I'm a bit of an anime fan, it's no lie. Dragon Ball, Naruto Shippuden, One Piece, Bleach, My Hero Academia, One Punch Man… all on my regular viewing list! (In case it ever comes up as pub quiz knowledge, my favourite is Full Metal Alchemist Brotherhood.) But all of these big-hitting animation sensations are established enough to have media made around their canonical stories. Heck, I believe Dragon Ball is up to over 140 games! So it's weird to have a game release coinciding with its original influence. Scarlet Nexus by Bandai Namco is a single-player, action RPG with two set-in stories. It's based on its respectively named anime and follows the stories of Kasane Randall and Yuito Sumeragi, each of which takes around 30-35 hours to complete.
Concept of Scarlet Nexus
Scarlet Nexus is set in an alternate reality in the near future. Technologies, and societal norms, have been developed based directly on discoveries of the brain. A new substance was discovered which enabled groups of people to utilise supernatural abilities. These are not unique to users but are used primarily in the removal and prevention of Other attacks.
Others are creatures that regularly attack the citizens of the world, feeding on their brains and causing mass devastation wherever they appear. Their appearance rate is influenced by the "Extinction Belt", a belt of strange, cosmic particles between the Earth and moon. When this belt enters the atmosphere, Others appear. What's worse is that they are attracted to the substance in the brain which so much of society is now dependent and centred on. Luckily, the OSF (Other Suppression Force) was established with the purpose of utilising these newfound abilities to eradicate any attacking Others.
The OSF is broken up into divisions with each having many platoons within them as well. The game begins with both Yuito and Kasane joining the OSF and joining a platoon each. Platoons have leaders and a designated operator (with appropriate telepathic powers) to relay information to the team whilst out on missions. Platoons are allocated objectives to investigate or are sent out to eradicate build-ups of Others when the Extinction Belt is closest to the Earth.
Story and Differences
Scarlet Nexus' story is centred on both heroes' needs and wants. Kasane joined at the same time as her adoptive sister, Naomi, and is determined to keep her safe. She has little interest in her own needs or other people, but her entire purpose seems to be focused on ensuring Naomi is safe at all times. Yuito, however, joined the OSF to repay a debt he feels he holds. As a young boy, he himself was saved by an OSF member and so feels a strong desire to be able to do the same. He is passionate and caring, but very much naive to how his emotion-driven actions impact those around him.
Kasane and Yuito's stories are intertwined throughout the game. Both join the OSF at the start into different platoons, but events happen in both their stories which cause their experiences to intersect and merge. Also, many of the characters from both their stories are present in one another's. Again, these are story-based occurrences but give background into each character's rich history and personality.
Gameplay of Scarlet Nexus
Bonds and Combat
Whichever story you start with, the game is played in episodes. These focus on an objective the platoon feels they need to complete and will take them across multiple locations - all of which become accessible between episodes. Between episodes, players can make use of the time to bond with their team. This may be centred on going out for a meal, giving gifts, helping to solve a personal crisis or simply chatting. It helps develop a real background for the characters' friendships and bonds and also gives more substance to the story. What's more, is that these also improve the SAS (Struggle Arms System) of characters.
Scarlet Nexus' SAS system is centred on borrowing abilities from party members, enabling you to utilise their skills in combat. Initially, only one ability can be borrowed at a time but, as you level up, you can use the skill tree to unlock more. These abilities include invisibility, duplication, electrokinesis and many more. The innate abilities of both Kasane and Yuito are psychokinesis. This enables them to launch loose objects at enemies during combat whilst also fighting them with their respective weapons. Your party also benefit from these activated SAS abilities, but they are time-limited and can only be active for short time before needing to recharge.
The Brain Drive
The final combat mechanics are the Brain Drive and Brain Field Development. The Brain Drive is a buff that gradually builds in a meter over time. When it is full, players benefit from increased speed, damage, psychokinesis speed and increased experience points. Out of combat it still depletes when active, so it is worth timing its activation where possible. Brain Field Development is very much a final gambit for the player. It lets the player really manipulate the battle and deal massive damage; swinging huge pieces of debris and moving at an increased speed. However, this ability has a countdown that gradually moves to zero. If it hits, the players may die.
Without giving spoilers away, the game does not follow a straight path with its story. It moves in lots of directions and the world around you impacts the characters directly. The ever mixing story of Yuito, Kasane and their parties is constant and there are events that occur in either playthrough which the other party are not privy to. This review will be relatively spoiler-free where possible and will focus on the mechanics and overall story.
How It Handles
Scarlet Nexus is not as anime as anime can be. For better or worse, it wears its badge with pride but happily tones it down compared to other renditions of anime and manga stories. The characters are relatable and likeable and avoid the overly expressive guffaws, gasps and growls of other animated heroes. And the story? Ok, that's pretty typical to an anime. But don't get me wrong with this. It's executed well and delivers a highly enjoyable narrative to expire.
Tell Us The Story!
Scarlet Nexus does a superb job of telling its story in a steady and understandable way. Having someone else explain it to you, however, would be messy. Very messy. The game is rich in its narrative and how it introduces twists, turns and historical implications, but knowing where to start and explaining the first impacting event chronologically would spoil a lot. I don't want to spoil any of the narrative, so I've kept this as vague as possible on purpose… but the game is clever in how it gives information away and explains what is/has happened and how it is/has affected the world.
