Developer: Platinum Games
Release Date: 08/30/2019
Available Exclusively On
Platinum Games makes phenomenal action games with a nearly perfect track record. From Bayonetta to Vanquish and beyond, they have proven that 2D action games can be translated to 3D and done well. With bombastic flashy, yet deep combat, gorgeous visuals, and crazy character designs, Platinum Games are at the top of the action game developers’ hall of fame.
Astral Chain, being their latest opus, puts you in the shoes of anime cop twins who have the ability to control Chimeras which are astral beings. You are on a quest to stop a mad scientist from unleashing all of these creatures from the astral world onto Earth after a science experience, in which the head scientist, is trying to perfect the capturing. Well, at least that’s what I think is going on. Platinum games are masters of combat, not storytelling or character development. The game goes on for so long with such little information in between that you sometimes forget what’s going on or what the end goal is.
The characters fall victim to this as well. Your character plus your twin are supposed to be front and center here, but the entire game falls under stereotypical anime tropes and is just downright boring and uninteresting. Each character gets little screen time or even time to grow as the writing and dialog are drab and snooze-worthy. At least the voice acting is halfway decent for a localized Japanese video game, but it’s nothing that you will remember. I just wish the story and characters were as good as the combat as this is Platinum’s deepest combat system yet.
You control yourself plus your Chimera at the same time. Holding down ZL allows you to move the Chimera around and holding down L allows you to take control of your Chimera. You can use it to solve puzzles in the astral planes, but it is vital to use in combat. The system seems a bit complicated at first, but you will slowly get a hold of it. When you flash white you can press ZL to do a combo move with your Chimera and these are key to mastering to win. You have a light and heavy baton plus a gun, which I found completely useless, as well as healing items and buffing items. You can switch between five different Chimera that you acquire throughout the game and these cover all bases of combat. Sword is a fast-paced light damage Chimera, Arrow is the only long-ranged one, Beast is a fast-paced zippy dog, Arm is a slow trodding heavy hitter, and Axe is the heaviest and slowest but provides a shield.
It’s important to use each Chimera based on your enemies, and you also have to level them up and assign bonuses and abilities. You can level up your weapon at the PD headquarters after every chapter, but you can’t buy new weapons and there is no armor in this game. Any clothing is cosmetic only sadly. There is one feature that allows you to “maintain” your Chimera but rub crystals off their body, but I saw no benefit to this, or I completely missed the point of it. Fighting through the main campaign isn’t the only thing you can do. There are side quests and missions in the large hub areas such as solving quizzes to various arena challenges and even some light investigative work. This requires you to talk to people and gather keywords to advance the quest. It’s fun and interesting at first, but these same half-dozen quests repeat through the whole game and grow tiring after a while. The only reward is XP or items really, nothing too special.
Then we come across the other issues with Astral Chain. The game bounces between fighting on Earth and the astral world which is nice, but they both get tedious after a while. The astral plains are just fighting challenges and puzzles that require shooting down things with arrows, slicing doors, pushing blocks around, etc. They break up the monotony but later become part of it. The most interesting parts of the game are so far and few between such as the high-speed bike ride through the tunnel, the scripted events, and the massive boss fights. Most chapters are just investing and then an astral plain area to acquire the next Chimera.
My next complaint isn’t just the drab story and characters, but the visuals are very bland and anime-inspired to a fault. There’s no unique look or visual style like Bayonetta, there’s nothing memorable here. All the astral levels look identical, and the same few hubs repeat in every chapter. Everything looks either too realistic for this type of game or just looks too much like a cookie-cutter anime. Even the enemy designs are boring outside of some of the bosses, everything in Astral Chain just kind of blurs together after a while.
With that said, the combat is fantastic, and it’s enough to play through the 20-hour campaign. Ignore the boring and unfocused plot and characters, and the generic visuals, and just concentrate on some good ‘ol bombastic combat that we really don’t get anymore. The game looks good technically for the Switch with nice lighting effects and good-looking models and textures, but I wanted more scripted events and cutting down on the fat with bloated side quests.