Astral Chain was a game that came seemingly out of nowhere. Its anime-inspired cyberpunk setting was a breath of fresh air like little else on Nintendo Switch. After launching to positive reception and greater-than-expected sales, the game was considered a success. However, it received a few common complaints from critics, making it apparent there is still plenty of room to improve. Issues like an underwhelming story and variety of both locations and objectives were fair criticisms, for instance, though Astral Chain fortunately had its brilliantly innovative combat system to fall back on. Here’s how I think PlatinumGames could expand to create a special sequel.
Nintendo’s own cyberpunk
While having a compelling story isn’t necessary for character action games, it can definitely help with your investment in a new world. Astral Chain could stand to beef up its narrative. The cyberpunk setting of humanity’s last city and a police force fighting against beings from another dimension had great potential, but predicable anime-esque plot twists, a silent protagonist that didn’t add much, and a lack of character development meant that there wasn’t much substance beyond the great premise.
There was still charm to be found in Astral Chain’s cast though, and it could serve as a foundation to develop more compelling characters in a sequel. The police mascot Lappy and its human alter ego made for some of the game’s best moments of levity, while other characters like the toilet-bound Bel and even the talking AI vending machines were quirky and worth visiting at different points in the game. Giving players a named character with voice acting would be a good start for player investment. Your companion police officers, whether returning or new, also need to be fleshed out and give us real reasons to care about having them as partners.
Having the police station as a hub area was a great way to interact with the cast, but in an open world, these elements could be even better. Being able to go on missions with other officers of your choice or come across them in an open world would let you spend more time with them, understand their backstories, and develop their personalities. By making us care about the Neuron police force and their camaraderie, the dramatic story moments of a sequel could carry a lot more weight, and moments for the characters to shine could feel earned.
Variety is the spice of life
Astral Chain arguably suffered from a lack of variety in objectives and locations, and main story missions ran a tad long. PlatinumGames already has ideas for the sequel, but for now I think improving these issues could lead to some big improvements. Main missions often felt far longer than they were due to some fun but repetitive objectives and environments, such as the always-red Astral Plane areas.
Improving this could start with creating interesting level designs that encourage exploration or visually distinct areas and enemies that are somewhat unique to each mission. Side missions could make use of more variety too. Many of Astral Chain’s side missions were simple fetch quests with a few interesting ones here and there, such as trying not to drop a tall ice cream cone for a child.
By putting the police premise to use and making you feel more like an officer of the law, a sequel could implement objectives like questioning suspects or witnesses to crimes and even using your Legion to intimidate them. More investigation-focused objectives such as deciphering and following clues or even fun chase sequences and the ability to arrest criminals would be fun too.
The best way to accomplish this variety in both the main and side missions might be to make the sequel an open-world game. Having a big city with a day/night cycle and random crimes to stop would give players great visual variety, a range of police-like activities to do, and ultimately a more fascinating cyberpunk setting to explore. An open-world cyberpunk city would also allow for mechanics the first game simply couldn’t do.
Vehicles become more important when you have full control over your destination, and collectibles such as red matter can be hidden away in nooks and crannies that add fun platforming challenges to the mix. Character customization could depend on which shop you visit, and perhaps clothing could be used to disguise yourself among enemy factions roaming the city. And while we’re at it, more pronounced co-op play with Legions that doesn’t feel so hidden could also spice up combat.
By doubling down on the setting via an open-world structure and focusing on the police elements to give players a better variety of objectives and activities, an Astral Chain sequel could reach a much higher plane. How would you want a new Astral Chain to improve on the original?