Astral Chain is PlatinumGames’ most recent project, an action game in which the police force has control of powerful Legions, granting them various strengths and abilities, in a fight against the extraterrestrial Chimeras. It is over the top, often nonsensical and absolutely Platinum at its best.
Astral Chain may be an original IP, but very little of its story is original. Its most obvious influence is the action-packed yet unnervingly existential ’90s anime, Neon Genesis Evangelion, often shamelessly copying the dramatic bits but usually tossing any deeper meaning aside. That works well for Astral Chain’s story, however, as it lends a mostly cohesive context to the action without becoming too hard to follow.
Very early on in the game, your player character — who can be one of two twins, the other being named Akira — captures their first Legion, soon before the other members of the special police task force — named Neuron — lose theirs. Your character spends most of the game’s duration chasing down each of these Legions with Akira and company in tow, fighting plenty of Chimeras along the way while slowly discovering a more sinister side to Neuron in the process.
Your character is mostly mute except for grunts of pain or affirmation, which ends up being awkward and contrived when interacting with the rest of the voiced cast. Your twin Akira is fully voiced, meaning PlatinumGames had Brianna Knickerbocker and Aleks Le record nearly identical scripts to voice female and male Akira, respectively, yet the player hears almost nothing from the character they control. The dissonance makes the character seem cold and emotionless, compared to the energetic and delightfully melodramatic supporting cast.
PlatinumGames’ best offerings — notably the action-packed Bayonetta, from which Astral Chain takes its best influences — thrive in the melodrama, and Astral Chain basks in it, in and out of combat. When fighting, your character and Legion dance across the screen, with explosions, flashes of light and blood-pumping techno-rock to keep you on your toes.
Unlike Bayonetta, Astral Chain relies considerably less on button combos and relies more heavily on smart usage of the twin analog sticks and triggers, along with quick thinking for which Legion and weapon to use for each scenario. It makes each fight a little like a fast-paced puzzle, as you make split-second decisions on which Legion to use, where to position it, who to target and which attacks to use.
That may sound intimidating, but Platinum drip-feeds new elements piece by piece, assuring you are comfortable with the last element before introducing a new one. Each Legion comes with a new skill tree and abilities within and outside combat, and one always seem to arrive the moment the previous gameplay loop was becoming routine.
Astral Chain has plenty of proper puzzles as well, far more often than most of Platinum’s prior offerings. Few are actively challenging, but they use each Legion’s abilities in creative ways and offer a much-needed relief from the draining action segments.
There’s also a surprising amount of optional content in the form of sidequests. Some are more standard “go here, fight these enemies” tasks, but some experiment with new challenges and puzzles. Although some flesh out side characters more and serve as a respite from the relentless main story, they often hinder the game’s pacing too much.
As the story reaches the eleventh hour, your jaw will likely drop at some of the things Platinum has pulled off on the Nintendo Switch. It often seems like the game is reaching an end, only to go one, two and three steps beyond what you had even imagined. Bosses get bigger and worse, and although the plot is corny and uninspired, it’s hard not to get caught up in the sheer spectacle.
Astral Chain is best when PlatinumGames plays to its strengths. Its experiments with puzzles, sidequests and a slightly more involved story meet varying levels of success, but there is no denying the rush Astral Chain delivers when it’s firing on all cylinders, which is around half the time. Despite issues with pacing and an awkwardly mute player character, Astral Chain’s disdain for nuance or moderation make plodding through what doesn’t work worth it for that signature Platinum high.