I feel like the Scarlet Nexus preview taps into something fierce for anyone who grew up in the early 2000s watching anime. That’s certainly the vibe I got, as the game’s just unashamedly anime flairs came bursting out at every seam.
For the uninitiated, Scarlet Nexus is Bandai Namco Entertainments’ newest in-house game to be unapologetically reminiscent of our favorite anime, similar to Code Vein and God Eater. The game features what they call a “Brain Punk” future, with a cybernetic future enhanced by brain-based technologies. You play as members of the OSF, elite super soldiers fighting off monstrous “Others” using a mix of psychic powers and brain-based technology.
Thanks to our friends at Bandai Namco Entertainment, we got to try out this upcoming title, which releases next month. What we got to try in the Scarlet Nexus Preview was only a small taste of the game though, and we won’t be discussing any story outside of the initial setup, so don’t worry if you’re scared about spoilers.
The Big Setup
Scarlet Nexus does one really cool thing, in which you actually play through two separate routes in the game. You can play as either Yuito Sumeragi or Kasane Randall, two different characters with totally different personalities, motivations and stories. In the preview their stories didn’t diverge that much- you play through their early days in the OSF, so your missions are still some variance of “OSF training mission” although they’re with different people.
But from the trailers we can see that their storylines diverge a bit more, which is a really cool feature to add. Considering the game’s upgrade system, it seems unlikely that they’d let you switch characters mid game, though the preview build of Scarlet Nexus we got didn’t go deep enough into the story to confirm that either way.
From the preview we played, Kasane definitely seems like the more interesting character. Yuito has this generic anime protagonist appeal to him, where he’s kind of nice enough for the most part and has some deep reason for fighting that totally makes sense and makes him a better person for it. Meanwhile Kasane’s feels a lot less self-insert: She’s got an actual personality in that she’s cold and aloof, she loves her sister, and her personality actually pisses other people off in totally realistic ways.
Even their playstyles are different, with Yuito using a straight sword while Kasane fights using psychically manipulated daggers. They both use Psychokinesis as their special ability though, so you won’t have to worry about jumping between saves to get used to that.
Smokin’ Sexy Style
By and large the most impressive thing about Scarlet Nexus is its sense of style. The game has an amazing soundtrack, consisting of Jrock beats that make me wish Anime Tech were still around. The game’s opening movie is the peak of this, featuring an absolute banger of a track by The Oral Cigarettes. Even the characters outfits look amazing, going for more shape-based details to give characters distinct silhouettes, without overloading the actual clothes themselves with details. I really hope the music only ramps up in the later part of the game, because the music in the Scarlet Nexus preview was already pretty great and I can only imagine how wild it’s going to get in future.
Despite being a game set in the not too distant future, the game does a pretty good job of putting the kibosh on the overly reflective surfaces, instead going for the very concrete-heavy buildings with the future Neon just kind of overlaid over it. It’s a cool aesthetic, especially since it looks good in the day, unlike a lot of modern cyberpunk aesthetics.
One gripe with its presentation though is the game’s cutscenes. The game’s kind of gone a bit too simplistic with the cutscenes, reducing them to this almost motion comic level of bad. Soem key moments get their own fully animated cutscenes, sure, but the grand majority of them (and there are a lot of them) are these static images, with at most a quick cut to make characters look like their hands are moving.
It’s even worse when the game has action sequences presented this way, too. There’s only one time where the whole motion comic aesthetic works, in the entirety of the approximately 3-hour long Scarlet Nexus preview. It’s not even like they neeed to have fully animated cutscenes, I feel like games like Persona have shown you can have some really good cutscenes even if all your characters are just cycling between canned animations.
There’s a mandatory disclaimer here that the game is still a work in progress, and maybe by some chance this Scarlet Nexus preview had placeholder cutscenes in favor of more finished ones. But for now, I’m not holding my breath.
Give Em The Ol Yeet And Beat
All in all I really like Scarlet Nexus’ combat, which has a good flow of mixing up your character’s melee attacks and psychokinesis. Both attacks have windows to chain into the other, creating a really nice flow that disincentivizes button mashing.
The order you do it in also controls how the character moves- opening with a psychokinesis throw and chaining into your melee attack triggers a rushdown, letting you close the gap between you and your enemies and do more damage.
Meanwhile going it the other way is a good way to get out of a sticky situation- a few sings of your blade into a throw puts your charactersome distance from the enemy, letting you reposition if things are getting too dicey.
