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Review

Astral Chain Review - Anime Police Academy

  • First Released Aug 30, 2019
    released
  • Reviewed Aug 26, 2019
  • NS

There's nothing quite like the look and feel of Astral Chain.

GameSpot may get a commission from retail offers.

Seeing Astral Chain in motion may be what catches your eye, but the graceful execution of attacks is something you have to experience for yourself. Astral Chain delivers gratifying, kinetic, and inventive combat that goes beyond genre conventions--and it retains that excitement from start to finish. Couple that with an attractive art style brought to life through fluid animation and cinematic-style cuts in battle and you have yet another standout action experience from developer Platinum Games.

As an elite cop on the Neuron special task force, it's your job to investigate the ever-growing presence of the otherworldly Chimera that threaten the world. Catastrophic incidents are abound as Chimera spill in from an alternate dimension, the astral plane, but of course there's more to the phenomenon than meets the eye. To get to the bottom of it all, you simultaneously control both your player-character and a Legion, a separate entity with its own attacks and abilities--think of it as a Stand from JoJo's Bizarre Adventure. This dynamic is at the heart of Astral Chain's combat.

Astral Chain's sense of style bursts at the seams with each battle.
Astral Chain's sense of style bursts at the seams with each battle.
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It takes time to get the hang of it, but once you do, working in tandem with a roster of Legions feels seamless. You earn Legions over time, accruing a total of five, and each one offers their own set of skills and cooldown attacks to upgrade via a skill tree. While they can be sent into the fray to perform auto-attacks, swapping between them effectively to juggle specific abilities creates the satisfaction of tearing down the monstrous Chimeras.

Initially, there are so many variables at play that it can be daunting. You have chain binds to lock enemies down for a few seconds, timing-based sync attacks that unleash devastating blows, and showstopping sync finishers that top off the wild spectacle (and replenish your health to boot). You can even get creative with combos, like utilizing the AOE stun, gravity pull, and crash bomb--all from different Legions--to concentrate a ton of damage on. Even an unchained combo lets you briefly unleash two Legions at once. And if that already seems like a lot to handle, you'll also have to consider executing special attacks from directional inputs when it's best to use them.

When you dig deeper into Astral Chain's systems, you see some of its lineage--particularly the chip system of Nier: Automata, the game which Astral Chain director Takahisa Taura was lead designer on. That system manifests as Ability Codes that you equip on each of your Legions to grant them specific buffs and perks, which can significantly change how they function.

Astral Chain isn't about running head-first into fights against monsters that seek to destroy you, though. You have to be smart about positioning, dodging, and the limited energy of your Legion. Enemies are more than just fodder; they can overwhelm you with sheer numbers, size, or speed. Some may require you to meet certain conditions to defeat them, forcing you to use non-combat abilities in the midst of the chaos. And bosses come at you with unforgiving attacks that'll test your skill as much as your patience.

You have options for creating your own cool anime cop, it's too bad they never really talk.
You have options for creating your own cool anime cop, it's too bad they never really talk.
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With a multitude of factors and challenges at play, combat places much more emphasis on devising the right tactics for the right situation. Astral Chain provides a tremendous box of tools that are effective in their own right and an absolute joy to use.

If there's a fault gameplay-wise, it's that movement can sometimes feel imprecise--don't expect the same buttery smoothness of Bayonetta. For example, the Beast Legion's mount mode winds up in an unpredictable direction, and the pistol combo forces you to flip backward. It may result in falling off ledges or unintentionally getting in harm's way. Thankfully, it's an occasional frustration that doesn't detract from the core experience.

Astral Chain delivers gratifying, kinetic, and inventive combat that goes beyond genre conventions--and it retains that excitement from start to finish.

If you watch gameplay carefully, you quickly see how slow-motion, camera cuts, and subtle audio-visual cues in combat serve to signify opportune times to make your move. These flourishes are also how the game cements its bold sense of style. Popular manga artist Masakazu Katsura lent his hand to lead the character designs, resulting in some of the best-looking anime cops around. And when your bombastic actions in battle are matched by visually-striking momentum and tenacity, it delivers a unique thrill that makes Astral Chain special to see in motion.

