In the year 2078, humanity is slowly succumbing to an interdimensional race known as the Chimera. These otherworldly beasts cause chaos, corrupting every human they touch with red matter, and weakening their bodies with a sickness that transforms them into a redshift creature. But there is a cure. In this cyberpunk metropolis known as The Ark, the Neuron Task Force wield Legion – wild creatures from the Astral Plane that have been tethered to a human with kinetic force – and only they can help neutralize the threat. With the Legion’s unique abilities, innocent citizens can be saved from this abhorrent disease. But when a fatal moment between Legion and Neuron comes to pass, those at Neuron HQ must find an alternative path to help save humankind.
Developed by PlatinumGames and directed by Takahisa Taura (NieR: Automata) under the supervision of Hideki Kamiya (Bayonetta, Devil May Cry), Astral Chain is an intense, wildly climatic title with no holds barred. Yet there is beauty in this action-adventure. From their wistful and sharp eyes down to their practical clothing, Masakazu Katsura’s (ZETMAN, Video Girl Ai) artistic merit brings Astral Chain’s characters to life. Of course, this cyberpunk megacity doesn’t just look good, it feels great too. Teeming with references to other gaming franchises, Astral Chain takes some of its slick combat from Bayonetta, a chunk of lore from Xenoblade and Devil May Cry, and a few tiny puzzle mechanisms from Detroit: Become Human – all at first glance. A neat mixture that’s bound to surprise and delight many Nintendo Switch players.
During the game’s opening scenes, you’ll be thrown in at the deep end (did we expect any less?), facing down chimera in a high-speed motorcycle race, while learning how to dodge and attack with your X-Baton. Next, you’ll help an innocent bystander into a stretcher, watching as an Astral Gate opens adjacent to them, praying they don’t get hurt. After you’ve slaughtered some enemies, you’ll team up with the rest of the Neuron and wield a Legion for the first time, counting down the minutes until a huge Chimera takes stock of the situation. By now, you’ve probably been bashed around a bit. So, instead of patching us up, your catapulted onto a collapsing bridge, dodging just in time as large debris, cars, and even lorries are tossed your way. And that, my friends, is just the tutorial.
To contextualise, we’ll be covering up to File04 in our preview, which is approximately 6-7 hours into Astral Chain. At this point, players will have unlocked two Legion types – Sword and Arrow – each with their own special skill trees, unlockable abilities and special moves. A couple of red cases (main storyline) have been solved, alongside some blue cases (side quests) too. Our X-Baton has been upgraded to wield three weapon types; Blaster, Baton and Gladius. And finally, we’ve chosen the Platinum Standard mode through the main menu (known as the Legatus), which comes with two revives and Platinum ranking straight out of the box. Though, as an aside, you’re able to switch your play style at any point in the chapter to either Casual (six revives) and Unchained (unlimited revives), neither of which are ranked modes. As a neat bonus, if you play on Platinum Standard mode, you’ll unlock Platinum Ultimate mode for the chapter you’ve just completed.
Between File02 and File04, players will have the opportunity to explore The Ark, Neuron HQ and take on a few missions inside the Astral Plane. The best place to get to grips with the game’s combat is inside the Training Room, located on B3 in Neuron’s HQ. After File02, we strongly recommend coming back to this area, as you’ll be able to learn additional sync attacks with your Legion. Between chain jumping from foe to foe, to using the Sword Slash to break through barriers, the combat mechanics feel light and fresh. Learning how to dodge enemy attacks is a must too. Like Bayonetta, performing perfect dodges enables your character to initiate automatic combo attacks. Twinning this skill with synchronised Legion attacks means enemies will turn to dust in no time.
While your Legion is a wicked weapon in the field, you’ll need to keep an eye on its Limiter gauge. Acting as a stamina bar, this gauge decreases as soon as your Legion is sent out, depleting quickly should it take a hit. Simply send out your Legion with ZL, target an enemy by pressing the R stick, and touch ZL again to send it flying across to the enemy. You can easily dismiss it with a quick touch of the R shoulder button. Should you wish to switch your Legion with another, hit the Y button and choose the Legion you wish to send out. The Arrow Legion is incredibly handy when taking down enemies or objects from great heights, while the Sword Legion is perfect for tighter spots during intense fights.
Battle isn’t the only way you can use Legion. During File03, Legion can be used to help during field investigation; from cleaning up the red matter goop to increase your Police Rank to helping stranded drones, cats and malfunctioning robots. Depending on the Legion you wield, you’ll also be able to interact with objects meant for specific Legion types to acquire rare materials, or chain jump to hard-to-reach spots either on The Ark or in the Astral Plane. Plus, there’s several mini puzzles you’ll need to solve to progress deeper into the Astral Plane. Use your Arrow Legion’s ability to shoot faraway astral orbs, while slowing down time with the ‘focus’ technique.
If you’re a dab-hand at item gathering, a fan of exploration and love a good investigative mystery, Astral Chain easily ticks those boxes. During File03, you’ll need to question several witnesses to find the perpetrator. Any clues will be easily identifiable in red text, plus they’ll be automatically jotted down in your police notebook. Similar to Xenoblade, dropped items are scattered across The Ark and can be identified with a blue stream of light, while abilities and rarer items are yellow and purple. There are also several mini objectives that can be accessed during field exploration, such as the Toilet Fairy side quest and a camera for those hair-raising moments mid-battle.
With just over 7 hours of playtime logged, Astral Chain is showing no signs of slowing down. As a combat-driven, emotionally intense action-adventure game, it presents the telltale mechanics of a PlatinumGames title, with a pinch of something special. So far, it’s both satisfying and tough.
A copy of Astral Chain for preview purposes was provided by Nintendo UK. A full review of the game will be published in due course.