From the minds that brought you Bayonetta, NieR: Automata, and Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance comes their latest adventure with an all-new Nintendo Switch exclusive called Astral Chain. Find out whether or not this game can stand among its peers or if it should simply be forgotten with our review for Astral Chain.
+Combat is easy to learn, enjoyable and accommodates to almost any playstyle there is
+Performance is top-notch
+Absolutely some of the most outstanding voice acting possible
+Feels like an anime-turned video game
-Platforming sections can be slightly off-putting to some
-Side missions do tend to – at times – break immersion
By now, you’ve heard about Astral Chain whether you’ve wanted to or not. In one form, you may have heard about it since the news broke that PlatinumGames confirmed that the game itself would never make its way to another platform outside of the Nintendo Switch. If you aren’t familiar with the team behind the title, you may not be familiar with the Bayonetta franchise, Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance, or even NieR: Automata.
They’re also the team that was once hard at work on the Xbox One exclusive title called Scalebound that had been canceled not too long ago. However, that has changed, they’ve built up their relationship with Nintendo, bringing over some of their most powerful and heavy hitters in recent days to the console-turned-handheld.
The latest member of their partnership comes in the shape of Astral Chain, their anime-style high-octane brawler-turned beat-em-up action-title. Underneath its hood, there’s a lot going on behind the scenes, a lot that only PlatinumGames fans would actually recognize from previous titles.
Astral Chain isn’t scared to show off the team’s history and their creative abilities into a single title
If you aren’t familiar with the aforementioned titles just a few lines up, it’ll be hard to piece together what I’m talking about, how carefully weaved together Astral Chain actually is, how it uses elements from every previous title they’ve worked on in order to weave together one of their strongest titles yet.
While playing as one of the two twins available for you to choose from, you’ll take on the part of being in the Neuron Task Force who is set to fight back against an anomaly known as the chimeras. As a part of the Neuron Task Force, your job is clear, clearing out the Legions, keeping them at bay and pushing back the corruption that they cause.
Much as you would expect, the story itself is as about as anime-like as they can get, but somehow, the formula still works. The entertainment value is there, delivering what it players need in order to feel that the story itself folds in proper strides. Character development is key, showing that PlatinumGames has continued pushing forward, ensuring that key characters play an important role in the overall experience.
Even the least likely of characters get the very same treatment, each one feeling steadily more important as the game continues on, ensuring that players feel the sense of depth isn’t forced or just an added bit of content. You may remember these design elements from both NieR: Automata and Bayonetta. It works and it works rather well.
Side-quests for each of the NPCs, which mostly take place in the police station feels tacked on, but in a way that helps give players a sense of downtime between each of the half-hour to hour-long missions. Those very side-quests are fun, hilarious, and even reward you for your time spent navigating each and every single one.
Some may even be informative, giving you tutorials on new and upgraded equipment, optimizing your Legion via the Legatus interface, or even how to use the customization menus at the station.
Astral Chain’s story unfolds bit by bit, both at the station and on the field
One of strongest design elements of Astral Chain is that it doesn’t just stop with character development while at the station. Rather, you will see that it develops well beyond that. Character interactions are duly noted through each and every mission. Interactions, while sometimes scripted, do play a role in every little aspect of the game.
Inhabitants of the world seem well aware that something out of the ordinary is happening, however, they aren’t like Neuron taskforce members that know more about the Legions and the chimera than Neuron actually is. The odd part about this is? Well, you’re one of the very few that can actually use the Legatus, a device that tethers a Legion to its user, allowing a member of Neuron to use them as both weapons and tools of their trade.
Character development is driven by these very investigations that will have you tearing across the Ark in order to protect those that need protecting, but also, putting an end to each chimera-induced incident. Some are investigations small as saving a cat from a tree – no seriously, it’s a thing – to solving missing peoples who have been abducted by red shadow-like entities (chimera).
You’ll even find that each task you take can be just as rewarding as you might think, but so can the explorative portions of each semi-open world area. Speaking of that, we do need to talk about that a bit, and for a good reason.