Further complementing the game's grand spectacle is its soundtrack. The groovy house tune heard in the police headquarters is infectious and the somber guitar melody at the stray cat safehouse hits like a reprieve from the chaos that envelops the world. Tense instrumentals and hard-hitting rock remixes of songs seamlessly bounce between one another during some combat missions. Unrelenting metal tracks propel boss battles and an ethereal Nier-like theme plays in the astral plane. Sprinkle in some J-rock worthy of an anime OP and Astral Chain rounds out the musical spectrum to great effect.

Astral Chain isn't just about flashiness and stylish action, though. You're given room to breathe between combat scenarios that comprise its chapters (or Files, as they're called). Structurally, it's somewhere between the traditional open world of Nier: Automata and segmented stages of Bayonetta--chapters funnel you through hub areas where you're free to take part in side missions or explore for optional activities. Not everything is laid out on your map, so it takes some detective work to unveil all the hidden content.

Astral Chain's shortcomings don't overshadow what it does best. It's an incredible execution of a fresh take on Platinum Games' foundation, standing among the stylish-action greats.

Investigation scenarios are peppered within the main missions, where you analyze the environment and talk to locals to solve the mysteries at hand. Piecing the clues together properly awards you with a top rank, and it's no sweat if you get things wrong. You'll often jump into segments of the astral plane, which feature the more intense fights, and these areas incorporate light puzzle/platforming elements that ask you to use Legion powers in different ways.

The activities you undertake outside of combat aren't exactly groundbreaking, but they provide enjoyable ways to engage with Astral Chain's vivid world. It's a welcome variety that also helps the pacing from chapter to chapter. Astral Chain never sits on one particular element for too long; it knows when to move on.

Investigation is just one way Astral Chain breaks up the pace.
Investigation is just one way Astral Chain breaks up the pace.
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Now, style doesn't always equal substance. The overarching plot touches on the conventions of evil authority figures who abuse the power of science for their own agendas, and it also relates to the nature of how you're able to wield the power of Legions, which are tamed Chimera. However, these themes are hardly explored. Rather, Astral Chain relies on cliches within its story and exposition. As a result, the more pivotal moments feel a bit less consequential. While some anime-esque tropes are just plain fun to see play out, others are borderline nonsensical even in context.

While you choose to play as a customized male or female cop on a special task force, your sibling--who's on the same team--becomes the narrative focal point with fully voiced dialogue. Your own character is relegated to being an awkward silent protagonist. It's disappointing because Astral Chain has so much stylistic potential to build from in order to give its lead character a distinct attitude. I can't help but see it as a missed opportunity, especially when both characters are voiced when they're your partner. In the end, the narrative presents stakes that are just high enough that you'll want to see it to the end, and, thankfully, every other part of the game remains outstanding.

Astral Chain's shortcomings don't overshadow what it does best. It's an incredible execution of a fresh take on Platinum Games' foundation, standing among the stylish-action greats. And its own anime-inspired swagger makes fights all the more exhilarating. You'll come to appreciate the calmer moments in between that add variety and offer a second to relax before jumping back into the superb combat. After 40 hours with Astral Chain, I'm still eager to take on the tougher challenges, and I'll be grinning from ear to ear as I hit all the right moves, one after the other, while watching it all unfold.

Back To Top
The Good
Inventive, gratifying combat system that gives you so many fun tools to work with
Variety and pacing through the lengthy campaign keeps things fresh from start to finish
Slick manga/anime-inspired presentation comes to life in motion with unrelenting style
Great music that sets the tone with groovy house beats to hard-hitting rock tracks
The Bad
Movement can sometimes be imprecise and cause occasional frustrations
Some cliches bring down the story
8
Great
About GameSpot's Reviews

About the Author

Michael had a big ol' smile on his face throughout Astral Chain's beautifully chaotic fights and enjoyed the moments of levity in between. He spent a total of 40 hours with the game, which encompassed a full playthrough on Platinum Standard difficulty, several hours digging through optional side content, and replaying missions on the hardest difficulty. He's now dreaming of a new Nier: Automata with Astral Chain's combat. Review code was provided by Nintendo.
48 Comments  RefreshSorted By 
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Avatar image for Gelugon_baat
Gelugon_baat

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Wait a minute. The minions are called "Legions".

