I’m rushing headlong towards the Chimera, my Legion sailing in ahead of me. We’re working as a team, and we’re unstoppable. As my Sword Legion distracts the huge Cerberus with a flurry of attacks, I slip in behind with my Gladius X-Baton and land a solid hit.
As the Cerberus turns to address me, I use Chain Jump to seamlessly scoot across the astral chain to my Legion. I land a few hits along the way, and upon landing. Sending my Legion in a circle around the boss, we wrap the chain around the huge monster. Paralysing him for enough time to score a few final hits, we perform a stylish Finishing Combo.
This is what playing Astral Chain looks like in my dreams, where I’m not a clumsy idiot flailing around and mashing buttons.
Astral Chain is the latest offering from PlatinumGames, published by Nintendo specifically for Nintendo Switch, and it’s challenging as all heck. Hideki Kamiya, creator of Devil May Cry and Bayonetta game franchises, supervised the creation of the game. It was also directed by Takahisa Taura, lead designer for Nier: Automata. This team brings the stylish combat of these previous games to Astral Chain beautifully. It’s a delight to work on nailing down combos and epic finishes, but damn is it a challenge to stay alive.
As a pedant who refuses to play on Easy mode, ever, I’m playing on Standard mode. This is a sight more challenging than the Casual default setting that the game starts you off on.
Astral Chain is a story-based game that brings elements of police procedurals and detective work into a dramatic inter-dimensional battle with tonnes of action. You play as one of two twins, who are introduced to the police’s specialist Neuron Project as handlers of Legions, chained beings who are forced to help you battle against their evil counterparts, the Chimeras. Chimeras are monsters who appear from the astral plane, and wreak havoc across the Ark, the last remaining bastion of humanity on Earth.
Your job as an officer wielding a Legion is to solve mysteries and travel between the worlds, battling these creatures and rescuing their victims. Sweet.
My favourite things about Astral Chain, beyond the tasty combat combos, include a delightful sense of humour (cranky AI vending machines, an exuberant and slightly creepy police station mascot, and a toilet fairy) and robust character customisation and build trees for you and your Legions. As you gather credits, you can improve your Legion’s abilities, including new combo moves, boosts to attack and defence, etc. You get to spec into your own strengths.
You can also learn new combos and synergies with your Legion, who is your partner in all combat scenarios. As you progress, you pick up new types of Legion, who lend you different abilities on and off the battlefield.
Smooth and stylish
Although the Switch is a fairly low-spec console, Astral Chain runs smoothly with few hitches and quick load times. The graphics are stylish, with attractive lighting and cool visual effects bringing flavour to the worlds you traverse.
Of course, because it’s designed for Switch, they’re not the high-touch detailed graphics you’ll find on other systems, but the team has done a really great job of using a distinctive style that lends the game an aesthetic that feels original and well thought-out, and plays well on the Switch. The worlds feel complex, deep, and beautiful to look at, especially the city settings.
In regards to the controls, there’s a lot to learn in this game. Luckily, the first few missions limit you to the basics. You pick up new controls as you progress, and your character evolves along with you. We’re buds, it makes sense.
Some mechanics feel like they’re hard to get right, such as using Chain Jump to get around corners. It’s all too easy to get your chain stuck on a random environmental element or place your Legion ever so slightly incorrectly, resulting in you plummeting off the platform and missing the jump. It can also be a bit tricky to remember, in the midst of heated combat, which of the four triggers does what. This can result in some clumsy attacks or flubs. Hey, four is a big number!
However, a little bit of patience in this department does pay off, as mentioned before. You’ll gain cool combo synergies with your Legion, and can get away with hacking and slashing to a degree. However, the mobs in this game are fairly aggressive and agile; mastering your dodges, sprints, and slides will get you ahead of the curve. However, don’t forget that you also need to employ your wits to solve puzzles and deduce whodunit mysteries!
A dystopian romp
The story of Astral Chain isn’t hugely original, but it’s a cool future dystopian romp, with some funny and interesting characters to interact with. Solving the mystery of why the corruption of the Chimeras is infecting your world is more than enough to keep you fighting for the Ark and its people. And that’s not to mention all the goofy side quests and shenanigans to get into. The character development is a bit limited, most of the characters are fairly one-dimensional and archetypal, but you still get a bit attached to your favourites. At least I did.
The main thing I felt was lacking is your character’s ability to speak. Much like Link in the Zelda franchise, he or she is a silent protagonist. They don’t really participate in the dialogue, and that leaves you feeling like you’re outside the drama for the most part.
Astral Chain is a robust addition to the Nintendo library for Switch, and could become a fan favourite. For the price, it’s a large and well-equipped game with a lot to explore and customise. I’ll definitely be playing it to completion. At least I will if I can get past some of the challenging spots I keep finding myself in!