Developer: PlatinumGames Inc.
Platform: Nintendo Switch
Version Reviewed: Physical Version
No. of Players: 1-2 player
Release Date: August 30th, 2019 (Worldwide)
Price: $59.99 USD
It was only early this year did the world come to hear about ASTRAL CHAIN. Made as a surprise announcement in the February 2019 Nintendo Direct, ASTRAL CHAIN was developed by PlatinumGames and is exclusive to the Nintendo Switch console.
Gamers certainly had mixed opinions about the game as they were hoping that PlatinumGames would have announced something about Bayonetta 3 instead of a whole new IP that no one asked for.
However, as more information came available for the game, it soon won over many of the skeptics (myself included) and was looking to be a very promising game. After months of anticipation, alas, August 30th has finally arrived, which means that we can all get our Sci-Fi Anime, police action game fix.
ASTRAL CHAIN is set in a futuristic cyberpunk world. It follows a twin brother and sister, who are young police cadets that get enlisted into an elite police force dedicated to fighting the threat of an invasion of another dimension, known as the Astral Plane. The threat had corrupted almost all of planet Earth and forced what remained of humanity to escape on an artificial island known as the Ark.
The Ark brought peace and hope for humanity but it was not long-lived. Gates began to appear all over the Ark and the Neuron police force are sent to close the gates and repel the invasive monsters known as Chimeras that are invisible to the naked eye.
Officers of Neuron are assigned special Chimeras of their own, known as Legions. These creatures are restrained to their assigned officers by what is called the Astral Chain. A device known as the Legatus, enables the officers to see Chimeras and with the help of the legions, they fight to tackle the threat of corruption.
The Twins; Akira and the Player Character join Neuron under orders of Commander Yoseph Calvert, much to the dislike of Captain Max Howard, the Twins’ adoptive father and Yoseph’s second in command. Captain Howard only ever wanted to keep the twins safe from harm but Yoseph’s interest in the Twins forced the Captain’s hand and let his children to join his unit.
After the unit is dispatched to deal with a gate to the Astral Plane that has appeared on the Ark, the entire unit gets sucked into the Gate. The team begins to experience symptoms of Redshift, a phenomenon that turns humans into aberrations. The Legions also succumb to the Redshift and become corrupted. They then break free from their Astral Chains and begin to attack the Twins and the other officers.
The player character manages to rebind their Legion but the others fail to do the same. Captain Howard helps the rest of the unit to escape back to the Ark but he doesn’t make it back himself and is trapped in the Astral Plane, his fate undetermined. The team return to Neuron HQ, and are reassigned to supportive roles to assist the player character, as they are the only one to still possess a legion.
As the threats of Chimeric outbreak and corruption get worse, a mysterious woman threatens to bring “Salvation” to humanity whilst seemingly going out of her way to destroy the Ark. The woman is revealed to be Jena Anderson, a researcher who disappeared 20 years ago and used to work with Yoseph Calvert.
However, all is not what it seems. Though Jena‘s motives are sorely misguided, there is a much darker plot that unravels itself as you get further into the game. The story of ASTRAL CHAIN is actually quite deep. PlatinumGames are no strangers when it comes to dramatic storylines and theatrics and ASTRAL CHAIN has plenty.
ASTRAL CHAIN has two types of gameplay; Action and Exploration. The action is much like you would expect from the studio that created the Bayonetta games and shares a fair number of similarities, from stylish moves to temporarily slowing down time when successfully evading enemy attacks. One difference is that you can’t really perform combos with different attacks like in Bayonetta as there is only one button to perform melee attacks.
However, you can chain attacks together though and coordinate Sync attacks with your Legion to really do damage to your enemies. The player only has one weapon called the X-Baton that can change between 3 functions. The standard Baton Mode is ideal for fast, light attacks against agile enemies. The Blaster Mode helps whittle down enemies from a distance, be they on the ground or in the air. The Gladius Mode is a heavy, slow weapon that deals more damage than the other two weapons and is best used against strong or armoured enemies.
