Boy, Nintendo sure have been dropping high profile titles like there’s no tomorrow. It wasn’t that long ago that we got our hands on Fire Emblem: Three Houses and here now we have Astral Chain. This Switch-exclusive got its hooks in early, keeping me from sleeping on a 12-hour flight and some subsequent nights after. It’s been on my mind a lot.
Even more so when I found out that there are cats involved.
Astral Chain is the latest title from PlatinumGames, the developers of Bayonetta and Nier: Automata. You can play the game on your own or with a friend if you’re kind enough to give up your other Joy-Con. I am not that kind, nor interested in sharing the Joy-Con with anyone so I can’t tell you what either would be like.
Taking place in the “near future” (2080 AD, give or take) on the floating artificial island, Ark, where the rest of the world has fallen victim to the alien Corruption thanks to a meteor strike that opened the door between Earth and the Astral Plane. You play as one of two adopted fraternal twins, and you are free to customise your twin to your liking. The other becomes an NPC. Both twins have climbed the ranks within the Ark Police Department, and are quickly given control of a “Legion” — captured alien Chimeras that are neurologically linked to their specific user via the titular Astral Chain — in order to solve a new case. Legions assist members of Neuron, a special department in the APD captained by the twins’ adopted father Max. Neuron specialise in curious investigations and fighting off the plague of untamed Chimeras coming through the Astral Plane.
The game’s visuals are a mix of the classic 3D anime-style prominent in Platinum’s previous titles, mixed in with the cel-shaded style of Breath of the Wild. This was a surprise to me because we all know that the Switch can handle more than just that, since Bayonetta was re-released on the hybrid and the Resident Evil series was ported over not too long ago. I guess that was more of an artistic choice rather than a hardware capability issue.
Astral Chain is action-RPG sprinkled with light investigation. While you are indeed faced with enemies in the form of Chimeras every so often, there’s a lot of investigative work that come with the fighty-fighty bits. With that said, when you do face those pesky Chimeras, you have only two attack buttons — one for yourself and one for your Legion — so its all about simple combos that, when timed right, will combine with your Legion and deal massive damage. You can level up your Legions’ abilities, and give them new attack skills which you can assign to your X- and Y-buttons. This is very much in the Platinum vein but, sadly, the action starts to feel repetitive after a while and often times I just want to get on with the story rather than fight through another two-to-three waves of Chimera.
While not a full-blown detective game by any means, I think it’s safe to say that there are investigative elements where you collected pieces of information and put them together to solve cases, and there are “real world” puzzles that come with the package as well. There was one point where I got stuck in the Astral Plane because I couldn’t solve a puzzle that opened up the next area. it took me around 30 minutes to figure out what was possibly the simplest solution in the world. So be prepared to rattle your brain a little in the name of game progression.
You’ll be given only bits and pieces about the twins’ background to begin with, slowly unravelling the mysteries surrounding them as you go, with enough twists to satisfy the palette. Cutscenes are numerous but aren’t too draggy. The supporting characters of Neuron add a little background worldbuilding, especially in terms of their relationship to Max and the twins. Finally, there are side-quests that fill-in even more of the world around you.
I have to admit that at first, I thought Astral Chain was a bit more tonally serious compared to Platinum’s other games. Then I met a certain character in File02 and all was right with the world again. Personally, I felt like it was good to get that bit of comic relief — it was a nice break from the drama, and it was timed rather well. Without spoiling any particular story elements, I absolutely love the narrative here. It’s well-written and I’ve not faced a dull moment yet. I honestly could do with less waves of Chimera and maybe a bit more getting on with it, but that’s just me. Astral Chain has fast-paced fights, a vast storyline and its an engaging game that’s customisable from the get-go.
And, as promised, the cats I mentioned earlier.
FOUR STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Highlights: Beautiful artwork, good pacing, all-around customisation…AND CATS
Lowlights: Fights get really repetitive…and not enough cats
Platforms: Nintendo Switch
Available: Aug 30th
Review conducted on Nintendo Switch using a pre-release code provided by the publisher.