Scarlet Nexus Review: An Original World
Far too often, it feels like original properties from major publishers are dying breeds. Everyone works so hard to mine nostalgia and bring back old properties that it can be easy to forget how few of the games we play are completely new. Knowing this, I feel bad that my first reaction to Scarlet Nexus’ announcement was so low-key. I thought it looked pretty but not particularly interesting and moved on. I could not have been more wrong.
Scarlet Nexus is a game worth your time. While inspiration from things like the Tales series can be seen throughout, it is entirely its own game and improves on any recent game in that series. Some of the decisions it makes don’t work as well as others, but it’s a fascinating game that fans of the genre shouldn’t hesitate to check out.
Two Ways To Play
Like a Pokémon game, there are two versions of Scarlet Nexus. Unlike those games, however, you don’t have to buy them separately. Both games live within this one product, and while there are definitely similarities between them, there’s enough unique about each to make both worthwhile.
The game starts with choosing a protagonist. You have fairly generic anime protagonist Yuito Sumeragi or edgier, blunt, and for my money, more interesting option Kasane Randall. Both start out as new recruits of the Other Suppression Force (OSF). Others are monsters that fall from the sky, seemingly made up of a combination of people, animals, plants, household items, and perhaps even the kitchen sink. These monsters are a constant threat to the people of your home in New Himuka.
Because both are starting out from the same place, the early chapters of Scarlet Nexus are similar no matter who you choose. Oh, there are minor differences, different cutscenes, separate companions. Both Yuito and Kasane’s stories are intertwined, however. Early on, you’ll follow the same general events whoever you play as.
Things quickly branch out. As the story of The Others gets more interesting, it goes in some highly unexpected directions. Yuito and Kasane’s paths verge wildly. For large portions of the game, you’ll be doing very different things. Some bosses and areas will show up in both playthroughs, but others are entirely unique to one character. Even the areas both groups visit will feel different due to having some areas of them only being reachable with an ability unique to one group or the other.
What at first seems to be a fairly generic anime story opens up and goes in a variety of unexpected directions. Things in this world aren’t at all what they initially seem. A variety of twists throughout caught me genuinely off-guard and Scarlet Nexus doesn’t wait until the end of the game to throw you off. Even just a few chapters in, things start going off the rails. The final chapters didn’t fully live up to some of the earlier setup, but likable characters went a long way to keep me engaged to the very end.
Yuito and Kasane’s differences go far beyond the story. The two play quite differently as well. The combat system in Scarlet Nexus may be my favorite in years, and both characters have a unique feel. Yuito fights with a sword, and his combat will be much more up close and personal. Actions feel fluid and chain into each other beautifully. Kasane, meanwhile, fights with psychic knives. These allow her to attack from further away, though not terribly far. You still get close to your enemies, but it gives you more room to play with space in a way I enjoyed. Kasane is my preferred character both from a gameplay and story perspective.
There’s a lot more to combat than just normal attacks. Each character in the world of Scarlet Nexus has an ability. Some can add an element to their attacks, such as fire or electricity. Others become invulnerable for a time or turn invisible. Yuito and Kasane are the only characters sharing a power, the ability to psychically throw projectiles. It almost reminds me of a game like Psi-Ops or Control.
Not only can you chain this ability together with your standard attacks, but you can also borrow the abilities of the rest of your party, for a time. As the game goes on, you even gain the ability to chain several of those powers at once. The combinations can be devastating. Stylish finishing moves add even more variety. If this sounds like a lot, it can be, but Scarlet Nexus does a great job of dripping abilities to you over time. The learning curve is excellent and kept the combat fun throughout.
What’s Here Looks Great
Scarlet Nexus is a stunning game to look at. Its art pops off the screen with vibrant environments and horrifying enemy designs. The Others are some of the more memorable enemies I’ve seen in a game in some time. From regular enemies to massive bosses, they all stand out and bring a bit of horror to this science-fiction world. While it doesn’t particularly push the PS5 in the next-generation version, I never noticed a single drop in frame rate throughout the game. The performance here is outstanding.
The soundtrack by Hayata Takeda is memorable as well. Perhaps not an all-time classic, but the music is catchy and consistently hits the right tone. The voice acting here is excellent as well. I want to particularly call out the English voice actors for managing to make RPG dialogue not sound stilted but somehow feel natural. That’s far too rare. Everyone embodies their character well and hits just the right tone.
While the environments are beautiful, I sure hope you agree. You’re going to see a lot of them. One of the biggest issues in Scarlet Nexus is how often it repeats content. There are really only a handful of dungeons and areas in the game. Instead of giving you more beautiful areas to explore, excuses keep being made to send you back to those you have previously visited. It really is too bad because some of the late game areas really show the imagination that had been missing for many hours. I’m sure budget issues are largely to blame here, especially for a new franchise without an established track record. That doesn’t make visiting the same abandoned hospital yet again any more exciting. In a game which you’re expected to play through twice, that’s all the more egregious.
Don’t think new enemies will provide variety either. You’ll see only a handful of different ones in each area, and while each new area generally brings a few more, they often recycle old ones as well. I was thankful for how much more depth continues to be added to the combat, even late in the game, because it allowed me to try new things against enemies I could kill in my sleep if I wanted to.
Finding Its Feet
So much is done right here that the issues in Scarlet Nexus are an even bigger shame. While the core story is strong, side content lands somewhere between flawed and non-existent. The only side quests throughout the game are effectively fetch quests. Go get something or kill something. Not only are the rewards simply not worth your time, but they also come with no story content. They feel like busywork. Outside of performance, little here makes use of the PS5’s abilities either. Loading is fast, but there’s a lot of it, with areas clearly designed around the capabilities of older consoles. The DualSense feedback is fine, but hardly memorable.
A few chapters, or phases as they’re called here, into the game, you’ll gain access to a hideout. This is a place for your party to rest, hang out together, and show personality. Each member of the team gets a desk, including you. Presents the characters exchange are displayed there and take what is initially a barren room and breathe life into it. I loved seeing it grow throughout the game.
You’ll also have the option to do bonding episodes there. These are a lot like Persona’s social links. They grow your connections with your party, giving you new options in combat while deepening each character’s personality. They’re mostly well done. It almost seems like they were made for a completely different game, however.
Throughout large portions of the middle of the game, they feel completely disconnected from the main story. The tone of those you’re interacting with changes so wildly that it gave me whiplash. If these were disconnected and something you could do at any time, that would almost be forgivable. Yet, they only open up at certain points in the story, and they’ll often reference the weirdness of this change right before blasting past it. Want to learn to plant flowers with someone you just tried to murder? Have I got the game for you.
Scarlet Nexus does so much right that it’s a shame some of these troubles hold it back. They feel like the sort of things tied up in creating something new, problems that exist due to a lack of budget or different groups working on the game not being entirely on the same page until later in development. Still, despite these flaws, Scarlet Nexus brings an impressive new world to life while featuring deeply engaging combat. That’s no small thing. Fans of the genre will find a game well worth their time. I only hope that in a few years, we’ll be playing an even stronger sequel which irons out these nagging issues.
Final Verdict: 4/5
Available on: PS5 (Reviewed), PS4, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, PC; Publisher: Bandai Namco Entertainment; Developer: Bandai Namco Studios; Players: 1; Released: June 25th, 2021; ESRB: T for Teen; MSRP: $59.99
Full disclosure: This review is based on a copy of Scarlet Nexus provided by the publisher.