Review: Scarlet Nexus

Given that it’s still a relatively new system, I have been anxiously awaiting more games for the PlayStation 5. Scarlet Nexus was one of my most anticipated titles, as it was supposed to scratch that modern JRPG itch that I’ve felt for a while now. In a lot of ways, the game definitely delivered and I think it will be a fantastic addition to those who have been wanting to expand their gaming library for next-gen consoles. 

For those unfamiliar, Scarlet Nexus is an upcoming action role-playing game developed and published by Bandai Namco Entertainment that is set to release on June 25, 2021, for Windows, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, and Xbox Series. 

The PS5 version was played for this review.

Red Strings of Fate

As a long-time JRPG player, I am pretty familiar with what their stories tend to look like. The standard premise usually being that the characters involved will be tasked with saving the world. Scarlet Nexus follows this tradition, but there are some interesting twists along the way that keep you engaged and push you to dig deeper into both the characters and their motivations.

At a glance, Scarlet Nexus is a game about a group of soldiers who are tasked with protecting their town’s citizens from creatures called “Others.” These monsters come from an unknown place and like to eat human brains, and only psionic users (people with special brain powers that manifest as different abilities) are able to take them on. Both Yuito Sumeragi (Male Protagonist) and Kasane Randall (Female Protagonist) are newly appointed OSF (Other Suppression Force) members who get caught up in a series of events due to their specific power called the Red Strings. You can choose either one of these two as your main character, but despite getting to choose who you play as, the game’s story unfolds relatively the same. However, the perspectives of the events you progress through are vastly different.

On the surface, the plot seems like it’s not difficult to get behind, but, I have to be honest and talk about Scarlet Nexus’ deeper story and its lack of cohesiveness. The game tries to do a lot, and in trying to jam so many themes into its story, it falls short on a lot of them. Not only do we get time travel, an evil government that uses its citizens as experiments, familial tragedy,  and moon people, but there is also a lot to unpack with the characters who make up your party as they all have their own backstories. This becomes problematic when you realize just how many characters the game has, and with so much information being thrown at you, it’s hard to keep track of everything you’re learning in any given scene. At certain points in the story, even the characters themselves express their confusion over the plot.  

There are also some issues with Scarlet Nexus’ pacing, as the game doesn’t really give you much time to process certain events when they happen. Instead, it either addresses them at random times or immediately throws something else at you, making it impossible to get any kind of emotional payout from the experience. A key example of this is when two well-known characters die in a specific scene, and instead of being allowed to take in their deaths, the game just drops you into a completely different plot point. Once you get done addressing the new issues, the story places you back into the scene where the aforementioned characters died, but their fate is never addressed. Instead, they’re briefly mentioned a few scenes later and then referenced again near the end of the game. Moments like these caused the story to feel very disjointed and often made some otherwise emotional moments feel lackluster. 

The story’s flaws are further compounded by the personalities of certain key characters. Kasane and Shiden are easily the biggest offenders of having very grating personalities, as the former had very little development outside of fawning over her older sister Naomi for a large portion of the game, and the latter was an overly annoying tsundere for no good reason at all till the very end.

Despite my various gripes, I do think that the story having so much going on did motivate me to see it through to the end. After all, how could I rest easy not knowing what happened to the moon people or what kind of futures these characters would have without my meddling.

Brain-Power

Just like with its story, Scarlet Nexus has a lot going on in terms of gameplay, but to be honest this is where the game shines the most. Both Yuito and Kasane are Gravikinesis users, a skill that is implemented into your fighting style by allowing you to pick up different items with your mind (benches, buses, chairs, etc) and toss them at your enemies. Because it is an action RPG, there are also physical attacks you can do in conjunction with your gravikinesis. Sounds fairly standard right? So why would I say it has a lot going on? Well, let me break this down point by point:

Brain Field: This is a mode you can go into once a certain gauge is filled that while pretty powerful, is kind of difficult to navigate. The whole screen changes to a retro 90s movie and you are allowed to attack your enemies with large objects that do a lot of damage. However, this mode is taxing on the user so it’s limited to about 30 seconds and slows your character’s attacks down a bit, so it’s kind of easy to die while using it. I found myself only using this during certain boss battles because using it on trash mobs was a hassle.

Brain Drive:  This is a mode you automatically go into once a certain gauge is filled. It grants specific buffs to your main character but can be really annoying because you have no control over when it activates. I found that in terms of usefulness, I didn’t get much out of Brain Drive as it tended to activate during trash mobs or just when I was running around more so than when I needed it during actual boss fights.

