The first thing I thought back when Astral Chain was first announced was “cyberpunk cops and JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure Stands? Huh. Yeah, okay.” This is why Platinum is the king of modern character action, because they know how to mush cool concepts together to make even cooler games.
In the not too distant future, the entirety of mankind lives on an artificial island known as The Ark. It’s not too different from the regular world on its own, but the main wrinkle is the regular opening of extra-dimensional Gates, from which terrifying monsters known as Chimeras spew forth. You take control of a rookie police officer who, along with your twin sibling Akira, joins a special division of the Ark police known as Neuron with the goal of suppressing the Chimeras. Your secret weapon is the Legions, Chimeras that have been captured, tamed, and chained to special officers. It all comes together kind of like an early 2000s anime (which makes sense, considering several story beats are cribbed from Neon Genesis Evangelion); it’s incredibly cheesy and over-dramatic, but in a fun, popcorn-y way.
On their own, your officer has a baton that can switch between quick attacks, heavy attacks, and ranged attacks. You only have one attack button and a dodge. You may seem under-equipped, but that’s only until your Legions come into the picture. You gain control over five different Legion types over the course of the game, each helping you in different ways. The Sword Legion is a balanced melee combatant, Arrow is a ranged fighter, Arm is slow and powerful (and throw awesome punch barrages), Beast can chain together fierce combos, and Axe has a long, wide attack range. Your Legions fights independently of you, but by yanking the chain connecting you to it, you can move it around, command it to perform special actions, and have it carry you over gaps. It’s a little on the chaotic side at first, but once you get your head around controlling your character and your Legion at the same time, it becomes almost rhythmic, fast-swapping between Legion types as the situation demands and strategically entering and retreating from the heat of things.
When you’re not having punch-ups with extra-dimensional horrors, you still have to be a normal detective. In the downtime of your cases, you can do rounds around the city, helping citizens with problems big and small. While you’re on the beat, you’ll gather clues toward the case, and occasionally, whoever’s tagging along with you will quiz you on the details of the case. It’s not a huge deal if you get the quiz wrong, but you’ll get a better rank if you get them right.
Speaking of ranks, this game’s ranking system is a little weird compared to other Platinum games. Rather than just time, health, and combos, your rank depends more on variety. Using all of your Legions and lots of different techniques in combat will earn you more points toward a higher rank. There were several times where I thought I completely botched an encounter only to end up with an S+ ranking because I mixed it up a lot. Granted, I’m not complaining about easy ranks, but I know that might bother some people.
Some of the chapters drag a bit in places; sometimes you’re either in downtime for a little longer than ideal, or you go numerous combat encounters in a row without a break. Those two modes are plenty of fun, I’d just prefer more frequent moments to return to base, switch out my costume, talk to everyone, listen to the awesome HQ music, and so forth.
Astral Chain is definitely a departure from Platinum’s usual fare, but for the most part, it’s welcome changes. The story’s chock full of that usual Platinum flare, the combat is easy to get into with a good amount of hidden depth, and there’s plenty of replayability and bonus doodads to find after you beat the game. Honestly, this game had me from the moment I could wear my Arm Legion like armor and do rush punches. It’s so satisfying.
Thumbs up! Play it!