Scarlet Nexus is a brand new IP from Bandai Namco that went from being non-existent on my gaming radar to one I needed to play. A futurist time where people have superpowers and can do things with their minds. All while fighting it out, with amazing-looking visuals? It didn’t hurt that it reminded me of certain anime that I enjoyed. Yep, this sounds like my kind of game.
Game Name: Scarlet Nexus
Platform(s): PS5 (Reviewed), PS4, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S
Publisher(s): Bandai Namco
Developer(s): Bandai Namco Studios
Release Date: June 25, 2021
Similar Games: Persona 5 & Persona 5 Strikers
How’s the story?
In Scarlet Nexus, you take control of the members of the OSF, or the Other Suppression Force. A group tasked with defending a futuristic world from an entity called “Others.” Which can be summed up as a group of mindless creatures that have this infinity for destroying cities, harassing their citizens, and eating the brains of anyone they encounter. They’re nasty things, for sure. As a member of the OSF, you have certain special abilities, all thanks to something called psionic hormone found in the brain, and thus why you’re perfect for combating the Others. Though, it is also why the Others are drawn to snacking on the brains of people.
I enjoyed the plot here, as it was full of twists and elements I didn’t expect. I thought we were going to encounter the same tropes that we’d always encountered. Instead, the game took me on a trip while constantly pulling the rug from under me. Just when I thought I knew what was going on, nope, I was wrong.
Outside of the main story, there are plenty of minor quests that didn’t really make a difference to me. They were your average “hey, do this for me, and I’ll give you this item” type of various quests. They didn’t do much in terms of progressing the story, and the items I received weren’t worth the time.
I got my mind and my fist on you.
Let’s talk about these powers because they’re an interesting bunch. Regardless of which character you ultimately end up playing as, both possess a Psychokinesis ability. This allows them to hurl items around at ease, sort of like gale-force winds. It’s a handy power, and it’s fun just pointing your hand at random items on the ground, hurling them towards your enemy. It’s sort of like the force powers from a certain Star Wars-themed game. However, when you’re partnered with other characters, is when things get interesting.
When in battle, you can borrow their powers and add them to your own – it’s pretty cool stuff. For example, you can borrow Pyrokinesis of one character, using it to buff your attacks and set things ablaze, all while still using your own abilities. This mechanic is useful in different situations as you’ll have access to random powers throughout the game. While that all sounds interesting, there is a drawback. To use your powers, you’ll need a resource that slowly builds up over time outside of combat, or you can smack the enemies around with your basic abilities until you get more. I understand why you don’t want to make the characters overpowered, but it breaks up the combat. Imagine being in the groove, doing your thing, and then it all falls about because you ran out of brainpower juice. Bah!
You can also set their battle strategies to fit your party’s needs – commanding them to fight to the death, be careful, attack my enemy, target other enemies, and so forth. Depending on how you set up your party can influence the outcome of your battles. For me, I found it better to have my party attack whatever I was, especially when I was fighting flying enemies that I couldn’t reach.
Combat in Scarlet Nexus is a mixed bag, to be honest. The underlying game is a hack and slack, and most of the time I spent in combat was spamming my attack button. While occasionally trying to combo and perform different things to keep the variety going. Even still, you’re limited to just how much you can do, even after you start diving into the skill tree (more on that later). Yes, you have these special abilities, and they’re fun to use. However, the way they’re presented feels more like a “hey, you can use this if you want to” versus “you need to use these.” The only exception is when the enemies require you to use specific abilities to attack them – which happens more and more the further you progress in the game.
Wait, is this is an RPG?
Remember when I said this was a hack and slash game? Well, it also has several RPG-like qualities as well. Characters will level earn experience and level up; items can be purchased to provide healing, status boosts, or you can acquire different pieces of armor, gear, or weapons. Not just for your character but the entire party.
A skill tree called the Brain Map provides perks in several main categories; Expand, Enhance, Brain Drive, Support, and Brain Field. Each of these categories provides a useful boost to your character. Every skill requires a certain amount of BP or Brain Points before you can level up. These points are acquired when completely missions or requirements.
While you can only have a party of four people, including yourself, you can also swap out party members. Not just in the safe house but also out in the world. As long as they’re grouped with you, you can swap between them as many times as you want. This is a godsend as each member has a unique ability, some of which you’ll need to get past certain obstacles. This also allows you to pick your favorites and power them up to the point where the game becomes trivial.
