“Ten-four officers, we have reports of an Astral Chain in progress on Switch Ave., come in sirens loud and controllers hot.” Developed by Platinum Games, the masters of the character action genre, Astral Chain offers a new take on the formula. The player guides a self-controlled demon (known as a Legion) connected to their character by the titular astral chain. As an officer in a special police force, the player uses their Legion to fight crime, solve mysteries, and beat up criminals.
The meat of Astral Chain lies in the intense and free-flowing combat. Platinum Games fans will recognize the influences of their earlier titles like Bayonetta. This time around, Astral Chain does a great job of recruiting new players as well as satisfying old. No longer relying on sprawling movelists and button combinations, your Legions do most of the fighting for you. There’s still depth and challenge to deploying your Legion, but Platinum mercifully brings the skill floor down. For those looking to enjoy the story with no pressure, Astral Chain even offers lower difficulty levels with unlimited lives to accommodate everyone.
If ease doesn’t interest you, the Platinum Standard mode will test your performance in combat. Much like other character action games, Astral Chain gives you a letter grade from D- to S+ based on points earned while fighting. This mode isn’t necessarily harder, but chasing ranks pushes you to play better, not get hit, and in turn look much cooler.
It takes a while to get used to the controls, but the depth of options available makes every encounter interesting. Because of this, winning in Astral Chain is about style, efficiency, and perfection, not just surviving to the end. Learning the combat feels like learning an instrument. Sure, playing “Hot Crossed Buns” will pass a level, but achieving that S+ requires some real fancy fingerwork.
Beating things up is all well and good, but who, and why? In the future, chimeras — chaotic demons from the astral plane — invade the world and corrupt it. The player and their sibling join the police force as fresh recruits but quickly find themselves involved in Neuron, a secret squad under the leadership of their father. Here the player receives their very own Legion, a converted chimera under their direct control.
While the story takes broad strokes from anime like Neon Genesis Evangelion or Full Metal Alchemist, the world feels distinct. The fairly dry police procedural that Astral Chain presents begins to crack, revealing moments of poignant beauty. The simplicity of the story surprisingly works in its favor. For instance, a side character might shed their standard tropes to deliver a moving speech about family. Don’t expect anything exceptional, but JoJo’s Law and Order can show surprising emotion.
Story missions generally follow the same structure of investigation and combat. Missions begin with the player walking the beat and talking to civilians. Combing the crowd at the scene of a murder might reveal the suspect’s description, what weapon they used, or where they escaped to. After that, you might find a lost child looking for their mother. On the way, a purse snatcher might strike and try to escape the law.
As a result of these little tasks, the world feels alive. At the end of an investigation the player answers questions based on the evidence they collected, using clues to solve the mystery at hand. These side missions fulfill the fantasy of being a police officer, an occupation that desperately needs more exploration in games.
Astral Chain takes customization to the extreme by allowing the player to alter almost any minute details. The player can choose their gender, customize their appearance, change their Legions’ colors, upgrade their character and Legions, and more. Even the game itself becomes incredibly customizable through a robust options menu.
Want to change the color of the HUD or disable it all together? You can do that. Most of the customization sits locked behind special challenges, driving the player to explore to the fullest. However, that can be a detriment as well. For instance, the option to change HUD opacity requires picking up 10 soda cans.
Take robust customization and player choice, add in sprawling levels filled with secrets, and top it off with combat that gives a grade for a game that just begs for another playthrough. There’s so much to see and do, at times Astral Chain reminds me of the best parts of Mario Odyssey. It taps into that same innate drive completionists have to check every box and scour every corner of the map. Achieving an S+ rank on an entire chapter means perfection in combat and unshakable sleuthing skills, a feat not easily attained.
If action games tickle your fancy, or if police stories appeal to you, Astral Chain offers a veritable bounty of content. Don’t go in expecting True Detective levels of narrative complexity. However, if you play long enough you may find yourself becoming attached to the lovable cast of cops. Available for Nintendo Switch, check it out on the Nintendo eshop today.