Game Info:

Astral Chain
Developed By: PlatinumGames
Published By: Nintendo
Released: August 30, 2019
Available On: Nintendo Switch
Genre: Action, Adventure, Hack and Slash
ESRB Rating: T for Drug Reference, Language, Use of Alcohol, Violence
Number of Players: 1 player / 2 player co-op mode where the second player controls the Legion.
Price: $59.99
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Astral Chain is a hack and slash action game developed by PlatinumGames, a studio well known in this genre for great titles such as NieR: Automata and Bayonetta. It was directed by Automata's lead designer, Takahisa Taura; with help from Devil May Cry and Bayonetta creator Hideki Kamiya. People were extremely excited for this game just for these names alone, and I'm glad to say they were not disappointed.

Astral Chain takes place in the near future, where creatures from another dimension, known as Chimeras, have started to pop up. These creatures appear through rifts between the two worlds known as Gates. They often kidnap humans and take them back through the gate, into a dimension of terror known as the Astral Plane. Worse still, Chimeras bring with them a dangerous material known as Red Matter. If humans are exposed to this energy long enough, they start to Red Shift; turning into aberrations, which are monsters similar to Chimeras. These threats were starting to pose a real threat to humanity. One man, named Yoseph, decided something had to be done in order to save it.

Yoseph built what he called an Ark, a structure designed to house and protect humanity from any further damage. He got as many humans known to be safe and took them onto the Ark, then sent it out into the ocean. They lived peacefully for many years, but Chimeras soon started to appear on the Ark, causing Red Shift and taking humans precious to survival back to the Astral Plane. This reached a boiling point in one of the Zones of the Ark, Zone 9. Though they tried to combat it, without possessing a true weapon against Chimeras, they were forced to abandon the battle and lock away Zone 9. After this, Yoseph decided a weapon was needed to fight back.

At the start of the game we're given a female or male character to choose from, soon revealed to be twins. The character you choose can change their hair style and color, as well as eye color and name. It turns out the twins are both employed in the Ark City Police Department, and at the start of the game we're on a mission to backup overwhelmed officers in the city. We fight some aberrations using a motorcycle equipped with guns in a short on-rails segment, then reach the city. We fight a few enemies while the game teaches us the basics of combat, then meet with our twin. It's a short reunion, however, as we're soon attacked by invisible enemies.

After fighting for a few moments before ultimately losing, we're saved by our father, Maximilian Howard, as well as his two partners. Using a creature similar to the invisible ones, they defeat the monsters. We learn that their group is part of a secret division of the police called Neuron, and they fight Chimeras using a Legion. This creature is very similar to a Chimera, but has been shackled and can be controlled by the user, known as a Legionis. The twins are then given some cool equipment, as well as a Legion of their own, to serve and protect humanity.

Astral Chain
Dealing the final blow to a strong Chimera

Strong Points: Fast-paced gameplay; amazing art style and visual quality; great soundtrack; fun controls
Weak Points: Rare frame rate dips; poor writing
Moral Warnings: Some language and blasphemy present; talk of ascending humanity; monster design possibly inspired by biblical demons

Like other Platinum titles, Astral Chain has great core gameplay. The main mechanic present in this game is what I would describe as parallel fighting, where you control both your character and their Legion at the same time. Fights are always interesting due to the challenge in controlling both things at the same time, as well as many other mechanics in battle. The first of which being what weapon you'll choose to use. At the start of the game you're given an X-Baton, which can stay as a baton for fast and close up attacks, or transform into a blaster for anti-air and ranged attacks. Later on you'll unlock the ability to change it into a giant sword known as a Gladius, which is insanely strong but incredibly slow.

There are also different types of Legions in the game, each with their own fighting style and ability. The Sword Legion is quick and strong, and excels at close-ranged fighting. The Arrow Legion is slower and weak, but is the only Legion capable of taking down flying enemies. The Arm Legion is the second slowest and quite strong, with the unique ability of allowing the player to wear the Legion like a suit of armor, offering protection and allowing you to use powerful attacks together. The Beast Legion is like a giant K-9, and can be ridden; allowing you to easily traverse the map if you need to get somewhere quick. It's the fastest Legion in battle, but also the weakest. The Axe Legion is a hulking beast, possessing incredible strength, but lacking heavily in speed. It has the ability to generate a shield around itself, protecting the player from attacks or environmental obstacles.

Every Legion has an energy bar, and when it is used completely the Legion disappears, leaving you totally exposed and open to attack. If you let your energy bar go fully down, your Legion will need to recharge quite a bit of energy just to reappear. You have the ability to bring out and call back your Legion, allowing you to choose whether you want to use up all your energy or make sure it doesn't run out. Your energy bar fills up quickly when the Legion is called back, and doing damage with your weapons fills the bar back up. As such in battle you need to balance your own health and the Legion's energy, making sure they're working fine in parallel.

There are many other fighting mechanics in Astral Chain, such as sync attacks. First you must finish a combo, which is usually a string of about 5 hits. Once you land the final hit in a combo, you'll hear a sort of shimmering sound, time will slow down for a short period of time, and a blue flash will appear over your character; signaling that you can perform a sync attack. If you choose to do so, you'll use up a bit of your energy, and your Legion will use a strong combo depending on its type and your weapon. The Sword Legion does multiple sync attacks if you use the Baton, but only one if you use the Blaster or Gladius. The Arrow Legion does multiple attacks if you use the Blaster, but not the Baton or Gladius. You constantly have to monitor your own health and the Legion's energy, while performing sync attacks, swapping weapons or Legion types, and many other things I don't want to include as not to spoil the experience nor make this review too long.