Is one of the developers someone who worked on Chaos Legion? You have minions called the "Legion" too.

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Gelugon_baat

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By the way, the game won't let the player character waltz into toilets for the opposite gender. Even Japanese game-makers have limits.

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wespunk

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I don’t care about the score that anyone gives about Astral Chain I love the fighting scenes are just mad and fun but challenging in their own way and you can tool around with the actions to work anyway you want just a fun game in any way

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DEVILTAZ35

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Edited By DEVILTAZ35

Thank goodness there is this game to play instead of Monsterhunter 1.5 Rehash edition.

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cetaepsilon

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This is truly the cyberpunk fix I needed.

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Sound_Demon

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Nintendo acquires IP partnership = Makes Astral chain

EA buys Bioware = Makes Anthem

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Oemenia

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Take away the Nintendo bump and its a 6.

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fraga500

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@Oemenia: no it's not.

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aross2004

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@Oemenia: Take away the wacky conspiracy theory and it's an 8.

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Dualmask

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Good game is good, score is irrelevant. I can't wait to add this to my library.

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02050muh

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Edited By 02050muh

I was excited until i saw its a Switch exclusive. Meh~

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Sound_Demon

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@02050muh: This game was always marketed as a Switch exclusive...

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02050muh

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@Sound_Demon: didn't know anything about this game before this review. I must lived inside a cave LOL

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DEVILTAZ35

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Edited By DEVILTAZ35

@02050muh: The Switch has most of the best games right now. With this and the soon to be released Daemon Ex Machina you might want to look at getting one :)

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psuedospike

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Some cliches bring down the story...uhh, wuts a CLITCHES!? XD

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Gelugon_baat

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Ah... the player character in the screenshots happen to be the result of an attempt at making Chie from Persona 4, isn't she?

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If_master_1

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So are you telling me that this game

is off the chain?

Millenials: What the hell does that mean?

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dzimm

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@if_master_1: No, it's on the chain. Didn't you watch the gameplay video?

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JudahXII

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@if_master_1 nah I was born in 91 and we was still saying this until the early 2000's.

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saltymemesoup

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@judahxii: Shhhhhhh....boomers like to feel unique.

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dzimm

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Review reads like a 10... gives it an 8... um...

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Ultramarinus

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@dzimm: Any Nintendo 10 on Gamespot is an auto 8 in reality anyway. It's called the Nintendo bias.

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nintendoboy16

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@Ultramarinus: *puts on tinfoil hat, sings "Foil" by Weird Al*

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bobbo888

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@Ultramarinus: except mario and zelda both got 10s

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Ultramarinus

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@bobbo888: Yeah, I mean they're 8s in RL.

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Sound_Demon

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@Ultramarinus: You must have dementia if you think BotW is 8 'IRL'.

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PlaystationZone

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Be getting it for sure for switch so

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TJDMHEM

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@playstationzone: me too!

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boardsport311

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Man Nintendo is killing it.

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TxuZai

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Edited By TxuZai

@boardsport311: Yeah that's 5 good games.

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Midna

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YES!! Another gem from Platinum Games!!

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santinegrete

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Keep getting games to justify the Switch acquisition, good job. I'm rooting for the next Metroid game.

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Toxic_Avengah

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yeah everyone has it 9 or above but not the edgy Gamespot. ….

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bobbo888

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@toxic_avengah: everyone meaning IGN? IGN gives every game a higher than average score.

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aross2004

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@toxic_avengah: Just stop with that nonsense. Plenty of sites have given the game an 8 as well.

And if you think that GS giving the game an 8 instead of a 9 means they are trying to be edgy, then you're just ridiculous.

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Brandsome

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@toxic_avengah: There's a bunch of reviews in the 80s, what are you talking about? lol

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bgres077

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Astral Chain is getting high marks all across the industry. Will be looking to pick this game up in the near future.

