Awesome Anime Action
The name PlatinumGames carries a lot of weight to it. I haven't played a title by the developer myself until Astral Chain, but I knew what I was getting into. They're known for bombastic, over-the-top action titles like Bayonetta and Vanquish. Flashy animations, anime-inspired themes, and brutal difficulty go hand-in-hand with Platinum Games. Astral Chain hits the Platinum criteria, but even then it exceeded my expectations both visually and in its gameplay. Thanks to Astral Chain, you can consider me a PatinumGames fan for life.
Astral Chain is an action game which takes place in the late 21st century. An unknown alien threat pushes humanity to the brink of extinction. In an effort to survive, the remnants of our kind create The Ark. The monstrous threats known as Chimeras now invade The Ark, but a special police unit calling themselves Neuron fight back using their own form of imprisoned Chimeras named Legions. Players take the role as one of the Howard siblings, and it's their first day of the job on the Neuron Task Force along with their twin, Akira.
The World of Astral Chain
Astral Chain's greatest strength is its world, both in terms of the overall look and how the Switch handles it technically. Players explore large areas filled with neon-soaked signs, futuristic cars, and busy people. The Ark is a completely artificial island, so while there are no serene scenes of nature in Astral Chain, the design of each technological metropolitan area is still superb.
Each mission takes place within a large hub area, where players are free to tackle sidequests and the main story itself. These are expansive environments with numerous details and hidden explorable areas. I went into Astral Chain with a completionist mindset, but the hubs are so large and comprehensive that I know there is still much more to see.
Even more stunning is how well Astral Chain runs on the Nintendo Switch. Step aside, Breath of the Wild, a new champion takes your place. I consider Astral Chain to be both the best looking game on the Switch, and one of the most well-optimized. The cityscapes themselves are already large as is. Throwing in cars, citizens, combat, and tons of particle effects, Astral Chain manages to maintain a consistent frame rate. Platinum Games are either masters of the Nintendo Switch's hardware or are clever magicians.
The anime-inspired art style itself is extremely pleasing, especially the character designs by manga artist Masakazu Katsura. In fact, in addition to human characters, the dozens upon dozens of Chimera foes you fight all have unique designs and animate smoothly. Even subtle details like the wrinkle of your pants as you walk or rain droplets drenching your outfit make Astral Chain stand out apart from the rest of the Switch's lineup.
Visually, it's a stunning experience, no doubt about it. Unfortunately, Astral Chain's greatest weakness is its story. Cliches, predictable story events, and some cheesy dialogue mar the overall experience. Several big factors lead me to this conclusion. First, I could identify the villain of Astral Chain almost immediately. Whether this was intentional or not, I think the story would be more enjoyable if the villain reveal was more unpredictable.
Secondly, the relationship between your player character and their twin, Akira, is confusing and not very well written. Akira acts like a petulant child and even shows some unwarranted disdain towards the player. Rather than a sibling bond, the relationship between the two feels more like an almost bitter rivalry. Furthermore, your character is a silent protagonist while the twin has full voice acting, which is another design decision I did not enjoy. Your twin basically acts as the voice for both of you, so you become this awkward, silent character that has no personality. Lastly, Astral Chain has an abrupt ending that neglects to tie up loose ends. Instead of feeling triumphant, I was just left scratching my head.
Combat and Questing in Astral Chain
The combat more than makes up for Astral Chain's storytelling shortcomings. This is a deceptively deep game, with new opportunities and combos opening up as you play. Every mission up to the last, I discovered new techniques and combos to tackle the Chimera threat. In Astral Chain, you take control of two characters. One is the protagonist, who wields a weapon called an X-Baton. The X-Baton transforms into either a gun, a long sword, or police baton. Each weapon serves its own purpose and allows for different combos and attacks.
The second component to combat is your Legion, your very own subservient Chimera bound by an astral chain. You can control both your character's movement and your Legion at the same time, although the chain limits the length in which Legions can travel. This allows for unique moves like circling your Legion around foes to bind them with your chain, or intercepting charging enemies. It feels great to use and control, and although it was difficult to grasp the mechanics at first, combat soon opens up.
You begin with a single Legion, but as the game progresses you'll amass several more, each with their own upgradable skill tree and abilities. One Legion, for example, uses a bow and is perfect for taking out flying enemies. My personal favorite is the Axe Legion, which uses a shield to protect your character from enemy attacks while being able to unleash wide, sweeping attacks. Either way, each Legion feels unique by way of their own combos and specialties. In addition to unique combos, they each have one special ability that allows players to counter specific Chimeras. Certain flying Chimeras unleash a torrent of wind, and by jumping on your Beast Legion's back, you can avoid getting thrown off a perilous ledge.
The learning curve for combat can be a little steep, but you'll soon be a master of your Legion. Pulling off awesome combos and flashy moves as Astral Chain progresses never ceases to satisfy. Of course, combat is just one aspect of gameplay. The world of Astral Chain also contains a ridiculous number of side objectives. As you explore the hub areas, citizens and other NPCs require help in all manner of things. It ranges from something as tame as catching a criminal with your Legion to balancing ice cream with gyroscopic controls.
PlatinumGames adds areas where you need specific Legions' abilities to progress or access secrets. They do a fine job of making sure no Legion goes underused. However, most of your time playing Astral Chain will be doing these side quests. These objects definitely vary from quirky and interesting to tedious and annoying, but they're mostly enjoyable. Finding these side quests is also an incentive to explore the fantastic world of Astral Chain, so you can't go wrong in seeing everything.
Astral Chain Review | Final Thoughts
Make no mistake, Astral Chain is a completionist's delight. There are nearly 200 different optional objectives throughout your playthrough, including using your camera to take pictures of specific scenes and dealing damage with specific weapons or Legions. The collectibles are also among the most unique of any game in recent memory. My personal favorite is finding adoptable cats in levels of Astral Chain. Once found, they head to a visitable sanctuary so you can bask in their feline glory. Definitely the most strange collectible is toilet paper, which you give to a "toilet fairy" in Neuron's police headquarters. I have my doubts that it's an actual fairy and rather a person in constant need of toilet paper.v
I went into Astral Chain slightly interested and left extremely impressed. A grand story isn't something I expected, and I didn't get one. I did expect promising gameplay and impeccable world design, and Astral Chain delivers. It's one of the best looking - and best running - titles on the Switch. It is not just a perfect game for those who love PlatinumGames, I consider it the perfect entry for any Switch owner looking for an amazing action title. Now if you'll excuse me, as a new fan of PlatinumGames, I have quite a few new games to add to my ever-expanding backlog.
TechRaptor reviewed Astral Chain on the Nintendo Switch using a copy provided by the publisher.
- Amazing Action-packed Gameplay
- Great Art Style and Runs Well
- Plethora of Collectibles
- Predictable, Cliche Story
- Some Annoying Sidequests