Your character also has a second melee attack, that acts as a sort of pseudo-counter. The attack has you move backwards before delivering an attack, and the game is quick to tell you it will only fit once in your combo. I feel like the move is too similar to your perfect dodge, to the point it’s easy to mix the two up.
You also get a launcher as part of your base moveset, throwing you up into the air. One sad thing here is that there aren’t really many enemies you can juggle, and a lot of your air tech is locked behind the upgrade trees so you’ll have to level them up before you can do your best Donguri impression and start styling. Still, the fact that the game has air combos at all is a great addition, and once the full game releases I’m sure we’ll get more of a glimpse at the insane combos you can use.
These are all upgraded via the game’s Brain Map, which acts as a net-based upgrade. The branches are divided between passive skills and actual new moves, and I feel like that kinda does it a disservice to itself. As is there are some skills that sit between trees, letting you get them by investing in either of the connected trees. Those aside I feel like there should have been a way to invest in skills better, because right now every skill needs all the skills under it to be unlocked, and it’s kind of dull.
Later on in the preview you’re also introduced to a sort of stagger system, where you can exploit enemies into being vulnerable to finishers even though they still have a ton of health left. You’ll also get special items you can interact with, which have their own button separate from the regular psychokinesis and have broader effects.
While it’s cool they added so much depth to the psychokinesis I feel like the big problem lies in how they actually implemented it. Charging the psychokinesis attack often feels janky to use mid-combo, since your only real option is charging early if you don’t want to be left wide open. Getting hit also cancels out the attack entirely, meaning there’s a weirdly high level of difficulty in using an integral part of your moveset.
Still, the finishers and special attacks you can use have these Bayonetta-esque quicktime events tied to them, which can be fun to deploy. Admittedly, these can also be kind of janky to use mid combo, since you’re suddenly doing thing like rotating your thumbsticks. But it does force you to stay on your toes a little, since blindly mashing will cause you to fail these.
Strands That Bind Us
You can also interact with different objects to create status procs, such as electrifying wet enemies or igniting oiled enemies. These are used in tandem with the SAS system- the laughably unsubtle red cables protruding from your character’s back to increase your power based on your bond with your friends. They also let you share their abilities, such as Yuito’s moves getting a fire element buff if you activate Hanabi’s SAS.
That being said, not every party member is just an elemental buff. Kasane has access to Kyoko, who enhances your throws by duplicating objects, as well as another party member who lets you no-sell damage. I’m actually really impressed with the roster of party members you can get, and I’m only disappointed that the preview build didn’t let you customize who was on your roster, instead assigning them to you based on the story. That’s probably just because this is the early hours of the game, but I feel like giving us a chance to test out with any party members we wanted would have been a really good way to sell us on the game’s concept.
The SAS system is also another instance of Scarlet Nexus just knowing when to turn up the style gauge. Activating your SAS gets you these really well-animated cut-ins, as you merge your minds with your party member. They’re quick, but just a nice touch since it gives every stage of your combat a nice book end.
While your party members are largely locked to which character you pick, the story does give you chances to try out party members from the other character’s story. It makes sense, after all, since it allows you to have more unique party members, rather than have some characters be “The Kasane version of X character”.
While most of the demo was pretty linear, it’s not like there wasn’t any side content. You’ll also get a chance to try out the game’s bond stories, similar to Persona’s social links. Doing these lets you improve your bond with party members, granting them upgrades when they’re in your party down the line. The preview build only let you try out one of the characters bond stories, so we haven’t seen if it would get any crazier like some of Persona’s late game social links, but there’s definitely room to hope there.
All in all, Scarlet Nexus is shaping up to be a game I’m really looking forward to. The “game that’s a poorly veiled metaphor for interconnectedness” is one of my favorite genres of games, and I’m glad that Scarlet Nexus is doing it in such a stylish way.
There’s gripes to be sure, but that seems to be the curse of more niche games- the same thing that allows them to be so offbeat also means they’re occasionally going to make a decision you don’t like, all because they’re not bound by mainstream trends.
Still, Scarlet Nexus has it good where it counts- great combat, stylish presentation and an absolute banger of a soundtrack. You’ll be able to try the demo for yourself too later this month, so definitely give it a go if the game sounds up your street.
Preview build access and B-roll provided by Bandai Namco Entertainment