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proceeder

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Good job Mike.

I hate silent protags.

It's 2019. Geralt could speak, so should every other protag.

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dzimm

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@proceeder: It's an artistic decision. I don't mind silent protagonists in video games because they rarely sound the way I think they should sound, and I like it when the developer allows me to fill in the blanks with my imagination.

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Edited By proceeder

@dzimm: Look, man, I didn't wanna start this conversation, you did.

But, I strongly disagree with calling any videogame an art.

Every videogame has artistic aspects, e.g., character design and music, sure. But, games restrain the author in that they cannot direct nor act freely due to the existence of the gameplay mechanics. That part is the audiences' role.

Yet, the audience is not creatively involved, either, since their interaction with the game is limited in its means and possibilities.

Not to mention the technical requirements of making a videogame, which is a purely technical and scientific craft or, the marketing and financing of a videogame which is business and management related.

Now, if we were to put all that aside and assume that it was an artistic decision, then the question becomes: how is it justified? Is there a narrative reason for the existence of a silent protagonist? Are they unable to speak as a character or, do they speak without us hearing their words? What message are they trying to get across? How does being silent help relay that message? Is there no justification and the absurdity of this silence the message itself?

And, if the answer to all the above questions is, the game director thought this was better, then, it's not a very good or "artistic" answer. Don't ask me, ask a movie critic, a renowned director or actor. Ask an art major who's worth a dang, not me.

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dzimm

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@proceeder: "I strongly disagree with calling any videogame an art."

I never called video games "an art", I said that whether or not the protagonist of a game is voice acted is an artistic decision. You ask, "How is it justified?" to which I will answer, Who says it has to be?

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xantufrog

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xantufrog  Moderator  Online

@proceeder: I disagree. Often I don't love the voice acting - sometimes their delivery flat out sucks, but even when it doesn't it's not unusual that the voice doesn't match what I imagined. It also adds to the production cost and time, which can get passed on to us. I'd rather voice acting is saved for when the devs are 1) confident in it and 2) think it's important to their vision

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proceeder

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Edited By proceeder

@xantufrog: Lemme get this straight.

You guys've heard a couple of voice acting mistakes so, you'd like everyone to shut up like it's a JRPG on SNES?!

C'mon!

It's like saying I've played Left Alive so; I wanna stop playing videogames altogether.

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Edited By xantufrog  Moderator  Online

@proceeder: that's not what I said at all. Chill out man - I literally said voice acting is fine, but I don't agree that it should be "required" simply because it's 2019 or some shit. It should happen if the devs want it and/or think they can do a good job. What's controversial, to me, is some hard fast rule like "it should always be X because technology reasons"

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proceeder

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@xantufrog: I'd understand if they didn't have the budget to hire a voice actor, but, that''s not the case here since, the other sibling talks (as far as I know the protag is not vocally impaired either).

As for the technology, it's been here since at least ME. It's not exactly cutting edge.

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twztid13

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@proceeder: see I disagree. I'd rather them be silent than ruin my experience with bad voice acting etc. With the NPCs it's not a big deal, but in a game where I need to like the person I'm playing as, or even relate to in some games, I'd rather them take the safe road & be silent (tho here it was most likely the least expensive road, not the safe one).

Astral Chain More Info

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  • First Released Aug 30, 2019
    released
    • Nintendo Switch
    The Ark: A massive, prosperous, multicultural city. But disaster strikes when mysterious dimensional gates appear, bringing dangerous alien creatures to the Ark to attack the people and corrupt the land. The Ark police form a special task force, known as Neuron, to face the alien threat head-on.
    9
    Average Rating8 Rating(s)
    Please Sign In to rate Astral Chain
    Developed by:
    PlatinumGames
    Published by:
    Nintendo, Platinum Games
    Genre(s):
    Action, Adventure
    Content is generally suitable for ages 13 and up. May contain violence, suggestive themes, crude humor, minimal blood, simulated gambling and/or infrequent use of strong language.
    Teen
    Drug Reference, Language, Use of Alcohol, Violence