This year PlatinumGames, known for its work in the action genre, released a new property, Astral Chain. This title is far more than just another game that fits within the company’s portfolio, but revolutionary to the genre thanks in part to the inclusion of integrated AI companions, Legions. Astral Chain is filled with side quests, customization, and teamwork-based gameplay that works perfectly in single player.
The Legions will follow on their leash and attack autonomously, but at any given moment the player can control their movement and interact with the environment. Each Legion specializes in some aspect of engaging with the world. For instance, the Sword Legion is the only one that can cure people of an infection called Red Shift. Another example is the Beast Legion that can dig through debris, track scents and noise, and be ridden like a war animal. The ability to work with the Legions in ways beyond combat is a great way to create a bond with them and expand what might otherwise be considered just another action game into something more.
The main character controls the Legions using a tool called the Legatus, allowing them to tame what is essentially a wild monster. The gameplay makes the Legion feel like a companion to, or—better yet—a neurological extension of, the player. At any moment, the player can control or call in for an assist, but when not being micromanaged the Legions automatically help in combat or stay by the player’s side ready to act or in some cases be a shield. In combat, the player does not have to worry about attacking for the Legion because they are self-reliant, but they can become major assets in powerful tag-team attacks that reward perfect dodges or successful combos.
The main character uses their Legion to interact with the world and get to normally unattainable spots. For instance, the player can not jump, but a Legion can help by floating across gaps then pulling the character over or around corners that have a pole. Furthermore, Legions can open up new areas of the map by using abilities such as destroying walls, moving large objects, or shooting switches. These sound like different skills that can be obtained in a typical Metroidvania, yet do not feel tied to the growth of the character but instead the party with which they work. The Legions function as autonomous teammates capable of assisting the player through unnatural powers. PlatinumGames has provided many opportunities for the Legions to flex their abilities, expanding the level design through secrets and puzzles and giving players ways to interact with the world or collect items
Indeed, Astral Chain harkens back to the old-school 3D platformers with the number of collectibles to be found, except gamers will need the help of the Legions to get them all. Each area is filled with collectibles, especially the Red Matter that only Legions can pick up because they both come from the Astral Plane. Other wacky collectibles to note are different kinds of toilet paper that can be given to the toilet fairy at HQ or stray cats that must be protected from aggressive NPCs.
As a detective at Neuron, the player will get key words that fill a mission notebook with clues to help with quests. None of these would be as interesting without the work and thought process that players need to get to each item. Many items are hidden around corners or need to be accessed from different angles, some of which the player will not even be able to locate without using the Legions to eavesdrop on a conversation.
Astral Chain is much more than just another new action game but an advancement in the genre, showing a way to control multiple characters intuitively without taking away from the gameplay. In a year where a new Devil May Cry showcased the best combat in the series, other action games really needed to set themselves apart from the competition, and PlatinumGames did that in great strides. The Legions not only help combat but add many layers of depth to the game and interaction seldom seen in the genre, paving the way for a whole new standard in controls and interaction using two characters.