Developed By: PlatinumGames
Published By: Nintendo
Reviewed On: Switch (Docked)
When the trailer for this game was first introduced, I was incredibly stoked because it looks to be a mix of my favourite genres in anime and games; such as Neon Genesis Evangelion, Xenosaga, Jojo Bizarre Adventures and Kamen Riders in essence with insanely high fidelity of anime-type graphics combined into one heck of awesomeness. Moreover, it comes from an industry veteran well known for its action genre type of games such as Nier Automata, Vanquish and Bayonetta series. When I first booted it up, I really thought I am in for a fighting treat but I was surprised at how much more the game offered in the end.
The storyline is a slight cut above
Astral Chain starts you off by selecting and customizing either one of the male or female twin siblings before taking them on their first mission as an elite group of police force division known as Neuron. They are a special police task force set out to protect humanity’s last refuge known as the Ark against invisible beings known as Chimeras. Originating from the Astral Plane, this otherworldly beings invade using their wormhole gates as well as turning any humans into aberrations with the red matter pollution.
As a last resort, humanity turned into capturing and turning Chimera’s into Legions which in return acts as your weaponized partner. These Legions assist you in both seeing and battling other Chimeras. Like your main character, Legions are customizable in colours as well.
The game’s storyline is hinted with predictable plots on purpose at the very beginning. If you watched enough animes or JRPG’s, you kinda know where it is heading to.
However as previously mentioned above, you get to choose between two gendered twins as the main character. The male or female counterpart that you didn’t choose seems to be more involved in your story rather than being a generic NPC or practically none existent which is a rare approach. He/she practically talks way a lot more while you are in your JRPG role of a silent protagonist. Till the point that your twin has as much of character development as you do in this story.
While the story hits a lot of predictable story beats but the tone, voice acting, settings, music and presentation is spot on with beautiful cut scenes and cinematic ensuring there is never a dull moment.
Graphics is just insane
Think of it as “if Dark Horse comics decides to go anime” or cyberpunk anime “Ghost In The Shell” but in richer details, pushing both Nintendo Switch and anime visuals fidelity above its very limit. It’s beautifully striking in colours, designs and gorgeous explosive battle animations.
While the striking coloured design works really well in battle alone, it is not entirely true in terms of fieldwork or exploring the city because basically everything from cars, roads, pedestrians, floor and even billboards are all in eye-popping details; making it harder to pinpoint loots, hidden paths and even interactable NPC’s around. Fortunately, this is well thought of and countered by an augmented reality scanner known as IRIS (activates with + button) which not only softens the tone of the colours but also highlights point of interest with shades of orange.
Gameplay for this is a new Re-legion
Astral Chain’s gameplay design influences were inspired by a variety of games and anime such as Jojo Bizarre Adventure, Zetman, Guyver, Okami, Onimusha, Kamen Rider and oddly Pokemon in capture moments. It feels like a really big list to be inspired by and might even sound like an odd mix but it comes out in a very good way.
The game starts you off with a shape-shifting baton weapon (with gun and sword mode) and provides you with one legion. With a simple one-button for attacking, dodging and countering which appears on familiar grounds with Bayonetta but its not long before it opens up and goes above and beyond by adding more layers upon layers of gameplay mechanics with the four additional Legions.
You are able to switch between five different Legions (Sword, Arrow, Beast, Arm, and Axe) on the fly, each with their own distinct appearances, separate skill trees and abilities. The game allows you to switch and control them at the same time seamlessly with a separate option of having your co-op buddy controlling the Legion instead.
Here are the Legions and a few brief explanations of their capabilities:
- Sword Legion is able to slow down time as well as see enemies attack veins, which allows you to strike that vein to stop them at their tracks.
- Arrow Legion is also able to slow down time and shoot enemies in their head or flying enemies at their tracks.
- Beast Legion is ridable to completely dodge most attacks and withstand wind pushing or gravity sucking. And with its dog-like feature, it is also able to track clues with smell as well as digging out burrowed enemies.
- Arm Legion is able to lift heavy objects and you can wear it as armour floating off the ground to avoid ground hazards.
- Axe Legion will put out an energy force field around your main character immediately negating all manner of attacks before breaking in a number of hits. It can also inject its energy by stabbing its axe weapon unto a surface, turning it into an explosive bomb that shatters enemies around or even destroying special objects in the field.
Each Legion has their own equipable skills, with ways to deal damage to enemies in large areas, buffs and a flurry of combos to an enemy. On top of that, players are able to switch Legions immediately by holding the Y button. Changing Legions mid-battle also briefly pauses the game allowing players to strategize in the midst of the chaos in battle. This allows a more tactical approach to deal with different types of enemies attacks from all directions be it from underground and even flying above constantly.
With that being said, the skills mentioned above are not limited to battles alone as it applies to fieldwork as well from tracking, lifting heavy objects, slicing wires, breaking protected places with well-placed mines, digging up clues, listening to hidden conversations and more. In vice versa, if I am good in utilizing Astral Chains platforming mechanics which is basically a Legion yanking the chain to pull you to its side of the location then you are good at performing aerial combos as well.
