I was wrong. There’s no easy way to say this but I feel that I’ve not given Scarlet Nexus a fair shake. Not now, but when it was announced and all the way up to its release. I was dismissive of the game, even after reading previews and the demo didn’t really convince me otherwise.
It really felt that the game was just going to be another anime-ish action adventure game that Bandai Namco releases in between its AAA franchises like Tekken or SoulCalibur.
After spending a ton of time with the game though, I can easily testify that it’s not the case.
What is Scarlet Nexus?
Scarlet Nexus is an action RPG developed and produced by Bandai Namco. It’s single player and is available on most modern platforms (Xbox One/Series, Playstation 4/5 and the PC). Our copy was from a review code from the awesome folks over at Bandai Namco. Thanks guys and gals!
While the game is the first entry in (what will hopefully be a long and involved) series, it makes no qualms about the lore it’s set in. Right off the bat, you’re hit with massive in-game terms that you’ll probably have no idea of and referenced to events you’re oblivious to. Playing Scarlet Nexus for the first time is like being thrown off an airplane and told to dive in the ocean…when you have no parachute and can’t swim.
It’s overwhelming, confusing and disorienting at the same time…so thank God the game has a Glossary, which unlocks more entries as you play.
For the first couple of hours in the game, that’s the biggest flaw in the way. You’ll always feel like you’re the last in the class to find out about something. As you play though, you slowly start to get your bearings and start to associate names, events and terms.
At this point is where Scarlet Nexus is at its most welcoming.
Suddenly, you’re no longer a fish out of water and start to enjoy the story. That’s when you realize that the story is what really makes the game worth playing and the early hours were all worth it.
Truth be told, I came in expecting a cookie cutter plot. What I got instead is one of the best RPG stories in modern history. At times reminiscent of Valkyria Chronicles and Trails of Cold Steel, Scarlet Nexus’ plot packs enough twists and turns you’ll NEVER see coming. It might sound cliched, but it’s true…
Telling more about the story would be spoiling it…so I won’t.
All you need to know is that Scarlet Nexus’ two protagonists go through some harrowing crap throughout the game. It doesn’t really matter whether your choose Kasane (the girl) or Yuito (the guy) because the the plot elements are the same. The only difference being their combat styles and some of their skills.
Select Your Character.
I’d say Yuito is the better of the two.
I feel his attacks are more powerful, though his sword attacks are a bit slower. His wide swing animations are a bit of an issue gameplay-wise as well. You can sometimes completely miss an enemy that’s in your face because of that. It can be frustrating but as you grow stronger and learn more skills, the basic attacks see less and less usage.
There’s a huge skill tree present in the game with a surprising amount of flexibility.
It’s split into several branches and it’s up to you how you want to level your character, though you’ll ultimately be able to unlock all the skills. It’s also great that new sections of the skill tree reveal themselves as you progress, which gives the game an element of longevity.
The main game’s not as open as the skill tree is sadly.
It’s broken up into different chapters, with a ‘rest’ section in between.
The game’s maps are all very linear, though most are multi-leveled. Enemies are encountered and fought in real-time, so there’s no loading or anything of the sort when you get into battles.
The rest section (called the Standby Phase) is basically where you can do the side quests in the game, as well as do Bond Episodes (and gift gifts), which will strengthen your main character’s bond with others in the squad. It’s basically a break from the main story for you to do all the things you want in the game.
One gripe I have during the Standby Phase is that finding side quests is a tedious affair. They’re not highlighted on the map and the side quest icon (a teeny square) only pops up on the quest giver when you’re in visual sight. That means that at every Standby Phase you’ll be revisiting locations again just to see if any new quests are newly unlocked.
Strengthening bonds is very important and is a major gameplay mechanic. Not only do you find out more about the characters, but you also unlock never battle skills as you get closer with the person. While the Bond Episodes are completely optional, ignoring them isn’t recommended at all because you’ll need their skills in combat.
There’s even a crafting system in the game, though it’s not very deep. Locations you explore and enemies you defeat have materials you can recover to upgrade your weapons or make new items with. It’s really nothing major, but it does give you incentive to explore and get into battles.
Speaking of combat, the fights in the game are pretty twitchy in nature, similar to action games like Devil May Cry and Ninja Gaiden. They aren’t as tough (unless you count some bosses) but you do need some basic skills to survive.
Combat revolves around hitting the enemy with the main character’s weapon and then alternating with their psychokinetic abilities. It’s a cool loop, with you dashing in and out of the fray as you unleash weapon combos and slam massive stuff at your enemies.
Remember the scene from The Empire Strikes Back where Luke is pelted by all sorts of debris while trying to fight Vader in the innards of Cloud City? Yeah, you’re Vader this time and Luke’s everything you’ll face…so get to the smashy smashy bits.
Using combos and your telekinesis attacks also serve to lower your opponent’s Brain Crush meter. Hitting weak points depletes that meter faster. Once it’s empty, you can do a special attack called Brain Crush, which either kills the enemy outright in one finishing move (different for every enemy), or in the case of bosses, take a chunk of HP away.
There’s also the Brain Drive mechanic, where you get into a powered up state with increased attack power and other benefits. Unfortunately, it activates on itself when the Brain Drive meter is filled, which might not during the most optimal moments.
99% of the time Brain Drive activates, it’s in a battle against regular enemies…which is a damn waste.
If there’s one major tweak I could’ve done to Scarlet Nexus, I would’ve made this a toggle ability so you can activate it when you need it.
You usually go into fights with 3 other AI allies. You can’t switch between your main character and allies but you’ll be able to use the SAS ability to temporarily use their powers. Some of these powers are indispensable; there’s one that cloaks your main character, allowing you to get close to enemies and unleash surprise attacks. Other powers lets you slow down time, or amplify your weapon attacks with elemental attributes. All of them are pretty cool, though some will be much more useful than others, depending on your play style.
While we’re on the subject, the game’s art style is certainly worth mentioning.
The Killer Looks.
Bandai Namco calls it Brain Punk, but all I know is that it looks damn nice.
Heavy usage of the scarlet wires running throughout the game gives it a distinctive look and the slight cel-shading (there are outlines on the characters if you look properly) makes it feel like you’re in a playable anime. It’s a cheery palette with bright neon colors, but unlike dour Cyberpunk settings, the game’s more upbeat with its locales and looks.
The character designs are a bit tame (I weirdly get Valkyria Chronicles vibes from the characters) but I absolutely adore the environmental and enemy art. Some of the locations and enemies you fight (especially the Other bosses) are incredibly good.
Hell, I feel they’re wasted on a bright and colorful game like Scarlet Nexus! I would love to see the Other enemies in horror games!
The Bottom Line.
Don’t pass up on Scarlet Nexus just because it looks like a generic anime game.
It might look that way initially, but you’ll quickly find out that it’s anything but with its awesome story, likeable characters, deep gameplay and killer art style!
It’s not the perfect game; it can be intimidating in the first few hours, and missing hits in combat because of the excessively elaborate basic attack animations can be annoying but they’re just minor niggles in what is an otherwise seminal game.
If you’re even remotely interested in RPGs, this is definitely one to get!
Great action RPG with huge potential! Hopefully the sequels will be just as good.
- The visual style.
- The plot.
- The combat.
- Combat animations can make you miss enemies.
- Too much lore in the beginning.
- Finding optional quests is boring.