Protecting the last vestiges of humanity from an invasion of otherworldly beings is no cakewalk for the anime police persons of Switch exclusive Astral Chain. The protagonist has to juggle detective work, exploration, and an obsessive photography habit while managing a menagerie of leashed beasts, and the game doesn’t explain much about how to do it. A collection of helpful tips is definitely in order.
With the player controlling both their character and their tethered companion, Astral Chain has to allow them to do a whole hell of a lot of things with the Switch controller. Attacking, dodging, activating link attacks, using items, summoning Legions, activating a Legion’s special ability, taking selfies, performing chain jumps—it’s a lot. If you find yourself hitting the wrong buttons over and over again, as I did during my playthrough, wade into the game’s menu and change it up.
The default configuration had summoning a Legion mapped to the left trigger and activating their special ability with the left bumper. I can’t tell you how many times I mixed up those two. It ruined the flow of battle for me time and time again. Once I switched to control preset C, moving the Legion ability to the X button, it was smooth sailing.
Hitting the plus button on your Switch controller brings up the IRIS, an augmented reality computer that covers the beautiful world of Astral Chain with a wealth of useful information. In the field it’s an invaluable tool for uncovering items and persons of interest. It’ll display side cases, which are optional missions that aren’t required to complete the game but are required if you want to S+ rank the game’s files. I also use the IRIS to poke about headquarters, seeing where everyone is without having to move around too much.
Use the IRIS during battle and it will display enemy health and type, making it essential for lengthier “when’s this thing gonna die?” boss fights. It’s the *counts Legions* sixth most important weapon in a player’s arsenal.
The first five most important weapons in a player’s arsenal are their Legions, the beasts on the other end of the titular Astral Chain. By the end of the game, the player has access to five different Legions, each with its own unique powers. Knowing when to slash electronic connections with the Sword Legion’s special skill or activate remote switches with the Arrow Legion’s bow is easy, as is knowing when to move platforms with the Arm Legion, or when to ride the Beast Legion (all the damn time). But if you’re not spending gene codes to unlock your Legions’ talent trees and assigning special abilities, you aren’t getting the most out of your pets.
Along with enhancing their basic stats, the Legions’ talent trees unlock ability slots. As players progress through the game they collect ability codes, which can be fitted into a Legion’s ability slots. For example, the Self Destruct +600% ability triggers a shockwave when a Legion’s energy runs out, causing a massive amount of damage. Equipping the ability requires two free ability slots. The Attack Up 25% ability code increases damage done by both the Legion and the player. That powerful ability requires three slots to equip. The right ability code loadout can completely change how battles play out.
You can pet the Legion dog in Astral Chain. In fact, you can pet all of your Legions at the Legion maintenance station in headquarters, rubbing their head and limbs to clean off any red crystal corruption they’ve accumulated while out in the field.
What’s the benefit of Legion maintenance? There doesn’t seem to be one. As far as I can tell, it’s just a weird little mini-game with no real purpose. Still, I hate a dirty Legion.
Fighting in Astral Chain is a cooperative affair. A player will not last long if they ignore the benefits of having an otherworldly beast at the other end of their astral tether. Get used to taking control of your Legions in the middle of battle. Circle tough enemies to tangle them in the chain, temporarily binding them. Position yourself and your Legion on either side of the path of a charging enemy to stop it in its tracks and then send it flying. Position your Legion in the path of several enemies and then zip towards it, damaging every baddie you pass along the way. And watch for the flash at the end of a combo that indicates an opportunity to perform a powerful sync attack.
It’s easy to lose track of advanced co-op techniques during the game, especially during missions where battles are few and far between. Don’t be afraid to take a trip down to the training center in headquarters to brush up on fighting mechanics if you feel like you’re losing your edge.
Almost every file (chapter) in Astral Chain gives your character a little free time to wander about the Neuron headquarters. Take that time to talk to the people. Every named character in the game has at least one unique thing to say during each file. Some have their own little storyline that plays out over the course of the game. Relationships between non-player characters can blossom in these in-between spaces. The more insight we gain into the people of Neuron, the more fleshed-out the game world feels.
Making the rounds also helps uncover side missions, which can be found just as often in HQ as out in the field. Plus, every new file scatters random helpful items about the four floors of the fortress, just waiting for an eager agent to snatch them up.
While you’re making your way around HQ, don’t forget to stop by the tech room on the third floor to have Tabitha gussy up your equipment. Tabs can enhance the damage and stats of your character’s transforming X-Baton weapon as well as the Legatus, the device on your arm that helps control your Legions. Upgraded X-Batons do more damage. Upgraded Legatus … Legati? Legatuses? Those let you keep your Legions active longer without overheating.
Upgrading does cost credits and material codes, so be sure to rifle through every box and pick up every item you find on missions, and sell any scrap to Tabitha’s colleague, Ted. It’s what he’s there for.
The sprawling sectors of The Ark, the world’s last bastion of humanity, are filled with stuff to see, do, and collect. There are cats to adopt. There is toilet paper to collect. There are mini-game side missions involving carrying teetering towers of boxes or eating gigantic food items. Platinum Games packed this game to the brim with cool and bizarre things, and it’s up to you to find them.
Talk to civilians, even if you’re sure they have nothing to do with your main mission. Climb ladders. Wander into tunnels. Poke at dumpsters. Eavesdrop on conversations. Turn on the IRIS and see what you can see. I am not saying you should obsessively comb every inch of every area before moving on to your main mission objectives, but you totally should.
Astral Chain’s in-game camera isn’t just for cute selfies. It’s how players fill the in-game database with information on co-workers, significant civilians, and enemy creatures. It might seem counterintuitive to whip out a digital camera during battle, but you only have to do it once for every creature in the game, and there are only a whole lot of them.
Don’t forget to take pictures of each of your Legions. Then let your Legions take pictures of you. There’s a camera mode that snaps shots from your Legions’ point of view. I particularly enjoy taking photos from the perspective of the low-to-the-ground Beast Legion. Good boy.
The “orders” portion of the in-game menu is essentially an extensive achievement system that rewards players for accomplishing various goals. Doing a certain amount of damage with different weapons, completing side missions, upgrading each Legion, and many other activities will complete orders. Completed orders grant players rewards like rare codes, used for upgrades, as well as fun stuff like photo filters for the in-game camera, cosmetic gear, and color sets for customizing your character’s outfits.
I did not notice the orders menu until I was in the middle of the game’s fourth file, maybe a third of the way through the game. On one hand, I felt like an idiot for ignoring the obvious red exclamation point in the menu for so long. On the other hand, I suddenly had all the rewards to unwrap, all at once. As fun as that was, don’t be a Fahey. Look over the orders menu. Make note of what needs to be accomplished. Especially the orders that require you to take pictures of certain people or events, as I missed a few and had to replay files after I finished the game to catch up.
Did the orders bit make you worry about missing things? Don’t worry too much. At any time during the game, you can go to the computer and select a previously completed file to revisit. You can then take care of any side missions you may have missed, snap photos of characters who might not be available in later files, and harvest any lingering collectibles.
Replaying also gives players aiming for an S+ rank for completing file objectives another chance to make the grade. It’s also a great way to fiddle about with the game’s higher (or lower) difficulty settings.
Between its fast action, outstanding world-building, and killer style, Astral Chain has quickly become one of my favorite games on the Switch. Dive deep into it. Roll around in it. Let it work its way into your pores. Mmm, that’s the stuff.