PlatinumGames. The crazy developers responsible for such classics like the Bayonetta series Nier: Automata, and Metal Gear: Rising have had a recent stint with Nintendo, providing a number of exclusives, including the revival of Bayonetta. Known for their wild action games with intriguing stories, and interesting characters, it surprises nobody their latest game is an absolute trip. Combining elements of police investigation, tales of the supernatural, and setting it all against a dystopian future with humanity on the brink of extinction, Astral Chain makes no sense to the outside viewer. But once they dive in, it’s all non-stop action to the bitter, tragic end.
The story begins with humanity being on the brink of extinction. A mysterious force, known only to the public as “Redshift,” has “Corrupted” most of the planet. What’s left of humanity all lives on a giant floating city called the “Ark.” The Ark is split into several zones, with the game primarily focusing only about six of them. The heroes of this story are a set of fraternal twins that were born in the now quarantined Zone 09 during a period called the “Pandemic,” during which Zone 09 was nearly consumed by Redshift and Corruption. During the opening cutscene, the player chooses which of the twins they wish to play as, and customizes them how they want. The twin not chosen then becomes an NPC that follows the player through the story. We are told right away that these twins, following their adopted father’s footsteps, have been working as police officers for at least the last year. Following a Redshift attack in the opening scenes, the twins are recruited to the Spec Ops division of the police force, called Neuron. Upon joining Neuron, they are informed the Redshift corruption is caused by otherworldly beings called Chimeras who come from another dimension called the Astral Plane. To fight the Chimeras, Neuron uses living weapons called Legions. Legions are made of the same stuff as Chimeras, so are invisible to normal people. Using the Legion, Neuron officers are able to see Chimeras, fight them, and even go to the Astral Plane themselves.
Fighting alongside the Legions is a unique experience, to say the least. The Legion is connected to the player via their Astral Chain and can move around the player within the radius it provides. During combat, the Legion will auto-attack enemies nearby, and the player attacks with their own weapon, the X-baton. The X-baton comes in 3 configurations, Baton, Blaster, and Gladius. Each has its own advantages and disadvantages. I personally found myself loving the quickness and responsiveness of the Blaster over the other two. However, the Gladius’s higher attack power was invaluable during the final battle. The player and the Legion can use the Astral Chain as another weapon. By wrapping it around enemies, they bind the enemy in place, allowing the player to stunlock the enemy. By forcing the enemy to charge into the taut chain, they can perform a powerful counter. Some of the Legions even learn skills that do things such as electrifying the chain or surrounding it with spinning blades.
Working with the Legion in combat is certainly interesting, but where the Legion mechanic really shines is in the puzzle solving. The Legion can yank the player across large gaps, called a Chain Jump, which is also useful in battle to move around the field more quickly. The player can move the Legion independently to reach things in range of the Astral Chain. Each Legion has a set of unique abilities. Such as the Arm Legion can lift and move heavy objects. The Beast Legion can track things via scent or sound. The Arrow Legion can fire arrows at things. And so much more. As more Legion abilities are gained, the game puzzles make use of them. Even in the final area, I was still using my first Legion to solve a few puzzles as much as I was using the one I had literally gotten only a chapter earlier. I absolutely loved the fact that every area made use of all Legion abilities in some way, and didn’t focus on a singular one.
In addition to using legions to solve puzzles, the player was also encouraged to use their own investigation skills to solve the various cases. The heroes in this story are police officers, after all. The idea of doing actual police work was done very heavily for the first few chapters, which focused a lot on storytelling and investigating various Chimera incidents. However, after the story’s climax, gameplay takes a pretty stark shift from investigator to hunter, and the focus is put more on the action over the story. The last few chapters move along at a very quick pace, leading to its tragic conclusion. And, no spoilers, but goddamn does that character-building really work at the end.
As much as I loved the story, the music absolutely made the game. I could spend hours blasting some of those boss themes. So much thought was put into, and it was well worth the effort. As game technology has improved, sound design in just the last five years has made leaps and bounds. I still remember when the full orchestral soundtrack of Mario Galaxy was considered revolutionary, and now it’s a standard for A-games.
If there were any faults with this game, it came down the more frustrating parts of the story missions. For example, failing some platform jump sequences means restarting all the way at the start, which can lead to some very unneeded frustration with trying to start the final boss battle. There’s also an endgame mechanic, that seemed like a very cool idea that made perfect sense for the story, however, it needed a lot more polish with the recharge on it. I also took minor issue with the fact that most of the bosses were reskins of each other. There’s literally five different versions of the same boss, three of which are fought consecutively in the same mission. All have the same weakness and require similar strategies to take down, with minor exceptions. I would have just liked a little more variety, is all. Legions also had their issues. In single-player mode, moving the Legions around uses the R-stick, which means the player has to give up camera control to move the Legion. This can sometimes be a problem in areas where the player is required to use the Arm Legion to move objects such as platforms, as the player can’t move the camera on the fly to see where they’re going. Additionally, fighting alongside the Axe Legion is much more awkward than the other Legions. Whereas the other Legions will relentlessly auto-attack enemies, the Axe Legion seems to prefer standing around with its shield up. One of the final issues with this game was animations can be a little wonky. There’s weird vibrations, minor camera glitches, and character heads move a little awkwardly in cutscenes sometimes.
Issues aside, this is a game that Nintendo has spent the better part of the summer going out their way to promote and hype up. This is one of the first original IPs PlatniumGames has developed exclusively for Nintendo, after all. So, the real question players want answered is, does this live up to all that hype. Honestly, I’d say Astral Chain was well worth the wait. Sure, it wasn’t perfect. But I have never been so engrossed in a game’s lore and story in a very long time. The games put a major focus on the action, but still tells a very interesting story I couldn’t get enough of. Every night after work, I would stay up as late as 3 AM just wanting to see what was next. And then I finally reached the final battle, which gave me the first Game Over in the playthrough. This game challenged me in ways I hadn’t experienced in a long while. From an intriguing combat system, to the interesting characters, PlatinumGames delivered on the hype. And while the ending wrapped up all the loose ends and left me very satisfied, I would not be mad if another game in the franchise was announced.