Demo Disk

“Demo Disk” – Astral Chain (2019) [Switch]

Demo Disk is a series of first impressions posts for new releases and quick opinions.

 

 

EarthMage.png “The following is a contributor post by the Off-Centered Earth Mage.”

Astral Chain is the most recent installment in Platinum Game’s expansive list of action-adventure games. Alongside titles as gripping and powerful as Bayonetta and Nier: Automata, it would have been very easy for Astral Chain to be lost in the void. However, Astral Chain is not merely an action game and it more than holds its own against giants of the genre. As with what we’ve grown accustomed to seeing from Platinum Games, there is far more to Astral Chain than meets the eye.

Right from the beginning, the player takes on the role, or more accurately, is thrust headfirst down a high-powered water slide into the role of a highly customizable and unnamed protagonist. Within moments of booting up the first mission, we are given a glimpse of what is to come.

Astral Chain is not only an action game but rather the perfect mixture of precise action-oriented gameplay and a deep detective-style mission system. Booting Astral Chain up for the first time, this was the last thing that I was expecting to see and admittedly it came as quite a shock. Ultimately, with some getting used to, I’ve come to realise that this is the perfect style of gameplay and storytelling that Platinum Games are going for and perhaps an original re-imagining of the traditional objective-based mission system.

Astral Chain, rather than being set up as an open-world from the get-go, presents itself as a chapter-based story, each with its own chunks of map and play area. Inside these chapters, the player’s time is often split between a police station in which you are climbing the ranks and whatever case you are currently working on.

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The police station, after a hefty introduction to the game’s mechanics, becomes the go-to place to interact with the title’s various characters, to upgrade your weapons and to complete training sequences in the game’s combat training room. It is where the game finally opens up.

Slowly but surely, Astral Chain’s combat becomes deeper and more complex with each passing moment. In the beginning, it is up to you to hold off the strange interdimensional life forms encroaching on mankind. Soon afterward, you are gifted with a promotion of sorts in the form of a permanent combat partner, the Legion. Think of the Legion as the perfect Co-Op partner, one controlled by your own hand. This is done simply by holding down the Left Trigger and moving the right Analog Stick. In theory, controlling two characters at once in an in-depth combat system like Astral Chain’s sounds like the worst hand-cramping nightmare one could possibly imagine. Yet, somehow, not once does it feel like that. Yes, one must admit that controlling two characters at once in third-person does take a little getting used to, but Astral Chain is supposed to be played at one pace and one pace only. The pace of the person holding the controller. It is amazing how this simple mechanic opens up the action genre to so many different possibilities.

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Each Mission or “File” as they are known, is split into four distinct types of objectives. These objectives are then colour-coded in order of importance. Gold mission objectives or cases, upon completion, are the main method of progressing Astral Chain’s story. Often, these are then broken down into subcategories of Red and Blue cases. Think of the Red cases as side missions and the blue cases as optional extras. Although both the Red and Blue cases are optional, they are nearly always a great way to gain a deeper understanding of Astral Chain’s mechanics, combat, and over-arching storyline. With each case completed, Gold, Red or Blue, more and more of the story is revealed to the player. Often, these cases give extra information which will ultimately assist in solving the Gold case.

Astral Chain in this way is much deeper than your average action game. It is responsible for subverting expectations right from the start. If you had told me right up to the release that I would be spending the vast majority of my time in a Platinum Games title searching the mission area for characters to talk to and secrets to find not only would I not believe you but I would also question your sanity at the mere suggestion. However, after spending more than half my week doing the very same, I’ve come to realise that Astral Chain wouldn’t have worked any other way. Platinum Games has done something truly amazing here in creating an action-adventure game in which you want to opt-out of an incredible and fun combat system just as much as you want to spend time searching through a colorful cyberpunk city learning about the world around you.

Astral Chain is available right now worldwide for Nintendo Switch. The action genre is now more accessible than ever for newcomers and life-long fans alike.

 

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