Astral Chain for Nintendo Switch review: A gorgeous, action-packed adventure

Astral Chain
Astral Chain (Image credit: iMore)

People have some seriously strong opinions about Astral Chain, the exclusive Nintendo Switch game that released August 30, 2019. Critically, the game has scored incredibly well, but the reviews have been absolutely polarized among fellow gamers. The majority of the gaming world has left glowing reviews for Astral Chain, while the rest have been giving it the lowest scores possible. So you might be wondering: what's actually going on here? Is this game actually any good?

Here's what's going on. There's been a lot of hype surrounding Astral Chain since it was first announced. This is due to the fact that the game was supervised by the creator of the hit Bayonetta series and directed by Takahisa Taura of Nier: Automata, another great hit. With so many fans drawn to this new franchise, it's hard for the game to live up to everyone's expectations. It seems to me that entirely too many people are either harshly comparing this game to those past hits or blindly fanboying over them instead of appreciating Astral Chain as a new game. I've played Astral Chain for about 24 hours and I can say that it's neither the best game ever made, nor is it a piece of trash.

Astral Chain is a story about a special police division known as Neuron. This group is responsible for stopping the attacks made by chimera - creatures from another dimension. You take control of either a male or female twin and can customize their name and look. The sibling you don't choose is named Akira and is a major part of your story. As a member of Neuron, you take control of a Legion - a chimera that has been captured and leashed. Together you fight invading creatures and stop crimes in your city. The game employs detective work, unique combat attacks, and plenty of quirky side quests to keep you entertained - if not horrified. I won't go so far as to say it's the best game ever made, but I will say that it's a good game that I do recommend. Here's my review of Astral Chain.

The Good

  • Unique combat
  • Beautiful visuals
  • Character customization
  • Replay value
  • Quirky sidequests
  • Awesome soundtrack

The Bad

  • Short storyline
  • Silent protagonist

Astral Chain: What I liked

Astral Chain

Astral Chain (Image credit: iMore)

Before I started playing, I wasn't sure if I'd like controlling a Legion and my main character at the same time. It seemed to me that this could be a frustrating gaming mechanic if it wasn't implemented correctly. Fortunately, PlatinumGames Inc created a combat style that is both imaginative and easy to get used to. Within a few minutes of meeting my first Legion, I was fighting intuitively with both characters. You'll eventually control five different Legions, each with their own weapon and abilities. The Legions automatically attack enemies on their own or you can control them to make specific attacks happen. The main character also has a gun, baton, and Gladius Sword, so you can fight together side-by-side without being completely reliant on the Legion.

I love how switching between each Legion changes up gameplay and makes the game more interesting. The chain between yourself and your Legion gives you some interesting options as well. You can bind enemies by winding the chain around them, or have your Legion yank on the chain to pull the main character onto the same platform the Legion is currently standing on. You can even throw your Legion at flying enemies if they're out of reach or clothesline enemies that come charging between you and your Legion.

The chain between you and your Legion can be used to tie up enemies or pull you onto various platforms.

I absolutely love the music for this game and will probably end up buying the soundtrack. When you're in a safe environment this catchy upbeat techno funk plays, but when a battle commences the music turns to heavy guitar for some adrenaline-pumping action. It really gets me in the mood for combat and helps me feel the grandeur of the game's colossal enemies.

As with any Switch game, this one doesn't have the best graphics out there, but that allows it to focus on art style rather than trying to make everything look real. The anime character designs and cyberpunk world are beautiful to look at. I love exploring new areas and seeing all of the futuristic tech and architecture. Even though this isn't an open-world game, I never feel super confined. The large billboards and signs make me feel like I really am in a vast city and that I might just get lost if I try to navigate it on my own. There is plenty to explore and lots of random side things to do. Like trying to balance an ice cream cone that has 10 scoops on it or helping a kid pull their balloon from a tree.

One of the things that I really like about this game is being able to customize my hair color, hairstyle, eye color, outfit, and gear. You can even change the color of your five Legions to give them a cooler look. I've definitely spent a lot of time picking out the right design for my main character and each of my Legions.

