It’s about time we talk about one of the most recent anime games to release onto next generation consoles: Scarlet Nexus.
As of right now I have put about 25 hours into the game and finished one side of the story, and I am currently playing through the other, as the game is split into two different routes. So this isn’t so much a full “review” of the game as it is me talking through my thoughts and feelings on it.
Scarlet Nexus is Bandai Namco’s most recent release and it is available on both current generation platforms (PS5 and Xbox Series X), PC, and older console platforms. I have a pretty decent gaming PC so that’s where I’ve been playing it, but from everything I have seen the other versions of Scarlet Nexus all look good.
What is Scarlet Nexus?
Scarlet Nexus is a game that manages to strike a good balance between exploring its story and characters while also providing an extremely flashy, reflex-based combat system — I really enjoyed this game’s combat and I’ll explain why later.
In the world of Scarlet Nexus, the vast majority of humans have acquired cognitive superpowers such as pyrokinesis, invisibility and the ability to duplicate things — or themselves. Cities are filled with augmented reality advertisements, people are able to directly communicate with one another through brain messages — it’s crazy.
Those who are particularly gifted with their powers, or just generally good in combat, are drafted into a military force known as the Others Suppression Force or OSF. This is a unit devoted to fighting the mysterious enemies known as The Others.
The game has two routes to choose from and these can be played in either order. These routes have different protagonists, Yuito and Kasane. While their stories do overlap at points, there are elements that you will definitely miss should you only play from one character’s perspective.
Okay, let’s talk about my feelings regarding the story as there is a fair amount of stuff to unpack here. As I’m sure you’ve probably noticed, Scarlet Nexus is an anime-inspired game and if the aesthetic wasn’t enough to prove that to you, good Lord will you know it when you get into the meat of the story. I get it, it’s anime. I’ve spent the majority of my life just accepting most things that happen in these kinds of series or games as “anime logic”, but sometimes I do think this can be done just a bit too much.
I played through Yuito’s story first, and the biggest appeal to Yuito’s perspective is the mysteries that surround him, his powers, and why certain events are happening the way they are. I definitely felt this way throughout the game — something would happen and my curiosity to uncover the truth would spur me on to play for hours on end. However, there were numerous times where these mysteries and events could have all been solved very easily, and when they eventually are solved, it just leaves a bitter taste and my only response was “Really?”
Let’s dive into this one because I have some serious opinions on this area of the game. Bonding episodes are essential character-specific quests that occur during the “Standby Phases” — the downtime in between story chapters — that happen throughout the game. Similar to most Japanese RPGs nowadays, this is a system in which you can increase relationships between the characters in the game. Progressing through these episodes allows you to find out more about the characters and their stories, but it also offers additional perks in combat.
I love the addition of stuff like this to RPGs. As someone who places characters at the top of his priority list, having the opportunity to pursue deeper relationships between characters is a fantastic addition to the genre and I hope we continue to see more of it. However, I don’t think that this system can just be added in willy-nilly as, in the case of Scarlet Nexus, it can create some serious ludonarrative dissonance.
Small spoiler warning here! After certain events take place in the game, the OSF splits into two groups — one headed by Kasane and the other by Yuito. I won’t tell you why they are suddenly fighting, but just know that Kasane’s group views Yuito’s group as enemies at this point in the story. So, with the main narrative showing you that these characters are no longer your allies, why on earth is the game suddenly offering me bonding episodes to spend time with members of the enemy team?!
I’ve not had an experience like this in a story game in quite some time where I felt such a massive disconnect from what the story was telling me and what the gameplay was allowing me to do, but I had to step away from the game for a little while and have a look to see if other players were having similar issues with these bonding episodes. One moment Arashi, a member of Kasane’s team, is trying to stop you and the next she’s inviting you out so you can test her program… It’s such a bizarre choice that broke any immersion I had almost instantly.
But let’s end this on a high note — and I mean a really high note. The combat in Scarlet Nexus is such an addictive, deep, and yet easy-to-understand system it borders on perfect. Scarlet Nexus’ combat is so good thanks to the Struggle Arms System, or SAS for short. This is a system in which your party members can grant you additional abilities at the push of a button.
The SAS system is activated by holding down a shoulder button and then pushing whichever face button that corresponds to whichever ability you have set it to. For example, you may have mapped Hanabi’s pyrokinesis to one button combination, or Kyoka’s Duplication power to another.
Each of these abilities has its own special use, and you get the opportunity to make use all of them quite frequently. This means there is no character that ends up feeling clearly “worse” than others. Items in the environment also help make these powers even stronger, such as being able to douse enemies in oil or water, which enhances the effects of pyrokinesis and electrokinesis.
As you level up you will gain Brain Points which can be used to gain additional skills. This includes the ability to use two different SAS abilities at the same time, and this skill is later upgraded even further to be able to have four SAS abilities working simultaneously. It may sound like this could be overwhelming, but the pace at which all of this is taught to you makes it really easy to firmly grasp and understand.
This is where Scarlet Nexus truly hits its stride. You’re fighting a boss that has shields over a certain part of its body, so you activate Kyoka’s Duplication allowing you to create a double of yourself to increase your damage and attempt to break its shield. It counterattacks and you activate Scelrokinesis, a full-body shield that makes you invulnerable for a short period of time, then activate Hypervelocity to slow down time and break the shield. Then you douse the enemies in oil and activate Pyrokinesis to increase damage and set the boss on fire.
The possibilities feel genuinely endless when it comes to just how creative you can get with the combat system and I cannot give enough praise to Bandai Namco on this. It has some of the style reminiscent of Platinum Games’ Bayonetta or Capcom’s Devil May Cry, while also making itself feel completely unique.
Despite my occasional irritation at the characters’ decisions and responses throughout the narrative, I enjoyed Scarlet Nexus. It could have just done with a little more refinement; if you’re going to include “Social Link”-style systems, for heaven’s sake make sure they aren’t disconnecting the player from the bigger story at play!
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