Astral Chain Review
Platinum Studios have made some really fun, wild, and out-there games. They’ve also had letdowns; not many but a few. While waiting for them to deliver Bayonetta 3 unto the world, Astral Chain was announced. The initial trailers carried the Platinum flair, but it was hard to know what to expect. It sure seemed like a hell of a ride. Can Astral Chain keep us satisfied while we wait for the next instalment of Bayonetta? The short answer is yes!
The human race is on the verge of extinction. What’s left of humanity is living in the last standing city called The Ark. The cause for the dire situation? Gates to another dimension have spread a seemingly-unstoppable corruption across the earth. Invisible monsters called Chimera have been coming through the gates, causing destruction and kidnapping citizens, dragging them into the Astral Plane. The Neuron Task Force are members of the police who wield beings known as Legions, described as an anti-chimeric counter defence by harnessing the power of Chimeras. The officers control these Legions using the titular Astral Chain. The Legions look like Chimeras covered in armour, kept on a chain which connects them to a Neuron officer. Whoever controls a Legion can see the deadly Chimera, and can fight back when they seemed all but indestructible.
Amongst Neuron there are several different forms of Legion that all serve different functions and carry different weapons. There’s the self-explanatory Sword and Arrow Legions, the beefy Arm Legion, followed by the dog-like Beast and imposing Axe Legion. Capturing and wielding all five will be vital if you hope to save the world and help out the citizens when Chimeras aren’t kidnapping them.
You start by choosing the male or female of a set of twins. Both happen to be the children of Captain Max of the Neuron task force. Even more of a coincidence is that they are extremely adept at wielding a Legion, despite never having used one before! Early on events leave the team on the back foot, with limited resources and the loss of several Legions. It’s time to save the world, but not without some twists and turns — and a lot of police work. I don’t want to spoil the story, but while it does have some familiar story beats, I didn’t care because it was so much fun. There’s very much a Neon Genesis Evangelion vibe to the story. While there is a proper ending to this game, I very much wanted to know more about the world they’ve made, and there is a possibility that there’s more tucked away. This made me dig deeper into the game and revisit the earlier chapters with a full group of Legions, scouring every corner to see what I could uncover.
What surprised me was that Astral Chain wasn’t just going from fight to fight. You’re not only one of the very few people who can fight interdimensional creatures, you also have to buckle down and get some policing done. That’s right! It’s not just about beating the crap out of a bunch of deadly creatures, you’ll also get plenty of opportunities to investigate and assist citizens along the way. There can be a decent amount of time between battles, whether it’s gathering clues, helping people, or navigating the Astral Plane. While there are main objectives that go towards the story, there’s also a lot of side missions with plenty of variety. Whether it’s rescuing cats, cleaning up Red Matter, or helping uncover a shadowy group. I spent way too much time trying to find portaloos in the world to help find toilet paper for a mystical being trapped in the Neuron HQ bathroom.
I was pulled into the Astral Chain world from the opening cutscene and mission. It is jam-packed with a style that only a Platinum game can. Much like Bayonetta, it doesn’t take long before you’re watching over the top action while also taking part in it. The game can take a while to introduce you to all of the combat mechanics, but you’ll always feel like a badass when you fight. Combat happens on two fronts. You are in control of one of the twins, with a degree of control over the Legion at your disposal. The Astral Chain keeps you tethered to each other, working in some fun and interesting ways. You can control the Legions’ movement which includes circling a perp or Chimera and binding them. It can also be used as a counter-attack to fling away charging beasts.
You’re not defenceless on your own, as you wield an X-baton. The X-baton can transform between a police baton, a pistol and a blade. You also gain access to more abilities as the game progresses, purchased with gene code collected. Upgrading the skills and abilities of the Legions is key to making yourself a force to be reckoned with, to be able to face the challenge the more powerful and nimble Chimeras pose. If you get a perfect dodge time slows down briefly, almost like Witch Time in Bayonetta. When you land enough hits in a combo or perform other moves, there is a prompt that allows you to do a sync attack. Depending on the Legion you have equipped they’ll enhance your attack, but your Legion isn’t unlimited.