Both of these skills, along with your gravikinesis and physical attacks are developed through the Brain Map using brain points you gain from leveling up. It’s important to note that these battle tactics are all independent of each other, so maneuvering through a battle using Brain Drive, Brain Field, or just regular attacks are all different. 

While what I’m saying may not sound overly complicated, I did mention that the game has a lot of characters, ten in fact, and each one has unique abilities. Your party can only consist of three of them at a time, but the interesting thing is that while you do not get to control any of them in battle, Yuito/Kasane can borrow all of their individual abilities. Channeling their powers can be used to exploit enemy weaknesses or navigate certain maps. This was a lot to keep up with, especially towards the end of the game when the party fully comes together. 

I did think this was a clever way of incorporating such a large group of people and had a lot of fun using the different skills to my advantage, especially when I got the upgrade to stack more than two SAS (this is what the linking system that allows you to use your party member’s abilities is called) together.

You are also expected to increase your bonds with your party members for additional party buffs. This can be done through either gift-giving or simply fighting together. When you reach a certain point, a bond episode will trigger which gives you insight into that particular character’s motivation and backstory and has them learn a skill that is beneficial to you.

It was nice to have bond episodes to look forward to during the respite sequence in between each of the game’s main story chapters.

Now, while I never found myself getting bored when playing Scarlet Nexus, that doesn’t mean the game is free of flaws. While a pretty minor gripe, the game does have a few bugs that are worth addressing. Among them is one where certain quests give you an error message when you try to do them. I’m sure Namco Bandai will patch this later, but it was weird to have something like that pop up when talking to NPCs. Another small annoyance is the large number of tutorials you get throughout the game, especially because they can still appear 30 hours into playing. It feels a little odd to be learning new things when you’ve done so much, not just because it’s overwhelming, but also because the game begins with a general tutorial, which would have been a much better place to explain all of the gameplay mechanics. 

As I mentioned at the beginning of this section, the gameplay is where Scarlet Nexus really shines, and I wouldn’t let these minor gripes stop you from giving what is otherwise a fun experience a try.

Side Note: Someone really took the whole brain motif to heart when naming all of these skills and menu tabs!

Looking Cool J- …Scarlet Nexus!

Scarlet Nexus is a good-looking game. It actually reminds me a lot of Persona 5 in terms of its aesthetic. The animated cutscenes are beautiful, the finishers and attacks are stylish, and each individual character had a lot of flair. That’s why it was so confusing to me when Bandai Namco decided to go in a direction that honestly felt lazy in terms of presentation. Their decision to make most of the in-game cutscenes still images versus fully animating them was super jarring, especially when there would be a transition from still images to fluid cutscenes. Maybe it was a stylistic choice, but it’s definitely something I wasn’t a fan of.

Another thing of note is the design of each enemy as well as locations. I get that it’s supposed to be a dystopian world, but oftentimes the maps felt lazy and underdeveloped. There were also very few variations, particularly towards the beginning, and it was hard not to feel like I was visiting the same locations over and over. The enemy designs worked in a similar way. They looked interesting in the beginning, but they all started blending together the further I got into the game. 

I feel like with a bit more effort, the game could have been a real looker, but that isn’t to say that what’s already there isn’t pleasing.

Scarlet Nexus’ music doesn’t have the same flaws as its visuals. Each soundtrack is unique, bringing a very much-needed breath of fresh air to your encounters. In fact, I may or may not have the game’s intro on a loop.

There are some minor spelling errors littered throughout the game, and the voices of certain characters don’t quite match their design (at least in the dubbed version of the game), but this was something I could look past most of the time.

The Power of The Mind

Scarlet Nexus is an excellent way to get your JRPG fix. It’s stylish, has an evolving storyline, unique characters, and a wicked fun battle system. It does try to do a lot, and in doing so falls a little short at times, but this is something that will only bog you down if you let it. The game has a lot to offer and boredom is the last thing you’ll feel when you’re running around swinging buses at enemies. If you’ve ever wondered what can be done when truly using the power of the mind, this title offer you a fresh perspective.

Hopefully, in a future patch, Bandai Namco Entertainment will fix some of the spelling errors and quest bugs that I encountered during my playthrough. Regardless, I believe it’s still worth picking up just to experience life as an OSF member. 

I truly hope that games like Scarlet Nexus will continue to grace the PS5 and am super excited about the future of the IP if Bandai Namco Entertainment chooses to continue with it.

~ Final Score: 8/10 ~


Review copy provided by Bandai Namco Entertainment for PS5. Screenshots taken by reviewer.