Seeing Astral Chain in motion may be what you notice, but the graceful execution of attacks is something you should experience for yourself. Astral Chain delivers satisfying, kinetic and inventive combat that goes beyond genre conventions – and that retains excitement from start to finish. Combine that with an engaging art style that comes alive through fluid animations and cinematic cuts in battle, and you have yet another remarkable action experience from developer Platinum Games. This is our Astral Chain Review.
Astral Chain Review: About
- Platform: Nintendo Switch
- Developer: PlatinumGames
- Publisher: Nintendo
- Genres: Action-adventure game, Hack and slash
- Release Date: August 30, 2019
Astral Chain Review: Gameplay
As an elite agent of the special task force Neuron, your job is to investigate the ever-growing presence of the alien chimera that threatens the world. Catastrophic incidents abound when Chimera flows in from an alternative dimension, the astral plane, but of course, there is more to the phenomenon than meets the eye. To sort it all out, simultaneously control both your player character and a legion, a separate entity with its attacks and abilities – consider it a standard from JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure. This dynamic is at the heart of the battle of Astral Chain.
It takes time to master, but once you do, working with a selection of Legions feels seamless. You earn Legions over time, a total of five, and each offers its skills and cooldown attacks to upgrade through a skill tree. While they can be sent into battle to carry out auto-attacks, expertly switching between them to juggle specific skills provides the satisfaction of taking down the monstrous chimera. There are so many variables at first that it can be daunting.
You have chain bindings to lock in enemies for a few seconds, timing-based sync attacks that provoke devastating blows, and breathtaking sync finishers that complete the wild spectacle. You can even get creative with combos like using the AOE stun, gravity pull, and crash bomb – all from different legions – to focus on a ton of damage. Even an unchained combination lets you release two legions at once. And if that seems like a lot at all, you should also consider launching special attacks via directional input when it’s best to use them.
Digging deeper into Astral Chain’s systems reveals some of its origins – specifically Nier’s chip system: Automata, the game Astral Chain director Takahisa Taura was chief designer for. That system manifests as skill codes that you equip on each of your legions to give them specific improvements and benefits, which can significantly change the way they function. However, Astral Chain is not going to face battles against monsters trying to destroy you.
You have to be smart in positioning, dodging, and the limited energy of your legion. Enemies are more than just food; they can overwhelm you with huge numbers, size or speed. Some may require you to meet certain conditions to defeat them, forcing you to use non-combat skills amid the chaos. And bosses are coming at you with relentless attacks that will test both your skill and your patience. With a multitude of factors and challenges in play, combat puts a lot more emphasis on coming up with the right tactics for the right situation.
Astral Chain offers an enormous box of tools that are effective on their own and an absolute pleasure to use. If there’s a gameplay flaw, it’s that movement feels inaccurate at times – don’t expect the same buttery softness from Bayonetta. For example, the Beast Legion’s mount mode ends in an unpredictable direction, and the gun combination forces you to flip backward. It could cause you to fall off ledges or get in the way unintentionally. Fortunately, it’s an occasional frustration that doesn’t detract from the core experience.
A further addition to the magnificent spectacle of the game is the soundtrack. The groovy house tune that can be heard at police headquarters is infectious, and the gloomy guitar melody in the stray cat house sounds like a reprieve from the chaos that envelops the world. Tense instrumentals and hard rock remixes of songs bounce seamlessly between each other on some combat missions. Grim metal tracks provide boss fights and an ethereal Kidney-like theme game in the astral plane. Sprinkle some J-rock worthy of an anime OP, and Astral Chain rounds out the musical spectrum to significant effect.
Research scenarios are peppered within the main missions, where you analyze the environment and talk to the locals to solve the mysteries. If you merge the clues correctly, you will get a top position, and it is not a problem if you are wrong. You often jump into segments of the astral plane, which contain the more intense battles, and these areas include light puzzle/platform elements that ask you to use Legion powers in different ways.
Style is not always substantial. The overarching plot touches the conventions of evil authority figures who abuse the power of science for their list, and it also relates to the nature of how to use the control of legions, which are tamed, Chimera. However, these themes are hardly explored. Astral Chain instead relies on clichés in its story and exhibition. This makes the more crucial moments feel less consistent. While some anime-like tropics are just plain fun to watch, others are nonsensical even in context.
As you choose to play as a custom male or female agent in a special task force, your sibling – who is part of the same team – becomes the narrative focal point with a fully voiced dialogue. Your character has been relegated to an awkward silent protagonist. It’s disappointing because Astral Chain has so much stylistic potential to build on to give the main character a distinct attitude. I can’t help but think of it as a missed opportunity, especially if both characters are voiced if they are your partner. In the end, the story presents stakes just high enough to want to see it through to the end, and luckily every other part of the game remains excellent.
Astral Chain Review: Conclusion
Astral Chain’s shortcomings don’t overshadow what it does best. It’s an incredible take on a new take on the Platinum Games base, which stands among the greats with stylish action. And his anime-inspired swagger makes combat even more exciting. You will appreciate the quieter moments in between that add variety and provide a second to relax before returning to the fantastic fight. After 40 hours with Astral Chain, I’m still eager to take on the tougher challenges, grinning from ear to ear, making the right moves one at a time, seeing everything unfold.
Astral Chain delivers satisfying, kinetic and inventive combat that goes beyond genre conventions – and that retains excitement from start to finish.