Outside of combat, you do some actual detective work. During these segments, you'll try to find information on a certain individual, where a Chimera went, and other things of the sort. As you talk to NPCs you'll pick up words relevant to your investigation and save them in your police notes. You can also find a number of side quests on your investigation, known as Blue Files and Red Files. These are usually things like finding a person or animal, getting some sort of item or defeating a group of enemies. After you obtain all the information relevant to your main objective, you must find your partner. You'll then have to compile the information you've been getting and figure out what's going down.

Now you might be thinking, "what about the rest of the game?" I'm happy to say that although a good bit of effort went into the gameplay, Astral Chain's crowning jewel is its world. Astral Chain features a previously mentioned futuristic world, and embraces a futuristic Cyberpunk theme beautifully. The Ark is full of amazing art and detail that made me stop and enjoy the scenery, providing a great distraction between fights as not to bore the player. Many great locations are present in this game, such as Central City, a sprawling metropolis full of vehicles, ads, neon lights and screens. At its center lies Harmony Square, designed around the infamous Times Square.

Astral Chain
The beautiful Central City
Score Breakdown:
Higher is better
(10/10 is perfect)

Game Score - 88%
Gameplay - 17/20
Graphics - 9/10
Sound - 9/10
Stability - 4/5
Controls - 5/5

Morality Score - 78%
Violence - 5/10
Language - 5/10
Sexual Content - 9/10
Occult/Supernatural - 6/10
Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 8/10

Providing a large area to explore and discover, with gorgeous visuals and interesting side quests, I genuinely enjoyed just walking around this area for an hour or more, seeing how many things were packed into it. Later on in the game we visit a city abandoned by the government, full of citizens cramped into small and trashed places, living bleak lives yet holding on to hope through the despair they face. There's also the Aegis Research Facility, a cold and industrial science lab that's empty and lifeless, reflecting the experiments and evils that are likely contained inside the walls.

There was a lot of effort put into the unique appearance of each section of the game, and it shines through beautifully, accurately representing the feel of each area and the citizens or events that exist within them. Beyond that it looks absolutely stellar, and the clean anime art style combines perfectly with the realistic cyberpunk theme. It runs at an almost rock-solid 30FPS, though there are some very rare frame rate drops during intense battles. Coming off the back of disappointing performance and visuals in Fire Emblem: Three Houses, I was impressed that such graphics could be achieved without a noticeable sacrifice in frame rate or resolution. One thing that should be noted, however, is a lack of any anti-aliasing. Though I personally don't mind it and think it adds to the sharpness of the art style, it should be mentioned for those who hate the shimmering jagged lines of a game without anti-aliasing. In my 20 hours of playtime, I never even noticed it until it was pointed out to me.

Now we move on to my favorite part of Astral Chain: the [b]incredible[/b] soundtrack. It cannot be stressed enough how amazing this soundtrack is, both in and outside of the game! Combining ambient piano with powerful choirs, and stringed instruments, banging metal and pumping electronic sounds, this soundtrack has something for everyone. When outside of battle, calm tracks play that invite a playfulness that promotes investigation and exploration. Inside of battle, however, the gloves are taken off. Pounding electronic music is fused with rocking metal to provide the perfect backing to the all-out brawls that fights end up being.

Astral Chain controls excellently. Not once did I feel that the game cheated me with a misinput or cheaply designed system, and recognized my failures were my lack of focus. The dual control system works flawlessly and never felt like a chore to use. You move your character using the left analogue stick, use the right trigger to attack, and the right shoulder button to call back your Legion. You hold down the left trigger to command your Legion, and then use the right analogue stick to move him around. The left shoulder button is used to activate your Legion's unique ability, such as the Arm Legion's armor, or the Axe Legion's shield. The face buttons are for using items, swapping Legions, dodging from attacks or interacting with objects. The D-Pad is used for swapping weapons, as well as checking your notes or taking a photo.

I would like to mention the writing quality, which is a bit... subpar. It's not terrible but there's an overreliance on tropes that are common to anime, which can lead to some scenes just being very cheesy or generic. It's obvious that the writing was tossed to the side in this game in order to give us an amazing world with great controls and music. And while I do believe it was the right thing to do, it is a bit sad that the writing is carried by the world and gameplay. The last thing I'll note is that the game could be considered short, being around 20 hours long, with some post game missions that are just battles against most enemies present in the game. While these semi-boss rush battles are fun, they can get stale when played back to back. If you missed side quests earlier in the game, you can load previous sections and go back to find them, compete for better scores on levels or just play them again. Overall I believe Astral Chain has a good length, not stretched out to ruin the flow of the game, nor condensed to feel unfairly short.

Astral Chain contains several references to biblical Christianity, such as Noah's Ark and the creatures known as Legions, the name of a group of demons that were mentioned in the Apostles. Though there are no religions present in the game. There are references to ascending humanity and the typical "become like gods" trope. Some slight language is present; the occasional d### or h###, with some blasphemy here and there, but not enough for me to remember any. There was also some s###, b#### or a##, though these were almost never said. There are some futuristic drugs present in the game, as well as some drinkers, but they were few and far between. There are some Chimeras or characters with somewhat questionable design, but there's nothing revealing or detailed enough to note. There are enemies or scenes that could be seen as disturbing, though compared to other games they're quite weak. Overall I'd say Astral Chain deserves its teen rating; it's not perfect but definitely not bad for a modern action title.

All of these things combined into an experience that was incredibly enjoyable, and one I have no problem with experiencing again in the future. The deep gameplay, stunning visuals, amazing soundtrack and optimized controls culminated in one game that I can wholeheartedly recommend to anyone.

- Remington



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