Platinum Games delivers another solid title with Astral Chain – particularly the execution of the man & machine combat. While early stages may have you fumbling around, mastery over Astral Chain’s combat system provides you with a sense of satisfaction few action titles have achieved since Bloodborne.
In the not-too-distant future, 2078 to be specific, mankind has been overrun by an other-dimensional threat known as Chimeras. Nearing extinction, they’ve retreated to a single, massive city known as The Ark. While standard “aberrations” are able to be repelled by standard police and defense, the Chimeras are only able to be defeated with chained “Legions” – former chimeras that have now been chained to individual members of Neuron, an elite task force charged with battling these threats as they arise.
You play one of two fraternal twins, blessed with a natural talent for controlling Legion, and assigned to the Neuron task force to serve under your father, who happens to be the captain. Family bonding time…yaaayyy.
Of course, it isn’t long after you arrive that everything goes to hell in a hand-basket. Astral Chain follows your journey to take the fight to the Chimeras and ultimately rid the world of this threat once and for all.
I’m Playing It For The…Story…?
It’s not that action games can’t have a good story. God of War, NieR: Automata, Spider Man… we know these games knocked it out of the park with their riveting storytelling. However, with a premise like Astral Chain, I don’t think many people were expecting all that much from the story.
And yet, a pleasant surprise arrives in the form of an anime-inspired narrative that does a surprisingly good job of building a world, getting you invested in the development of its characters, and presenting a handful of twists and turns to properly entertain you for the better part of 16-20 hours.
The length should also be discussed, while we’re here. I would advise you to challenge the idea that a new game, particularly a AAA game, should provide dozens of hours of gameplay in order to justify a full retail price of, say, $60. Astral Chain will likely end up running me around 18 hours of gameplay before I put a bow on the main story (I’m doing some side quests and returning to previous levels for higher ranks whenever possible). I’m good with that. The “ultimate experience” difficulty will certainly add quite a bit more playtime for those perfectionists out there.
It Takes Two To Tango
Of course, we know why you’re here – to kick ass and chew bubble gum. So take this last piece of bazooka joe as we chat up the combat system.
Astral Chain is a combat game built with a key element in mind – controlling two halves of the same whole when it comes to an officer and his Legion. I can only imagine the development nightmare that was involved in ironing out this gameplay, but the final result is a thing of absolute beauty that reminds the gaming world that Platinum Games knows how to make a damn good action game, thank you very much.
An early review of the game claimed that Astral Chain is a button mashing, mindless action game. Let us assure you this early review was well off-base. Now, there is a single button (the ZR button) that is your main squeeze, so to speak, when it comes to combat. Whether you’re firing off your gun or taking swings with your baton/blade weapon, this is your primary action button. You can also evade with B – as with most action titles, a well-timed dodge can give you a valuable window of opportunity to visit a world of pain upon your enemies.
However, the real difficulty in control and combat comes in looping in your Legion. Affixed to this robotic weapon via a long, blue chain, by holding ZL you can use the right stick to maneuver it around the battlefield. You can send it out after enemies, pull it back, dismiss it, execute its special abilities, and much more. The kick-ass options aren’t merely reserved for the Legion either – the chain itself has a number of exceedingly useful abilities, including a Red Rover-style catch and fling counter that stops a charging enemy in its tracks, as well as the ability to bind enemies by circling the chain around them for a temporary stun/bind.
Your Legion, while powerful, can’t be out all the time. As it takes damage, or just is out in the world kicking ass and taking names, it has a timer that slowly counts down to when it needs to take a rest. You can dismiss the Legion of your own free will to be a step ahead, and similar to reloading your weapon preemptively instead of shooting until you’re out of bullets, it’s a much faster process.
After the introductory stage, Astral Chain asks what method of play you’re interested in. Do take note – as it can be kind of easy to miss out on the standard playstyle that awards letter grades and a more challenging overall experience. If you let things ride as they are in the start, it can certainly feel more like an autopilot-like experience.
If you catch this changeover, however, you feel the difference right away. Platinum Software isn’t particularly interested if you’re still getting to know your Legion. It demands your attention, and focus, and will punish you accordingly for a lax approach.
This challenge, however, also grants its own brand of satisfaction upon skillfully dispatching a horde of Chimeras. When you chain bind and combo your first enemy, you’ll be hooked. When a certain boss in the early levels tries to charge at you, only to be flung backward by your ethereal chain, you’ll feel a rush of adrenaline.
It’s in this pursuit of flawless execution that Platinum Games has always blazed a trail. From Bayonetta to NieR: Automata and beyond, the bar is set high for the player, and in clearing said hurdle, it sparks an addiction to perfection that cannot be understated.
As with any proper action title, there are options to upgrade your Legion and standard-issue weapons, and you also earn increased Rank within Neuron as the game progresses. This just helps you dish out damage more effectively.
In the same way that you can sharpen your skills and equipment, so too can your Legion. While you start out with a standard Legion, as the game progresses you unlock various types with their own unique abilities and skills. These skills extend beyond the battlefield as well, as some have additional bonuses that help you find hidden items more effectively, for example.
As an officer of Neuron, you will also be actively working to solve the mysteries of the Chimera’s invasion. Armed with an ocular computer system known as IRIS, you will have the ability to scan the map for objectives, get information on targets, discover weaknesses in your enemies, and much more. I got some The Division vibes in the investigation segments, which is a good thing.
Astral Chain is a blast. Full stop. With the variety in Legions to control, the engrossing and masterfully constructed combat, the surprisingly rich narrative, and fantastic graphics and music to bring it to life, it’s a fantastic exclusive for the Switch to have. If you enjoy challenging action titles, this is a no-brainer.