Developer PlatinumGames does fast and stylish action incredibly well, and the Nintendo Switch exclusive Astral Chain is a continuation of that trend. But what I love best about the quirky new action adventure is the puzzle solving, world-building, and general goofing around that occurs between battles.
In Astral Chain, the few survivors of a global disaster huddle together behind the walls of a futuristic megapolis. Beset by alien invaders, humanity’s only hope for survival is a special squad of incredibly attractive men and women with the ability to harness sentient weapons known as Legions. Together with their bizarre partners and equally good-looking support staff, these gorgeous police officers, who are agents in a special program called Neuron, are Earth’s last line of defense. In circumstances this dire, you’d think it would be impossible for a Legion-wielder to find time to relax.
Actually, turns out it’s not that hard. The player character, one of a pair of twins newly recruited to Neuron, has all the time in the world to fool around between and even during important missions upon which the fate of the world hangs. There’s so much to do that isn’t directly battling mysterious interdimensional aliens. It’s actually a pretty sweet gig.
Watch the video below to see how much Kotaku video game expert Tim Rogers loves being a hot anime cop. Then read on for my take on the wonderful world-building of Astral Chain.
Before one can hack and slash, one must figure out what to hack and slash, and why. Investigating is a major component of Astral Chain missions. The player canvases the area of an incident, gathering keyword clues by questioning witnesses, police officers, and analyzing evidence. When 100 percent of the clues are gathered, the player must answer a series of questions, with answers selected from the collected keywords and phrases.
While the odd random encounter can occur during an investigation, mostly these investigation segments are made up of casual puzzle solving and information gathering. During the game’s third mission, a group of children gave me the old “only one of us tells the truth” puzzle. Each of the five kids gave me a statement, and I had to use logic to determine which of them was being truthful. This happens to be my favorite kind of logic problem, next to the ones where you have to make a grid in order to figure out the ages and favorite foods of a series of random people.
Solving the problem correctly awarded me with a new clue, which was integral in completing my investigation. I could do this all day long.
Legions aren’t just fighting partners. They are always connected to your protagonist, by way of the titular astral chain. That chain connection can help both the cop and their tamed biological weapon in traversing run-down towns and the twisted geography of the chimeric realm, home of our alien enemies. For example, holding down the ZL trigger on the Switch controller or Joy-Con and moving the right analog stick allows the player to maneuver their Legion independently. Legion can float, so they can traverse gaps the player’s character could not. Once on the other side, pressing the ZR trigger causes the player to zip to the Legion’s location.
As the game progresses, the player bonds with five different Legion weapons, each with their own special abilities. The Sword Legion can slice through energy connections, tripping switches or unlocking secret doors with a swing of its blade. The Archer Legion can fire arrows, of course, which can trigger far-off switches, opening new avenues of exploration. I imagine there are item chests and other treasures that I won’t find in early levels until I replay them later with all five Legion in my thrall. I can’t wait.
Neuron HQ is a four-story complex that’s packed with things to see and do instead of heading upstairs to the helipad or downstairs to the motor pool to deploy on a remote mission. It’s where players can save their game, customize their Legion, read through the game’s database, and check in with its cast of entertaining characters.
There’s Olive, the attractive pink-haired radio operator, who gave up her previous job as a television announcer to serve the greater good. Brenda Moreno, Neuron’s chief medical officer, is a super-serious scientist who’s trying to lighten up and secretly collects merchandise featuring Lappy, the squad’s dog mascot. One of my personal favorite headquarters characters is Shizu, a strange girl who likes to lurk in dark places and read the tarot.
It’s not just about getting to know the pretty people. There’s also Vendor-3, a talking vending machine that’s probably also pretty in a vending machine sort of way. There are characters who offer side missions, characters who teach the player important game mechanics, and characters who challenge the player to one-on-one duels in the training room. Secrets and surprises abound.
Not only is headquarters a great place to do all the things, it’s also a wonderful place to idle. The music playing over the HQ loudspeaker system is this lush electronic affair with enchanting vocal accompaniment. It complements the look and feel of Astral Chain perfectly.
Love, love, love a game that gives me a camera to play with. Early on in my first playthrough, my pink-haired police person earned such a device to aid her not only in documenting her adventures, but also to help her get to know her peers. Taking a photograph of a named character in Astral Chain unlocks their database entry in the game’s computer, offering bits of backstory that really help round out the cast.
What that means for an obsessive player like me, is that I will be taking pictures of every single character in the game. See the question marks in the database? We can’t have that. It just won’t do.
Photos also help capture the distractingly beautiful characters who inhabit the doomed world of Astral Chain. Acclaimed manga artist Masakazu Katsura did character designs for the game. Katsura likes his characters on the pretty side.
There is nothing wrong with pretty characters. And Astral Chain happens to have all of them.
I have barely scratched the surface of Astral Chain’s in-game character customization options, but I am overjoyed that they exist. By visiting her locker, located across the hallway from the headquarter’s command hub (fitting for such an important feature), the player character can alter her hair style and color and put together an ensemble from cosmetic items collected during gameplay.
While I adore my character’s undercut, I like having the option to go with a severe ponytail, a full head of curls, or just shaving the whole thing off. I also love that the developers included the option of the shorts-wearing female character to put on black tights to keep her legs from being exposed. I am eager to unlock new palettes, which will allow me to quickly swap out the colors of my gear.
Most of all, I love that I will eventually, once I collect enough outfit pieces, be able to dress up like adorable puppy mascot Lappy. Speaking of which.
In Astral Chain’s third mission, which for me was about an hour and a half into the game, I was introduced to Marie Wentz, Neuron’s office manager. A little bumbling and a lot unsure of herself, Marie is an absolute delight every time she’s on the screen, both in human form and in costume as her alter ego, Lappy.
Decked out head-to-toe in a hot and stuffy mascot costume, the reserved Marie becomes a fun-loving free-spirit, adored by all. Lappy is in charge of giving new recruits a tour of the facilities, from the dressing room to the restroom, in one of the game’s most utterly charming side missions. There’s no telling where the pupper will pop up.
But Marie doesn’t need a dog costume to melt hearts. She’s also got a thing for cats.
Marie is the best.
So far I’ve got no complaints about Astral Chain’s innovative team-based combat system. Battles are an intense mix of sword-swinging, gun-shooting, and combo-executing, with a heaping helping of Legion-based shenanigans. The player’s strange partner can tangle opponents up in its chain, warp the protagonist to its position, and unleash all sorts of special abilities to spice up the proceedings. Nintendo made an excellent video showing off the game’s unique battle system.
I expected no less from PlatinumGames, the developer that brought us Bayonetta, Vanquish and Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance. It’s what they do. What I was looking for from Astral Chain was the flavor—a game with world-building and extras on par with game director Takahisa Taura’s previous project, the outstanding Nier: Automata. So far, I’ve gotten exactly what I wanted.
Astral Chain launches on the Nintendo Switch on August 30.