Scarlet Nexus was played via Steam

Namco Bandai’s Brain-Punk RPG Scarlet Nexus is set in a dystopic future where a strange phenomenon caused people to turn into otherworldly beings called Others (you read that right). As strange as that sounds, it manages to keep up with its thematic approach with bonding mechanics taken from Persona and a surprisingly sensible explanation to the story. Couple all of this with fast-paced action combat and you have a treat waiting for you. Unfortunately, monotonous level designs as well as generic characters pits the player through egregious pacing and one that I felt throughout my 40hr playthrough.

World of Doom and Gloom, Lightheartedly.

You have a choice between Yuito and Kasane, OSF (Other Suppression Force) soldiers with special psionic abilities. Choosing either story would give you a specific overall perspective to the narrative – and although completing the story with just one of them would give you a general idea of the universe, completing both would is the ideal way to go as it would give you all there is to know about Scarlet Nexus.

In this universe, psychic and technology plays a huge role. Others are rampant and has left almost every part of the world in desolation; with this phenomenon came with some benefits as well – people are born with psychic abilities, some better than others. Thankfully, the New Himuka government created a task force called the OSF, where talented people can undergo training to become soldiers against the Others. Playing as either players would start you off in different perspectives – for example, Yuito wasn’t born with psionic abilities and undergoes experiments to get one or how Kasane is an orphan who doesn’t really know much about her past, which leads to a lot of revealing elements to the overarching story.

Scarlet Nexus has some really decent mainline pacing, and does a relatively great job with plot twist. It’s the side missions and the resting phase (where before a new chapter start, you can create bonds with your ally – more on that soon) that really lightens the weight of the story. The game is trying to sell the dangers of the world, but far too often it is negated by overly cheerful allies and moments in the game where it would otherwise be depressing or even morbid. Death is taken far too lightly and catastrophic events aren’t even noticed. Maybe it’s the nature of anime, but the premise is so good that it is hard to appreciate the story because of it. Alongside that is the really abrupt interactions with each other. Kasane sometimes calls people idiots for literally no reason at all and Shiden would be overly aggressive while everyone is incredibly calm or cheerful. It’s so inauthentic the way people talk to each other, which is a shame given that one of its gameplay mechanics has to do with social interaction.

Oh, and the game is about 80% comic style conversations and 20% actual cutscenes which felt incredibly lazy – a game that looks this good should be in motion. Those that truly enjoys that comic style approach will be delighted by the amount of work put into that aspect. However, when a cutscene does happen, its really well made, which only solidifies my feeling of this topic.

Additionally, the characters are constantly talking to you during combat which can be useful – however, you find the allies constantly repeating themselves even at endgame and there’s no way to turn it off in the settings. It’s painstaking as it really breaks from the immersion factor – like a gnat constantly tackling your forehead.

A Mix of Social Chaos

Scarlet Nexus is an action RPG through and through – the combat is very similar to Platinum Games style. The mechanics are very simple in design where you can use objects to mix in your melee combos and as you progress and level up, you unlock new chain combos and psionic abilities as well as increasing passive abilities. Alongside combat is elemental affinity where oil, fire, water, lightning can mix together to hurt you or the enemies. Subtle stealth features are also present where if you fight a hardened enemy and they spot you, they can shield themselves for defense, and un-shield when you’re out of sight. It’s not particularly deep, but mixing all of these in combat is incredibly fun, even if you start to feel the fatigue 20hrs into the game. Enemy designs becomes repetitive by then which can lead everything feeling same-y.

Thankfully, gameplay is a bit layered where you get 2 additional, very powerful phases called Brain Drive and Brain Field. Drive is a passive ability that activates after a set amount of kills which enhances your overall strength. Brain Field is basically your ultimate that shifts the entire battlefield into a nexus space where your powers are exponentially enhanced. Prolonged use of Field can kill you, so it’s wise to use it in unavoidable circumstances.

Alongside the combat is the ability to equip new weapons and plug-ins (accessories) to further enhance your playstyle – you can increase your overall stats or heighten other passive ones. The skill tree is called Brain Map, which can only be altered to your main character – in it you can extend your combos, abilities and passive ones. As you progress the story, more Brain Maps unlocks. The overall UI of the game reminds me of Metal Gear Solid 3 in aesthetic which is a good thing.

At the end of each chapter, you’re put in a resting phase where it’s the best time to increase bond level with your allies; bond levels are done through bond episodes which are just passive conversations done to know the ally better. You can also gift each member with things they would like to expedite the bond level. Each character has 6 levels and with each level comes with beneficial gameplay elements such as allies periodically taking damage for you, or a new button prompt would appear after a set amount of combos happen to extend the attack further. Other bond levels would increase the potency of their psionic abilities and many more. Although this Persona style mechanic is passable, it’s a surprising mix for those who are truly invested into the story and characters.

Dated Level Designs, Great Looking Game

Scarlet Nexus is a very good looking cell shaded game, all utilized within Unreal Engine 4. The aesthetics of the environment are desolated and littered with tons of debris to use in combat. Unfortunately, the overall level design has you feeling the constant PS2-era philosophy; very wide and mostly empty with incredibly linear paths. More often than not, you are set in a path A to B scenario with very little puzzles to work with. There are environmental collectibles and items to gather, and each zone is farmable, which is necessary but because of the dated design – feeling the repetitive is almost immediate.

The character designs are very stylish and overly done, which is not surprising given the anime nature. Animations are fantastic in cutscenes and gameplay which is a major plus. No real complaints there.

The Conclusion

Scarlet Nexus borrows from excellent games such as Nier Automata and Persona which does a relatively decent job at it. With stylish and deep gameplay mechanics, I had a great time playing the game, even if the characters dragged down the experience deeply. The story gave some surprise twist and really cool concepts that I would like expanded in future iterations. Hopefully Namco Bandai and it’s team can double down in bringing better life to the OSF members with a much more grounded personality.


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