Scarlet Nexus review: Of mind and mettle

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(Pocket-lint) – There’s no mistaking Scarlet Nexus for anything other than a Japanese role-playing game (colloquially known as a JRPG): its immaculate anime-style visuals are a dead giveaway.

But when you play it, it doesn’t feel like the average JRPG. Although it has all the requisite levelling-up elements of an RPG, it’s an action game above all, eschewing the turn-based systems that JRPGs often have, which begs broad comparisons with games like Devil May Cry and Bayonetta.

Brain-buster

Such comparisons may constitute something of a disservice to Scarlet Nexus, since its gameplay feels fresh and innovative, thanks to a clever mechanic. It lets you choose between two protagonists, Kasane Randall and Yuito Sumeragi, both of whom have been blessed with the power of psychokinesis.

While both have a range of physical melee attacks, they can also pick up random objects from their surroundings and hurl them at enemies. Following up hits from those with physical attacks recharges the characters’ psychokinesis, so it’s all about generating chains of stylish attacks that cause an increasing amount of damage.

Out-there anime

Story-wise, Scarlet Nexus plants its flag firmly in JRPG territory: it comes across like one of the more out-there anime films or TV series. Kasane and Yuito are young cadets who have just graduated to full membership of the OSF (a group of superpowered individuals), in the parallel-universe country of New Himuka, a sort of futuristic Japan.

Bandai NamcoScarlet Nexus review photo 10

New Himuka is suffering from constant invasion by weird, brain-eating creatures called Others, and it’s the OSF’s job to keep the populace safe by dispatching them. At first, the pair embark on a succession of routine patrols, interspersed with calming episodes of bonding with their new squad-mates, which have the feel of a soap opera.

But then a massive change-up sees the storyline bounce around in all manner of unlikely directions, introducing an element of time-travel and unexpected factional outbreaks that rip the OSF asunder. For an uncomfortable period, so much exposition takes place that it proves a tad baffling, but eventually things settle down in a vaguely logical manner. As storylines go, though, Scarlet Nexus’s is pretty bonkers.

Mind and melee

But the real star of Scarlet Nexus is its action gameplay, which develops multiple layers beyond the basic psychokinesis-and-melee attacks. Via a brain-connecting system called SAS, Yuito and Kasane can borrow their squad-mates’ powers for short periods, which proves vital when facing particular types of enemies.

Bandai NamcoScarlet Nexus review photo 13

Among those powers are hypervelocity, pyrokinesis, invisibility, clairvoyance and duplication. So when faced, say, by a boss equipped with moving radar which will cause it to enter an impregnable mode if it scans you, you can trigger hypervelocity to run around its defences and get in close.

An RPG-style skill tree lets you add a number of physical moves and attacks, and both Kasane and Yuito can also wield specific environmental objects for special attacks that involved timed button-presses or stick movements.

A Brain Drive meter grants periods of extra power and speed, and the pair develop the ability to move the action to a so-called Brain Field, which is a sort of neon-coloured arena in their minds, where they can take out groups of Others quickly.

Big-time bosses

That all proves to be more intuitive than it sounds, which is just as well, since once you start encountering boss-battles and taking on humans with similar powers to yourself (either individually or in squads), you have to start employing a hugely tactical approach. As with any good JRPG, battle-strategy is paramount – and you can subtly adjust your squad-mates’ overall approaches to battles for an extra edge.

Bandai NamcoScarlet Nexus review photo 6

The duels with other human characters effectively constitute boss-battles, which are memorable and challenging. You also find occasional outbreaks of mainly environmental puzzling in Scarlet Nexus.

Choosing which character to play as at the start isn’t too much of a dilemma: Yuito has more powerful physical attacks than Kasane, but their stories initially play out more or less identically, before diverging at a certain point, which adds replay value. Once you finish the game with one character, curiosity will almost certainly prompt you to play it again as the other. Each character’s storyline could occupy you for 15 to 20 hours.

Verdict

Scarlet Nexus has emerged without much pedigree or expectations – it was made by a team at Bandai Namco Studios which previously worked on the rather obscure Tales games. Which makes the way in which it feels so fully formed and original all the more impressive. 

It’s the sort of game that constitutes the ideal gateway into JRPGs, a genre which has always been perceived as niche, despite the crossover success of franchises like Final Fantasy and Yakuza.

Anime fans will marvel at its graphics, characters, storyline and general art style, which is all simply gorgeous. JRPG fans will lap it up, as should aficionados of Western RPGs who disdain turn-based games. As a result, it appears Scarlet Nexus has the attributes to already be hailed as a cult-classic.

Writing by Steve Boxer. Editing by Mike Lowe.





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