Platinum Games can make cool games. It has always proved it: from Madworld in 2009 to the recent Nier: Automata, the Osaka-based developer has constantly honed his passion and mastery for action, a genre of which he has constantly been able to redefine the boundaries. However, there is a constant that is taught in every Game Design school: don't create something just because you think it's cool. Ideas that may seem sensational in the imagination often prove complex and unachievable during development, resulting in wasted budget and time. Despite this, Takahisa Taura (director of the title) in spite of the game design schools, has created a game that has made being cool the mantra of his creation: this is Astral Chain, the new exclusive Nintendo Switch from Platinum Games.
In the streets of the Ark
Development of Astral Chain began following the cancellation of Scalebound, Microsoft exclusive, in January 2017. The fantasy title based on dragons proposed an interesting duality between the protagonist and his flying companion, capable of creating gameplay situations that unfortunately we could only dream of. However, the idea of the double character to control has not been wasted: the heart of Astral Chain is totally based on this mechanic. In a land of the future torn apart by the hostile invasion of interdimensional beings called Chimeras, the police division called Neuron has taken control of some tame Chimeras, called Legions. Our protagonist, chosen between two twins of the opposite sex, has a particular affinity with these creatures and it will therefore be up to him to fight the enemy. The plot of Astral Chain is certainly not among the best ever seen, yet he manages to remain quite interesting especially in the second half, without ever touching the heights of psychological introspection of Nier: Automata, where the narrative intervention of Yoko Taro was definitely felt. A strong point of the production, however, are the characters: well characterized, both aesthetically and narratively, they know how to give decidedly funny and interesting moments. A great deal of work has also been done on the world-building of the title: chat with passers-by, observe environmental details, or read the countless pages of the police database returns overall a well thought-out futuristic cyberpunk imagery.
The Platinum Games museum
Astral Chain is a strange beast: a hybrid between action game with investigative, puzzle and exploration sections, hitherto almost unknown in the Platinum Games portfolio. This variety of his allows him a dynamism of situations and rhythm that makes all the hours (realistically between twenty and twenty-five) that accumulate to reach the end extremely enjoyable. Playing Astral Chain is almost like walking into a museum of its developer's history: the roots of the engine and controls clearly reside in Nier: Automata (to the point that, without having direct evidence, I am quite certain that there has been a minimum of asset recycling); the combat has a more tactical than technical flavor, more from Okami (the work of the then Clover Studio, the birthplace of Platinum Games) and The Wonderful 101 rather than from Bayonetta; some maneuvers, however, recall those of the witch of Umbra as well as those of Raiden of Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance. The investigative sections are new material for Platinum Games and although they are quite simple and often ends in themselves, they manage to put the player in the role of the neighborhood policeman quite effectively. Far more interesting are some environmental and exploratory puzzles that are encountered in the progression in the levels: these are mini-sanboxes in which you advance towards main and secondary missions in a fairly free way. Concluded a level you go directly to the next, but the previous ones remain replayable to chase the classic rank of Platinum Games titles. Thanks to this feature, Astral Chain is an easily replayable title, although it can become tedious to go through all the exploratory and investigative sections for a second time, as they do not propose alternative deals. Precisely this lack is what most undermines the credibility of the detective phase of the game: the feeling that is constantly perceived is that solving cases or not is totally irrelevant to the continuation of the narrative or gameplay. These sections are still quite interesting, given that they effectively employ the duality of control of the protagonist and his Legions with always new and fresh ideas that are presented progressively in the levels. If all of this wasn't enough, the game also has an RPG-like growth system both of the character (only as a weapon enhancement) and of the Legion, modifiable in appearance and skills that they learn progressively with assignable skill points.
A more reasoned fight
Given Platinum Games' pedigree, it's not surprising that combat is Astral Chain's greatest asset. Forget the endless and intricate combos of Bayonetta 2: Astral Chain uses key sequences that are much simpler and easier to learn, which however must be wisely ordered, combined and operated at the right time. As mentioned, the combat is based on the use of the Legion, a creature that can be recalled at any time that helps the protagonist. In fact, in Astral Chain you control two characters at the same time, and while this may only sound cool on paper, it is also cool in fact. The control system is in fact studied to perfection and allows for the possibility of movement in absolutely exciting scenarios, without too much confusion. There are five Legions that are totally different from each other in combat use. From the archer to the swordsman, from the fighting hound to the hitter with boxing gloves, the actions that can be exercised by the Legions are very reminiscent of the peculiarities of the heroes of the never too much appreciated The Wonderful 101. Deploying a Legion or another is not, however, a choice of personal preference: some are totally ineffective against certain Chimeras, which can instead be defeated by alternating their allies. The enemies of Astral Chain are varied, shrewd and able to attack in groups, making some game situations indeed too chaotic, also due to a camera and targeting system that is often ineffective. However, this is the only criticism of the combat system. For the rest, everything runs wonderfully thanks to adrenal moments and well-designed bosses both aesthetically and in behavior.
We do it because it's cool
Astral Chain begins with an extremely adrenalized section, which has little to do with the rest of the gameplay of the title: a motorcycle chase sequence followed by an intro that is a real Japanese anime theme song (complete with a tamarra song, credits and spoilers). In the game you can find lost cats on the street, take on the role of a giant mascot dog that cheers up the cops, collect litter, go to the toilet, treat sick people on the street and witness the classic oddities that games with a strong Japanese identity have us. always used to. This is because, as mentioned at the beginning, Taura's team never stopped in front of the fear of ruining the balance of the game, so delicately hanging between the serious theme of the war for the Earth and the absurdity of the situations of a police station made up of excited young people. The game therefore breathes an air of shonen anime, on the one hand eager to tell its story, on the other capable of making people smile and have fun in a light-hearted and exaggerated way.
