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Released at the end of August 2019, Astral Chain is a new game from character action game developer Platinum Games, which is best known for its skills creating challenging games focused almost exclusively on tough combat where players have a wide variety of moves at their disposal and a lot of flashy ways to fight increasingly tough enemies.
Previous Platinum games have tended to focus on combat nearly exclusively, with very little non-fighting-based gameplay to experience. Games like Bayonetta, The Wonderful 101, and Nier Automata also focus on playable characters who are defined people with consistent, unchangeable plots. You beat stuff up, move down a corridor, and beat more stuff up. You might be lucky and get more than one ending, but you can't really shape who the characters are.
Astral Chain is a little different from those previously mentioned games, as it allows you a greater degree of control over your protagonist. You can name them, alter their aesthetic, choose which open-world non-combat quests to take part in or not, and have a little more control over what they value doing when not fighting.
At its core, Astral Chain is a game about fighting off invisible interdimensional creatures that seem to be ravaging the planet. You do this by capturing some of those creatures, chaining them to you, and wielding them yourself in a unique combat system. These interdimensional beasts, called legions, do not like being chained up in our dimension, but that's a subject for another time.
What is important to note out the gate is that on paper, at least, you are playing as a cop in Astral Chain. You joined the police force in the shoes of your adoptive father, you later get recruited into this special alien-hunting task force, and a bunch of your gear and equipment says police all over it. This manifests in a few ways in the game. You collect information to solve mysteries, you find evidence, you sometimes prevent crimes, and you get to run around wielding weapons openly.
Let's just be direct about this: While a police force can be really helpful in society for helping deal with crimes in progress or the aftermath of crimes, cops as an institution are, at times, pretty messed up. They statistically have a racial bias, they arrest people for crimes based on the letter of the law rather than what's best for those involved or what's moral, and police overreach can have devastating consequences. I may have grown up around cop family members, but I'm not super keen to play as a cop in my escapist fiction.
That's why I went out of my way to be less of a cop in Astral Chain, and more of a Lesbian Biker Cat Mom Vigilante.
So, how did I pull it off? Well, first up is the look. I picked the female playable protagonist and gave her blue hair and an undercut. There's no way her hairstyle is regulation, but she's not changing it for anyone. As soon as the first mission ends, you can remove all the cop branding from your outfit by removing your chest plate and belts. Within minutes, your outfit is revamped into something that doesn't even slightly resemble a uniform. Considering everyone else has to stick to the dress code, I take this as evidence the rest of the force understands my non-cop status.
You, unfortunately, can't remove all of the cop branding from your magic ghost friends, but by making their color palette as close to pure black as possible, you can make the word police really tough to read on them, which is a start.
Then you focus really hard on very specific sidequests which actually help the community. You pick up trash from the ground and throw it in bins, you find stray cats to take back to the game's dedicated cat lady apartment (yes, it's literally just an apartment where you keep your 20 or so kittens), and you help little lost kids find their parents.
See a kid spray-painting a wall or handling a small amount of weed? Just ignore the sidequest. While the game does track if you've found and technically completed all sidequests, these minor blue sidequests don't actually affect your end-of-level ranking and can be totally ignored for the most part. We all know locking up some delinquent teen over a minor offense is just going to ruin their record, stop them getting work, and push them down the more serious re-offender pathway. Turn a blind eye to minor harmless crimes and focus on the big stuff.
Also, those small crime solves are what makes the world worth saving. Kids who get back to parents safe, students having their lost bank cards returned to them safely, cats fed and sheltered, these are the things that make up a world. By keeping those people safe rather than locking up minor criminals, you're leaving a nicer world worth fighting to protect.
Lastly, just think about what you're doing. You're traveling through dimensional portals to fight hellish monsters with literal magic powers. That's not cop stuff, that's vigilante superhero territory.
The fact that I knowingly disregard police dress code, minimize or remove my cop branding, ignore petty crimes, help people who actually need help, collect cats, ride a rad motorcycle, and wield literal superpowers is enough for me to play Astral Chain guilt-free — as the story of a lesbian biker cat mom vigilante who just wants to save the world so that there's somewhere nice for her cats to live.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are the authors', and do not necessarily reflect those of SYFY WIRE, SYFY, or NBC Universal.