I finally got around to playing and finishing Astral Chain. This game was hyped up before and after its release as one of the best titles on the Nintendo Switch. Well, I’m two years late to the part and I was able to see the game to the end. What are my thoughts about it? Well….let’s get somethings out of the way first.
In a few years, the Earth is taken over by a red glitch in the system and monsters known as Chimeras start attacking the masses. To protect everyone, humankind borrowed a page out of the Bible and constructed an “ark” disguised as a large city to protect everyone. You play as rookie police officer Boy or Girl who have joined a special police task force called Neuron. You are assigned a Legion, humanity’s answer to gun control, by one Yoseph “completely not a evil scientist or anything” Calvert. While out on your first mission, you and your fellow Legion rangers are sent to red glitch world where your Legions experience a Persona 5 moment and break free from the shackles that bind them. Only you are able to keep your anime powers, but because it is the power of anime, your parental figure has to die. Now as humanity’s last defense against the Chimeras, you must defend the peace of the Ark and eliminate any conspiracies about what the government is hiding about the end of the world.
Let’s go ahead and get this out of the way. This is a really good game. From the moment you finish customizing your character, you are thrown into the action of this game and get a real sense of the setting. The Ark is a large metropolis that is dazzled by the cityscape enveloped in an everlasting night sky. The cyberpunk aesthetic never lets up as the entire game takes place in the city and the red digital world known as the Astral Plane. For those who like sci-fi settings, Astral Chain begs you to explore every area and envision what a futuristic city could look like one day.
The Legions that you obtain are well implemented and are balanced near perfect to fit the playstyle of your choice. The Sword Legion is great for basic combat and was my most reliable ally in most fights. The Arrow Legion is of course a great asset for long range combat, and if you want to jump off a cliff and feel miserable about your life, you can always use the Beast Legion. It wasn’t until I got the Axe Legion that I realized a barrier is one of the best abilities to have in this game. The Legions are also used for some great puzzle mechanics to get pass certain obstacles and enemy BS. You constantly have to tweak each of your Legions since you can never tell when one will be better suited for each situation.
Alongside the Legion discussion is the topic of combat. Combat in Astral Chain is fast-paced and beautiful. The way your character and the Legion work together during combos and enemy flanking, using the chain itself as a versatile tool is a smart decision, and switching between your three main weapons to deal with enemies more efficient never dulls the combat one bit. To date, this might be one of my favorite action combat system that PlatniumGames has done next to NieR: Automata. Even playing on Standard difficulty, none of the fights (minus the final boss which took three attempts) felt unfair or boring since the combat was the fun part of the game for me.
So with all of that, it is time to answer the question I was asking myself while playing Astral Chain.
Why did I find it so difficult to enjoy and finish this game?
When I first started playing this game, I was enjoying all of it. The highspeed bike sequence at the beginning set the tone for me as well as the battle on the bridge and getting control of the Sword Legion. It was fun while exploring HQ and completing side quest for the many interesting characters that needed your help (Marie is best character). Even exploring Harmony Square and cleaning up red glitch poop was fun. So why did it stop being fun?
These are all personal reasons for why my enjoyment started to fade, so please keep that in mind as I describe my flaws with the game.
The first flaw with me was the setting. I am already not the biggest fan of sci-fi elements, but there are occasions where a sci-fi setting can win me over and I can enjoy myself. The problem with Astral Chain is that its setting never changes from the two that it sticks with; the night city or the red particle world. Sure you may explore a different area like the rustic establishment of Zone 09, or the sleek interior of the UNION HQ, but at the end of the day, you are either in the city or the Astral Plane. As the game goes these areas change due to the destruction, but it is never a change of pace that gets me excited to explore the area. I need some different colors and areas to keep myself from becoming numb over repeating the same things over and over to keep me engaged. It took me by surprise at the end of the game when the sun came out that I realized that I had never seen this game with a warm light to it.
My second complaint comes from the controls. Maybe I’m just getting older and having to remember which button does what is catching up to me, but Astral Chain makes every single button important for something, and this can be frustrating at certain points. I can’t begin to rage how many times I would accidently bring up the camera (twice when fighting the final boss which yielded a good picture of it) when I was trying to switch weapons quickly. When you do bring up the camera, there are multiple button inputs that go with those controls that you have to stop and think for a moment which button is used to close the camera. This carries over to controlling your Legion, which have their own certain inputs to remember. ZL is used to summon your Legion. Pressing ZR twice will make your Legion attack automatically when targeting an enemy, but will also recall them if they are away from you. The L button activates the Legion’s ability and will lock you into the camera angle that is used for that ability. So in battle, make sure you press ZL and not L when summoning your Legion or you will lose sight of it. And then, in order to use a Legion’s battle ability, you have to hold ZL and then either X or Y to use it. If you let go without doing so, you will either change your Legion with the Y button or use an item with the X button. When you are taking your time with things, it is easy to remember this stuff, but when you are trying to keep the action going, then these simple mistakes happen frequently (or at least to me).
Another complaint I had was moving my Legion for certain things. If you wrap your chain around an enemy, you can bind them for a short time or knock them out completely. I don’t know if there is a problem with my depth perspective or I’m just really bad at controlling the camera, but there were numerous times where I would mess up simple action of making a circle around an enemy due to my field of view. This was very frustrating during the awful stealth sections of the game (why are there stealth sections in a fast-paced action game?) You can knock guards out by binding them which sounds easy. However, the game will prevent your Legion from moving in between gaps that you can absolutely get through, or the camera will adjust and show that your Legion got stuck on something that you couldn’t see. I hated the stealth sections and found them very out of place within the game.
And don’t get me started with the Beast Legion. All dogos are good, but the Beast Legion has to be the worst Legion out of the bunch. What’s bad about that is that you have to rely on it for a lot of things like tracking scents, running away from things trying to suck you in, and getting past platforms that disappear under your feet. The problem with the Beast Legion is how bad it controls with its jerky movement, unable to stop when needed, and unreliability to jump over gaps even though the instructions say that it can. I wish they spent more time working on the mechanics of the Beast Legion, but it was for sure the least used Legion that I had.
My only last nitpick of the game was the story. I liked how things were building up at the beginning with wondering what happened to your dad after he is left by himself in the Astral Plane. The game teases you that he could still be alive out there somewhere, but it is never resolved at the end. The theory is that his spirit lives on in the Axe Legion since you see his image at the end, but to me that signifies the last connection that you have with him. Things just feel exciting at the beginning, then slow down in the middle, and then picks back up around chapter 9. There are a ton of side quest to do in each chapter to help build the world and narrative, but by chapter 7 I was burnt out and just ready to see the conclusion of the main story. There were probably tons of things I missed in the later chapters if I did all of the side quest, but it wasn’t worth it to me at the end especially if I had to do one more gyro balancing quest.
Please don’t let my nitpicks discourage you from playing this game. I still think fundamentally, it is a great game with excellent combat, music, and design that is interesting to experience. Anytime I hear about this game from other people it is always in a positive way. There is a ton of replay value if you want to max out all of your Legions, earn the highest ranking for each mission and chapter, and unlock all the customization options available in the game. The game is short and could be beaten in a week, so the added content available once you finish the game is nice if you want to keep playing the game. As for me, I immediately took the game out of my system and placed it back on my shelf to maybe one day in our own red glitchy future, I may replay it once the bad taste is out of my mouth.
Thanks for reading,