Legions attack enemies on their own if they are close to them. You can also assign them special skills that they can use in fights upon command. These skills can’t be spammed as they have a cooldown period until they can be used again. Being creative with these skills is where it counts though. One such skill, allows a legion to break free from its Astral Chain and wail on enemies with a flurry of attacks. You can then send out another legion to help with a total of two legions and yourself to even the odds in tough situations.
When not pummeling chimeras into submission, you will have “limited free rein” to explore your surroundings. I say limited because you are normally restricted inside a certain area until requisites are met, in order for you to progress further. In each Chapter or File, there are Red Cases (High priority) and Blue Cases (Low Priority) for players to get involved in. Most of these cases, you will stumble into without even realizing. Other cases take a more vigilant eye to find and may require the use of IRIS (an in-game visual aid that can track case locations, reveal secret areas, etc.).
Part of exploration is investigation. Detective work isn’t all guns and action, you know. Sometimes you have to investigate clues from crime scenes and question witnesses to get a better idea of what happened at the scene. Once you have enough keywords, you will then have to answer a series of questions and guess the right Keyword for each question. The more Keywords you have, the better chance you have of getting the question right.
CONTENT & FEATURES:
ASTRAL CHAIN is quite a large game in regards to content. Each chapter has its own set number of Red Cases and Blue Cases. Hidden areas to dig, secret targets to shoot at and items to find. Not to mention all that red matter that has to be cleared up. Red Matter being fragments of corruption from the Astral Plane.
As well as the main and sub objectives, there is also a long list of challenges for players to partake in. some of these challenges are simple, like completing each File, use a particular weapon X amount of times, Level up your Legion, etc. Other challenges are more tasking and require more specific actions. Like using a particular skill X many times or fully upgrading your Legatus which takes time. Upon challenge completion, you will be rewarded items like new uniform colors or sets. However, you don’t get them automatically either. You have to actually click on the challenge that has a little red present icon in order to ‘accept’ the reward.
As enemies get stronger, you will have to improve your own weapons and Legions to take them on. At Neuron HQ, you can talk to the tech division to upgrade your X-Baton and Legatus. You can also buy offensive items like gunner drones and grenades to use in combat. The Legions can be upgraded at any time via the Legatus Menu (- Button). You can teach them new skills, increase their offence or defence, which will also improve their class ranking. You can then assign special skills that they have learned with a maximum of two skills per legion. You can also give them new abilities that help lower cooldown or increase items drops. These require a certain number of slots that you can unlock through each Legion’s skill tree.
Whilst on the Subject of Neuron HQ, you can also use a number of training programs in the training room to help learn useful skills. You can also change your appearance like clothing, hair color and style and other aesthetics in the locker room. You can unlock new sets of clothing during story progression or by fulfilling certain challenge requirements. If you complete one particular challenge, you can even earn the option to change your name if you wish.
While you can’t warp to Neuron HQ anytime you like during the game, you will usually start there at the beginning of each File or chapter. There are usually some extra cases that you can take on here before heading off for your next main assignment. The Command room is where you will normally go in order to take your next mission and is also home to a Legatus Terminal where you can perform ‘maintenance’ on your legion. This is the typical ‘petting game’ where you have to move a cursor over a particular part of a character and rub it to make them happy.
In this case, it is cleaning red matter off of your legion that has built up on them during combat. Aside from that, you can also change the colour scheme of your legion as well. There is also a PC terminal in the command room where you can manually save your progress and check over the database of all the enemies and characters that you have met during your playthrough. However, in order to gather information, you have to take a photograph of them first.
To take photographs, you will be given a camera after during File 02 as you take the grand tour of Neuron HQ. With it, you take photographs of everything and everyone, including yourself. Your legion can also hold the camera for you so you can get longer distance shots. There is also the option to change the filter and do different poses with your character. Other than to take photographs of things you find amusing, there are some challenges that require you to take photographs of particular moments.