Astral Chain wants you to explore, not just hammer away at it like an action game, which is great
Let’s face it, we all know the truth: PlatinumGames is a rather talented studio. They are great at building some of the most adrenaline-inducing action games on the market. They are awesome at creating those experiences and they aren’t shying away from knowing that they can do that with Astral Chain, but instead, they’ve approached this title with a sense of balance.
You’ll be heavily rewarded for the time taken to explore. There’s a good chance you can find chests that are loaded to the brim with items. IRIS (one of your many tools of the trade), is great for this and it will help you explore each and every zone you enter. It’s hard not to appreciate the tool itself. For those looking to complete as much of the game as they can in a single run, IRIS is going to be your pal, but so will the use of your Legion who can help you get to points you wouldn’t be able to reach without its help.
Sometimes you may even find that exploration can yield brand-new investigations, rewards, and even help you clear out some of the corruption in an area, which in turn can help you upgrade your Legion when you need to. If you are wondering just how awesome your Legion is, just imagine Indiana Jones if he didn’t have his hat or his whip, and then imagine a Neuron officer without their Legion. Same idea.
The combat itself, when it unfolds, which can be rather often, you’ll find that it’s fast-paced and pushing you to use every tool of Neuron’s trade. You’ll find yourself constantly alternating between your gun, your x-baton, and your gladius sword. Meanwhile, you will need to learn to use your Legatus as you need, allowing you to bind enemies into place, getting to once-unreachable locations, or overcoming boss and mob mechanics.
This is also where upgrades and customizations come into play. You’ll need to focus on unlocking new abilities alongside obtaining new Legions as you play, which includes also upgrading your very own abilities.
Astral Chain’s upgrades include money, Gene Codes, and equipment parts
As you are aware, Legions are your secondary force, allowing you to use an A.I. or player-controlled partner (we’ll touch on this soon). The Legions come in a variety of forms, each one having its own skills, abilities, special attacks, as well as their very own attack and defense stats.
Each one also comes with required upgrades alongside optional customizations. Each one also comes with a different set of utilities, allowing you to better suit each Legion for your playstyle itself. Each one can be customized through color schemes to match your own or even give them their very own satisfying touch.
PlatinumGames goes beyond that, fortunately, allowing you to fully customize your character and even touching up their uniform, the colors, and even their appearance. You’ll get new customization options, color schemes, and appearance items by completing Orders given to you throughout the game. Missions include that – you might remember this one – the cat you rescue from the tree, defeating rare creatures during each and every chapter.
If you plan on finding them all in a single go, you got your work cut out for you, which is where being able to revisit missions comes into play at higher or lower difficulties. I suggest the prior over the latter of the two.
Astral Chain’s exploration is rather fun, but it requires you to use your Legion, and IRIS.
One thing you’ll need to know is that exploration is a key element to the game. You’ll find that Astral Chain is packed with small details that really make the world pop and stand out among its peers. Detective work is a part of this very part of the world, you’ll find that each mission, each task you are given helps give the world a sense of depth; in short – the world is a character of its own and you’ll want to learn more about it.
Some of your time exploring may require you to properly use your Legion, allowing you to teleport from one point to another, using it to help you traverse locations that are otherwise unreachable. Part of the time you will want to use IRIS, the AR/AI device that helps visualize some of the information in the world going on around you.
A few of the missions will require you finding security footage, wireless signal transmissions, or even using your Legion to spy on a possible suspect. Heck, you’ll even find yourself eyeing down a damaged drone or few, hunting down missing persons, or even spying on a suspect. You’ll find yourself using different Legions to maneuver as well.
You’ll find yourself using the Beast Legion to move about quicker, Arm Legion to move heavy objects out of the way, and even using the Arrow Legion to take out ranged enemies in a single go.
Combat is a key element when the chimera get to coming around
Just like any PlatinumGames title, Astral Chain is about as fast-paced as you can imagine, allowing you to enjoy a fast, fluid, and well-grounded experience to come together in ways you might not have expected. You’ll find that your character’s gun easily resembles that of Bayonetta in how it handles.
