The power of Friendship remains undefeated.
It seems like when it comes to the development of Original I.P.’s that are successful at launch, Japan has got the market cornered. Not that original games aren’t released in the West, just that they normally aren’t as polished or well-received at launch. Scarlet Nexus is another in a long line of Original I.P successfully launched by the developers at Bandai Namco. Combining fast-paced action similar to the Devil May Cry franchise with a narrative style emphasising squad-building reminiscent of Octopath Traveler and/or Dragon Quest makes for a truly unique experience.
Set in the distant future, a psionic hormone was discovered in the human brain, granting people extra-sensory powers (Telekinesis, Teleportation, Pyro-kinesis, etc.) and changed the world as we knew it. Round about the same time, mutants known as Others fell from the sky with a craving for human brains. This leads to the creation of the Other Suppression Force (OSF), an organization that specializes in suppressing the Others with deadly force. The OSF recruits young people with special powers and equips them with anti-aging drugs and brain-linking cables to keep their abilities strong.
You have the choice of two campaigns in Scarlet Nexus: Yuito Sumeragi’s or Kasane Randall’s. Both campaigns (there is no real order required, but I would recommend doing Yuito first) need to be completed for the player to get the full picture regarding the story, character motivations and ultimate decisions leading to the final act. Yuito and Kasane offer very different fighting styles, with Yuito providing close range power attacks and Kasane offering a more ranged option. The campaign for Scarlet Nexus kicks off when one of the most powerful members of the OSF rebels and takes almost half of the fighting force of the OSF with him.
As a third-person hack and slash game, Scarlet Nexus has a standard behind the back view allowing for a more expansive view of the battlefield. The levels are semi-open world in that the player has a clear path set out before them but on the way to their goal, they can explore many other areas around the set path. This gives the player the illusion of an open world even though that is not necessarily true.
“It’s got that ‘SPARK’, that feels like you are experiencing something special”
The combat is where Scarlet Nexus shines, this is due to the abilities available to the player depending on who is on their team and how the various enemies’ weaknesses can be exploited using said abilities. One example would be activating Shiden’s Electrokinesis ability and then combining it with Arashi’s Hypervelocity ability, this way the damage dealt would be three times the normal amount. The damage dealt can be increased further if the opponent has been doused in water prior to activating the previously mentioned abilities. The combat can also feel like the rhythm you experience from dance, when focusing on using Yuito’s Psychokinesis ability with all the combos unlocked. The Follow-Up Attack Combo when upgraded to the maximum level provides a powerful combo that when executed is accompanied by a short cinematic to emphasise the power behind it. These are but two examples in a game that offers many more combinations for the player to experiment with and max out depending on their preferred play style.
The enemy targeting system leaves a lot to be desired, as you can either lock onto one enemy at a time or not have any lock on system at all. The former can lead to awkward sequences where you’ll be pointing the directional stick in the direction of an enemy right next to you but end up swinging at the locked enemy several yards away, the latter makes targeting enemies and completing combos much harder. A hybrid targeting system that respects the directional stick would have been better in my opinion.
In between fights the player is transported to the hideout for some down time. In this safe space you can have conversations with your teammates, these same conversations can trigger bond episodes which are essentially short anime ‘bromance’ episodes. These aren’t just for show as, at the end, you’ll upgrade your bond level with a squad mate and be able to pull off more powerful combinations in battle. After getting through an action-packed battle, this was a welcome change of pace, akin to coming down from an adrenaline high.
The visuals and setting lean heavily into an anime and cyberpunk look, but only really delivers on the anime side. It’s unfortunate that most of the story scenes are static storyboard slides (that resemble a manga or comic) instead of animated cut-scenes. This led to a little less engagement on my part when the storyboard format appeared on screen. The enemies look very interesting, for an industry struggling in the originality department, it is refreshing to see unique enemy designs, that alone is a huge plus for players who have extensive experience in action-RPGs. The attention to detail paid to the environments is exceptional, especially with regards to how they tie into the story. Seeing the city of Suoh with teen-Yuito and then seeing Suoh with adult-Yuito is a breath-taking experience.
Even though the levels and their respective environments look good, they end up looking a bit empty after you’ve had to go through them multiple times during each play through (especially if you intend to max out the ability tree and do all the all the side quests). This can make them seem more boring than they actually are.
The music in Scarlet Nexus is largely power rock and dubstep for battle areas, synths, and piano for the more relaxed spaces like the hideout and Suoh. Although most of them are forgettable, titles like Dream in Drive (rock), With a Carved Injury (piano), Welcome to the Musubi’s (synth) and My Sweet Hideout (synth) will live long in the memory of many players. The audio design is polished and well balanced, especially with regards to character dialogue both in and out of battle, with neither seeming to intrude on the others’ moment to shine. The easiest time to notice this balance is in battle when you can hear Yuito grunting from swinging his sword while still hearing the music and destruction in the background at the exact moment he completes his four-throw combo.
Scarlet Nexus is a game of the year contender in my opinion. Quality storytelling, outstanding combat, a high level of polish and an amazing reception from the gaming community, leading to a sales window that saw it lose out to established sequels only. It’s got that “spark”, that feels like you’re experiencing something special that will inevitably lead to a successful franchise, think Assassins Creed, Gears of War or Dark Souls. It’s also got the added bonus of having an anime styled aesthetic, which is always a good thing.
Reviewed on Xbox Series X, available now on Windows, Xbox Series X|S, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, and Xbox One.