As you play through ASTRAL CHAIN, you will be given a choice of playstyle, Casual and PT Standard. As you complete a file, you will unlock a more difficult mode in the form of PT Ultimate. You can change play styles just before you start a new mission file or manually at the PC terminal. Casual Mode is a more forgiving but doesn’t have a ranking system. PT Standard includes the ranking system, and while enemies are not any stronger than in Casual Mode, you have less chances of resuscitation if you lose all your health. PT Ultimate has tougher enemies and even less chance of resuscitation.
Another feature that allows two players to play together is Co-op Play. This mode allows one player to control the player character and the other to control the legion. A downside to this is that it works on almost a symbiotic relationship. the legion attacks on its own so there are no niput commands for player two. Player two can control the camera and help bind enemies but communication is needed for players to work together for optimum results. Fortunately, this mode can be turned on and off at any time via the Legatus menu but it is only restricted to two single Joy-Con, no using two pro Controllers here. You can use a Pro Controller if playing single player though.
ASTRAL CHAIN has one of the most upbeat, techno soundtracks that I have ever heard. I have only dabbled in cyberpunk games before and never really appreciated their soundtrack. That said, I actually enjoy listening to the Soundtrack of ASTRAL CHAIN though i do find the background music at Neuron HQ a little misplaced yet, somehow it still fits the tone of the game. It sounds wrong yet it feels right and just intrigues me.
I do enjoy the voice acting and the chemistry between characters. Though I do find it odd that the Player Character doesn’t have voiced audio lines. Seeing as the player can control any of the two twins. The other twin plays a supportive role and is voiced just like the other characters. The player character, on the other hand, has more of a silent protagonist role and seeing as a large part of the game is story-based, I would have liked it more to have had an actual voiced dialogue between the main character and the others.
VISUALS & PERFORMANCE:
There is a strong Cyberpunk, anime feel to ASTRAL CHAIN with a touch of realism as well. The characters themselves are anime-styled but not to the extent where they look cartoony. The main environment, like the town center, is based on more realistic proportions and wouldn’t look out of place on the streets of Tokyo. This blend works really well and the attention to detail is commendable from the birds in the sky to the empty drinks cans, littering the floor.
As far as performance is concerned, there are instances of frame rate drops when it starts getting busy on screen. Not so much when running around Rayleigh Plaza and interacting with the local NPC’s but when taking on many enemies at once. These FPS drops are not to be confused with the perfect dodge slowdown that gives you a window of opportunity to attack. When too much is happening like all enemies attacking you at the same time, the resolution also struggles and lowers itself just enough so that the frame rate can steady itself again.
I will admit that I didn’t care much for the game when it was announced and even when I was invited to watch a video presentation of the game in action, it still didn’t wow me. However, as I saw the hype build around the game, I caved in and decided to give it a chance. To my surprise, I am thoroughly enjoying it.
I have played the Bayonetta games but not to the extent that I have played ASTRAL CHAIN. I have invested 40 hours into the game so far and though I have beaten the main story mode and am working my way through the challenges, there is still so much more to do.
While gameplay is not as open-world as it was initially thought. You can return to previous Files to finish up what you missed the first time round. Not all cases can be played in the first run as some may require a particular legion that you didn’t have at the time you played through it before. There are also secrets and hidden items that also require certain Legions to access them.
After beating the game, I was left with a feeling of wanting more and am seriously looking forward to a potential sequel. PlatinumGames have already said that a trilogy could be possible if ASTRAL CHAIN does well enough and I am seriously hoping that it does.
ASTRAL CHAIN is a game I didn’t think I needed until I played it. An absolute blast to play with an immersive world that is full of character and a gripping story with more twists than a Stephen King Novel.
THE VERDICT: 9/10
*A Physical Cart was purchased for the purposes of this review
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