To add an extra layer to combat, the Legions only have a limited amount of energy they can use in battle. You may have to wait for the Legion to recharge from being out too long, or from being knocked out. Fortunately, it’s never too long you’re without them. It adds another layer to the strategy of holding your own when you become the only target, who’s also more fragile. Importantly, the combat is fun. When you’re in proper sync with the Legion, landing combos is a joy as you decimate one of larger Chimeras.
If you’re familiar with other Platinum games such as Bayonetta, Vanquish, and Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance, you’ve experienced how quirky and out-there the world can get. Some characters are pretty fleshed out across the story, while others are just present. The standout is Lappy the Neuron mascot, represented by a big police dog uniform. Marie the Office administrator and her cheerful personality when wearing the Lappy outfit are some of the goofier and charming moments of the game. Over the course of the game, they manage to make the characters feel part of a team, especially in the moments between the bigger story beats where you’re hanging around Neuron HQ.
You can customise your character in Astral Chain. At first, it doesn’t look like many options, just being hair, eye colour and skin tone. Once you get into the game you can also customise clothing and their colour schemes, long as you unlock them. This includes colour schemes for your Legion. I was surprised and happy to find a colour scheme for Evangelion Unit-01 — in case there wasn’t enough of a Neon Genesis feel.
There are difficulty options to ensure everyone can enjoy the game. You can enjoy the game for the story in Unchained mode where the combat is mostly handled for you. There’s also Casual and Standard modes. Casual will have you fighting your own battles, but is more lenient with how many revives you get. Standard is when you start getting ranked at the end of each case within the file. At the end of file/chapter, you get ranked based on the case rankings. You can change the difficulty at nearly any time, which is great if you find yourself getting stuck. Astral Chain is a good challenge on Standard, and completing the chapters unlocks Platinum mode for the true test of your mettle.
Detective work involves examining an area and talking to witnesses. Using IRIS helps to identify what damage has been done, any redshift/corruption that can be cleaned up by your legion. It will also show trails left by chimeras and parts of the environment that can be interacted with, as long as you have the right Legion. The only issue with this helpful mode is that, like the Batman Arkham series’ Detective mode, the visual overlay means you’re missing the actual visuals around you. You’re by no means forced to keep the mode on. When you’re in the few sections of the game that require stealth, the IRIS mode is much more useful. It shows you the enemies line of sight which is vital to making it through these sections unscathed. Now that I’ve mentioned the stealth sequences, it is one of the few moments of Astral Chain that is lacking. It’s not that bad, if you get caught you get to restart, and on the longer sections, there are also checkpoints that make all the difference. The unpleasant part is crouching to go into stealth involves clicking in an analogue stick, and it just doesn’t feel good. The same goes for running in the game; it’s fine, but clicking in the stick doesn’t feel like the best choice for either movement option. Especially when crouching, sneaking and running are all the same button press. It never felt like I had a more difficult time or messed up anything because of it, it’s just more fiddly than it should be.
I also want to quickly mention the other part of investigations, involving talking to citizens and observing the scene of a crime to gather together clues. They’re not difficult to solve, it’s another fun addition to being a Neuron Officer. It adds some puzzle-based gameplay along with all the fighting.
The story can last around 25 hours when you’re doing as much as you can the first time around. As you’re making your way through the story, you’ll see environmental hazards that can only be cleared by specific Legions. In the first playthrough, you’ll notice plenty of things you can’t interact with until you go back with the full loadout. If you want to get the most out of the game and get the best ranking possible, you can easily sink plenty more hours in.
Astral Chain also has a co-op mode spread across the two Joy-Con. Grab a friend locally, one controls the main character and the other controls the Legion. I gave it a go and it’s one of the very few unpleasant moments within Astral Chain. It feels like sharing half the controls with someone else in a way that doesn’t play nicely. But if you want to share the game with someone, the option is there.
Astral Chain is up there with Platinum’s best games. Once jumping into the story I wanted to keep playing, looking forward to seeing where it would go next. For everything I’ve written here, there’s still so much I feel I’ve left out. While it’s a long wait for Bayonetta 3, Astral Chain is an outstanding game on its own. If you’re a fan of action games or sci-fi anime, Astral Chain is a must buy.
+ Fun combat
+ Over the top Platinum style
- IRIS mode can distract from the scenery
- Crouching and Running on the same button
- Co-op mode isn’t much fun