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Scarlet Nexus

Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X
Genre: Action/Adventure
Publisher: Bandai Namco Games
Release Date: June 25, 2021


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PS5 Review - 'Scarlet Nexus'

by Redmond Carolipio on June 23, 2021 @ 8:00 a.m. PDT

In Scarlet Nexus you take on the role of Yuito Sumeragi, a new recruit to the OSF aiming to become an elite psionic like the one who saved him as a child.

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Scarlet Nexus is a game about the mind, and it requires you to open yours wide enough to fit in a universe's worth of ideas. In the dozens of hours I spent on one hero's journey, I was blanketed in waves of brilliant color and action, enthralled and occasionally annoyed with its storytelling and then, in a thrilling conclusion, left in a state that was both contemplative, perhaps emotional. Put another way, this game reminded me of a lot of the things I used to experience when I regularly watched anime in my youth.

The premise of Scarlet Nexus is a wild mix of alternate-reality fantasy and supernatural cyberpunk (or, as developer Bandai Namco would prefer, "brainpunk") futurism. In this alternate world, a select number of people have been blessed with psionic abilities and recruited as youngsters into an elite unit called the Other Suppression Force, or OSF. Their job is to battle against mutated, brain-hungry abominations that appeared from the sky, dubbed the Others. You can play as one of two rookie protagonists, Kasane or Yuito. Both have different personalities and weapons, but the one thing they have in common is psychokinetic ability: They can move things with their minds.

I rolled with Kasane for my playthrough, and she was my vessel to experience what I felt was the dominant force behind the Scarlet Nexus experience: incredibly intricate combat.

As Kasane progressed through her personal odyssey in the OSF, she leveled up and added to an already impressive combat toolbox. She had a variety of traditional face-button-oriented melee attacks, but the real fun started with her psychokinetic ability. All of her fighting took place in spaces where she could run around, and as she did this, iconography popped up next to things she could pick up with her mind and mentally chuck at the enemy. Pulling down and holding the right trigger gave me the visual treat of seeing random stuff lift off the ground, hurtle toward a target and smash into it. In some cases, I got vibes of Remedy's Control, where many battles involved an avalanche of mind-throwing action.

Kasane did more than that, however — a lot more. Eventually, the left trigger came into play, and that dealt with the manipulation of much heavier objects. Pulling that down (when the left trigger icon popped up) led to an attack that took a little more time to develop but was incredibly satisfying when it connected. Sometimes, it led to different combat mechanics. Kasane threw trucks. She threw trains. She squeezed a fuel tanker to the point of explosion, igniting any creatures within range. She has torn off a chandelier from a ceiling, made it spin furiously and then drove it around (mid-attack, more input iconography showed up to tell me which button to push or what stick motion I needed to execute) to lay smackdowns upon her enemies. She picked up a piece of a wall or something, jumped on it and surfed it in the air like a magic carpet, navigating it through an icy pathway and running over whatever Other creatures were in her sightline. It was awesome.

Then there's the stuff she could do with her friends, other members of the OSF who have different psionic powers. Kasane actually had the ability to brain-connect with one of her party members in real time — via a combo of right-shoulder button and face button of your choice, depending on how the powers/icons are mapped — and use their power for a limited time in battle. As her group of friends grew, this led to Kasane having a full-on arsenal of abilities at her disposal. Run into a barrier? Borrow one friend's teleportation ability. Some creature is covered in oil? Connect with your friend who can summon fire and give your weapons that flaming touch. On a side note, I loved activating characters' powers just to see a signature anime touch of them appearing on the screen for a split-second and gesturing. That never got old. Later on in the game, I was able to start activating two powers at once, map out which powers I wanted at the ready and even make real-time switches between power loadouts with a double-press of the right shoulder button.

And if that weren't enough, Kasane also had the equivalent of a God of War-esque rage mode called a "brain field," which bathed the entire battle space in a purple hue, gave Kasane a mask with glowing eyes and made her extremely powerful, where she could unleash psychokinetic hell on everything around her without fear of depleting the meter that gauges how much mental juice she has to throw things. She also turned a little power mad, and there's some hard guitar that played in the background just to accentuate the fact that s**t got real. Combat is plentiful, frantic and fantastic. The design of the Others is particularly noteworthy, as many of these twisted creatures look like a mishmash of concepts that make them look weird and terrifying, like the things Bayonetta fought. They are actually hard to describe — arms are legs, faces are upside-down, some have water valves for heads, one boss was a floating elephant chimera-type with a spinning umbrella shield — I definitely said "what the hell is that?" to myself about a dozen times before it eventually became, "OK, sure. Let's go."

