Announced earlier this year Astral Chain looked incredibly promising with PlatinumGames signature combat and flair present in the trailer and every subsequent screenshot released. That being said, I was more than elated at the opportunity to try Astral Chain for myself. As a long time fan of Platinum (yes, even enjoying the absolute mess that was Max Anarchy) I thought I knew what to expect of this highly stylized action game. However, Astral Chain managed to impress and surprise me at every opportunity.
My brief experience with Astral Chain’s story is everything I’ve come to expect from an original PlatinumGames title. It creates enough of a scenario to give players an objective to hack and slash their way through environments with purpose. Chimeras, monsters spilling out of wormholes from the Astral Plane, are attacking the Ark, an artificial island housing the last of humanity and it’s your job as a member of NEURON to protect the citizens of the Ark from these mysterious monsters.
World building is done almost immediately with a lot of exposition and you’re introduced to a bulk of the cast early on. Characters don’t necessarily seem deep, but they do seem to have a lot of history with one another that is told to you by your twin, Akira. While going through the training area Akira told me about how one of the major characters, Jin, had taken care of the two of you while your father (and boss, Max) was in the hospital after an incident that occurred at work. It gave some backstory to the characters and some sense of familiarity between the cast. That being said your character is completely silent, barely vocalizing while your twin does most of the talking. Customization is available and will reflect accordingly with your twin, so however you choose to make the player character look changes Akira’s appearance in some way.
Astral Chain does add some new features not available in other Platinum titles, more specifically the IRIS and the investigations that go along with it. Since you are a member of a private section of the Ark’s police force you’ll undergo investigations as you combat the Chimeras and look for missing persons. IRIS serves as a scanner of sorts, allowing you to observe details within your environments to pick out clues or information about the NPCs around you - this can also be used in combat to check out enemy data. During investigations I used IRIS to playback events that had already transpired, collecting clues to determine what had happened before NEURON arrived on the scene.
Using the clues I collected I pieced together the events to pursue the errant Chimera that had snatched up one of the citizens of the Ark. In conjunction with the IRIS system you’ll also be utilizing your Legion to pick up errant Red Matter to increase your overall rank at the end of the mission during these investigations or to find portals to the Astral Plane to hunt down errant Chimeras. This is pretty essential in boosting your score so I was constantly moving my Legion around the areas with my IRIS activated to see bits of Red Matter invisible outside of the Astral Plane. While the investigation I participated in was fairly short it was a nice addition and I’m interested to see how others will play out or be utilized in Astral Chain’s worldbuilding.
Each Legion has their own unique abilities and specialities in combat. I had the chance to try out three of these companions - the Sword, Arrow, and Arm Legion - and was impressed by the variety of skills they had to offer individually. After every individual attack pressing the corresponding button to follow up with your Legion creates a new combo, which adds a greater sense of depth to playing with this summonable companion on the field. Chaining together attacks or even dodging at the correct moments during combat will allow you to strike back against the Chimeras with more powerful attacks. This is indicated by a blue halo of light that will circle your player when these opportunities arise. Taking advantage of these moments made encounters significantly easier as I chunked through the health of my enemies with these special joint attacks.
Players can also switch weapons on the fly and I found to be pretty mandatory during certain combat encounters. Using up and down on the d-pad you can easily rotate through your arsenal with ease. I mentioned earlier how every input changes the Legion’s own attack and that works similarly with every weapon you have equipped.
This creates a unique flow between players and their individual styles in conjunction with their Legions. Players can also unchain Legions to have two on the field simultaneously - however, your unchained Legion will act as it wishes and cannot be controlled until its time on the battlefield is expired and returns to you. Legions do have a cool-down, but that can be mitigated by collecting Red Matter in the Astral Plane as the more you collect the more your charge for the Legion increases while it is out. That doesn’t mean it’ll stay out infinitely, but it does extend their use for a considerable amount of time.
Combat is fluid, as to be expected from PlatinumGames, though it was overwhelming at times in my experience. Players can individually control their Legions to wrap their “Astral Chain” around enemies to stun them or intercept attacks to counter them. This is done by using the right joystick which also controls the camera, so it wasn’t always the most intuitive or precise option since I’d sometimes end my camera whirling around when trying to move my Legion while attacking or moving myself.
This is a really cool feature since it adds a new layer of strategy to combat overall, but it wasn’t something I was able to get the hang of immediately outside of tutorials or in more challenging encounters. I think once players master this new style of play it’ll be immensely rewarding. Though Astral Chain does suffer in some ways by relegating two different commands or actions to nearly every face button. When I would want to summon my Legion sometimes I’d immediately initiate the option to use one of their special skills - the Sword Legion’s precise slice ala Metal Gear Rising, or suiting up in the Arm Legion’s arms for better lack of words. Fiddling with the controls might have been more beneficial so I’m hoping Astral Chain will have the option to remap buttons.
Additionally Legions can also serve other purposes such as cutting locks or helping you platform through the dilapidated environments of the Ark and Astral Plane. I made use of the Sword Legion to break into an area for investigative purposes, trailing Chimeras in hopes of finding an abducted citizen, with the use of the Legion’s special slashing ability. That being said, the Sword Legion isn’t the only companion limited to assisting the player character outside of combat as the Bow Legion came in handy when solving puzzles deeper into the level. This made the Legion feel more significant, as they were able to be utilized in some meaningful way outside of destroying and smashing enemies to a pulp during combat encounters.
Astral Chain is a beautiful amalgamation of all things Platinum with a few new added features, creating a new sense of depth between exploration and combat that hasn’t been seen in any of their titles. While it is undoubtedly stylish and carrying the definitive features of being a Platinum title Astral Chain has proven to be much more than that. I’m eagerly anticipating to see what the full release of Astral Chain will be like, as this hands-on definitely left me with an incredibly positive impression of PlatinumGames’ latest original IP.