REVIEW – Astral Chain

I'm the law in this town, and so is my collection of weird dogs

Astral Chain is PlatinumGames latest IP, releasing exclusively on the Nintendo Switch and following in the fast-paced action-based footsteps of their previous titles such as Bayonetta and Metal Gear Rising, and this is a game that proudly shows off its roots, but more than that, shows off how Platinum has grown and improved since then and the new things and ideas it has to offer.

Astral Chain, a post-apocalyptic safe-haven

The game takes place in the not too distant future of 2078, in a world that’s been absolutely decimated by creatures from another dimension known as ‘chimeras’. Humanity has been driven to the last inhabitable place on Earth, a purpose-built island-city known as the Ark, but outbreaks are happening even there. It’s up to the special trained officers of the Neuron police task-force to close the gates letting the monsters in, clean up the city and figure out a way to stop the invasion once and for all, as well as uncover the mysteries of how it began in the first place.

What makes this game unique is the weapons the Neuron task-force, and the player character, the latest recruit, are given. ‘Legions’ are Chimeras that have been tamed through specially developed technology that chains them to the user. This means the player and their Legion must work as one to get the most out of their power and overcome various obstacles.

The Legions have pretty solid AI, attacking enemies independently, but the games true unique selling point is the ability to control both the Legion and the player character (one of two twins the player can choose at the start, a male or female) at the same time. Through doing this, a world of possibilities opens up in terms of how the player can approach various battles, and while it sounds like it takes a while to get the hang of, I picked it up pretty quickly. Though there’s still a huge learning curve if you want the best out of your combos to deal maximum damage in maximum style.

Beating the crap out of monsters with your cool dog

Through controlling the Legion, linked to the player through the titular ‘astral chain’, players can do all kinds of cool things. Using the chain to tie down enemies, using the chain to bounce back enemies charging at them, even using the chain to pull off some cool acrobatic moves to put some real oomph into their attacks. On top of all this, players can also interact with their Legions through special moves. The default starting Legion, the Sword Legion, has a very familiar one for players of Metal Gear Rising, using its blade to cut through enemies. Though as the player progresses, they’ll gain new Legions, such as the Arm Legion, capable of picking up heavy objects to throw them at enemies, or the Beast Legion, whose back you can ride on to get around faster or dodge hazards in the environment.

The combat flows incredibly smoothly, although is often hampered by the camera refusing to play along meaning situational awareness can be rather difficult at times, though this is the only real flaw of an otherwise immaculate combat system. The difficulty levels on offer make sure players can tackle it in any way they want, from the easier modes that have automatic combos and less risk, through to harder modes Platinum fans might expect that drive the player to learn the ins and outs of the combat system in order to survive and pass the various chapters (called Files in this game) with the best ranks for the best rewards.

Uncover the truth

Though, unusually for a Platinum game, the combat is only part of the overall experience. Astral Chain is a heavier story-focused game and, with the player being a police officer, it’s going to require a little more than just beating the crap out of monsters. Files are usually split into two distinct parts, an investigation, and the combat-focused bulk of the chapter.

The investigation parts give the player a combat-free area to explore, full of people to talk to in order to gather clues about whatever case you’re on this time, whether it be a missing person who’s been taken to the Chimeras home dimension, or tracking down terrorists. Players are going to have to not only talk to everyone they meet but also thoroughly investigate the given area. Which is the other place where Legions shine.

Legions have plenty of out of combat use, such as the Sword Legions blade mode being able to be used to cut through electronic signals to disengage locks, or the Beast Legion able to follow scents to find missing objects or persons. The Legions can also open up new areas to explore, though in some cases this will require a replay of old Files once the player has the appropriate Legion, later on, meaning 100% completion is something that’s going to require a lot of backtracking through previously played content.

Though the game also doesn’t take itself too seriously, in true Platinum fashion, with a lot of the optional missions being fairly goofy things and a lot of ways to interact with the environment. For example, I was tasked with bringing ice cream to a kid that had dropped theirs in one side mission. Being the good police officer I am, I went down to the ice cream shop, bought the biggest ice cream they had, and promptly dropped it because it’s very difficult to walk in a balanced fashion with that much ice cream. I then opted for a smaller one, and carefully set out across the road, which displayed a ‘walk’ signal. Midway across the road, the lights changed to red, and while I got across with my ice cream in one piece, I was also fined for jay-walking.

It’s strange little moments like this that give Astral Chain its character and make it such a delight to fully explore and experience while making replaying previous Files more interesting by uncovering all the things missed the first time around.

Astral Chain is out now for the Nintendo Switch.

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