Astral Chain Review: Being Humanity's Last Hope Sure is Fun!
Astral Chain was a game that I had very little interest in following its reveal a few months ago.
The brainchild of Nier Automata's Takahisa Taura and Bayonetta's Hideki Kamiya— Astral Chain had all the makings of another great Platinum Games title due to its emphasis on action, a unique art style, and a compelling story.
So when I finally got the chance to boot up the game, sit back, and take it all in, I was pleasantly surprised with Astral Chain. In fact, I ended up falling in love with this weird and wonderful anime cop action RPG masterpiece.
We are Neuron
In the far future, Earth has been invaded by hostile extraterrestrials known as Chimeras who began to corrupt the world as we know it using a substance called Red Matter. Their invasion pushed mankind to the brink and forced them to take refuge on a multicultural city called the Ark— the last beacon of humanity.
In Astral Chain, you are the only hope left for life as we know it. You take on the role of the protagonist, who is a police officer on a special task force called Neuron. This unit has been trained to wield Chimera's that have been twisted into humanity's control, known as the Legion, and fight alongside them to push the alien threat away and save the world in the process.
While you can rely solely on your own combat skills to take on waves of foes, it is only when you start to learn how to use each unique Legion and fight alongside them that the combat in the game truly shines. You control both the Protagonist and Legion simultaneously while in the battle to build up stylish combos and while using both characters in tandem is incredibly challenging to master, it is something that can be learned over time and feels satisfying to play with as you progress.
As this is a Platinum Game, you can also expect there to be a bunch of different combination options available to seasoned veterans. Of course, you can still play and beat the game by spamming the same button over and over again, but there are options available for those who want to take combat to the next level.
For instance, you can combine each different Legion with the different protagonist weapons on offer to deal different attack patterns. You can also level up each Legion to unlock extra moves, abilities, and options through the skill tree system. There is also a big emphasis on upgrading, and it's a necessity for later stages when Chimeras start to get more tricky, deal more damage, and take more hits. You can even purchase upgrades for your basic weapons and items from the Police Station, so don't forget about it! It's important!
You should also try not to put all your chips in one basket by leveling up a single Legion as each one has strengths and weaknesses over a bunch of foes. For instance, we had leveled the Sword Legion up quite a bit heading into the late game only to come across a bunch of flying enemies that our Sword Legion just couldn't hit. Our other Legions weren't exactly up to the task either, so we were forced to visit earlier missions and grind up other Legions to have a fighting chance.
The other stuff
While combat is one of the main driving pulls for the game, there are also a bunch of other things on offer that you can do.
For instance, you are a policeman, so prepare to solve cases by looking for clues at a crime scene to piece together what happened there. Not every bit of information you find will be helpful, and you'll need to use your own skills, and your many Legions, to uncover the truth behind each incident.
In your spare time, you can also explore the city and complete other objectives that lie scattered around. The world of Astral Chain has a bunch of hidden secrets, collectibles, and outfits available to find too. Oh— and Cats, you can collect Cats, and there are a lot of them, sometimes in ridiculous places that will make you question how they even got there in the first place.
For all those completionists out there, prepare to return to levels over and over again— this is a Platinum game, after all. Some areas are accessible by acquiring Legions later in the game; soo 100 percent level completion is pretty much impossible from the get-go. As such, go through the game at your own pace and leave collecting everything until your second playthrough.
The game is perfect, but there is honestly only a few bad things about Astral Chain that we could nitpick on. Of course, every player is different, so we imagine people's gripes to be different per person.
As a solo player, this game is hard as you constantly have to manage a bunch of different things at once during combat to make the best out of every situation. Thankfully, there is a co-op mode should you want someone to help control one character for you of the two, but co-op is not always a valid option.
It is also really, really, REALLY, hard to get an S+ rank in some of the later stages of the game. It requires you to be near flawless and do an insane amount of combos. We have been given A to S ranks before after not getting hit and doing everything we thought we needed to.
This makes some of the rewards near-impossible to unlock for 99 percent of players, with only the top fraction able to unlock them and show them off to friends and family. Not that this is bad, per se, just incredibly annoying when you don't know what you need to do to get the ranks you need.
The graphics also aren't the best at times, but what it sacrifices in its looks, it makes up for in its gameplay. I have never had a single framerate drop, and even with the visuals, the game is still gorgeous.
So yeah, the game is hard and runs well, really struggling to find a lot of bad things to say about this game, folks. Let's move on, shall we?
Astral Chain is fun and arguably one of Platinum's finest games ever made. Hell, I'd honestly place it above cult-classic Nier: Automata most of the time due to its sense of direction, art style, and replayability.
Everyone won't love the combat due to all the things you need to control, but those who love complex game mechanics, good story, and Platinum charm are sure to fall head over heels with the game. It does pay to invest, and the more time you put into it, the more you will get out of it.
So yes, get Astral Chain and don't sleep on it. It is one of the best games not only to come out this year for Nintendo Switch but also for the system in general. Prepare to get lost in the world for countless hours—especially in search of those pesky secrets and collectibles. Getting every S+ rank will also test the most seasoned players out there.
Here's hoping for an Astral Chain 2 sometime in the future because of this rate, I would not be surprised to see Astral Chain follow Xenoblade Chronicles popularity footsteps into the next Smash Bros. title— Legion Assist Trophy, anyone?
Disclosure: Our Review copy of Astral Chain was provided courtesy of Nintendo UK.