Astral Chain for Nintendo Switch, from the developers of Platinum Games, puts you in the role of a metaphysical anime cop K-9. thanks to a combination of different ideas in the game: an easy investigation mechanic, a bit of platforming and a combat system that allows you to control two characters at once and gives a new twist to the usual approach.
You play as a member of a special police unit called Neuron in the Astral Chain, and your responsibilities include dealing with the fact that the astral plane spills over into the real world. Monsters come with him, but you have a special trick to fight them: Legion, your own entity of the astral plane that can fight monsters automatically or follow your commands. Your Legion is basically like a sword-bearer that you lead on a leash. Legion attacks hostile creatures on its own, but you can also tell it where to go and what to attack.
Your Legion is basically like a swordsman you lead on a leash
The part of the Astral Chain that we watched began with the case of a missing woman who was apparently attacked by a monster of the astral plane known as the chimera. Moving to a crime scene means walking around Astral Chain, where you’ll find citizens to talk to and shops to buy useful items. Chatting with people can give you information about the history of the game and cases that you will work on as you progress through the game, and like a real cop, you will keep notes of important information that you learn along the way.
Arriving at the crime scene gave a quick glimpse of what Astral Chain’s investigations were like. This case required checking specific locations within the facility where evidence was tagged. We were able to see a reconstruction of the victim lying on the ground after the attack, and took some other information about the event, and in the end we found a place where the energy of the chimera’s astral plane slightly distorted reality. This was the clue we were looking for.
Using your supernatural police dog
When you walk the Astral Chain, your Legion is not always near you, but you can always summon it with a quick press of a button. You can use it to analyze evidence from the astral plane, and when we brought our Legion back to check what happened at the scene of the crime, it was able to detect the astral trail left by the chimera. We now used Legion as a bloodhound, traveling the streets lighting up the trail. Astral Chain soon introduced another use for Legion – it allows you to cross large chasms and jump to distant places.
When you summon Legion, it will float at the end of the spectral leash and follow you, but you can control its movements. The Legion’s location on the far side of the chasm allows you to use it to drag you across the chasm, making it useful for building platforms. You can also direct him to specific locations to activate switches and solve simple puzzles.
Eventually Legion led us to a portal to the astral plane, where the chimera took the woman. Astral Chain is an eerie, oddly geometric and minimal landscape, mostly filled with arenas to fight enemies and locations to use your Legion to solve puzzles. It was here that we first got a taste of combat, which, while sometimes you have to control two characters in the heat of battle, is actually intuitive and easy to pick up.
You only have one attack button in the Astral Chain that you will use when fighting enemies and creating combos. Variety in combat is created by how your weapon can transform smoothly; You wield a high-tech police baton that can change shape depending on the situation. It starts out as a small, fast melee weapon, but it can be switched to a powerful, slow, heavy sword called a gladius, or it can be turned into a pistol. You can switch your weapons on the fly to change your attacks as you punch enemies, and combining multiple attacks creates a combo.
Combat is not so much about performing difficult moves as about timing to tie your attacks to those of your Legion. Put six hits together and you will see a blue symbol appear on your character as time slows down briefly, prompting you to summon your Legion. Do it in time and the creature will take action, adding another hard hit to your attack. You can then perform another strike of your own, which will trigger another Legion hint, and so on. After you’ve dealt enough damage, you can also activate finishing moves with your Legion, which sends your partner to rip at the Chimera’s “core of ability”, restoring your health and increasing the time your Legion can fight by your side.
Your other important ability is fast dodge, which can keep you out of danger, and slipping past incoming attacks at the last second gives you another opportunity to send your Legion to attack. Combat quickly picks up the pace of attacks and dodges, which give you chances of counterattacking as your Legion jumps in and out to expand your combos. When you don’t tell your Legion what to do, it attracts those closest to you without requiring you to control.
The result is the ability to control both characters or just one, depending on the situation. However, you still need to be aware of both characters – your Legion disappears if the timer that starts when you summon it runs out and more time is deducted as damage is taken.
Legion has a few more tricks. The creature is tied to your wrist with its spectral chain, but if you control Legion directly, you can wrap the chain around enemies (including bosses), which briefly block and stun them. And just like your weapon, you can switch between several different versions, for example with a sword or the slower, more cumbersome one. The Legion sword can also be summoned for special moves.
After fighting over small enemies, we defeat the chimera we hunted – a multi-headed dog creature, called, of course, Cerberus. The boss fight looked pretty typical of action games, with the monster preparing for powerful ground-breaking attacks that sent shockwaves outward, or jumping into the air to descend towards us. The skill in combat was to recognize and dodge attacks so that Legion could strike at Cerberus. Particular attention was paid to preventing attacks, as the boss could deal massive damage to both you and your Legion; You must protect yourself and pay attention to where your partner is in order to support both of you and avoid dealing combo damage.
More Astral Police Work
The fight was tough, but overall not overwhelming. Astral Chain’s combat seems relatively straightforward when you first enter it, but the sheer amount of things you can do with your Legion as you get used to the speed and timing of the combat adds a lot of difficulty. The result is a combat system that lets you do a lot of cool things as you get better, but adds complexity in the amount of focus and coordination it requires. Astral Chain wants you to think in two directions at all times, and the skill used in his fights relies on both quick reflexes and timing and keeping track of both characters so you can use them effectively without killing either of them.
The Astral Chain demonstration culminated in defeating the boss and returning the woman safely back to the human world – only to discover that in the meantime, chimeras were starting to appear everywhere, and the astral plane was bleeding out into the real world. There were civilians scattered around the area where the Chimeras appeared, so we were tasked with taking out the enemies – along with a giant sword-wielding boss creature – to save them.
Although the demo was only about 20 minutes long, our glimpse of Astral Chain was enough to show how fast and satisfying his fight could be. It looks like your Legion will be an integral part of the entire experience, which offers a lot of depth to a combat system that’s otherwise simple enough that anyone can pick it up.
The demo was a little more subtle in what the other half of the game will be like as you travel around town talking to other people and solving metaphysical crimes. The investigation in our snippet of the game was rather superficial and simplistic, but the inclusion of the laptop suggests that police work will be a large part of the game and may be more complex than just interacting with certain points on the ground.
Clearly, there are a lot of interesting ideas at work in Astral Chain. Platinum Games’ newest approach to combat changes the usual approach to action games to feel fresh without overwhelming yourself, and its metaphysical setup and two-character mechanics suggest that everything but combat is going to be pretty interesting too. We won’t have to wait long to see how Platinum’s new ideas work together as a whole; Astral Chain is due out of Nintendo Switch on August 30th.