In addition to all the stuff I just mentioned, Kasane also has the ability to "break" down an enemy for an instant-kill attack called a "brain crush" once she depletes an enemy's "crush meter" that's below its life meter. It's essential against boss characters, and the attacks themselves are visually amazing, but there were split-seconds when I forgot what I had to do, just like there'd be moments I'd have the occasional split-second issue of navigating through my healing items or keeping track of what powers I had available in combat. While the combat system admirably accounts for so many things, it isn't the most intuitive system at times because there's so much to keep in check. That's compounded by the constant chatter that occurs during battle, much of which pops up in small type on the screen to the left side. Normally, I could've ignored this, as most of the chatter consisted of simple status updates like, "It uses electricity!" or "Watch out!" but many other times, the chatter involved story and character development or even hints about how to traverse certain obstacles. I'd end up missing some of these nuggets because I was busy trying to evade a group of explosive flying eyeball things in a box.

The game makes up for whatever you miss during battle with lots of lore and dialogue to support a thick, winding story that starts with Kasane (or Yuito) simply being talented rookies and concludes after branching narratives that include familial love, espionage, the origin of the Others, alternate dimensions, time travel, classism, science ethics — it is a lot that I won't spoil. It's a story that start with one twist and keeps twisting to the point where whatever mental rope you're using to keep track of things starts fraying a little. Thankfully, there's an actual story tab in the menu that lays out everything and updates as you progress. This feels like a concession, as if Bandai Namco is saying, "Yeah, there's a lot to unpack. We know."

What helps the cause for Scarlet Nexus on the narrative front is the cast of developed characters. All of them exhibit the kind of traits and energy I've enjoyed from anime I've watched. All have deeper backstories that can evolve over time as you have opportunities to "bond" with them during set story phases in a hideout — think of them as intermissions between chapters — that can range from chatting at a cafe to side missions. If you dive in, you're going to spend a lot of time listening and reading. Few of these "bonding episodes" are short and can lead to a lot of conversations with people about life, their dreams, gardening, dating, friendship, etc. Some people might not be into that and want to keep their momentum going through the story, and you're able to skip those. There were times when I was tempted to skip simply because I didn't want to read through everything and have the experience start to drag. Looking back, however, I was entertained and fulfilled learning about everyone.

One thing that stuck out to me about the OSF is their air of celebrity. Because attacks from the Others have apparently been so commonplace, the OSF has become a way of life for people in this world, covered and scrutinized like a sports team, except full of psionic warriors. One of those psionic warriors even serves as the official PR spokesperson.

Kasane is such a reserved, blunt, no-nonsense person she might be considered a little socially inept. Within minutes of talking to someone, she'll bluntly and earnestly ask, "Are you an idiot?" Yuito is more emotionally vibrant but doesn't radiate the same badass energy that Kasane does. There's Arashi Spring, the OSF public relations face, who has the power of hyperspeed but enjoys being lazy. Shiden Ritter, master of electricity, is an abrasive jerk to overcompensate for his feelings of inferiority. Kyoka Eden, who has the power to make duplicates of herself, is the gorgeous empath who treats everyone like family. Tsugumi is an incredibly shy and powerful clairvoyant who loves gardening. Kagero, one of the older OSF guys, is the resident joker and carefree lout, at least on the surface.

There's a whole wealth of characters to connect with, and connectivity is one of the title's themes during its expansive story. It's also the theme of much of the game's aesthetic beauty, as there are ethereal wires and strings everywhere in a truly beautiful worldscape that looks like you're playing an actual anime series. Scarlet Nexus radiates off the screen, whether you're in one of the vast fictional cities or inside a dreamscape or a massive supercomputer. It's hard to take your eyes off it, which made the time playing it sort of fly by, even as I was finding myself heading back to certain areas for the third or fourth time for different missions. I noticed the repetition, but it didn't downgrade my enjoyment.

I think the world of Scarlet Nexus has a lot to offer, and I enjoyed getting a significant taste of it. Its concepts on brain power and psionic combat feel fresh, at least artistically, and I want to see where it possibly goes. I'm still abuzz over the final boss confrontation. I don't think it's quite for everyone, but fans of the anime style of storytelling will find something to connect with here.

Score: 8.2/10

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