My biggest concern when the latest title from PlatinumGames was announced earlier this year, I was a bit skeptical. After all, with the studio, you’re either getting a stellar experience such as NieR: Automata and Bayonetta, or a mediocre game like The Legend of Korra or Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. This is a wild card studio, but thankfully this is the former category and easily one of the best games out of PlatinumGames. Thanks to innovative combat, an interesting location, and some wonderful characters, Astral Chain is a must-have game for Nintendo Switch.
A Fresh Take
Many things that worked behind the scenes for NieR: Automata return for Astral Chain. Director Takahisa Taura helms the project, previously the lead designer on Automata. Hideki Kamiya serves as a Supervisor and Satoshi Igarashi composes the score, previously working on Bayonetta 2. Their involvement brings with it a certain level of quality in my eyes that isn’t found on their smaller games. Taura’s work on Automata is one of the things that stood out to me and seeing his work on Astral Chain translates to a new standard from the PlatinumGames.
Playing as one of two fraternal twins, you’re a recent hire of Neuron within the Ark, a sprawling metropolis full of life, colour and crime. Neuron is basically a special task force with the ability to summon monsters known as Legions within the game. As the game begins, we learn that Chimeras, a race of extradimensional beings, are invading the city. Chimeras are from the Astral Plane and most civilians are unable to see them. As it were, a handful of special individuals able to control Legions are the only ones able to counter the threat. Legion technology is still fairly new and uses captured chimeras as partners in battle.
By yourself, Chimeras are a threat and quickly overpower anyone they come in contact with. With your Legion, the odds turn in your favour. The eponymous Astral Chain is a blue chain linking you to your partner, but don’t let your guard down around your Legion – it is still a wild animal. Being a Chimera chained to your character, you can control its basic movements. It has a mind of its own and when battling together, your job is to shift it’s focus to the enemy instead of telling it what to do. As you battle together, your synchronization grows, and your character learns new skills in battle.
Astral Chain includes a surprising couch co-op mechanic which I, unfortunately, wasn’t able to use for this review, but its inclusion is something I’m going to come back to in the future. Two players can experience the campaign together, Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to experience this feature but being a single-player title, I don’t know how the mechanics allow two people to play together in a coherent way without one person being held back by camera issues.
We are Legion
Each Legion comes with a timer that counts down to zero when they are summoned in battle. Keeping your Legion on a leash in more ways than one, the timer ensure you deal with enemies swiftly and tactically because if the timer reaches zero, the cooldown charge is much longer than it normally is.
Also, over the course of the game, you unlock five types of Legions, each with their own abilities and playstyle. My recommendation is using each Legion to understand their skills, which become handy in a pinch. First up, you unlock the Sword Legion, followed by the Arrow Legion, Beast Legion, Arm Legion, and Axe Legion.
A few hours in, battles go from basic encounters to counterattacks on enemies while using them as bounce boards for combination attacks. Combat is usually the one thing any PlatinumGames title excels at and the new Synergetic Action system provides that but lacks any sort of combo system synonymous with the studio. New skills like Chain Jump, for example, uses your Legion to jump over gaps otherwise inaccessible.
Styling and profiling
The animation in combat is full-on stylistic and incredible to look at. I didn’t appreciate how excellent things looked until I docked my Switch though, on handheld Astral Chain is still beautiful but it isn’t until my television showcased the action did, I really understand the work and love put into the animation.
Another thing that surprised me was how much police procedural work comes with being a Neuron agent. In order to progress through the 11 Files (story sequences) of Astral Chain, you’ll need to be a detective, too. Minor cases also use crime-solving as their baseboard into some trivial cases, but I had a blast using the IRIS (the game’s detective mode) and my Legion to solve cases by eavesdropping, interviewing witnesses about what happened and so on.
On the beat
Also, there’s so much to do! Neuron’s HQ offers an assortment of things worth checking out, from training rooms to your computer desk. Then, if you’re looking for things to do you can check your Orders which offer cosmetic items for your character.
Sound also plays a major role thanks to Satoshi Igarashi who creates a compelling score complete with a futuristic soundscape complimenting the intense moments found in Astral Chain. Voice acting is also surprisingly wonderful and is available in both English and Japanese to those who want to experience the game natively.
Astral Chain is exceptional in so many ways. I never wanted my playthrough to finish and thanks to such an exceptional team at PlatinumGames, we now have a new universe that we will likely see again. A thoughtful and inviting way to battle Chimeras and enough variety to keep you engaged until the end. Fighting with a Legion is a lot more fun than any previews show and the world invites you to explore the nooks and crannies. Without a doubt, this is my favourite game from the studio and one of the best exclusives on the Nintendo Switch.
[A copy of the game was provided by the publisher for review purposes.]