When BANDAI NAMCO first revealed Scarlet Nexus I was captivated by the striking visual style and psychokinesis-fueled gameplay, making it immediately one of my most anticipated titles. Having now spent plenty of time with this third-person action-adventure RPG I can say that my expectations have been exceeded, and this may very well be one of the best games this year. Full of neon lights, psionic abilities, and otherworldly creatures to combat, Scarlet Nexus is a truly unique title in many different ways and one I think will surprise plenty of players.
The stage for Scarlet Nexus is a rather unique vision of the future in which technology and psychic abilities have advanced humanity greatly. However, now an overwhelming threat from deranged mutants known as Others puts all life at risk as they seek to feast on human brains. Taking place in a futuristic Japanese landscape, players will follow Yuito Sumeragi or Kasane Randall as they join the Other Suppression Force (OSF) to fight back against the Others as humanity’s last line of defense.
Now something to note is that while Scarlet Nexus gives players the chance to play as two characters this isn’t a simple gender choice. You see, the game makes use of a dual narrative in which each protagonist tells their own side of the main narrative, along with other side stories along the way. Given that both Yuito and Kasane have their own personalities, goals, backstories, relationships, and even team members to interact with, there is a lot to experience while playing through both routes.
Without going into spoilers, the main story of the game is generally compelling and delivers on all beats, ensuring you are engaged from start to end. Narrative is told through cutscenes, visual novel-styled sections, and even in-world text messages that help to flesh out the world and move the story along. All of this is well written and delivered perfectly by both the Japanese and English voice actors - which you have the option to switch between at any time - with even banter during missions between team members being surprisingly well executed.
This is important because Scarlet Nexus has a lot of characters and each of them are a part of the heart of this game, with their own story and experiences to tell. As you battle against the Others and uncover the many mysteries that await you along the way, you will want to spend that time getting to know this varied cast and their world. Everyone has their own story to tell, their own reasons to fight, and the world is full of little details that all come together to tell a truly rich and brilliant story.
While the narrative is worth the admission alone, it's in the combat where Scarlet Nexus really comes to life and does so with plenty of flare. Combat is fast and responsive with a focus on mixing basic attacks with psionic abilities to create outlandish combinations of attacks that deal massive amounts of damage. Both Yuito and Kasane have psychokinesis which allows them to move objects with their mind, such as throwing a car at an Other, and this can be strung into your basic combos. For example, you can unleash a three-hit weapon combo, follow up with a powerful psychokinesis slam attack, rush in to follow that up and launch your foe into the air, then continue your assault until they are defeated.
Where things get spicy is when you take advantage of the Struggle Arms System (SAS) to borrow the powers of your team members. You see, one person can only have a single psionic ability so the OSF makes use of the SAS to enhance each person's fighting abilities. For the player, this means gaining new powers and elements at the press of a button all to satisfying results. Want to turn up the heat? Use pyrokinesis to apply burn to your enemies and set oil spills on fire. Enemies giving you a hard time? Then Sclerokinesis will provide you with a defensive boost. Each of these may only be temporary and require a recharge after a short time but everyone has their use and all feel like valid options on the battlefield.
There are plenty of uses for the objects in the world other than simply throwing them at enemies, as there are a number of special interactions that can deal massive damage or inflict elemental status effects for you to take advantage of. For example, you could smash an oil barrel into a foe to make them more vulnerable to fire attacks or break apart a vending machine to crush an enemy from both sides, stunning them in the process. Each of these uses a simple quick time event to perform, but the window to do so is fairly generous and the accompanying animation never gets stale.
When it comes to the difference in gameplay between Yuito and Kasane, you’ll be happy to know that they handle the same making use of similar systems. The main difference comes in their fighting style and how their skill trees are laid out. Yuito uses a sword, making him more focused on melee combat with a skill tree that focuses on weapon damage and recovery, whereas Kasane uses throwing knives to fight at range making more use of her psionic abilities. To put this into context, Kasane is able to unlock double jump, air dash, and more psychokinesis abilities sooner in her skill tree compared to Yuito, who is able to pick up more weapon damage, recovery, and a counter ability sooner than Kasane. Both end up learning pretty much all the same skills but their placement on the skill trees are different.
Of course, learning new skills is not the only way you will grow your characters as Scarlet Nexus has a number of ways to develop and tailor Yuito, Kasane, and their teams to fit your playstyle. Everyone is able to get better weapons for incremental boosts along with the option to equip ‘chips’ which offer bonuses to states by means of a fixed value or percentile increase. Some even have extra perks which can be even more beneficial depending on what you need at the time, such as additional experience points gained after battle, for example. You also have the option to change the look of each character's costumes or give them some accessories for extra fun. While they might not have any impact on gameplay that doesn’t mean you should stop yourself from making everyone wear bunny ears.
All of this is also before even going into detail about the special moves and abilities that make up a whole layer of the combat and character progression. To say that gameplay in Scarlet Nexus is surprisingly deep would be an understatement but at no point does it become inaccessible. The game does a fantastic job at introducing you to all of these systems at a steady pace and never does it feel overwhelming. Your starting palette might be small but very quickly will open up into a full suite of options to allow you to express yourself in combat. The only real downside in all of this is that sometimes the lock-on can be a bit temperamental, but it never ruined my enjoyment.
Visually speaking, Scarlet Nexus might have some of the strongest art direction in any game so far this year. The world is beautifully realised in a way that feels familiar and modern while still having a futuristic twist that is refreshing to see and explore. Throughout the world you will find hints of classic Japanese architecture with some brutalist mixed in there as well, complete with holographic projections that fill the world with noise that borders a dystopian vision. I found myself stopping quite often just to take it all in during the moments of peace, but even as a backdrop to intense fights, it's simply gorgeous. This is all complemented as well by a soundtrack that is a mix of pop, EDM, rock, and even jazz to create a truly unique combination of sounds that is fitting of this self-described Brain Punk game.
This is all wrapped up in easily one of the most performant PC ports I’ve seen, with Scarlet Nexus running - and looking - great even on less than recommended specs. Loading times are short on non-SSD storage, there were no noticeable drops in framerate, and not once did the game crash nor did I experience any bugs during my playthrough. The game supports controllers along with keyboard and mouse, also having the option to rebind all keys. Even with all graphics options on max the game never stuttered and the experience was silky smooth.
Scarlet Nexus is a videogame that surprised me with just how much I’ve fallen in love with it but I say with confidence that it might very well be one of the best games this year. From the stunning visual style, engaging and addictive gameplay, the compelling world full of rich narrative and lovable characters, and so much more, this is a videogame that is truly worth your time. Scarlet Nexus is something special and I encourage you all to check it out because it will definitely be one that you won’t be able to put down anytime soon. Honestly, I could talk about this game for many more hours but I think I’ll just go back to playing it.
SCARLET NEXUS (Reviewed on Windows)
Outstanding. Why do you not have this game already?
Scarlet Nexus is easily one of the best games so far this year and a strong contender for game of the year. With addictive gameplay and compelling narrative, there is plenty to love in this Brain Punk vision of a psionic future.