Platinum’s latest Nintendo Switch baby, Astral Chain is here and I’m revealing it straight away, it was well worth the wait. A new PlatinumGames game coming out is always an event for the hack and slash community as the beloved studio almost always makes super polished games that are enjoyed for years on that front (expect that dark Activision partnership age but we don’t talk about that anymore.) Directed by NieR Automata‘s lead game designer, Takahisa Taura and supervised by the father of Devil May Cry and the Japanese hack and slash genre himself, Hideki Kamiya, Astral Chain is an action-adventure cop game set in an apocalyptic future where humanity is on the brink of extinction. It was especially hyped by the internet who saw tons of JoJo, Akira, Ghost in the Shell, Metal Gear Rising, and Automata references, but was it a hit on all fronts?
Let’s get the story out of the way because this is not why you play Astral Chain. If that’s your main reason behind buying this game then you may not have the big philosophical debates and plot twists you were probably expecting. You play as one of the twins, member of a special unit that takes down chimeras, outer world creatures invisible to the human eye, causing what remains of the human race to recede on a protected island. But it doesn’t stop here, huge technological advancement allowed certain units to control different types of chimeras thanks to a device and it’s chains, these tamed chimeras are called legions and they’re the key to humanity’s success in this war. I wasn’t disappointed by the story because I know what to expect from PlatinumGames titles. And I’m well aware that NieR Automata was the exception and not the rule, highly due to Yoko Taro‘s twisted mind but here, we have classic Platinum storytelling, in short, anime tropes, slow plot unraveling and absolutely over the top last few chapters. However in this case, it’s even below average. It’s not Bayonetta 2 bad but it’s not much better either. Let’s start with the twins, it’s really hard to believe in their relationship when one side is incapable of communication, it feels like playing an empty shell while the other twin pretty much says what they and you both feels. Causing weird personality shifts and one-sided debates when things get heated between both twins. Silent protagonists are definitely not new in Japanese games but here, it’s really a bizarre choice, especially when both are fully voice acted depending on the twin you pick. Most characters are interesting but no one is really memorable in the grand scheme of things, this is not something like Fire Emblem where every character can genuinely have their own video game. They’re pretty basic here and they all get the bare minimum when it comes to development. Overall the story feels like your typical seasonal anime that you would watch and completely forget two days later. The plot does get interesting by the end and that’s about it, not even the ending B saves it and that’s fine. Video games are not lesser pieces of art if their focus is on the gameplay rather than the cinematic feels, I’d even say it’s a plus because it doesn’t shy away from what makes this medium unique. Even if having both story and gameplay is never negative.
This is by far one of the most well crafted, polished and audibly orgasmic ost in games, or dare I say mediums period. Saying that there isn’t a single bad soundtrack would be an understatement, all of them are absolutely amazing, from the main theme to the police station and investigation music, to the combats and boss fights, everything fits and adds so much to it. PlatinumGames is one of my favorite studios because they understand that being able to pull insane moves is always twice as epic if the song playing behind it is just as intense and here, they really doubled down on it. Constant adrenaline rush and by far the best ost I’ve heard in a game this year.
The least we can say about Astral Chain is that it’s aesthetically powerful, clearly inspired by Neo-Tokyo from Akira and animes such as Psycho-Pass, Astral Chain offers very stylized characters by the famous manga artist, Masakazu Katsura while trying to keep the environment more realistic than the actual characters works very well. Extremely pleasing to the eyes, you often stop to just observe the amount of neon lights, puddle reflections and overall gorgeous art direction this game has to offer and it’s even more unique when your character is out there, all cell-shaded with a giant crow hat and an armor straight out of Ghost in The Shell. All the different environments have their own vibes and palettes to them, which contribute to the constant feeling of discovery.
The best has been saved for last. This is by far, the deepest, most tactical and most polished Platinum combat to date. We are still not reaching Devil May Cry 5‘s territory but what Taura and his team achieved here is nothing to be ashamed for. Very few things are as satisfying as switching between different legions mid-combat while triggering their abilities. Launching your legion to reach a flying enemy, when shooting with your pistol x-baton, all of that while being carried in the air with the chain adds great verticality. You can even switch weapons in air to continue your aerial combos while finishing the enemy before falling down in a spectacular explosion, leaving flashy particles everywhere on your screen, all of that while the banging Metal Gear Rising-ish music plays in the background. This is truly the most diverse a PlatiniumGame has ever gotten, a lot of players, including myself found the combat slow, lacking and kinda limited at the beginning of the game. But thankfully, it quickly changes the more you progress, you unlock weapons, legions, upgrades, you can even paint your legions and customize your own character with dozens of unlockable outfits. The combat side of things is clearly a success, EVERYTHING is a weapon, the blade you hold, yourself, your legion and most importantly, the chain. Once mastered, the chain feels like an extension of yourself, you can pretty much control the flow of the battle and it’s one of the most satisfying feelings out there because it genuinely feels like you’ve made one with the gameplay and can pretty much pull every combos imagination can create. Every boss is interesting to fight but some have questionable attacks, such as the last boss that is genuinely straight out of a soul game. Now to the less fun side of the gameplay, the investigation, platforming, puzzles and “gimmicky combat” (motorcycle etc). While we can’t really hate these segments because they’re not nearly as present as the combat, they are here to diversify things a little between two battles, but that doesn’t mean their clunkiness should be ignored. The platforming pretty much uses all of your legions, the sword and bow legions to fly around platforms and create a path while slicing blocks and shooting down mechanisms. The dog legion to ride disappearing platforms as fast you can, the arm legion to move the platforms yourself and finally, the axe legion, more centered around protecting yourself from projectiles while moving from platform to platform. While it uses all of your legions in a smart way, nothing really feels good, it always feels like you barely pulled through the level, it’s not nearly as precise and fun compared to the combat. Thankfully, those segments are saved by the masterfully crafted level design, full of hidden secrets, things to do and overall organic paths you find on your own. Levels are usually filled with sidequests, from capturing criminals to buying icecreams for kids, the game is filled with that Platinum goofiness we’ve come to expect and adore. There is no saving the investigation parts though, while I understand it’s part of the whole police thing, they’re extremely boring to get through, especially on the second playthrough. There is no challenge, no puzzle, nothing really interesting, you just move from point A to point B while following clues and that’s about it.