The baton and sword resemble that of Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance in how each weapon feels weighted properly, presenting themselves with the proper impact, and allows you disperse enemies in a functional manner. However, combat is more fluid than you might expect compared to Bayonetta or MGR. It’s smooth, fluid, and plays out rather quickly.
Whether you are in coop mode or not, it’s a smooth experience that transitions rather well. You’ll find yourself using each of the Legions during each situation, allowing you to take full advantage of each and every encounter. You’ll want to ensure that you know when to switch out your Legion, ensuring you optimize your combat to match what they are capable of.
This is especially critical when playing in cooperative play. Something we do need to talk about just a bit.
Astral Chain’s cooperative mode puts an emphasize on why games such as this are so unique
One of the things I’ve not seen discussed a lot in my time of reading other reviews is the cooperative play functionality of the game, which fortunately for me, I was able to test in a way I’d never-before-imagined for a game such as this. This function of the game allows one player to take on the role of the Legion while the other takes on the role of the main protagonist.
You’ll have to work with your same-couch partner as if you both have a single mind. To execute special moves, special combos, or even get from one point to another, you’ll need to work together and closely together at that. It’s not that this isn’t just easy, it’s that it’s an all-new challenge for both players on very different levels.
The player taking on the role of the Legions has their work cut out for them as well. You’ll need to know what each of the Legions does. You’ll find yourself using Legion actions, the menus and interactions of each button will also change based on which role you choose. You’ll even find yourself begin required to manage your energy levels in order to keep you on the field.
Astral Chain is a technical marvel on the Switch
Whether the graphics are for you or not, Astral Chain is absolutely gorgeous and there’s no doubt that one of the main focal points in the games overall design is both its graphics as well as its performance.
Astral Chain runs as smooth as you would imagine. It’s a highly-responsive game that doesn’t jitter, jump or crash when you’d expect it to. The experience is almost as flawless as you might imagine and much of that is thanks to the cel-shaded approach the game implements to deliver its anime-like experience.
In truth, it also looks the part, not being ashamed or unwavering on its use of anime-like designs to really pop and stand out from the crowd. This is an approach we’re seeing quite often as of late on the Nintendo Switch, which does help make the game a bit more enjoyable, giving us a break from ultra-realistic titles such as Man of Medan or Detroit: Become Human.
The overall design is impressive, whether it’s the small medical beds in the office or the cityscapes you will explore throughout the game. It’s all breathtaking and really shows that PlatinumGames hasn’t forgotten how to impress even with the smallest of details. Just don’t expect your battery life to last more than three hours with this game. It’ll chew it up rather fast.
Since the moment Astral Chain was teased for the Nintendo Switch, I’ll be the first to admit this was a game I wasn’t going to just enjoy, but one I knew would be a must-have heavy hitter. From its visuals to its gameplay elements, it hasn’t disappointed, and it stands out rather well among its peers.
Even the small moments that are clearly brought over from Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance (we’ll avoid the spoilers, but it’s there, and you’ll get a chuckle out of it when you get there) and Bayonetta first appear, you’ll find yourself chuckling and clapping your invisible hands together in hopes to get plenty more of those nice little Easter Eggs.
Platforms: Nintendo Switch
Version Reviewed: Nintendo Switch
Developer: Platinum Games
Release Date: Available Now
The game is a fantastic masterpiece, one that really stands out among its peers. From the strong visuals to the solid voice acting of Brianna Knickerbocker, Aleks Le, Owen Thomas, and many of the other actors, to the captivating gameplay elements, Astral Chain is a must-have for Nintendo Switch owners that shouldn’t pass up on their chance to play one of the handhelds turned console hybrid’s heaviest hitters of 2019.
Our review is based upon a retail version that was purchased by the writer for the review of the game. For information about our ethics policy please click here.
About the Writer(s):
Dustin is our native console gamer, PlayStation and Nintendo reviewer who has an appetite for anything that crosses the borders from across the big pond. His interest in JRPG’s, Anime, Handheld Gaming, and Pizza is insatiable. His elitist attitude gives him direction, want, and a need for the hardest difficulties in games, which is fun to watch, and hilarity at its finest. You can find him over on Twitter or Facebook.