Astral Chain is PlatinumGames new IP and because it’s a hack-and-slash action adventure game, it’s getting many comparisons to Bayonetta and other PlatinumGames action titles. After beating it, I can confidently say this game is very different. I would say, it’s better. Like other PlatinumGames titles, Astral Chain is an action game with stylized combat. It has fast-paced movement, flashy animation, and technical mechanics that involve well timed dodging and counter attacks. Astral Chain exceeds this formula by implementing an excellent story, fleshed out characters, and deep world building…
In a futuristic world in year 2078, humanity is fighting off extinction in a metropolis with the help of a police force called Neuron. Neuron helps citizens who are being abducted by Chimera’s (aliens) and sent to the Astral Plane (kind of like the upside down world in Stranger Things). Neuron police have the ability to transform Chimera powers into Legions.
Legions are wielded as weapons attached by a chain to a Neuron police officer to fight against the Chimera’s and preserve humanity. Your character is one of two twin orphans, who are recruited into the Neuron police force. When the other Neuron officers lose their ability to wield the Legions, the twins become humanities only hope for survival. As things unfold a villian emerges to hinder Neurons progress for unclear reasons, until the latter half of the game. Throughout this journey, you’ll explore the mystery behind the Chimera’s and the Astral Plane.
Certain discoveries and twists make you question who the real villain is. Throughout the game I was suspicious of about five characters, and this is what kept me on my toes. In the end, I came out of it with several of my suspicions validated and very few off-beat. I don’t think this game would have as much predictability if you’re not an otaku, because this story and it’s characters are very, very anime. I wouldn’t be surprised if it became its own anime much like Persona 5. Astral Chain would make a very good anime, if we can somehow transform your character from being a silent protagonist into having more personality like your twin.
The game begins offering you a choice to pick between the twin brother or sister and customize that character to your liking. Whichever sibling you don’t choose becomes an NPC who plays a crucial role in the story. Once you create your chosen character, you’re not married to that appearance because there’s a locker room in the Neuron headquarters (main hub) where you can change your hair, eyes, skin tone, clothing, and accessories (hat, ears, glasses, masks, armor). Customization leaks into every aspect of this game, including the color and opacity of your HUD, but I’ll leave any gameplay customization options for later.
I found myself in my locker and Legion terminal in between every mission to change the color and style of my outfit, the appearance of my character, and make her match my legion’s skin. The Legions and character outfits have set color schemes that you unlock, but you can also edit them for your favorite color combinations. I took many screenshots of my anime girl and her legions ever-changing appearance. When I wasn’t in my locker, I spent a good chunk of time talking to other Neuron agents, practicing combat in the training room, upgrading my weapons, or purchase items (medicine, buffs, concoction boosts) from NPC’s or talking vending machines with personality (shy, gloomy, retro). Yup, even the vending machines have personities.
You unlock up to five Legions with different abilities to use in battle and different ways to traverse the world. You’ll also need to unlock a specific Legion to get through certain paths or find hidden items.
- The Beast Legion is your doggo robot that you can mount to travel fast, dig up buried objects in the ground, and track scents.
- The Arm Legion is my husky robot that can lift heavy objects that may be blocking a hidden path, open heavy doors, move platforms, or I can merge with it to become a floating punching machine, which is useful when there’s environmental hazards on the ground.
- The Arrow Legion is an archer that can be used to activate switches or shoot down items that are high up. It’s also effective against enemies who fly.
- The Sword Legion is the one you start off with, which is the most nimble and inevitably became my main Legion in combat. It also slashes away at certain cracked walls and heals citizens by removing crimson in their bodies.
- The Axe Legion breaks through thick walls and creates a protective dome-shaped shield for combat and protects your character from airborne environmental hazards like poison (You can also change your Legions on the fly with the press of a button, which makes combat more dynamic and exploring the world less mundane).
When deployed on a mission (called files), you’re given a healthy amount of optional side missions and activities on the map. There’s plenty of NPC’s to chat with, Astral Plane Crimson to clean up on the streets and on citizens, cats to rescue, cans to discard, chests to open, crimes to investigate, bad guys to chase, conversations to eavesdrop on, and citizens to save from Chimera’s and rescue from the Astral Plane. These activities are highlighted with your characters Iris ability, which is just a scan mode that highlights objectives. It’s like the detective vision in the Batman Arkham series and you can keep it activated for the entire game if you wanted. I enjoyed trying to complete as many side activities as possible before approaching the main mission.
The futuristic city is beautiful and filled with bright neon lights (think Tokyo or Times Square). There’s alleyways, slums, shops, train stations, and sewers to explore. Then there’s rifts you find to the Astral Plane, which is a crimson filled space with puzzles, hoards of Chimera, or bosses. The streets of the city are detailed but I wish the Astral Plane’s environment was more varied. The Plane would’ve been cool if it looked a little different every time I visited, but instead it’s just the same open, crimson space. Maybe that was the point. Thankfully, there’s a lot of variety in the Chimera designs and attack patterns as some have wings, shields, or a tethered buff making them invulnerable.
If you engage in the side content it’s almost as if you’re playing a detective game before diving into the hack-and-slash action. Once in action, your character can switch between a pistol, baton, or sword and these items are upgradable. However the real fun is in switching between your Legions where you can slash with a sword, punch with a large fist, pierce with an arrow, claw with paws, or perform a heavy axe attack. They each have a skill tree to increase attack and defense, increase chance of parrying or binding with the chain, and to add a new special attack. You can switch out special attacks in the main menu. You also unlock various perks for your Legions such as increased critical attack, longer chain length, increased speed, auto heal, etc.
Controlling your character and Legion is rewarding, fast, flashy, dynamic, satisfying, and very anime. This is all thanks to the simple attacks and Legion summoning controlled by the triggers and bumpers. Then you launch your chained Legion toward enemies with the left stick where they’ll automatically attack. You can perform synced attacks with your Legion following a flash prompt on the screen. After a perfect dodge, time slows down so you can hit an enemy on its back, which is the weakest point for every enemy. Each Legion has their own unique playstyle and for this reason, Astral Chain has my favorite combat system compared to other Platinum action games.
It’s no surprise that PlatinumGames created a game with fun, fast, and flashy combat. What I was surprised at is how good the story is, how deep the customization options are, and how much care went into the world building. Yet, what sets the bar for Astral Chain to be one of my favorite games this year is the music. Satoshi Igarashi does an amazing job of composing the music to match the mood. For example there’s chill electronic music playing in the Neuron HQ or when you’re roaming the world, ambient music when you’re not battling in the Astral Plane, orchestral music during dramatic scenes, and progressive metal when in the middle of a tense boss battle. The metal reminded me a lot of one of my favorite metal bands, Tesseract. It’s so good!
If you like action games or if you like anime, you’ll be as enamored with Astral Chain as I am.