I want to bond with you.
When you’re not out battling, you’re relaxing in a safe house, and it’s here that you’re given a chance to take advantage of another system; Bonding. You’re given a chance to form a bond with your team, and throughout these bonds, you’ll gain new perks. They’re handed like optional quests, but I find that they’re definitely worth taking on. You don’t even need to do anything as the bonding moments are short segments where the characters talk about something. It’s completely automated, and you can just leave the room or do something else what the bonding sequences play out. It does take a while to fully benefit from these moments, however. You can even speed this up by acquiring gifts, which can be given to your party members.
Another reason not to skip out on the bonding quests is that they help provide back story for your other characters. It’s a nice change of pace, and there’s some depth to these characters that you normally wouldn’t see while in combat or doing the main story.
Obviously, the better the bond, the better the fighting gets for you. This comes in the form of combination attacks, more abilities during combat, defensive upgrades, and more. On this note, I’d recommend doing as many of the bonding missions and gifting of the gifts as you can.
The sights and sounds of futurist Japan
Visually, Scarlet Nexus is a fantastic-looking game. The animations are smooth and detailed, and the art style is a mixture of cell shading and hand-drawn while possesses a unique look – sort of like a comic book that’s about to spring to life. That goes double for the musical score, which I adored. At times, I would load up the game and just sat in certain locations just to listen to the music. It reminds me of the musical score from one of my favorite anime shows, Ghost in the Shell, and I suppose that’s appropriate given how there are many similarities between the two.
There’s both an English and Japanese dub, and you’re able to toggle between the two. After trying them both, they’re both great, but I have to give the edge to the English dub. Usually, I get tired of hearing the English dubs in games, especially with the ones that are completely voiced – I didn’t have that issue here. I felt that the voice actors did an amazing job here.
How’s the games’ performance?
My time with Scarlet Nexus was on the PlayStation was a great experience. I didn’t encounter a single framerate drop, or at least nothing noticeable. Not a single glitch to be found either. I was able to play a game on the PS5 without a single crash. Other than that, there’s not much to say. It was an enjoyable time.
And before you ask, yes, the PS5 has that sexy 4K60 framerate. Give a look at the game play footage below.
Scarlet Nexus is a fantastic package, but if I had to pinpoint a concern, it would be the combat. To me, there’s not enough to keep you engaged, outside of fighting the larger others or bosses. Basically, anything that requires you to think outside the box. Fighting the smaller enemies gets boring, and I found myself on auto-attack mode most of the time. I didn’t even bother to use my or my party’s abilities unless I was forced to. Granted, this is the nature of most hack and slash games, but the truly great ones provide you with variations to avoid getting bored. Not so much here, and it gets repetitive and ultimately hurts the game, in my opinion.
There’s a constant break in the action, such as when an enemy hits you with an attack that leaves you crippled. I can’t begin to count how many times I was hit with an electric-based attack that left my character on the ground for seconds on end. Or when enemies fly just beyond your reach and jumping into them resulted in them smacking me out of the sky. They’re minor gripes, but they served to frustrate me nonetheless.
Scarlet Nexus is a fun and beautiful ride with a story that kept me coming back. It’s not often that I find myself being engrossed with an RPG, so this game was a welcomed surprise. I hope Bandai Namco continues the story in either a future expansion or another entry in the series. I like that the company was willing to take a chance on a new IP such as this, and if they continue to tweak the game, they’ll have another winner on their hands.
Review Disclosure Statement: Scarlet Nexus was provided to us by Bandai Namco for review purposes. For more information on how we review video games and other media/technology, please review our Review Guideline/Scoring Policy for more info.
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Bandai Namco’s Scarlet Nexus is an interesting mixture of hack and slash meets JRPG and succeeds in just about every department. However, it’s not without its flaws, which are minor. If you’re looking for a fun action game with some RPG elements sprinkled in, then you can’t go wrong with Scarlet Nexus.
- Fantastic visuals and music
- Combat is fun and fast
- Story is engaging
- Voice acting is damned good
- Brain powered abilities are also damned fun
- Too many breaks during combat
- Combat can get stale
- Powers felt secondary at times