Tying up a foe mid-combat with your Legion’s chain can also be implemented in capturing running away human criminals on the field. It’s basically a gentle mix of platforming, battle and investigations altogether without the need to relearn a new button prompt in a separate order.
Unlike Nier Automata’s open-world concept, Astral Chain is mainly on linear layered expansive level design depending on the re-playable 12 chapter case files that you are investigating on; ranging from city malls, police headquarters, residential areas and sewers.
Although Astral Chain appears to heavily focus on it’s combat system, it actually also emphasizes more on simple investigation gameplay finding clues that will unlock even more side-quests from helping citizens, saving cats, throwing cans in the bins, closing Chimera gates, finding missing persons, investigate serial bombings, finding toilets and all the way to playing mini-games.
Surprisingly Astral chain has multiple mini-games from 16-bit-style arcade delivering balloons, taking picture in or out of the battle, petting/maintaining your Legion like a Pokemon, traffic car shifting game like Move the Block: Slide Puzzle, balancing your controller while delivering multi-layered ice creams without knocking pedestrians, bike it stylishly like Final Fantasy 7 motorbike scene and sneaking like Metal Gear Solid. However, sneaking game-play is underutilized as all player is required to do so is just tying up the guards with your Legion chain from afar instead of actually sneaking around them more but thankfully this mini-game is only limited to a few segments.
In terms of pacing alone, most chapter’s of the game always start you off by doing slow investigations first before heading into battle. While some will actually start you right off the bat in fast paced action bike shooting scenes and others are purely in battle scenes to save citizens. Which at times catches me off guard in a refreshing way.
Last but not least in terms of challenge, boss battles are seriously epic that at times changes to a mini-game as well as involving platforming or replacing Legions mid-fight to deal with certain situations placed by the bosses themselves. Other than that, the game at times will challenge you to save citizens (an actual HP Bar at the top of their head) from dying at the hands of rampaging Chimera. Not to mention that there are a few difficulty settings in this game as per the following:
- Unchained- A Story-driven campaign only where the battle is automated with unlimited revives.
- Casual- An easy mode, with only 6 revives in each case chapter.
- Pt Standard– comes with 2 revives instead and you are ranked at the end of each case chapter.
- Pt Ultimate- Means hard mode, no revives and you are ranked at the end of each case chapter.
How you perform in combat, puzzles, platforming, Red Matter collecting, finding hidden missions, and saving citizens, will affect your duty points that will affect money earnings at the end of each mission. Money is used for more equipment upgrades and permanent item purchases from vendors or vending machines. Yes, by permanent item is that the items you are able to keep throughout the rest of the game in comparison to temporary items found in loot boxes, field or enemy drops that will be later on removed from your inventory at the end of each chapter case files.
Sound is Nier perfect
As much said above, if you previously liked Nier Automata’s soundtracks or even anime; you will definitely feel right at home with Astral Chain with its own rendition of faster electronic-based manner reflecting it’s cyberpunk inspired themes. Voice acting is done nicely, setting a good tone to storytelling; even I find myself talking to every talking vending machines in the game to enjoy some of their sarcastic remarks, complains and even some of their cheery tones when you actually buy their stuff’s.
The soundtracks are epic accompanied by electrifying beats to keep players on their feet with upbeat tracks. Some songs were accompanied with orchestral vocals, rocking beats with a mix of trance and electric guitars that does sound incredible.
What I Loved
- There will be 2 tutorials either be it in battle or an option to relearn it via training room in headquarters.
- Great graphics.
- Good challenging platforms, puzzles and combat meld in together, mastery of just one alone can be a wholesome addictive experience.
- Comes with interesting quirky side missions and mini-games.
- Find new ways to play like using your legion to pull you around instead of just manually running around the field.
- Enemies come in numbers and full of variety that forces you to try new ways to fight.
- Meet some lovable characters like Lappy.
- Great voice-acting, even vending machines adorably distract me with their mild complaints, sarcastic and cheery voice acting.
- Story-wise, it’s very interesting to see a full involvement take of your gender protagonist counterpart.
- The soundtrack is just electrifying.
What I Wished Was Better
- Sneaking mini-game can be better by putting more limitations such as binding guards with a limited number of chains or guards can see Legions too with some special binoculars.
- A minor mishap in chaotic combat that will at times sprawl my camera to zoom into walls without control. Thankfully this happens not so often and it didn’t change my overall gaming experience as I find myself dodging away to re-calibrate the camera off the walls.
In my early playthrough, Astral Chain is all about having a stylishly cool vibe and has a very good meaty battle system but that is actually just an icing on the cake, as I later found it to be a more appetizingly wholesome experience when I got a chance to play the short side missions, puzzles, minigames, platforming, meeting some memorable characters, talking vending or “venting” machines, “remember what you told me just now” pop quiz investigations, and deep ingenious battle mechanics gelled into its platforming.
At its core, Astral Chain is a new fun Cyberpunk IP, a masterpiece in both delivering top-notch refreshing action and is interestingly innovative in terms of content. It is definitely unlike a lot of things out there on the Switch especially in the action-based genre, making it an essential part of the 2019 collection for any Switch owners out there.