I played Astral Chain for about twenty-five hours, proceeding fairly calmly and trying to complete most of the side assignments. Although the resolution in docked mode is not very high, I preferred to play it like this, given the added convenience of the Switch Pro Controller, especially useful in the more complex fights that occur towards the end of the game.Duration
- Proceeding quickly you can complete the campaign in 15 hours but without doing anything secondary. Realistically it will take between twenty and twenty five hours.
- All chapters can be replayed at any time to achieve higher scores or to maximize the abilities of each Legion. To do this, in addition to completing each side mission, expect at least forty hours of gameplay.
- The game features a linear progression divided into chapters called Files. Each File has main missions (red) and side missions (blue).
- In the game there is a cooperative multiplayer mode in which the two players respectively control the protagonist and the Legion. This can also be faced only with the two Joycons of Nintendo Switch, but it is rather chaotic and hardly preferable to the regular single player mode.
- The game has a rich encyclopedic database in which during the progression you unlock new chapters to read related to lore and characters. The encyclopedia is also enriched by photographing the elements of the scenario, a bit like it happens in The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild.
- Astral Chain has some pretty bizarre collectibles like, without spoiling too much, kittens for you to find on the street and heal.
- The game has a total of four difficulty levels: Simple, Normal, PT Standard (the level I played the title at) and PT Ultimate. The latter is unlocked only after the adventure is over. The difficulty level can be changed at any time but restarts the level.
- Personally, I found the difficulty level (set to PT Standard, the third of four) tending to be lower than that of other Platinum Games.
- The main character and the Legions are visually customizable with colors, costumes and other features.
- Game Name: Astral Chain
- Release date: August 30 2019
- Platforms: Nintendo Switch
- Dubbing language: English, Japanese
- Texts language: Italian
The best you can see on Switch
In artistic and technical terms, Astral Chain is among the best titles in the Nintendo Switch catalog. The linearity of the title has allowed the technicians and artists of Platinum Games to reach almost unprecedented heights of effects and lighting on the console, and the visual style chosen could only further enhance the characteristics of the game. The meticulously modeled cyberpunk setting is covered with shiny and wet-looking shaders and textures, constantly reflecting and illuminated by neon, explosions and particles created by the almost ethereal beings of the title. The character design, although subject to personal tastes, is of an excellent level and was created by the mangaka Masakatsu Katsura (author, among others, of Video Girl Ai). The production value of the title is absolutely skyrocketing for the Nintendo console, with an abundance of well-directed footage, dubbed dialogue (in English or Japanese) and an exceptional quantity and quality of animations. The title looks like a real pearl in handheld, while in docked mode it collides with an obvious resolution limit, which certainly sits below Full-HD, making the image rather blurry. Nothing dramatic, but the artistic style in this case is marginally undermined by the technical limitations of the console. Limits that are also revealed in the frame-rate of the title which, although stable in 99% of cases, does not exceed 30 FPS. These considerations inevitably lead us to think that, without wanting to unleash console war and pretending to forget that the title was published and financed by Nintendo, its exceptional art style would have enjoyed greater glorification on other consoles at higher resolutions and frame-rates. tall. On the other hand, the care shown by Platinum Games for the portable mode of the game is to be commended: the interface is perfectly designed, with clear and legible characters. It is also completely customizable, as well as the controls, in an unrelated way between portable and docked: something practically never seen even in first party titles. The last words are for sound design: the soundtrack is composed by Satoshi Igarashi (former author of that of the Bayonetta series) and, although not memorable, it effectively accompanies the action with themes ranging from sung rock to instrumental orchestral music to electronic ambient pieces in the quietest moments. The sound effects are also good, of which I would like to mention as very particular and evocative the sounds produced by the electronic equipment of the Neuron headquarters, which make them seem as though they have personality. On the other hand, a demerit for lip sync of the English dubbing, practically never well implemented.
In short, Astral Chain is an unmissable title, which cements the already solid collaboration relationship between Nintendo and Platinum Games. The small criticisms that have emerged do not in any way undermine the overall quality of a game that all fans of action games absolutely cannot miss. Nintendo Switch thus wins yet another excellent exclusive in a catalog that is becoming more and more interesting in 2019.
Review by Emanuele Vanossi
Among the best games on Nintendo Switch. An explosive and peculiar artistic style, slightly plagued by the technical limitations of the console. The frame rate is stable, but the resolution hiccups in docked mode. However, it is difficult to ask for more: the game is technically much more advanced than what we are used to seeing on the Nintendo console.
SOUNDTRACK AND DOUBLE ROOM
Hardly to be counted among the best ever, the soundtrack is still pleasant and adrenaline when needed. The sound effects are of an excellent level, underlining the great production qualities of the title. Too bad for a lip synchronicity in English that is absolutely ramshackle.
Varied, exciting and dynamic, the gameplay of Astral Chain is absolutely exceptional and deserves to be included among the best Platinum Games action, that is, among the best action in general. The excellent quality of the combat phases is not matched by that of the investigative and puzzle sections, which are slightly weaker but still manage to dose the pace of the game well.