When looking at Bandai Namco, one can't throw a rock without hitting an anime game. Many of them are adaptations of existing properties and feel like mediocre efforts. Occasionally, however, the publisher will build something eye-opening and worth experiencing. Scarlet Nexus is a game that takse a while to get going, but it's a game that truly excels when it shifts to the next gear, both in terms of story and action RPG gameplay.
The premise for Scarlet Nexus starts out simple enough. Players select to play as either Yuito Sumeragi or Kasane Randall, who are members of a metahuman military organization called the Other Suppression Force. These soldiers use enhanced powers to battle Giger-esque horrors called Others, who feed on human brains. The game's enemies are beautifully twisted in their design, containing human features blended with animals and objects. Early enemies, for example, resemble human legs in high heels with an upper half comprised of a corset and flowers. The designs only get more imaginative from there.
A battle between a military force and mysterious demonic creatures should be a fairly straightforward story. However, Bandai Namco gets downright ambitious with this narrative. The OSF soon splinters in different factions, which is where the main differences in Yuito and Kasane's campaigns will be on display. The plot explores ideas of future dystopias, fascist governments, and analyzes difficult questions. How far should a government go to keep its populace safe? If a government has gone too far, is it right to rebel? Can the rebellion go too far? Do certain ends justify their means? Scarlet Nexus isn't afraid to dive into some troubling ethical quandaries. Then, just as the story starts to settle down, the plot goes completely sideways and throws out a major twist that turns the game's story on its head.
The complexities of Scarlet Nexus' story absolutely make both campaigns worth playing. Gameplay-wise, there aren't many differences between Yuito and Kasane. Both specialize in psychokinesis and their Brain Maps (the game's skill tree) reflect that. However, their personal backstories differ greatly and also intersect perfectly. Their stories are two sides of a fascinating coin, especially as both characters travel with their own band of supporting characters. Scarlet Nexus offers ample opportunity for players to get to know each character's supporting cast and heavily incentivizes doing so. The story's execution is as brilliant as Scarlet Nexus' gameplay.
Use your brains
Scarlet Nexus at its root is a hack-and-slash action RPG. Players will be armed with a sword and mainly battle in close quarters with the Others. The opportunity is there for lengthy combos, which should make short work of lesser enemies. I will say, before going any further, that the game's targeting system needs work. I would frequently strike at enemies with three or four hit combos, only to find myself connecting with the first few hits and whiffing the back half completely. The targeting system, at times, almost felt like it just outright didn't work. With that said, the criticisms over Scarlet Nexus' combat pretty much end here.
As psychokinetics, Yuito and Kasane can also fight at range with their minds. Psychokinesis can be as simple as chucking nearby objects at enemies. However, the opportunity is there for stronger psychokinetic attacks, each of which have accompanying quick-time event button prompts. These can be a joy to watch, as it's clear that there's some heavy power on display. Whether they use weapons or psychokinesis, if the main characters can drain an enemy's yellow "Crush meter," they can use the left shoulder trigger to perform a theatrical finisher that crushes the enemy's brain. This is just scratching the surface of Yuito and Kasane's brain-related abilities, but let's put a pin in this for the moment.
I mentioned that both characters have their own supporting cast and that supporting cast will often accompany the main characters on field missions. Each of these sidekicks have their own special abilities and can lend their power to Yuito or Kasane, which opens up new combat possibilities and critical strategies. For example, Hanabi is a pyromancer and can give Yuito fire power. Shiden controls electricity and can give Kasane an extra jolt of power. That's great for direct combat, but players will also have characters like Tsugumi, who can use her powers of clairvoyance to see through fog or spot enemy weak points, or Luka Travers, who grants teleportation to poof through impenetrable barriers (like the X-Men's Nightcrawler) and claw straight at a foe. The gameplay possibilities presented by Scarlet Nexus' supporting characters are vast and because their power is vast, getting to know them is just as important.
In-between chapters, players will regroup at a hideout. In addition to offering a spot to save their game or purchase items, players can talk to their supporting cast members and get to know them. Bond Episodes are personal R&R moments between Yuito/Kasane and one of their platoon members and build up their relationships. Leveling up relationships grant buffs in battle and players can do so through Bond Episodes or by purchasing gifts for them. This is a brilliant way to incentivize diving into a character's backstory, giving players a chance to learn about each of these characters, their motivation, and be rewarded for it with on-the-field buffs.
As helpful as the supporting characters are, Yuito and Kasane quickly grow to be obscenely powerful, for reasons the plot will explain later in the game. After racking up enough damage, they'll trigger Brain Drive, which buffs their stats and gives them near-infinite psychokinetic power. That's strong enough in itself, but later in the game, they'll also unlock Brain Field. Brain Field offers nigh-omnipotent power and basically lets Yuito and Kasane take their foes to a different plane where they can go wild with psychokinesis. The catch is, if they stay in the Brain Field too long, they'll die, so it's more of an ability to use in an absolute pinch. It feels very cool to have that level of power, as well as the caveat that such incredible force should not be wielded for too long.
Like no Other
Scarlet Nexus gets off to a slow start. It's a game that loves to hear itself talk. A bulk of the first hour is cutscene-heavy and the heavy exposition will sometimes get in the way of the action. However, once the chess pieces are in place, Bandai Namco turns the intensity up several notches. It is greatly rewarding to control characters who are immensely strong on their own, but only grow more powerful through their friends and through the power of their own minds.
The characters are wonderfully fleshed out and are worth getting to learn about, especially as they wrestle with some of the troubling ethical scenarios presented before them as the story moves forward. The dual narrative was something I initially dismissed as a cynical idea to pad out the experience, but after playing through Yuito's story and going through Kasane's perspective, it's a worthwhile addition that looks at a complex tale through two lenses.
The anime aesthetic may be a turn off for some players, but those people would be doing themselves a disservice. Scarlet Nexus is a game worth experiencing. It's a game that took me by total surprise and a world I hope to explore more in the future.
This review is based on a PlayStation 5 digital code provided by the publisher. Scarlet Nexus is available today on Steam, the PlayStation Store, and the Microsoft Store for $59.99 USD. The game is rated T.
- Amazing action RPG gameplay centered around psychokinesis
- Deep narrative that explores complex ethical questions
- Dual stories explore unique perspectives
- Sidekicks make already deep combat system deeper
- Brain Field is a cool last resort that can just as easily kill you
- Getting to know other characters is incentivized
- The Other enemies are beautifully horrifying in their designs
- Targeting can be imprecise
- Some cutscenes can feel overly long
Ozzie Mejia posted a new article, Scarlet Nexus review: An 'Other' adventure