Scarlet Nexus will appeal to JRPG fans who want a little more agency than turn-based affairs and it ticks all of the other boxes for fans of this genre. As for the rest of you, we urge you to give it a go. It looks amazing, is generally fun to play and you probably won't see another game like it this year.
It’s likely been a while since players have come across a game as as utterly bonkers as Scarlet Nexus. This is a game that is either on players’ radars or it isn’t and for those who fall in the latter camp, well… you may be in for a hard ride.
Scarlet Nexus is set in a universe that is equal parts cyberpunk, dystopia and epic science fiction. Its visual veneer is gorgeous to behold. It’s a hack ‘n slash or ranged combat game with nifty ‘superpowers’ incorporated into the mechanics, depending on which storyline players choose to follow – they have two options in this regard.
Scarlet Nexus sets the scene
It’s filled with characters that march in lockstep with anime stereotypes, but that players will likely come to care about over the twenty-odd-hours it takes to complete the two narratives they have open to them. And it has a very nifty combat mechanic that recalls games such as Mass Effect and (dare I say it) XCOM: The Bureau that offer up different – and in some ways, necessary – paths to approach battles.
It is, in short, very Japanese and while its appeal may reach pretty far into Western markets, the COD/Battlefield/you-name-it shooter crowd are likely to be left tepid. That having been said, one can posit the notion that it’s worth speed-dating should it ever be released on Game Pass or a service like it. Give it ten minutes and it’s impossible to forget.
Scarlett Nexus is set in a futuristic world in which humankind is battling against constant invasion from a race of monsters called The Others. These bizarre-looking creatures occasionally drop into the everyday lives of humans and wreak havoc whenever they turn up. They also have a penchant for eating human brains.
To deal with this, the powers-that-be on Earth have set up an anti-Others police force called the OSF (The Others Suppression Force), a group of super-powered warriors whose job is to – you guessed it – kill off invading Others and limit the damage they’re able to do.
Two for the price of one
Players take on the role of either Yuito Sumeragi or Kasane Randall, two members of the OSF who start off at rookie level and make their way into a labyrinthine plot which starts off on some very intriguing notes and then descends into a hot mess.
This is a pity because while there’s fun to be had when players are hammering foes or even hanging out in their OSF squad’s rec-room, they’ll also spend an awful lot of time watching – admittedly lovely – cut-scenes that explain the plot.
Luckily these cut-scenes are skippable, but given the convoluted nature of the plot and the game’s world, players will likely be loathe to skip them on their first play-through.
Get your game on
The core of the game is its combat, which basically is a mash-up of Devil May Cry, Bayonetta and a tiny sprinkling of Dark Souls on top, with an AI-team-based mechanic similar in nature to the aforementioned Mass Effect. But as was the case with, say, Uncharted, Scarlet Nexus is more than the sum of its parts.
Whether players opt for Yuito’s or Kasane’s storyline, the pair have something in common – psychokinesis, which is the ability to fling inanimate objects like cars, traffic cones, vans and the like at enemies.
The difference between the pair of them is that Yuito is a more traditional hack ‘n slash character, delivering most attacks with a katana while up close and personal, being able to sling enemies into the air and juggle them using combos – if players gets the timing right. Kasane takes a more mid-ranged approach to tackling enemies with her collapsable knife, although she can also opt for close quarters in her attacks.
Initially, players are fighting solo but as the story progresses, they become part of a squad of super-powered AI teammates and it’s here the Struggle Arms System (SAS) mechanic kicks in. In battle, players can temporarily borrow a teammate’s superpower to bolster their attacks – depending on who is available this can be anything from prokinesis to duplication to invisibility to teleportation, and more. This combines with either protagonists’ psychokinesis ability to open the door to more avenues in battle.
Each enemy killed awards players with Brain Points (BP), which they can use to open up the talent trees of the two protagonists. Once the game has been clocked, players can dive back in with the character they didn’t use, but they keep the levelling they managed the first time around – a kind of New Game Plus mode, if you will.
Scarlet Nexus – Verdict
Scarlet Nexus has its peccadilloes – as many games from Japan do – but it’s a charming and highly fun (at times) game to play. The visuals are gorgeous, the world-building is excellent and even though the characters start off as stereotypes one genuinely comes to care about them. Plot and combat wane a bit over time but this is a title well worth investigating whether one’s tastes run to it or not.
It may become the most slept-on hit of this year. If not, it will be at least be the first time players have ever had to fight a monster wearing stiletto heels, a corset and with a head that looks like a bouquet of flowers. Seriously.