Jonah Schuhart, Contributing Writer
When a ten-year-old slams their action figures together with the enthusiasm of a caveman discovering rock music, the fight that child imagines his toys having looks like how the newest game from Japanese developer Platinum Games plays.
Well, really it’s how all the games made by Platinum feel. They have a knack for creating exhilarating stylish action games that ooze a nostalgic, campy personality. Thankfully, their reputation is upheld with their latest release.
Astral Chain for the Nintendo Switch is just as exciting and action-packed as the rest of their library. Despite the bland story and disappointing start to the gameplay, Astral Chain eventually regains the intense, fluid combat of Platinum games.
The game takes place in 2078. Humanity is nearly extinct and survives on a massive super-city floating in the ocean called The Ark. The rest of Earth was left uninhabitable after it was attacked by Chimeras: vicious creatures from a dimension called the Astral Plane. You play as a legionis, an elite police officer paired with a semi-tamed chimera (a fierce creature from an alternate dimension), called a legion. Armed with your legion, you are all that stands between humanity and extinction.
The relationship the player character has with their legion becomes the focal point of the game’s combat. The player is expected to control both the legion and the protagonist separately, yet simultaneously. This brings the classic foundation of Platinum’s combat system to an entirely new level.
In older games, players could only switch between defense and offense on the fly. In Astral Chain, they are forced to play both simultaneously. The game enforces the concept with “sync attacks,” special attacks where the protagonist and legion combine their powers at key moments during battle.
Unfortunately, no system is perfect and there are certain complaints which make Astral Chain’s core gameplay just shy of perfect. The beginning missions do an awful job selling the gameplay. The player character lacks many core abilities one would expect in the first two missions. Instead of the finely-tuned dodge that almost every other Platinum hero had, the player is given a wimpy stumble backwards.
On top of that, the player has nowhere near the amount of moves or abilities that other Platinum characters would have by default. As a result, the first few hours of Astral Chain feel incomplete and clumsy. This is soon remedied as the player eventually gains more abilities, and the game becomes more enjoyable.
Platinum Games has a history of deliberately pushing the player’s skills to the limit. But Astral Chain is virtually devoid of a real challenge until the final boss. Although, the game does offer harder difficulties for missions once you complete them.
Astral Chain suffers from a boring story, lacking the charm of the developer’s previous games. Usually, Platinum’s stories are at least campy and quirky enough to warrant a pass. But without that personality, all that’s left is anime cliches and characters with shallow or nonsensical motivation. It just becomes an excuse to string gameplay together.
The only time the writing truly shines is in side quests and character dialogue during the open-world segments. During these segments, the Platinum camp comes out to play. Characters and dialogue become as corny as dad jokes, and one can’t help but laugh off the absurdity.
The most memorable example of this has to be Lappy, the helpful dog mascot of the police station. Every Lappy sidequest is so dumb, so corny; it goes full circle and becomes more enjoyable than the main plot.
Astral Chain is a game that any stylish action fan can appreciate. It may not be what you’re looking for if you want an amazing story, but at the end of the day, it’s another amazing action game with a unique spin on Platinum’s tried and true formula.
My playthrough lasted 22 hours, and I did not even come close to doing everything in the game, so there is plenty of content to enjoy for the game’s price.