The quirkiness of it all

I mentioned this briefly in a previous article, but I absolutely love the quirkiness of this game. There is random silliness in spades. For instance, each mission or "File" has a hidden bathroom and a cat for you to find. If you use the hidden bathroom, you'll obtain some kind of material that can be used as toilet paper. Back at the police station, there's someone in one of the stalls that's very much in need of various toilet paper materials. You get to be a true hero and give them the supplies they need.

Lappy is an unexpected delight - or should I say horror? I'm honestly not sure if I love the police station mascot or if I'm terrified of him. During a tutorial stretch, Lappy shows you around the station, sneaking up on you unexpectedly, appearing, and disappearing in a blink of an eye. It's almost like this eternally smiling dog has some hidden demonic powers. I loved the stretch when I donned the Lappy costume and was able to fight one of my fellow officers in the training room. Seeing that dog's tail wag as I dodged or got hit upside the head with a sword was absolutely hilarious. And I absolutely love the way Lappy runs. It's ridiculous and silly.

You'll find that many characters in the game love Lappy. Some collect Lappy stuffed animals, others have decals on their laptops or belongings. There's even a Lappy computer game that you can play where you try to hand balloons out to people as they walk past. Another funny thing is, there are plenty of fun easter eggs to find in this game if you go looking. One time I was out on a mission and I let my character idle. Out of nowhere Lappy appeared with a bundle of helium balloons in tow and he ran through the crime scene. I tried to catch up but he disappeared behind some cop cars. I never would have seen that if I'd simply played through the level.

Astral Chain: What I didn't like

Astral Chain

Astral Chain (Image credit: iMore)

Before I started playing, I had already been forewarned that the main character would be a silent protagonist. I don't have anything against silent protagonists, like Byleth or Link, but it really depends on the game for how well this character choice works. In Astral Chain the twin you don't choose get's all the dialogue. I think PlatinumGames Inc was creative in testing this out. But it just really makes it feel like you chose the wrong character. The other twin is more interesting and vocalizes their thoughts for you. It makes you feel like your character is just getting dragged along rather than engaging in the action themselves.

The twin you don't choose get's all the dialogue. This makes it feel like you chose the boring character.

Many people have complained about the frame rate of Astral Chain. Maybe I'm just old, but I wasn't put off by the fps of this game. It is a little slower in handheld mode, but it didn't affect my gameplay. While exploring the world, you are rewarded for good behavior and punished for bad behavior. For example, you'll get extra points if you pick up soda cans and throw them in the trash, but you'll get docked points if you destroy traffic cones. I love how this allows you to find a few different ways to earn extra points if you want to. However, I find it far too easy to accidentally destroy things - especially when I'm running around on the back of my Beast Legion. Getting yelled at by a fellow cop every few minutes and seeing my hard-earned points deplete after I've accidentally run into something is pretty annoying.

But really, the biggest complaint I have about this game is that the main storyline is entirely too short. Granted, I just finished playing Fire Emblem: Three Houses, which allowed me to play over 80 hours on my first playthrough and I intend on going back and playing the game again. Astral Chain's plot, however, is only 12 missions long and after playing 24 hours I've already beat the game. As you gain more Legions, you can go back and redo levels to reach hidden areas that weren't accessible before. However, I don't think the replay value will be as good as it is with some other games.

Astral Chain is a fun action game that explores unique combat mechanics in a new world. It has an interesting plot, beautiful imagery, and offers plenty of customization features for both the main character and your Legions. Though it comes from the creative minds that brought us Bayonetta and Nier: Automata, it's a brand new story with brand new mechanics and should be treated like the new game that it is. If you're upset that this game isn't Bayonetta or Nier: Automata then go replay those games. I love all of the quirky side quests and the random little things you can do while playing. I don't think this game is going to get a game of the year award, but it is a fun playthrough for any gamer.

Rebecca Spear
Gaming Editor

Gaming aficionado Rebecca Spear is iMore's dedicated gaming editor with a focus on Nintendo Switch and iOS gaming. You’ll never catch her without her Switch or her iPad Air handy. If you’ve got a question about Pokémon, The Legend of Zelda, or just about any other Nintendo series check out her guides to help you out. Rebecca has written thousands of articles in the last six years including hundreds of extensive gaming guides, previews, and reviews for both Switch and Apple Arcade. She also loves checking out new gaming accessories like iPhone controllers and has her ear to the ground when it comes to covering the next big trend.