Challenging players by pushing boundaries of action adventure

Game Name: Astral Chain
Platform: Nintendo Switch
Genre: Action adventure
Publisher: Nintendo
Developer: PlatinumGames
Rating: T, for teen

By Gieson Cacho // The Mercury News (TNS)

PlatinumGames’ Astral Chain takes place after an asteroid has struck Earth. The disaster doused the planet with toxic Red Matter and opened a rift to the astral realm. Creatures called chimera poured out of these gates attacked people while spreading their corruption. Humanity built a refuge called the Ark and developed weapons called Legions to fight the chimera. Using the astral chain, people have managed to subjugate chimeras and use the creatures to their benefit.

Players take on the role of a twin who has the affinity to control a Legion. They find themselves joining a special police force called Neuron and digging deeper into the nature of the chimera and the Legions. Through Astral Chain’s 12 case files, they uncover secrets through a narrative that’s fairly predictable but still enthralling.

Part of the reason for that is PlatinumGames leverages the police theme, allowing it to shape the compelling mission design. Each level is broken up into a phase where the protagonist investigates a case. That means she talks to witnesses and gathers information. Along the way, players may also do side missions, many of which are on the amusing side.

As players re-create crime scenes through the augmented reality technology of the IRIS system, they see a clearer picture of the incident. Once all the information is recovered, a partner quizzes players on the information, and that leads to a break in the case and the second phase — the action.

Astral Chain shows off a fresh approach to combat. The protagonist has one attack button and a dodge. Players can transform their X-baton into a gun, baton or sword. Astral Chain upends the genre by giving players the ability to control the Legion.

Controlling two characters is similar to learning to play the piano with your offhand. Players constantly have to monitor how the two characters dance across the scene. They have to learn how to coordinate their movements for maximum impact in battles.

The Legion is vital because it allows players to deliver stronger blows and ensnare enemies by looping around them. The latter move is how they can control crowds of enemies. Although Legions are powerful, they aren’t invincible. They have a stamina meter that depletes over time and players have to shift them in and out of battle based on their energy levels.

Each Legion also has an ability that helps traversal or unlocks new paths in each level. This creates a puzzle-like element to the design of each stage as players try to figure out how to reach an out-of-the-way treasure chest or secret path.

Astral Chain will make players uncomfortable as they confront unfamiliar gameplay. It’s awkward at first and can be frustrating, but that’s a small sacrifice to pay for something truly novel, and just like playing an instrument, mastering the game’s unusual systems is extremely rewarding. When done right, the project is a refreshing change from all the sequels on the market and shows there’s still much to explore in the medium.