Platinum Games may have finally found it’s self in a well deserved safe place in regards to future projects for it’s company for the on going future. The company may have had it’s upside downs the past few years.. seemingly always a game away from closure from what I’d read. Despite the well known action games the company is known for making. Many of the companies games has started to be buffered with licensed, lower budgeted games created in smaller amounts of time to supplement the bigger games that they were trying to create.
When the company was originally formed they had a multi game deal with SEGA to develop new IPs; Bayonetta and Vanquish being the bigger titles. They were all big risks and showed off the diversity of the games the company could create and at a high quality (or inability in the ability to create games for the PS3 in Bayonetta’s case) Which followed into Metal Gear Rising and an ongoing partnership with Nintendo.
However following the cancellation of Xbox exclusive Scalebound they were left in quite the financial situation, saved by the successes of Nier Automata, a game developed as a part of the Drakengard/Nier universe for Square-Enix. Along with Bayonetta 3 being in development with Nintendo one other IP was being created which for all intensive purposes was a mid game between open world of Nier Automata and the mission based structure of Bayonetta, while also managing to be a greatest hits of every unique game play system Platinum has ever created.. on top of a unique game play system created just for this game… and this is Astral Chain.
I wasn’t sure what to make of the game when I first saw it.. which was quite close to release as this game had managed to slip under the raydar for me. I wasn’t sure about the aesthetics of the game.. and I mean illustration here to distinguish from art style of the game (which really feels like it’s pushing the system to it’s limits in regards to vfx rendering with the post processing going on and it’s digital pixel like filters applied to everything in the game) however the Police branded feel pushed onto everything character wise in the game actually was a turn off for me visually. this doesn’t change much as you are given a fair amount of power to switch up how your in-game characters and legions (essentially demons you control, i’ll get into this later) and for what it’s worth the Police feel to the game is fully committed to even when the game is at it’s most mundane.
The big question is what exactly is Astral Chain; it’s set up to be a team based police procedural which is abandoned early on in favor of placing you at the center of the games world in an event leaving you the only one with the ability to use the Legion summoning powers of the game. Naturally the game abandons the police aspect to a degree later on (but finds the flimsiest of reasons to use the detective systems introduced as its the core game play loop through the game)
Yet perhaps like other Platinum Games, games out there that also borrow heavy from the Tokusatsu genre (Super hero TV shows, think power rangers for example) This leans heavy into Kamen Rider fare, making your the lone hero supported by a team that has the power to stop a world ending threat. The game also has 2 bike sections that reinforce the concept. A previous Wii U game; Wonderful 101 also leaned heavy into tokusatsu being a Super Sentai game (Super Sentai being the show Power Rangers borrows footage from each year) Being a team based action game about saving the world
There’s also a big focus on family, both biological and surrogate; with your 2 main characters being twins, adopted by the captain of the Legionis (person who summons a Legion) along with becoming a member of the wider team with your twin. However this is partly undermined as well throughout the game with the potential exploration of the twin’s rendered almost null with whichever twin you decide to play as becoming a silent protagonist so conversations are one sided (which also stops you asking the important questions that you will have easily guessed with the mostly obvious twists you see coming, and the implications of the ones you don’t)
The first half of the story deals with the loss of the player characters adoptive father and begins to set up the winder on going narrative, your introduced to the team and missions get hijacked by the Legions of the team, and through them you learn a little more about them in the process. You also meet Hal, an important sub character who leads you into the latter half of the game and the pre-established game play formula and story goes to hell. Along with someone presented as the main villain, but naturally isn’t (though perhaps just as bad in their methodology for saving humanity)
This partly goes to hell for the second-half of the game, where the team is completely sidelined and never really gives them much to do without powers anyway. Support members from early on at your base get a promotion to more important characters, yet the one most important and potentially coolest character introduced mid game is strangely never seen again given the importance of the time you spend with him, making for a very awesome boss and even when you spend time at his base later on with him completely missing. Its a little inconsistent but the relationship with the twin is put foremost as you watch them slowly come apart mentally after being written out for mid-game. It becomes another instance of when not being a silent protagonist would mean so much more and allow for so much more in plot and character development.
Game-play wise there is so much to Astral Chain it sometimes feels like your overburdened with options.. you can so easily not explore half of the tools you are given in regards to combat options and also be completely stumped in some side missions as you might not be able to work out you can apply a combat solution to a puzzle, or even remember if you’ve not used a skill since it’s introduction. During the course of the game you’ve given 5 legions that each have their own combat skill tree, special skill and player aid based skill, many of which have roots in previous game play systems designed by Platinum games.
The sword Legion for example can remove the red-shift virus from people, can go in the ‘BLADE Mode’ from Metal Gear Rising, which can be used to slice enemies, security systems and even slice through wifi signals (that’s certainly unique!) The Arm Legion can pick up heavy objects and be worm by the player giving you the one instance of direct control you’ll have over Legions in the game (I’ll get to that it in a bit) , the Beast can track and be ridden etc and to top it all off you all Legions are invisible to the general public and most of Humanity which means the can also be used to eves drop, catch people on the run unawares and make yourself look like a magician for a little girl’s entertainment.
This itself is all secondary as when your not doing any of this your 90% of the time dual controlling both the player character and one of your 5 Legions with the two of you being connected by the ‘Astral Chain’. It’s more then a superficial gimmick though, the chain is integral to both plot and game play with you using it to control the Legions movement via right analog stick, you can pull in and send out the Legion, have them pull you to cross gaps, swing around poles or trap charging enemies as they come at you and send them back. That includes a finishing attack that very much is a Zandatsu from Metal Gear Rising again that’s does the exact same thing… instal kill that restores health and rewards you with extra points.
All this is usable in general exploration as well and you’ll need it as the non combat portions of the game are set into 3 parts; the pre-mission time at the Police station, the detective part of the mission where your tracking clues, conducting interviews and finding side quests in whats essentially a mini hub world for each mission. Finally theirs the Astral Plane, which stylistically is barren, red, ugly (intentionally ) and repetitive and you’ll spend a lot of time there in many missions. However it does evenly spread it’self out as almost balanced puzzles, platforming and combat.
Perhaps the weakest part of the game it it’s platforming, as jumping isn’t a thing and when it comes to jumping gaps using your Legion to pull your character across is the only way. Its clunky especially when balancing the control of both characters with the 2 analog sticks (there is part too many options for this game then the amount of buttons on the Switch controller by far!) But when its not in big open space then you really are in for a world of pain and constant resets (with each fall taking a 10th of your life as well it’s pretty unforgiving at times)
Ultimately I enjoyed my time with Astral plane, for me it’s a solid game but not one that feels as aimed at my combat wise then other games.. I don’t feel the need to delve into the more more refined mechanics of the combat to try higher difficulties unlike other Platinum games as I was happy to have just experienced the story and game play. My one grip might be that the game ends on a somber and unfinished note; issues with your twin which I don’t want to explore here for spoiler sake and that with the destruction of the 2 major villains but the general threat posed by the astral world doesn’t seem to have been thwarted in any way and yet things seem to be improving for the world.
But that’s it, a solid game that’s great, but not Platinum’s best, and for the parents reading is who come here for the kid content I’ve got my hopes in a Switch port of Wonderful 101 at some point.. if your child is an avid and advanced gamer they’d get more out of that! But for the gamer adults that do not mind an anime aesthetic there is a lot to enjoy about Astral Chain!