PlatinumGames has more than a few top-notch action games under their belt and with Astral Chain, they now have another one.
Astral Chain has you play as a soldier in the super-secret forces that is Neuron. Invisible enemies known as Chimeras are invading the planet and threatening humankind's existence so it's up to you to infiltrate mysterious gates and enter the Astral Plane to put an end to these alien forces once and for all. Thankfully, Neuron developed technology that can harness Chimeras and turn them into Legions that soldiers can fight alongside. Throughout the campaign, you'll meet many friendly faces that are bursting with unique personality so it's great fun to merely hang out in Neuron headquarters between missions. It all adds up to make one engaging science-fiction world complete with a stellar premise, inviting characters, and awesome technology that actually makes the gameplay more enjoyable.
One aspect of Astral Chain that stands out is its stylish visuals. Obviously, it doesn't have the best graphics for this generation but the anime aesthetic and neon yet gritty environments really pop. Plus, the Chimera are distinct and come across as truly monstrous beings and many of the cutscenes feature spot-on cinematography that seems lifted straight from a sci-fi action movie. Meanwhile, the audio is full of energetic music, solid voice acting, and satisfying effects that make playing it a rewarding experience. It's great stuff all around!
Back in 2003, Capcom released a game called Chaos Legion which wasn't very popular yet I played it a lot. It is truly one of the most difficult games ever released but why am I bringing it up? Well, Astral Chain reminds me a great deal of this obscure game because both involve summoning a variety of floating demonic creatures named Legions to help you attack enemies. Seriously, how are more people not talking about this? Anyway, Astral Chain's combat has you swapping between a few weapons (baton, blaster, and gladius) and various Legions such as melee and ranged ones. Then, you can attack, command your legion, evade, and use items on the fly. Combat usually requires constantly changing your setup so you can overcome the onslaught of foes and it's definitely intense and action-packed.
Between fighting Chimeras, you'll find yourself in much more relaxed situations where you'll solve puzzles, hang out at headquarters and customize your loadout, and perform detective work in order to find gates to the Astral Plane so you can rescue abducted humans and fight Chimeras in their nests. As a result, the amount of variety in Astral Chain is phenomenal and makes the campaign rarely feel bogged down with too much of any given element. I especially enjoyed levelling up my character and array of Legions between missions as the process can be quite involving and rewarding whether you're getting rid of your Legions' corruption at the Legatus Terminal, claiming rewards from Orders which act like achievements, upgrading a Legion's skill tree, or enhancing your equipment.
With all of that being said, Astral Chain isn't a perfect game. My main issue is that its controls can be very cumbersome and take forever to learn. There are simply way too many commands to memorize and even if there weren't, the fact that the same button can perform a multitude of actions depending on if you're holding down other buttons means that you'll regularly slip up. One thing that I kept doing is accidentally tilting the camera because you use the right stick to move your Legion around while holding a shoulder button down. So, if you let go for a brief moment, you might immediately lose sight of your enemy. Also, the + button toggles your detective view while the - button pauses the game. Shouldn't these be reversed? Overall, the controls take a lot of patience to adapt to.
Finally, Astral Chain includes some truly confusing moments and scenarios that'll leave you scratching your head while wondering how to advance. Sometimes, you'll have to think far outside the box to solve a puzzle in the Astral Plane in order to progress. However, what you'll likely get stuck on most are the detective parts. These often involve gathering a bunch of clues and evidence. Most of the time, I would complete all but 1 or 2 of the objectives then have no idea what to do to finish it. Thankfully, your area of exploration is usually limited yet some locales have a lot of complexity and verticality to them so you may still wander around lost for minutes at a time.
With a perfect blend of high-octane action and enjoyable laidback moments in-between, Astral Chain presents a masterfully immersive campaign. In the end, it's certainly the next must-have game for Nintendo Switch.
- + Action-intense combat perfectly blends with laidback detective segments
- + Stylish visuals and satisfying audio
- + Lots of upgrades and content to master
- - Controls are rather cumbersome
- - Plenty of confusing parts