Platinum Games has enjoyed a close relationship with Nintendo of late. The partnership has already resulted in the release of a Wii U-exclusive sequel to Bayonetta, while Bayonetta 3 is also in development for Switch. But the studio’s next game, Astral Chain, is its first brand-new property created for Nintendo’s console-handheld hybrid. As such, it aims to do things a little differently.
While the core of Astral Chain looks unmistakably Platinum, it’s not specifically in the mold of the studio’s traditional action games. This time, it seems Platinum wants to make a game that features more RPG elements and, in doing so, it could perhaps attract a different audience.
We spoke to director Takahisa Taura, who previously worked on the critically acclaimed Nier: Automata, about how the studio came up with Astral Chain, how it represents the DNA of Platinum Games as a studio, and some of the newer elements it’s introducing to its tried-and-true action gameplay.
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GameSpot: Platinum has a lot of wild ideas for games; where did the idea for Astral Chain come from?
Taura: The biggest [thing for me], as far as the concept is concerned, was to control two characters at the same time, with our main character [and] the Legion. With Platinum Games what we’ve made up until now has generally been games where you control one character at any given time, so I thought maybe if you increase the number of characters the player is controlling, it’ll become more fun.
Platinum’s games are about precision and having tight windows to execute moves. How does having a second character impact that?
The Legion that you call into battle generally fights on its own. So while it’s fighting you could do things like work together with it, right alongside it, or you can run around and let it handle the fighting. So it may not be as complicated to play as it looks.
But, having said that, there’s also a way to control the Legion directly at the same time. So you can get the feeling while you’re playing that you are controlling two characters at once if you want to.
So is it a simpler mode where you just control one character, and then for those who have a history with Platinum Games or are inclined towards those types of action games there’s a trickier version, and that’s where the depth is?
Well, they’re kind of two sides of the same coin as far as controlling one or the other. Essentially you can control one and have the Legion do the fighting for you or you can control both at the same time.
As far as a separate mode for players who aren’t as experienced with this kind of genre is concerned, there is a mode where the Legion [is] more active in helping the player out, and that’s made so that players who aren’t as experienced can make it to the end of the game.
There’s always a symbiosis between how a Platinum game plays and the story around it. Something like Vanquish, for example, is a sci-fi story, but it is built around this ability to slide around everywhere. And the fiction of Bayonetta feels like it’s designed just so we can have a character that can manipulate time and be a witch. How do you come up with your stories and what comes first, the story or the mechanic?
First, you have the mechanics of the game. And you establish something like, there are five types of Legions, which there are in this game. And then you have other ideas within the game world, that there’s a good Legion called the Arm Legion, and the Arm Legion has the ability to move objects, and the Beast Legion has the ability to be mounted. And so you create parts of the world that respond to those.
And there are other abilities that you can do as well. Like you can send your Legion out and have them pull you over to different things. And so you think of all these systems and that’s fun to do. And having these things available in the real world that the game takes place in is kind of hard to do, so for that we created something called the Astral World, which is a key part of this game. Essentially that came into being as a place where you can do all these fun Legion abilities and then it was added to the [story] of the game from there.
And it’s not like we just leave things as they are. At that point, we make sure, having established the system and scenario, that you interweave the two of them and that’s exactly how we did it for Vanquish. That’s also the way we did it for Bayonetta.
Because [in Astral Chain] the player plays as a police officer you can gain points by doing things like picking up empty cans on the streets and throwing them away or helping the people in the town. So, those kinds of systems were things we were able to do because of the scenario and setting, as well.
What pushes you to create this mad game where you’re this space anime cop and at the same time there’s a mechanic where the player is doing menial tasks like picking up cans?
We just wanted to create a world where you can have lots of different play styles. And it’s not like you’re forced to pick up these cans or anything, but we just wanted to give players the option to do that within this world. And if you don’t want to pick them up, you can just run at them and kick them.
It just reminds me of when I was younger and I would be watching Dragon Ball Z and there’d be a massive fight for the fate of the universe, but every now and then Chi-Chi would appear and be like, “You need to take care of Gohan and make sure he’s studying,” and the entire time I was thinking, “But he’s trying to fight for the universe, why would you be worried about something so meaningless in the grander scheme of things?”
Actually, I should admit that we are kind of going for that kind of, I don’t know if you should call it a gag or kind of a surreal quality in what we’ve made here. In addition to picking up the cans in the street, there are also other elements like you find lost cats, and you take care of them as well.
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Are you tracking that stuff? Is there a leaderboard that shows players that are most helpful in those smaller tasks?
There’s no leaderboard or anything like that but you [will] feel better about yourself.
Platinum’s always going over the top. Have you ever thought about going in the opposite direction and making a straight-laced experience that’s grounded in more realism?
Until now [our games] generally have the player fighting and fighting and fighting and that just keeps going on, but in this game we wanted to have aspects that were not that kind of thing, where they resembled more of an adventure mode type of thing, where it calms down and the player can ask questions. We wanted people who generally aren’t used to Platinum Games to be able to see that side of it as well.
You mentioned it briefly earlier but in that spirit of trying to bring in people who may not be super into or very knowledgeable about this style of action game, are you planning to include a one-button-style control option again?
There is a simpler system like that for people playing this game who aren’t used to Platinum Games titles. But we are going to announce more details about that system at a later date, so please look forward to it.