Astral Chain is a flashy action game, the sort that PlatinumGames is known for. It requires you to be smart about your combos, know when to switch between Legions to handle different sorts of enemies and situations, and keep up with leveling and maintenance to ensure you are prepared for every case file. But, there’s another thing Astral Chain is, and that is the sort of game that creates a world that doesn’t just send you from mission to mission, going through a specific area to complete a task. Rather, each case file can feel like you are taking part in a living world.
There are distinct phases in Astral Chain. When you are in Neuron’s area in the police station, you are in a hub where you can talk with other officers and members of the force, customize your avatar and Legions, upgrade equipment, and prepare yourself. When a new case presents itself, you head out to take on the assignment. Except, these case files don’t mean you are just going through an area where you don’t loiter and only participate in the battling elements of the mission. Every one of them takes you to a part of The Ark. While your first case is a tutorial that involves a motorcycle ride, takes you through basic actions, and teaches you how to fight, the others place you in microcosms. The third involves Maison Forest, where you’ll be in an area where people live and kids play. Another takes you to a commercial district filled with restaurants and a closed mall.
It’s this construction that makes Astral Chain so engaging. When you come to an area for a case, you aren’t jumping right into fighting Chimera or facing criminals. First, you need to investigate. This means talking to people in the area, using your IRIS computer system and Legions to look around the area, gathering keywords that act as clues about what is going on, and generally piecing things together. But, it isn’t just the primary case that’s going on. As a police officer, other issues will come to your attention. There may be a vandal painting graffiti everywhere, and you have to catch them too. Another officer might be pursuing a suspect, give you a description of what they’re wearing, and you’ll help catch that criminal. Maybe you’ll help someone catch their cat by distracting it with a can, then catching it. It’s these little incidentals that make the world feel alive.
Speaking of cats, they’re one of many incidental activities that have absolutely nothing to do with police work, but still give you something to do while you’re making The Ark a safer place. When going through each case, even the tutorial, there will be bathrooms you can visit, cats you can catch, and secrets you can only see after returning to that completed segment with Legions you acquired after originally visiting it. Going to bathrooms gets you new materials for the toilet fairy at Neuron headquarters to use when “blessing” the toilets there. Cats can be rescued by luring them with food or using Legions to reach them. Getting both gives you rewards in Orders, which can make surviving and performing at the top of your game even easier.
Then, there are the Astral Chain elements there to help increase the ambiance by providing a little more personality. Marie, aka Lappy, is a delightful morale booster. From her tutorial mission where she shows you around the station with some surprise appearances to the Lappy Balloon minigame, she helps provide more personality and an incentive to offer valuable “feedback.” There are also Vendor-3s. These are the vending machines with drinks that provide positive boost. But, each Ven also has its own personality. The one in Neuron headquarters is a standard, chipper model. However, the ones on missions are a bit different. The Maison Forest Ven is a tsundere, while the one in the Harmony Square mall is very proper and respectful. Even if you don’t need something to provide a boost to your officer, it makes you want to check in with each Vendor-3 to see what they are like. Not to mention you get a camera, complete with more orders rewards for taking pictures of people, certain places, and enemies.
All of this means that Astral Chain is a game that practically begs people to explore it. There are so many things here to see and do. Even if you do take your time during a case and do as much as you can the first time around, there could be cats you can’t reach without a different Legion or something else you miss due to being distracted or not having access to a feature like the camera. There’s a lot to unpack, and it helps make the game feel richer and fuller as a result.
Astral Chain is available for the Nintendo Switch.