Scarlet Nexus, out now on current and last generation consoles, is startling in its ambition.
A new IP, it looks to Nier, Devil May Cry, Neon Genesis Evangelion and Persona to create something new out of those venerable sources of inspiration.
A fast-paced third person brawler, its magic isn’t found in bashing up horrific abominations, but the periods in between, where worldbuilding, relationships and politics come together for something greater than the sum of its parts.
In Scarlet Nexus you start as either Kasane or Yuito, teenage supersoldiers starting in the Other Suppression Force (OSF), an elite combat team. Kasana and Yuito live in a dystopian future where people can wield incredible psychokinetic powers but who must then use them to dispatch the “Others”, beasts who appear from the atmosphere seemingly bent on tearing the world apart.
Set in a future where the government can censor what your very eyes see, the story starts with a number of typical anime tropes, but as the story unfolds these fall away to more considered, bizarre narrative beats that kept the game more interesting than I was initially expecting.
There are differences in what happens depending if you choose Kasane and Yuito, and while many will want to play through multiple times, I found one playthrough – at around 20 hours – enough.
Yuito and Kasane both exist within the same story and cross over at multiple points, so this is less like a totally different path a la Nier Automata than two perspectives on the same events.
The mission structure sees you heading out to different parts of the large world map to dispatch Others, often ending in a confrontation with a particularly nasty beast. And while the story is interwoven between these set pieces, it is between these excursions that the game’s world comes to life.
Between missions gives you an opportunity to get to know your teammates better through “bond episodes” – animated conversations between Kasane / Yuito and another teammate. These are technically optional but well worth doing, given that they explain much of Scarlet Nexus’ world and open up new combat options to boot, especially if you’re okay with grinding out enemy encampments to put together the perfect gift for your teammate to boost certain stats.
That said, these bond episodes do tend to lack variety – you’ll end up at the same restaurant many times for a chat over the course of the game.
This two-part structure gives Scarlet Nexus a bit of a stop-start feelings, though I ended up invested in the characters enough not to mind the time away from the combat, which starts slow but ends up exceptional.
Both Yuito and Kasane can use melee attacks and psychokinesis – that is, throwing heavy stuff with their brain.
They can also borrow powers from their teammates to augment their attacks such as setting an enemy on fire or turning invisible to sneakily hit a weak spot.
At the beginning of the game these are all quite separate: bash up an enemy to build your psychokinesis meter, throw a truck at them, then attack again. But as you unlock new abilities these three elements come together nicely to create a fluid, powerful-feeling pace of attack.
Being able to interweave environmental damage, special attacks and melee combos all the while expertly dodging didn’t quite match the perfection of Bayonetta or the like, but it came awfully close. Notably, Scarlet Nexus does require a bit more forethought than other brawlers, and if you leave yourself open you can be taken down in just a few enemy hits.
On PlayStation 5 Scarlet Nexus runs well, at 60 frames per second and somewhere between 1440p and 4K depending on the complexity of the scene.
The cyberpunk inspired anime world is brilliantly shown off here and despite the complex backgrounds the game remains readable, a common complaint I have with some games recently where a pursuit of realism takes precedence over actual playability.
Scarlet Nexus is a surprise to be sure, but a welcome one. Not on my radar at all before the demo released shortly before the game, it has become one of my favourite titles of this year due to its complex-but-not-complicated unique combination of melee and ranged combat, and a story that mercifully moves past many anime game tropes.
While it does have its flaws, Scarlet Nexus accomplishes everything it sets out to do, and I can’t wait to try out another playthrough later in the year.
Released: June 2021
Platforms reviewed: PlayStation 5
Publisher: Bandai Namco