By Dylan Del Rio
Platinumgames Inc. are game developers with a very unique style. Most of their popular games are 3-D action games with a major focus on combat that reward the player for performing various combos and using a variety of different moves and weapons.
Their most notable games, Bayonetta and Nier: Automato, relish in these mechanics and are well loved because of it. Their latest game Astral Chain feels like a marriage between those two series. It combines the fast paced combat of Bayonetta with the world building side quests from Nier Automato to make a surprisingly engaging and addicting experience.
Astral Chain is set in the year 2078 where humanity is facing a world ending threat. The earth is under attack by inter-dimensional monsters known as Chimeras who appear through “red gates” to cause destruction and drag civilians back to their home dimension, the Astral Plain. They also spread “red matter,” an infection that can corrupt people and turn them into human/chimera hybrids.
The remaining population have retreated to a massive safe zone known as “The Ark” which is watched over by the Neuron Police Task Force led by Yoseph Calvert. After years of research, Yoseph has created a weapon to fight back against Chimeras. The legions are a group of captured Chimeras that Neuron officers can control via a psychic chain.
The main character is a young man/woman (gender can be selected) who is recruited into Neuron after saving several officers from a rampaging chimera. However, things quickly take a turn for the worst, and in the end, the rookie is the only officer with access to a legion, which makes them humanity’s only hope.
The story overall is rather derivative but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. While there will be times where once a character or concept is introduced you can easily see where it is going well in advance. It also has a constant sense of energy that makes it very entertaining.
A lot of the characters are very engaging with the most glaring exception being the main character. Unlike previous Platinumgames protagonists like this character never talk which is kind of disappointing especially since Nier: Automato and Bayonetta had main characters with voices and personalities that made them more compelling. It is a problem that becomes less noticeable later on, but it feels like a cop out.
Gameplay wise Astral Chain mainly focuses on combat. The main character is armed with an X-baton as a weapon that can morph into a blade, a pistol, and finally a two-handed sword each of which have their own strengths and weaknesses. They also can dodge attacks and if they dodge a blow at the last second they can temporarily slow down time. The player also has access to a legion that they can summon to assist them in either combat or exploration. Initially they only have access to the sword legion that focuses on fast-paced close ranged combat but as the story progresses you gain access to other legions with their own abilities.
Another important gameplay mechanic are the “cases” which are tasks that revolve around assisting various NPCs around the Ark. Red cases primarily focus on combat and blue cases are more varied side quests. Performing these missions earns the player money and DNA points, which they can use to buy items, customize their character, and upgrade their weapons and legions.
There are also many times where the main character has to traverse the “Astral Plane” which usually combines the elements of exploration and combat as well as light puzzle solving. One downside to the Astral Plane is that design wise most of the areas blend into each other and by the third or fourth visit it kind of gets exhausting visually.
For the most part the game controls well but a major sticking point is with the Beast Legion. The player has the ability to ride him to travel around faster but it feels incredibly loose.
In an open area it is not so bad but there are several times in the Astral Plane where you have to ride on the beast while the floor below you gives way and it can be insanely frustrating. Also while most of the blue cases are enjoyable there are a select few that can be really annoying, like one where you have to drag a bunch of cars out of a road.
Astral Chain is a rather unique game. While there are some moments that are utterly frustrating it does enough right to make up for it.
The moment-to-moment combat is engaging while the side quests are mostly fun little diversions that help develop the world around you. While the story is nothing amazing the supporting characters and their arcs make it worth playing through.
The custom character is personalized down to the weapon of choice for combat.
Photo by Dylan Del Rio