7 Lessons Astral Chain Learned from NieR Automata
Heralded for their silky-smooth action games, PlatinumGames release of the Nintendo Switch exclusive Astral Chain is a smash hit. When first announced earlier this year in a Nintendo Direct, Astral Chain drew initial comparisons to the Bayonetta series. Nothing could be further from the truth. Rookie director Takahisa Taura, who was a lead designer on NieR Automata, drew heavily from the Yoko Taro and SquareEnix masterpiece as opposed to the Bayonetta series. As Nintendo fans eagerly await for more information on Bayonetta 3’s development, our hope is that PlatinumGames infuses Astral Chain’s best mechanics into Bayonetta’s third installment. Without further ado, here are seven (7) lessons Astral Chain learned from NieR Automata. Enjoy!
1. Platforming and Verticality
Bayonetta’s cinematic presentation gives the illusion of vertical gameplay; however, the game’s action sequences predominantly take place on a singular plain. Although Bayonetta has the ability to double-jump and glide, the series solely utilizes these mechanics to clear linear gaps. As a result, Bayonetta levels feel compressed and lifeless, and platforming is largely nonexistent. In contrast, NieR Automata provides players with the same mechanics of a double jump and glide; however, NieR forces players to clear both linear and vertical obstacles to progress. Focusing on vertical platforming breathes realism and immersion into Automata’s environment, which leads to greater exploration and combat scenarios.
Astral Chain’s levels add vertical elements with climbable stairs, ladders, and floating platforms; however, players do not have the ability to jump or glide over gaps. Astral Chain’s solution to this problem is brilliant. Instead of jumping or gliding over gaps, players can place a Legion on the opposite side of an open space, and the Legion will pull the player across the gap by using the “Astral Chain.” This creative approach solidifies the importance of a Legion’s “Astral Chain” while providing the similar platforming challenges to NieR Automata.
2. Sub-Weapon Customization
Bayonetta’s combat system relies exclusively on performing combinations of heavy and light attacks to maximize damage. NieR Automata and Astral Chain instead choose to prioritize sub-weapon abilities. NieR Automata provides players with a sub-weapon in the form of Pod 042. While Pod 042’s primary attack is a standard machine gun of bullet fire, different special attacks can be equipped to deal heavy damage. Special attacks include a heavy cannon, a barrage of sword attacks, missiles, and many more. Each special attack has a cool down timer and can be swapped at any time.
Astral Chain follows in NieR Automata’s footsteps with its Legion customization. As players unlock new abilities for each of the game’s five Legions, special attacks can be mapped to the X and Y buttons to deal maximum damage to enemy chimeras. Special abilities are on a similar cool down timer and can be changed at any time using the menu options. The primary difference is that Astral Chain offers more sub-weapon abilities than NieR Automata, which results in a combat system that can be customized to any play style.
Bayonetta’s combo system mirrors that of a fighting game. By executing a set order of heavy and light attacks, players create a number of different lethal combinations. Perfect dodges yield a Max Payne-like slowdown affect called “Witch Time”, which provides players with even greater opportunities to execute combos. This approach causes players to default to a favorite combination with little incentive to learn new combos. NieR Automata forgoes the fighting-style combination system in favor of a dodge-and-counter mechanic. Executing a perfect dodge creates an opportunity to execute a preset combination with a single button press, which is cleaner and more cinematic.
Astral Chain adopts NieR Automata’s dodge-and-counter system and cranks the cinematic experience to 11. Executing a perfect dodge yields a blue “flash” prompting players to trigger the ZL button. When pressed in time, the character and legion perform a cinematic combination that deals a significant amount of damage.
4. Music Quality
A superb soundtrack cannot make the warts of a poor game, but something magical happens when an emotional composition is paired with excellent gameplay. While Bayonetta’s action gameplay is heralded as groundbreaking, the soundtrack is largely forgettable and feels more like a pop concert than an intense collision between gods and demons. In contrast, NieR Automata is one of those rare examples of music perfectly complementing the gameplay to create a emotional experience. From the cheerful Amusement Park theme to the relaxing Bunker theme, NieR Automata’s music perfectly sets the mood for the emotion that developers want the player to feel.
It should come as no surprise that NieR Automata veteran Takahisa seamlessly incorporates a mind-blowing soundtrack into Astral Chain. Simply feeding the stray cats in the secret hideout left me feeling sad yet hopeful as a result of the melancholy background music. Investigations feature slow and methodical tracks while battles and criminal chases prompt intense beats. Astral Chain elicits a varied of emotions with its soundtrack, which could yield game-of-the-year nods.
5. RPG Elements
Despite being a less popular genre than Action and Shooter games, RPGs have influenced a number of popular action games. God of War, Red Dead Redemption II, Spiderman, and others have enhanced gameplay experiences by incorporating light RPG elements. While Bayonetta is a pure action game, NieR Automata is an action game that embraces a RPG leveling system. Defeating enemies yields a number of experience points, which in turn increase attack, health, and defense statistics. Players can also equip different plug-in chips to further increase A2/2B/9S’s statistics as well as upgrading weapon stats by using collectible items.
As with NieR Automata, Astral Chain incorporates a leveling and weapon upgrade system, but the game goes one-step further by incorporating a skill-tree for each of the five Legions. As players defeat enemies and complete side quests, they earn Gene Codes that can be spent in a Legion’s skill tree to unlock new abilities. This adds further customization and depth to Astral Chain. Speaking of side quests…..
6. Meaningful Side Quests
Zero. Zilch. Nada. Bayonetta does not embrace side quests, which is both good and bad. While uninspiring side quests can degrade a player’s experience, purposeful side quests can add depth to a game’s world. NieR Automata’s side quests focus on character development by providing insights for different NPC behaviors. For example, the Pascal Village “Family Squabble” quest reveals feelings of envy and regret for a machine child who runs away from home. Completing the quest unveils the challenges of parenthood, which connects players to real-world problems.
Astral Chain’s side quests take a different approach by focusing on world-building as opposed to character development. The underlying premise of Astral Chain’s world is the negative societal impacts of the invading corruption. For example, the cat rescue quest in File 3 reveals that corruption levels in humans are causing an increase in the number of stray animals. Saving the cat’s owner reveals the challenges humanity is facing by merely fighting to stay alive.
7. Consumable Item Sub-Menu
The price of an expansive gameplay experience often comes at the cost of complicated menu options. Intense action games with RGP elements, such as health and defense, are normally accompanied with consumable items that add to the complexity of a game’s menu option. NieR Automata mitigates this problem by incorporating a “quick” menu, which allows players to “map” up to four (4) consumable items to the d-pad.
As with several aforementioned points, Astral Chain does the “one-up” by allowing players to map eight (8) items to the quick menu. Instead of utilizing the d-pad, Astral Chain relies on the X button to use consumable items and switch between mapped items. By doubling the number of mapped items to the quick menu, Astral Chain frees up space for other more complex menu options, such as legion management and weapon customization.
And there you have it. Seven lessons Astral Chain learned from NieR Automata. As PlatinumGames continues to develop the third installment of Bayonetta, our hope is that the critical acclaim of Astral Chain will influence the Bayonetta’s gameplay direction. But what do you think? We want to hear your opinion so be sure to leave a comment below or interact with us using the social media icons on the right-hand side.
We are also working on our Top 12(+1) Beginner Tips for Astral Chain so be sure to check back soon for more coverage of this PlatinumGame hit. Cheers!