Astral Chain — Unchained by the Chain
With massive exclusives like Mario, Zelda, Animal Crossing, and Pokemon already under the Switch’s belt, any more exclusives would just be added gravy and that’s exactly what Astral Chain is, a Switch exclusive so delicious that non Switch owners started review bombing the game on Metacritic out of anger that the game isn’t coming to their platform of choice. Despite being a new, unproven IP, Platinum Games has added yet another surprise hit to their library. Astral Chain brings a fresh take on the single player fighting genre with plenty of new and interesting mechanics, while also making itself fun and accessible for newbies like myself.
Astral Chain is all about fighting with a monster attached to your hip by an “astral chain”. These monsters are known as “Legions” and there are five different ones for you to unlock. Each legion has different abilities and specialize in a certain area of combat, such as mobility, defense, ranged attacks, etc. Although the legions are different in many ways, the astral chain that connects them to the player remains the same. You can control your legion’s movement by holding the left trigger and using the right joystick. In this way you control two different entities on the screen, but the system doesn’t grow too confusing or unwieldy because of the chain that always links the two together. The single player fighting game genre has been around for a long time, but I have never seen a game with as novel a concept as Astral Chain’s legions.
While Astral Chain does a great job of engaging the player with its top notch combat system, the other aspects of it’s gameplay feel underwhelming. You play as a fresh cop who’s just been added to the force, so each mission usually starts with a slow, boring, overly complicated detective section, where you employ a sort of “detective vision” ripped off from the Batman games. There are also several platforming and puzzle sections that further slow down the experience and take away from the excellent combat in the game. The progression also feels a bit bare bones and tacked on. Each legion can be leveled up and has its unique skill tree to work through, but many of the stat boosts, passive, and active skills are available to all the legions, so you don’t feel like you’re specializing as you progress through the skill trees.
Although certain parts of Astral Chain’s gameplay falls a bit flat, stylistically Astral Chain is near perfect. The visuals are often defined by a neon blue or neon red filter that permeates throughout the game. Neon lights along with the cell shaded, Breath of the Wild, anime graphics fits well with the futuristic, demonic subject matter of the game. The music although not particularly memorable worked very well and added to the futuristic and epic atmosphere. Here I will add my usual qualifier for Japanese games: this game is very anime; there’s flashy cutscenes, weird choices in dialogue, and heavy drama. I know it can be off putting for some, but I highly recommend you check this game out as it has amazing gameplay and I think it has a solid story with an incredible aesthetic.
My experience with stylish 3D fighters is still limited and I appreciated the different difficulty options the game had. I was able to complete the main story in around fourteen hours, but I still have plenty of skills to unlock, weapons to upgrade, and missions to go back and clear on standard difficulty, plus all the costumes, side missions, and post-game missions. Suffice it to say that Astral Chain has plenty of end-game content. Despite the awkward platforming and slow detective work, Astral Chain is one of the best titles I’ve played on the Nintendo Switch. Platinum has produced a unique exciting game embracing the tried and true philosophy of “easy to learn, hard to master”. Although I have beaten the game, I plan on sticking around for more, as I’ve only scratched the surface of what me and my legions are capable of doing. After playing Astral Chain, I can officially say that I am a fan of the stylish fighting genre. Please do yourself a favor and give this game a shot, you won’t regret it.
FINAL SCORE: 8/10