Style over substance.
Scarlet Nexus is the latest from Bandai Namco, an action RPG that has also spawned an anime series that will more or less debut on the very same day (technically the anime will livestream a little earlier than planned; its actual debut is pencilled in for 1 July). Described by its developers as a title in the “brainpunk” genre, I’ve come to think of it as a mixture of the likes of Bayonetta, Code Vein and Persona, at some times deliciously chaotic and at others frustratingly so.
Players can fill the shoes of one of two main characters — Yuito Sumeragi or Kasane Randall – both of whom begin as new recruits of the Other Suppression Force (OSF), an organisation meant to protect regular citizens from the incursions of brain-eating beings from another plane. While Yuito is better at close-range combat and Kasane excels at ranged attacks, both employ a type of telekinesis that bolster their own combos.
As soon as you decide upon which combat style suits you the best, you’re thrown into an opening that’s best described as all style and little structure, with a seemingly endless array of names, titles, and exposition being relentlessly thrown at you. There’s a lot of world building front-loaded into the game, and frankly most of it went over my head; maybe the anime series launching ahead of the game would have been useful to help with this. Pages of tutorials follow in the same fashion, though a majority can honestly be ignored and even revisited after you’re feeling settled in.
I chose Yuito, armed with a sword and backed by a bloodline tremendously revered in this alternate history. Facing off against the Persona-like Others, entities seemingly cobbled together from one’s nightmares, Yuito can get up close and personal with a quick and heavy melee attack alongside combo-keeping telekinesis attacks powered by a well-timed hold of the RT on Xbox. A dodge button is also on offer, though is pretty useless when first starting; it can be upgraded as you level your character, providing a way to recover from a hit that’s more useful than the ability to dodge itself. As you progress, you’ll continue to unlock upgraded powers through the Brain Tree and even an overdrive called (you guessed it) Brain Drive.
While I’ve spoken about combos numerous times, Scarlet Nexus doesn’t throw up a hit counter to reflect your actions; rather, successful chained attacks build up the special meters required to use telekinesis powers. While the RT attack can be built up and used quite frequently, players also have access to a limited LT attack which deals far greater damage and can also be used against multiple enemies at once. On top of all this, Yuito and Kasane can call upon the powers of their teammates to help in battles — one will allow you to see cloaked enemies, another will let you cloak, and others still include the likes of pyrokinesis, increased speed and more.
While combat looks stylish as hell, there’s not an actual lot to it. Most battles with Yuito mean a quick X, X, Y combo followed by a depresssion of RT to launch a car or whatnot at your target; from there, it’s simply a matter of rinse and repeat. While you admittedly feel ultra slick and cool inside battles, things get repetitive quite quickly. In fact, regular battles will lull you into a rut and that’ll get you in trouble when you head into mini- or boss battles; there, the difficulty seems ratcheted way up and you’ll certainly fail if you don’t snap out of it. It’s at moments like that where some of Scarlet Nexus‘ silly design flaws come into play. One such occurence places a save point right before a transition to a new area, where you’ll then have to move forward a bit to fight off a boss. If you die, you might want to revisit your save to visit the save NPC’s shop to obtain better items… and that’ll mean having to replay some of the game to get back to the boss. If you choose to restart from your latest checkpoint instead, you’ll bypass the chance for the shop entirely; why not have moved it directly before the encounter?
A need to revisit past locations — and quite frequently — only plays into the feeling of repetition; as such, Scarlet Nexus is best played in spurts. Its chapter-based nature helps with this, essentially borrowing a daily system from Persona that finds you heading back to your team’s hideout after a mission or two to debrief… and even embark upon bond-building missions with your allies. The completion of said sidequests strengthens your connections with your teammates and, in turn, the abilities they can offer you. While on the subject of Persona, Scarlet Nexus relies upon a similar, boppy soundtrack which always had me tapping my toes as I played.
There’s always something happening on-screen in Scarlet Nexus, almost to the point where it’s too much at any given time. Its story certainly takes this same approach, offering some mystery box-style twists and turns that might play better in an actual TV series; here, they seem drawn out and unnecessary. Its narrative is offered through a crazy mixture of in-game cutscenes, animation and still frames, which is rather perplexing as one of those three options, continually, would have seemed a better fit. Despite the chaos on screen — quite honestly I couldn’t tell you which black-and-red character was which at most times — and a somewhat limited colour pallette, Scarlet Nexus looks absolutely gorgeous, properly optimised for 4K and 60 frames-per-second on Xbox Series X. The proper anime segments look insanely good as well, meaning I’ll likely tune in to the TV show to see if I can make better sense of what’s going on.
I mentioned Code Vein, Bayonetta and Persona at the beginning of this review and I’m also aware how different those three properties are. Scarlet Nexus isn’t for me, but those who like the frenzy of Bayonetta, the quirkiness of Persona or the aesthetic of Code Vein (but not its Soulslike component) could find something that clicks. Thankfully, a demo is available on Xbox and PlayStation consoles, last- and current-gen. Give it a try before you buy… and if you do decide to pull the trigger, you’ll also benefit from some in-game bonus items as a reward for your test.
Scarlet Nexus heads to Windows PC, Xbox One, Xbox Series S & X, PS4 and PS5 on 25 June.
Scarlet Nexus was reviewed using a promotional code on Xbox Series X, as provided by the publisher. Click here to learn more about Stevivor’s scoring scale.
25 June 2021
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