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Review: Astral Chain (Switch)

9

Amazing

It is the year 2078 and humanity is on the brink of extinction from the extra-dimensional Chimera which nobody really understand. The last of mankind’s survivors all live on the Ark, an artificially made island mega city, and their only hope is the elite Neuron Task-Force, which has the ability to fight back against the overwhelming odds.

That is the premise of Astral Chain, the latest game from acclaimed Action game developer, PlatinumGames. The studio is known for making some of the craziest, over the top action button mashers on the planet, and to be perfectly clear, this one is no different. But Astral Chain does stand clear from the rest though in many ways, which isn’t a bad thing at all, but rather possibly makes it one of the finest games the studio ever produced.

Anime the Game

When I say that Astral Chain is basically an anime, then I certainly mean it. Everything from the art style, the music, the character design straight through to the story beats and the action screams anime, and it is clear where the designers got their inspiration from. It makes sense when you learn that manga artist Masakazu Katsura was involved with the character design of the game.

You follow the story of twins who join their adopted father Max at the Elite Task-Force Neuron in fighting the Chimera with the help of the Legion, captured Chimera who are controlled by and bound to the user with the Astral Chain. When you start the game, you get to choose which of the twins you want to play as, male or female, and you get some limited customisation like hairstyle, colour, skin colour and so on.

I naturally went with the female twin, because why not, which means the other twin becomes Akira, who joins you on your adventure. The game seems to play exactly the same though, no matter which option you choose, so it really just boils down the preference. The biggest gripe I have here is that your character becomes completely silent, which is a bit of a miss in my opinion, since there are voice actors for both the male and female twins.

Action unchained

Astral Chain does have a good and well written story, one that is definitely worth experiencing, but that is not why we usually play PlatinumGames titles. We play their games for the balls to the wall, over the top action. And I’m happy to report that Astral Chain does not disappoint.

You control your character, but you have the ability to summon your Legion to help you in the fight. They pretty much fight on their own, with you essentially just pointing them in the right direction, and using special abilities which need to be equipped. The Legion can’t stay out too long though, and if you don’t call them back in time, you can sit with a longish timer before being able to summon them again, making things a lot harder.

Astral Chain does have a good and well written story, one that is definitely worth experiencing, but that is not why we usually play PlatinumGames titles. We play their games for the balls to the wall, over the top action. And I’m happy to report that Astral Chain does not disappoint.

It also means that you don’t just hang back and let the Legion do all the work. You have your X-Baton at your disposal, which can be adjusted to be a pistol, fast striking melee weapon or a slow striking, harder hitting version. You use these in combo with the Legion and its abilities to take down your enemies, which are thankfully quite varied. There are multiple Legion to capture and use, each with their own unique abilities and they also become vital to puzzle solving, which Astral Chain has plenty of as well.

The action and the combat feels a bit less frantic than previous PlatinumGames titles though, but that doesn’t mean it is any less good. In fact, I found this to be a great thing, as timing and tactics become much more important, especially when you’re taking on tougher enemies or encounters. Some of the Legion work better against certain foes, and learning and adapting to the situation is part of what made the gameplay so engaging and fun. You can also use the actual astral chain by wrapping up enemies in chains, or have the Legion pull you towards an enemy to close a gap quickly.

But, Astral Chain isn’t just a mindless action romp through the city, and has many slower moments. It is a very linear game, but you have open areas you can, and need to explore. You are a Police Officer after all, and parts of the game have you walking the beat, helping citizens, gathering evidence and gaining experience. On top of that, there are light RPG mechanics to the game, with the ability to upgrade your gear and weapons, customise your character with hats and glasses and so on, and also upgrade your Legions and give them different abilities to suit your playstyle.

Astral Chain features a co-op mechanic using the Joy-Cons as well. The idea is to hand a Joy-Con over to your friend, and they take over the Legion in combat. It’s a pretty cool concept, but when I tried it out with a friend, it did feel a little bit clunky, since you’re losing some form of control over the camera when using the other Joy-Con. That said, it’s a pretty neat feature, and can potentially bring a lot of couch co-op fun if you get used to it.

It can at times feel a little bit slow, and because of this, it is probably one of the longer games made by the studio, clocking in at around 30 hours or so. While some of the things you do in these sections are a bit strange, it is definitely varied, which made it all the more worth it to explore the game.

Which is really not hard considering how damn good this game looks. It has a distinct animated look to it, with realism not something the devs really went for, but that doesn’t mean the game is any less alive. It looks fantastic, and the attention to detail on lighting, colours and even water puddles is incredible. The game also runs incredibly smooth, and not once did I experience any issues with slowdown in performance.

Simply sublime action

I can find very little fault with the game. There were a few sections that felt a little unnecessary, the overall game can at times feel a bit long and drawn out, but I’m nitpicking here. As I mentioned the biggest gripe I have with the game is the silent protagonist, which I feel was sorely overlooked, and could have given an already great story a bit more weight and emotion, making it a truly special experiences.

Astral Chain has a great story, looks amazing and a fantastic soundtrack wrapped into a wonderful package. The combat, though tricky to get used to at first, is absolutely sublime once you master it and it is the real star of this game.

If you love anime, and you love stylish, over-the-top gameplay, then I cannot recommend this game enough. Astral Chain is one of the best games I’ve played this year, and I believe one of the must play action titles of 2019.

Good

  • Amazing combat, that feels slower, but much more precise and tactical
  • Beautifully realised city to explore
  • Incredible soundtrack
  • The Legions
  • Wonderful cast of characters

Bad

  • Silent protagonist is a bit of a miss
  • Some might find the exploring and slower parts a bit off-putting

Summary

Astral Chain can almost be seen as a culmination of everything that PlatinumGames learned over the years, making it one of the best games in their library. The combat, though a bit slower and less frenetic than previous titles, is some of the best due to it being a lot more precise and tactical. Astral Chain also features a beautifully designed world, filled with great characters and a very solid and fun story.
9

Amazing

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