I was a bit taken aback by Astral Chain. I had total trust in Platinum Games to make a stellar action game. However, I was not expecting to be captivated by Astral Chain‘s extremely in-depth character progression, brilliant puzzles, and enthralling story. Buyer beware: Astral Chain is so much more than just an action game.
You play as a rookie in the elite police task force, Neuron. This police force takes control of otherworldly creatures called Legions in order to solve cases and save humankind from the brink of destruction. Yes, it sounds run-of-the-mill but there is a surprising amount of debt to the world and the characters inhabiting it.
The start of something special
Astral Chain’s storytelling is something special. In the opening hours, I was immediately enamored with the world Platinum Games crafted. Along with that, the acting and writing are top-notch. Platinum Games did a great job of introducing the game’s wacky concepts and teaching you about the world. Astral Chain’s writing is witty, smart, and completely aware of how ridiculous it is. With that said, it’s also not afraid to tug at your heartstrings. The game is full of emotional moments that left me completely on edge. The closest comparison would be something ripped out of the pages of manga or from the screen of an anime –and I wouldn’t be surprised to see an animated series of the IP in the near future.
One of my few gripes is the main protagonist. Whether you choose a male or female character, they remain unspoken throughout the game. The other character, that you might have seen in trailers, is your twin sibling. In that case, they do have spoken lines whereas your playable character does not. So, we know both characters have fully voiced dialogue. I was befuddled as to why Platinum would make such an odd choice, leaving the main character silent. A witty back-and-forth between the siblings would have gone a long way. Your character sort of feels like a blank slate the entire game because of this. Luckily, the handful of support characters introduced throughout the game offer enough personality to make up for it.
It sure is pretty
In terms of presentation, not only is Astral Chain one of the best looking Nintendo Switch games, but it’s easily one of the best looking games of the year so far. Whether it was the stylized open cities that are bursting with colors, the explosive set pieces, or the trippy astral plain dimension, it was a feast for the eyes from the get-go.
Every inch of Astral Chain is showered with tender love and care. The animations are simply impeccable. Even though you would expect the combat animations to see the most detail, but, even the walking and running animations are intricately designed. Platinum Games’ attention to detail is immaculate this time around. The only downside to the overall presentation is that the lip-synching doesn’t go with the English voiceover. Luckily, it wasn’t jarring enough to pull me out of the experience.
Can’t touch this
On top of the damn near flawless presentation, Astral Chain’s combat is some of my favorite of all time. While initially very simple, things start to ramp up quickly. There are five different Legions you unlock throughout the game. Each has their own skill-sets and skill-trees. You can focus on enhancing one Legion or keep them all equal. Each Legion also has its own major ability. For example, the Arm Legion helps you lift heavy doors and throw large objects while Beast lets you ride it for faster traversal. The most important thing about the Legions is that they’re all equally fun to use. This is in contrast to other games that have multiple playstyles built into its combat system, often leaving you to choose one or two and that’s it. Instead, it gives you a full palette of choices, all of which are appropriately balanced for the long term.
Outside of the Legion trees, you can enhance your weaponry as well. Your character can switch between a gun, baton, or long sword during combat. Each offer different attacks on the battlefield. For example, I would use my gun for flying foes, my baton for normal enemies, and my long sword for larger beasts or bosses. The game offers a lot of agency when it comes to customizing your playstyle.
The combat itself is extremely satisfying. In a sense, you’re controlling two different characters during battle. Platinum Games manages to execute and marry these concepts with ease. While you focus on taking down baddies with your human, your legion will automatically attack by your side. However, you’ll use both of them when it comes to performing timed attacks. The game will let you know when to engage in a team attack with a flash of light. When this happens, you’ll perform over-the-top, almost absurd, attacks. From the outside, things might look extremely chaotic, but it’s all fairly simple to follow and makes you feel like a badass.
Day in the life of Neuron Police
Combat isn’t the only form of gameplay in Astral Chain. When you’re not killing baddies in a stylish fashion, you’re walking around cities helping out locals. There are in-depth investigative segments where you’ll have to use your detective skills to figure out what had happened (similar to the Batman Arkham games). Then, there are less serious side missions where you’ll simply help a kid get ice cream or clear the roads of any debris. While it may not sound very intriguing, these side missions offer nice rewards and mix up the pacing of the game incredibly well.
Throughout Astral Chain, you’ll enter the astral plane. This area alters between combat and puzzle-solving. You’ll take on these segments sorta like Zelda temples. For the most part, the puzzles are brilliant. They’re fairly even-keeled, making them just hard enough to make you scratch your head but not so hard you’ll want to throw your controller. You’ll need to swap between Legions to take advantage of their unique abilities for these puzzles. In short, very similar to Link’s Sheikah Slate in Breath of the Wild. The game does a great job at forcing you to utilize all of your abilities whether it’s in combat or solving puzzle.
Astral Chain packs the punch you would expect from Platinum Games while simultaneously going above and beyond in all other areas. It’s great to see Platinum stepping even further out of its shell with expertly crafted titles like NieR: Automata and now Astral Chain. This marks another game in the studio’s catalog that is nothing short of amazing.
A review copy was provided by the publisher.
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