Astral Chain is an enormous game that I set out to review not long ago when I hit an unexpected snag. As I just said, Astral Chain is enormous, and I started off doing some things in relatively sdrawkcab ssa manner. So here I sit, in chapter six of twelve, and it won’t be long till I finish my full review… But until then, this is a list of things I wish I knew before starting Astral Chain as my first big review.
1. It is Episodic, and you can revisit sections as often as you like. This is actually my biggest biggie. You don’t actually NEED to be in full Completionist mode on your first run-through, and if you are, you’re probably going to be progressing at a snail’s pace and not fully enjoying the rather well-written plot. Jirard the Completionist is bound to have a Hell of a time with this monster. A good time, but lengthy. I hope he reads this actually.
2. Evangelion fanservice is everywhere. If you are one of the blessed millions to have enjoyed the Mecha Anime classic Neon Genesis Evangelion, just go ahead and buy this game. It’s not licensed by Gainax, but it may as well be. It’s got a lovely Gendo Ikari Expy in Dr. Calvert, it’s got Humanity on the ropes at the hands of a seemingly unstoppable and mysterious enemy, and you play as one of two characters playing very similar roles to that of Shinji and Rei. There’s even a delightful Violet Eva inspired Color Palette unlockable for your Legions to the sport. The tone is brilliantly reminiscent as well with multiple Eva Homages being strategically scattered throughout the plot. This all being said, I have this on my list because if I HATED Eva, I would have steered clear of this game for sure. I am glad I did not.
3. The first minutes of gameplay does not very well represent the gameplay of later segments. One thing I always try to do is get a blind and unprepared impression of a player trying a game for the first time, and at least in my experiment the first Episode/File of the game was not much of a hook. They felt much more interested however upon seeing the very cool Anime Styled Opening theme playing after the first File is completed. This makes me think it should have been played at the very start of the game rather than fifteen to twenty minutes in. Also, the first bit of gameplay is a vehicle segment followed by a simplified form of the combat system, neither works well to show the depth and intricacy of the combat experience only a few minutes away within the second File. In simpler terms, if you want to try this for yourself or show a friend, definitely go through Files One and Two. Also, the game starts off on Casual, which is in my opinion way too easy for an Action Game veteran, which is problematic as that comprises most of the demographic likely to pick this game up and enjoy it most.
4. Items come in two flavors, Temporary and Permanent. And I for whatever reason COULD NOT GRASP this concept right away. I always saw items thrown away at the end of a File simply because I kept trying to save the Temporary items for imaginary emergencies. There is a Flower-esque icon beside Temporary items, and so you should Register them to your item wheel right away as soon as you start playing and can access the Legatus Menu, which is normally accessed with the – Button instead of the + Button I naturally expect it to be mapped to. I also hope later there will be a Custom Mapping option implemented rather than the handful of existing styles available.
5. Legions can Learn and Grow, but you need to help them do it. Legions don’t just level up with you. They grow through a menu accessed through your Legatus device, which is effectively your pause menu. The Legatus menu includes access to your Map, Item, Options, and Orders menus in addition to your Legion Options. Once you find that, you will see an option to equip Abilities you have picked up and Skills you have unlocked via the Skill Tree. Progressing through the Skill Tree is why you pick up Gene Codes, and you must manually spend them to grow your Legions. I thought this could only be done at designated Legatus Terminals, which let you Clean your Legion for better performance and change its Color Palette. So I naturally went far too long with an un-upgraded Legion. Don’t make the same mistakes I made. The distinction between Abilities and Skills is also poorly defined, I may have got the terms backward here in fact. I hope a better tutorial on this is patched into the game soon.
And these have been my Top Five items I wish I had known before starting Astral Chain. I still am enjoying it, even loving it really. But I hope others learn from my mistakes, and hopefully, soon I will have my complete review and analysis for all the world to see, as I fear this list paints a far more negative picture than my personal experience presents me with. Do try it out, and do have your friends try it, just remember these five bits of advice as you do.
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Robert Kelly Ball
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