How much of the story you engage with is down to the bonding time between episodes. The episodical experience of playing through the game will give you the core story. Nothing more. It's still a meaty bit of narrative, but you'll question elements that impact the characters in your roster directly. Where you get the real meat on the literary bones is with the discussions between your main protagonists and their posse. It makes for quite a colourful story to experience and a great one when considering that they too experienced it. My biggest bit of advice, spend time bonding. It'll boost your skills and give you depth into why these good folk are hanging around with you, despite the tale you're in!
I'll Have To Use My Ultimate Technique
The combat is Scarlet Nexus is undeniably satisfying. Yuito is nimble, quick and everything your manga fantasies want in a swordsman. Kasane on the other hand uses chakram like blades which she telekinetically launches at her enemies in what could be described as a dance. Both deal enough damage to fell weaker enemies quickly, and chip away at the big ones'.
Like in any RPG, you level up skills and enhance abilities in Scarlet Nexus. The tree of skills which you choose from progresses through specific categories of focus: support, aggression, SAS etc. Initially, I found Kasane to be unbelievably slow and immovable. Her dodge didn't run well alongside her combos and it felt like her in air combat lacked massively. However, five levels later and some choice skills gained to suit my play style and she was suddenly a delight to throw into a fight! Add on 30 hours of playtime and her functionality became excellently fun.
What adds to this is the natural progression to unlock things like more SAS abilities and the Brain Field. Whether you use these as a final gambit or as the centre of your combat style, they enhance the experience positively. I felt the game introduced these things at the right tie so as not to overwhelm, but to say "these dudes are tough and they appear everywhere.. so it's upgrade time!" Suddenly you're packed with an arsenal of new tricks and ready to pull them out in a pinch… but don't be too hasty. The good folk of the Extinction Belt aren't one-trick ponies either and they too enhance as the game progresses. You've got to be smart…
Now I've Got Your Power!
When you do get to the point where you've got multiple party members' abilities at your disposal, the game then starts throwing enemies at you requiring specific approaches. The sort where they have an exploitable weakness that synergises with a specific ability. You can either sledgehammer your way through their health bar. Or! You can sneaky sneak your way behind them and nail that weak point for an easy execution.
For me, I found great pleasure in using Hypervelocity and Electrokinesis to stun enemies quickly, then switching to Duplication to lay in with double damage! Could I use that every time? Absolutely not. But that meant I was more engaged in the combat and not just button mashing. I had to plan and think, which is the best bit of the fight! Slapping the square button until something dies is passive gameplay. Having the challenge of needing to exploit weaknesses or contend with obstacles made it exciting.
Eventually, you'll get to try all the powers across both plays and, inevitably, you'll need to engage with the respective characters too. If you become good friends or close to a party member, your abilities with their skills increase. Similarly, if you don't spend time bonding, your abilities may not keep up!
We found this to be a great mechanic that ensured we engaged with the other characters and understood who they were and their backgrounds. Sure, some of them have very odd histories to match their personalities, but it also helped tie the story together at points and explain their actions too. What's more, is how much the skills improve. From having them block damage to being able to call them in for a big attack mid-combo, they are a big buff to have and are wonderfully diverse. It made it all the more fluid and made it feel that they fought as a team.
What's Love Got To Do With It?
Scarlet Nexus is an anime game. (Have I mentioned that yet?) And with it being an anime game, it follows anime tropes - particularly with love and relationship interests. It's a game with bonding elements, sooner or later someone is going to show some love. Normally you'd have characters fall into categories such as Tsundere or Dandere. These are the extremes of tropes for personalities linked to romance and drown out all interesting elements of the character beyond being that title.
If these stereotypical anime-esque mannerisms and behaviours bug you, then worry not. Bask in the knowledge that this game does not fall into this trap! The game is very tame in terms of how much affection the characters show one another, and it helps humanise them better than any anime could… with Kasane being the exception.
Not in Love
Kasane is never a love interest for any other character. She rarely attempts to engage in conversation beyond the OSF or their operations or beyond her sister Naomi. There are some instances where others insinuate or tease her as a Tsundere (someone who acts cold to hide love interests) but it doesn't come to fruition. However! Kasane does make some big moves in terms of character development.
At the beginning of the game, she starts out as someone who clearly needs a personality transplant. She's methodical, precise and about as fun as a rainy weekend watching the news. After a few episodes in-game, she suddenly sparks to life with interest in others' lives and interests. Her awkwardness in conversation is highlighted and the bonding elements help show her development to making friendships and considering others' feelings and situations. It works to her favour well and reflects the experiences she has in-game, too.
Oblivious To It!
Yuito on the other hand starts the game as happy go lucky and ends it being happy go lucky. He is the main interest of another character too and they play the roles of someone hiding their feelings and someone completely oblivious. It's cute, and the interactions they share and how they discuss one another during Kasane's play through gives great depth to it all… but it's never overbearing or made forefront without engaging in the bonding activities!
It's the same for all engagements. Whether you play Yuito or Kasane, the discussions between them and their party are interesting and develop a unique friendship. They develop your knowledge of the game and story well and are a great break from the combat…. And, better yet, they're optional!
Scarlet Nexus is an anime game that doesn't suffer from anime hazards. The characters are likeable and you can engage with them to understand their interests, motives and histories. It gives depth quickly to all the protagonists and helps you understand why they're all engaged in the story. The combat is clean and thoroughly enjoyable, with a diverse range of skills and abilities at your disposal without feeling overwhelming.
What's more, is how the combat flows and requires consideration for approach. You can't button mash your way through this one! And the story is so rich with details and information, but it's fed through the episodes and bonding the characters engage in so it never becomes too complicated! We thoroughly enjoyed Scarlet Nexus and found it to be an excellent experience!