With the masterminds behind games such as Nier and Bayonetta behind it, Astral Chain was an instant success right out of the gate. Platinum Games’ magic can be felt throughout this exceptional hack and slash right from its combat, characters and even into its unrelated but charming lore. It checks all the boxes for an award-winning game and let’s hope this game goes onto becoming a series we can enjoy for years to come.
Astral Chain starts of quite complicated. Its story is pieced together as you experience the first couple of chapters. You get to choose between two playable characters who are twins of the commander of the special services unit you end up working for.
As an officer from the “Neuron” police task force, your job is to explore The Ark, a megacity where the last of humanity lives after being on the brink of extinction, and save the people from interdimensional creatures known as Chimeras. While it sounds simple, there is a lot of story going on in Astral Chain and the way the narrative has been packaged made exploring the game’s layered story extremely enjoyable.
The year is 2078 and these Chimeras live in a place called the Astral Plane. The Chimera’s primary goal is to snatch people out of the city and take them to the Astral Plane to corrupt them and turn them into monsters through Red Matter which infects all living things.
The Neuron task force has a countermeasure; using cleansed and controlled Chimeras known as Legions to fight the infected and bring calm to the world. These Legion come in all shapes and forms and have special abilities which you use in combat and during your investigations.
In Astral Chain, you start off with one Legion and after things go sour, you get to use more than one which is something rare and related to the story. Each Legion you obtain is important to the story and the progression of the character, combat, exploration and how it all ties together.
Following in the footsteps of Bayonetta, Astral Chain takes on a chapter-based story as you start off each mission in the police HQ, chat to some lovely people, do some side quests and head out to investigate whatever disturbance is occurring in a new part of the city.
There’s a lot to love about the way Astral Chain is presented to the player. Stellar voice work, gripping cinematics, charming characters and intense missions all make it hard to put down. I found myself exploring every inch of the open world-like hub as I chatted to the people, defused a bomb, picked up tin cans to clean the city streets and even entertained a bunch of kids by answering their riddles.
[perfectpullquote align=”left” bordertop=”false” cite=”” link=”” color=”#FF5733″ class=”” size=”19″]I spent a lot of time exploring both the real world city in the Ark and the Astral Plane[/perfectpullquote]
These padded quests never feel dull and they are short and sweet enough to keep you engrossed without making them feel like a chore. The game has a heavy emphasis on an investigation system where most missions saw me questioning bystanders and getting witness statements about an occurrence that took place.
Later on, I would have to report back on these statements by piecing together keywords from their responses. This would then reveal more of the mission to me and result in the progression of the mission. There was no lack of variety here as every chapter kept things fresh and the new Legions added new ways to get about and complete side missions. Often some of the side activities were locked due to me not having the Legion yet.
The Legion is the game’s main combat and exploration mechanic and you basically need it for everything. Sure, you can control, interact and fight with the main character but pressing ZL would summon this chain-linked being to your side and it would attack what you are attacking and you can move it around and perform various abilities as you wish.
In theory, the game takes place in two dimensions and I spent a lot of time exploring both the real world city in the Ark and the Astral Plane. The city is one thing but the Astral Plane is a deadly and dangerous dimension where these Chimeras live.
The Astral Plane is littered with puzzles, Red Matter to collect and loads of boxes hidden away in every nook and cranny. It is here where my Legion’s skills became useful. One Legion can slice through specific lasers to unlock walls; the other can shoot arrows into the distance to trigger switches; one can pick up large objects and another can dig.
As you grow into the game and master the Legions, controlling them gets easier and completing these puzzles get tougher as the game’s difficulty curve is unforgiving. However, it is all extremely enjoyable and unlocking a new Legion through the game’s story meant new things to interact with and new ways to approach every scenario.
If I spent an hour exploring the Astral Plane then it was an hour making sure I picked everything up and opened every box. Not every moment was fun though as the game has some issues with platforming that is caused by its unpredictable leap mechanic and clumsy camera.
In order to get around you can use your Legion to move it to one place and you can leap towards it. This often resulted in me hitting a wall or just never making the jump. It is not a train smash but every time I fell off the ledge due to this clumsy mechanic, I lost a load of health. This was an issue when I played on higher difficulties where health was scarce.
[perfectpullquote align=”right” bordertop=”false” cite=”” link=”” color=”#86FD07″ class=”” size=”19″]all the fights were fast-paced, flashy and highly satisfying.[/perfectpullquote]
As Astral Chain is a Platinum Games you would expect a combat system worthy of the gods and the game delivers a unique approach in some aspects and in others, you can feel the Bayonetta and NieR love oozing from the mechanics. The protagonist and his or her Legion takes on combat in the game and as you progress and unlock new Legions, their abilities and skills all come in handy.
Combat revolves around you controlling your Legion and the character as you whisk about the area dodging, attacking and combining your skills with your Legion’s to defeat the Chimeras. Each Legion’s skills deliver a unique approach to combat and later on in the game, you need to switch between a handful of them to fight different enemies,
When an enemy was protected by a floating Chimera shielding him with a beam, I had to pull out my Sword Legion and slash the bond to break them apart. Flying Chimeras are bested by shooting them down with the Arrow Legion and all Chimeras can be tripped by stretching your chain across the battlefield as they charge into you, catching them and sending them flying into a stun.
Attacking in a combo can be followed up by a perfectly-timed chain attack when your player’s Legion glows blue resulting in even more damage and the all the fights were fast-paced, flashy and highly satisfying.
As I progressed in the game, I was able to unlock more skills for my Legions by spending resources on each skill tree. Abilities such as healing effects and recharge rates can also be equipped giving you a plethora of customization options for every battle. The player can also be tweaked by upgrading his versatile baton which increases the damage and combos rate.
At the start of the game, I was weak and had one pity legion at my side. Later on, I grew and had them all which let me switch between them and use all the abilities at my disposal to beat the hardest of Chimera. And they get tough as the game’s difficulty spikes especially when playing on the “PT Standard Mode”. I recommend playing on this game mode as the easier ones just did not offer any sort of challenge at all.
But it is not all perfection as Astral Chain has some issues. The protagonist does not speak at all which is strange in this circumstance as you can choose between one of the two twins. The other twin not chosen has pages of dialogue and whatever happens in the game, you just stand there silent. The camera is also a problem as often combat takes place in tight places and it gets stuck up on walls and breaks. This can be an issue during intense fights especially when you are trying for the high ranks on the tough difficulties.
Astral Chain is something truly unique. Its story may be a little predictable but the characters, combat, world and how it is all brought together made it an action game I could not help but love. Its a meaty game with a lot to experience and every moment was filled with something exciting to do or some epic enemy to face off against. If you are looking for a solid action and slash, then this could be one of the best I have played in a while.
This Astral Chain review was based on a review code provided to us by Nintendo.
Available On: Nintendo Switch | Release Date: 30 August 2019 | Price: R935 (Standard Edition) / R1215 Collector’s Edition