astral Chain’s Iris mode. Which is an ability in the game which gives the player more of an idea what’s going on while trying to solve investigations and it even helps out when you’re trying to find secret areas and items.
The Chapters (aptly named Files in this game) all have a similar structure. You’ll start off usually in the hub which is the Police Station, you can talk to staff, do side missions for people at the Station and sort out your load out. You then head out to your destination and you can scope out the area by doing side missions and extra missions, which are usually investigations, which can be a bit tedious and have cheesy dialogue, but they all seem to serve a purpose. Once you’re done with all that, Astral Chain then becomes the action game you’ve come to expect from PlatinumGames.
When the game very first starts out and you take control of your first action scene, you will be forgiven for thinking it’s just another hack n slash game, with a relatively straightforward hook at first with simple controls. It’s not long though until the game throws its first Legion at you and that spices up the combat straight away. It’s tricky at first, but once you get the controls down and get used to controlling your Legion it starts to all fall together. When you have all the Legions you’ll soon be juggling enemies and swapping out Legions and making cool combos. It’s so satisfying when you can pull one off and if you want to chase those S+ ranks, the training room is your friend. The game is clearly designed to be played more than once with ranking systems and certain aspects of earlier levels where you can’t access as long as you have a later Legion. So if you are a perfectionist, you’re gonna have to go back through.
There is a co-op mode in Astral Chain, it works similarly to the co-op mode in Super Mario Odyssey. Two players take a joycon each and one player controls the Twin and the other player takes control of the Legion. Call me selfish but I feel co-op mode detracts from what makes the single player mode so good. Part of the fun of Astral Chain is figuring out which Legion is best for the job and which one to bring out next to juggle the next enemy. That aspect of the game gets lost when your friend has the other joycon and you’re having to shout at each other.
A Visual Treat for the Nintendo Switch
Astral Chain has a very distinct art style. It’s not a very graphically demanding game and with it being a Nintendo Switch exclusive, that helps a lot. When I’m playing on the TV there is virtually no slowdown and the game’s resolution floats between 720p and 900p. The frame rate is unfortunately only 30FPS which is a shame for the action sequences but the combat somehow still feels fluid. It’s nothing short of wizardry what PlatinumGames has achieved with the performance of Astral Chain on the Nintendo Switch. I am a little curious what the game would look like on a high-end PC or a PS4 Pro or Xbox One X, maxed out at a 4K resolution running at 60FPS. The game would look, feel and play phenomenally. Not to be detrimental of the developer’s efforts on the Nintendo Switch though. It feels really good to play. The futuristic cyberpunk style city is beautifully designed and looks gorgeous. The Astral Plane, which is a location where a lot of the game takes place. As beautiful as it is, it gets a bit monotonous by the end of the game.
I really like Astral Chain. The gameplay is impeccable, the music is sublime, the story and characters have a very nice charm to them. The game has very minor nuances which hold it back from true greatness but if this was to become a new franchise, it’s something they can look into fixing in the sequel.
The synergetic action is incredibly fluid and like every good action game out there, when you get a feel for the controls, the systems, and get used to your fellow Legion, you feel unstoppable.