When I first saw the trailers for Astral Chain, I was extremely interested. The art style and color scheme pulled me into the game, but when it came to the combat, I was slightly hesitant. I had my doubts as to if I would like controlling two characters at once, or how that would work out in fast-paced combat. Even so, in late August, I pulled the trigger and bought Astral Chain. Having not read a single article or watched any gameplay videos, I was completely blind to what I signed up for. While I had some issues with Astral Chain at first, mainly with controls, I can confidently say that I don’t regret buying the game.
Developed by Platinum Games, Astral Chain is an action game published by Nintendo and exclusive to the Nintendo Switch. With most of Earth uninhabitable, humanity has taken refuge within the Ark, a cyberpunk, futuristic city. Mysterious red portals, called gates, opened across Earth allowing red matter and Chimeras to come through from the Astral Plane. The player assumes the role of one of the Howard twins, a rookie officer assigned to the Neuron Task Force. As a Neuron officer, it’s your job to investigate incidents of mysterious gates to the Astral Plane, missing people, and battle the ever present Chimeras.
One of the biggest gameplay mechanics in Astral Chain are the Legions. Legions are chimeras that are captured and brought to submission using the Astral Chain. From here, they work in sync with their Neuron officer. Within Astral Chain, there are five Legions that the player can control: Sword, Arrow, Beast, Arm, and Axe. The main controls for the Legion were extremely confusing for me and it was something I struggled with until about the midpoint of the game. I’d dismiss my Legion when I didn’t mean to or forgot that it took two buttons to move the Legion around. Roughly halfway through Astral Chain was when I began to fully understand the controls, causing my fights to go a lot smoother than in the beginning.
Now, diving into the mechanics and combat of the Legion, they each have their own unique abilities. When it comes to their different abilities, the Beast Legion was my least favorite, though the Sword and Arrow Legions aren’t far behind. The Beast Legion can dig up items and track scents, and the player also has the ability to ride it. I found it hard to control and too fast for my taste. While it’s convenient for covering long distances or dodging enemies, I’d find myself running into walls or falling off the side of a cliff if I wasn’t careful. The Sword Legion can cut energy waves that leaves enemies stunned and open for attacks. Trying to get the correct slicing angle was slightly tricky and doing this while in a fast-paced battle was a more tedious than useful. It felt forced during combat as lining up the lines took my focus away from the battle. Lastly, Arrow Legion was just boring. It shoots arrows at the flying Chimeras and other objects, but beyond that, it didn’t offer anything neat or different.
My favorite two Legions were the Axe and Arm variants, and I greatly enjoyed their special abilities. While wearing the Arm Legion like a suit of armor, the player can attack with heavy punches and float above the ground to get over areas that are contaminated. As for the Axe Legion, a shield-like barrier is placed around the player and Legion, and it can charge energy into places that the axe has stabbed to create explosions to destroy inaccessible areas. The Arm Legion was my most used Legion after I received it since I liked packing on the punches.
Opportunities for synchronized attacks with the Legion arise when battling Chimeras. Perform a successful perfect dodge and time slows down for a moment, giving you the ability to sneak in some hits or more combos. Unfortunately, you can’t have your Legion out with you all the time. This was something that I was fine with, as keeping it out all the time would make the game too easy. Legions have a gauge that counts down how long they can be out assisting the player, but I rarely worried about it. I found myself able to take down groups of enemies fairly quickly before the gauge reached zero. Only when I had to fight a boss was when I needed to make quick decisions about how long I should keep my Legion out for.
The Legion isn’t the only tool in the player’s arsenal. Your character also gets a X-Baton, which alternates between a police baton, Blaster, and Gladius. It can also be leveled up for more damage. I favored the Gladius more than the baton or Blaster, though the Blaster was okay against flying enemies. Each Legion can also be leveled up, as well, using individual skill trees and ability slots for stat and item increases. It’s something that can easily be forgotten about as I thought it was a pretty out of the way menu to get to. Also, it’s not the most straightforward mechanic of Astral Chain. I found myself aimlessly unlocking skills, assigning them, then forgetting that I had them. Using the abilities didn’t change my gameplay experience at all. Rather, I could have done away with the ability slots and opted for a more diverse skills tree, as all the skills seem the same for each Legion. Leveling up each Legion is still important and worth it though since it increases damage and how long your Legion can be out for.
As for the missions in Astral Chain, the main story missions can be long, and comprise investigating and fighting. In combat, enemies come in all shapes and sizes, as some have wings, or dodge fast, are on four legs, or even hide underground. Being able to know and remember which Legion is best for tackling which type of enemy will allow for quicker, seamless battles. Though, I found cycling between all my Legions a couple of times between different enemies slightly annoying. Each chapter is packed with its own abundance of side missions called investigations. Side missions include trying to avoid people to take some ice cream to a child. These portions were my favorite parts as it allows for the player to utilize their Legions in other ways than combat too, like listening in on conversations or trying to track someone down.These side missions create a great short break if you are sick of slashing at Chimeras, but also provide a way to explore the different areas and get to know the environment.
Since investigation is a large portion of the game, the Neuron officers also have IRIS. Normally used in the investigative sections of the game, it can reveal past events or information on the citizens around you. IRIS is something that felt forced upon rather than integrated smoothly. During battle, it’s a major help as it shows the type of enemy that the player is in combat with, as well as their health. Within the main storyline though, I never turned it on outside of combat, though there are times during the game that the game turn on IRIS for you to use.
Lastly, the art style of Astral Chain is one of the reasons why I considered playing the game. To put it simply, I find it gorgeous. The vibrant colors, especially in the city during the night, made me look around at everything that was going on. During finishing moves, it was always neat to see the bright explosions that happened and the subtle changes in my character. When executing the finishing blow to a Chimera with my Legion, the color of my character’s hair would change to blue and the light blue veins would show from her neck to her cheek. I only noticed this when I went back and looked at screenshots, but it was such a small detail that I loved.
Astral Chain is not what I expected it to be. Going in blind, I was ready for a hack-and-slash fest with some pretty cool looking robot-type creatures, but I was way off. The game is a lot more than that. Its a bond between human and creature that one controls to make some sick combos while in battle. Controlling the Legion and your character at the same time can take a bit of getting used to, but the depth to what the player can do with the Legion in and outside of battle is substantial. The art style and color scheme kept my attention and made me interested in trying to find the small changes within the colors used on my character. Main story missions seem long and tedious, but the actual investigation portions of them kept things interesting. Astral Chain is a solid game with great game mechanics, intense combat, and a gorgeous art style. While the controls can take a bit to get used to, once mastered, it makes for an thrilling and breathtaking ride. So eat that avalanche of ice cream, have fun killing Chimeras, and help out the toilet faerie once in a while.
Haley reviewed Astral Chain with a personally purchased copy.