Astral Chain’s shortcomings don’t overshadow what it does best
Astral Chain’s shortcomings don’t overshadow what it does best. It’s an incredible execution of a fresh take on Platinum Games’ foundation, standing among the stylish-action greats. And its own anime-inspired swagger makes fights all the more exhilarating. You’ll come to appreciate the calmer moments in between that add variety and offer a second to relax before jumping back into the superb combat. After 40 hours with Astral Chain, I’m still eager to take on the tougher challenges, and I’ll be grinning from ear to ear as I hit all the right moves, one after the other, while watching it all unfold. As an elite cop on the Neuron special task force, it’s your job to investigate the ever-growing presence of the otherworldly Chimera that threaten the world. Catastrophic incidents are abound as Chimera spill in from an alternate dimension, the astral plane, but of course there’s more to the phenomenon than meets the eye. To get to the bottom of it all, you simultaneously control both your player-character and a Legion, a separate entity with its own attacks and abilities.
It takes time to get the hang of it, but once you do, working in tandem with a roster of Legions feels seamless. You earn Legions over time, accruing a total of five, and each one offers their own set of skills and cooldown attacks to upgrade via a skill tree. While they can be sent into the fray to perform auto-attacks, swapping between them effectively to juggle specific abilities creates the satisfaction of tearing down the monstrous Chimeras. Initially, there are so many variables at play that it can be daunting. You have chain binds to lock enemies down for a few seconds, timing-based sync attacks that unleash devastating blows, and showstopping sync finishers that top off the wild spectacle (and replenish your health to boot). You can even get creative with combos, like utilizing the AOE stun, gravity pull, and crash bomb–all from different Legions–to concentrate a ton of damage on. Even an unchained combo lets you briefly unleash two Legions at once. And if that already seems like a lot to handle, you’ll also have to consider executing special attacks from directional inputs when it’s best to use them.
With a multitude of factors and challenges at play, combat places much more emphasis on devising the right tactics for the right situation. Astral Chain provides a tremendous box of tools that are effective in their own right and an absolute joy to use. If there’s a fault gameplay-wise, it’s that movement can sometimes feel imprecise–don’t expect the same buttery smoothness of Bayonetta. For example, the Beast Legion’s mount mode winds up in an unpredictable direction, and the pistol combo forces you to flip backward. It may result in falling off ledges or unintentionally getting in harm’s way. Thankfully, it’s an occasional frustration that doesn’t detract from the core experience. If you watch gameplay carefully, you quickly see how slow-motion, camera cuts, and subtle audio-visual cues in combat serve to signify opportune times to make your move. These flourishes are also how the game cements its bold sense of style. Popular manga artist Masakazu Katsura lent his hand to lead the character designs, resulting in some of the best-looking anime cops around. And when your bombastic actions in battle are matched by visually-striking momentum and tenacity, it delivers a unique thrill that makes Astral Chain special to see in motion.
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