Scarlet Nexus Review (PlayStation 5)
Plug in your brain and dive into the Scarlet Nexus in this brand new anime game.
For as long as there has been anime, there have been tie-in videogames. These date back to as early as the 1980s in which early Japanese animation paved the way for the popular media format. The iconic film Akira, and series like Lupin III, Yu Yu Hakusho, Fist of the North Star, Ghost in the Shell and Cowboy Bebop all received the tie-in game treatment. This tradition of tie-ins gained momentum throughout the '90s and still continues today in which modern anime are adapted into videogames, many of which manage to achieve critical acclaim.
Some have have sought to reverse this concept, making anime series based off videogames. It's not a new concept by any means, as popular titles like Street Fighter, Mega Man and most prominently, Pokemon, have spawned animated adaptations. It only makes sense that a game created with such an animated style would make for an eye-catching and engaging animation to attract different audiences to the series.
But how about taking that concept one step further - creating a videogame that IS an anime? New series have begun to blur the line between videogame and anime, and that is certainly the case with BANDAI NAMCO Studio's brand new IP, SCARLET NEXUS. A videogame that not only looks, feels, sounds and plays like an anime, but is also being released almost simultaneously alongside a SCARLET NEXUS animation. We've finally come full circle.
So for those wanting the anime experience without the need to commit to 700+ episodes, does Scarlet Nexus manage to deliver an authentic gripping sci-fi/brainpunk anime series condensed into an action-RPG? Well, plug in your brain and dive in, because you're about to find out.
The story begins with what is the most important choice in the game, the player is prompted to choose between male character Yuito Sumeragi or female character Kasane Randall. Depending on which character is picked will vary the perspective on story dramatically, though they do run parallel to each other and overlap on numerous occasions. Honestly, these two distinct stories have enough individual content to have been divided into two different versions akin to Pokemon (maybe something like SCARLET NEXUS and AZURE NEXUS).
Playing as your chosen protagonist, you begin as a lowly recruit to the OSF - the Other Suppression Force - a group of highly-trained and specialised soldiers tasked with defending the metropolis of New Himuka (which is basically a fictional Tokyo). Members of the OSF are revered within society, as they possess unique psyonic abilities they can utilise to fend off the "Others", interdimensional monstrosities who manifest in the Extinction Belt in the sky and wreak havoc upon the earth. The sole purpose of the Others are to pursue and kill humans and consume their brains, and the origins of these hideous creatures are initially unknown but are explored through the game's story.
Within the first few hours of gameplay dozens of characters belonging to the OSF are introduced, each of whom belong to several unique teams that carry out regular missions to pursue the Other invasion. Eventually Yuito and Kasane become squad leaders, each with a team of their own that you'll interact with throughout the story, though their stories soon diverge and will again reunite at a later point with vastly different motivations.
I cannot discuss in-depth many aspects of the story without spoiling it significantly, though I will say the game has far more beneath the surface than it seems once you explore past the initial anime clichés. Political motivations, corruption, betrayal and deceit feature heavily as some of the themes at play in Scarlet Nexus, and there are multiple plot twists that will take most players by surprise.
The gameplay is divided into three main aspects: Story Phase, Rest Phase, and dialogue/cutscenes.
Story Phase is exactly what the name would imply: it's the portion of the game that focuses on the main story. Taking control of the main character and their squad, you'll be heading out on important story missions that involve exploring locales, defeating enemies, solving simple environmental puzzles, and inevitably duking it out with a boss at the end of the phase. Once the boss is defeated, you're given more insight into the story and the characters around which it revolves. It's a completely linear, simple experience, which though repetitive is still satisfying thanks to the game's characters and combat.
Each new area in the story phase features distinct Other foes that will often require use of different abilities to dispatch, and you'll be faced with waves of these enemies as you explore. Defeating these enemies will steadily accumulate XP which automatically improves character attributes and allows the player to spend points on a skill tree to improve the main character's combat abilities. There is also some incentive in exploration, as going out of your way will reward you with collectible items and materials that can be used to upgrade weapons, create gifts for your team members, or unlock unique cosmetic items.
Rest Phase is Scarlet Nexus' version of the "Social Link", providing conversation and insight into characters through light-hearted interactions. The squad base (which feels strangely like a college sharehouse), is where the characters regroup after a mission and relax after a hard day of slaughtering Others. During these segments characters will be able to interact and strengthen their Social Links bonds which will in turn provide incredibly helpful added bonuses during combat. Using materials gathered during the story phase you'll also be able to create gifts to help level up character bonds a bit faster. These interactions are initially amusing, but quickly lose their novelty, as each bond conversation is essentially 5 - 10 minutes of small talk and become very tempting to skip.
The rest of the game is comprised of cutscenes and dialogue that are focused almost entirely on story, which is intriguing and unravels over the 30+ hour journey. At times it feels exactly like watching an anime, and at other times it's more like reading an interactive manga. Thankfully these sections are far more interesting than the rest phase interactions, and are likely to keep you engaged and keen for more snippets of story.
Going into Scarlet Nexus completely blind and spoiler-free, I had little idea of what to expect from its combat. From previous experience I've noticed that most anime games generally seem to fall within the category of turn-based combat, or generic fighting game (with some exceptions). In this case, however, Scarlet Nexus has gone above and beyond with some of the most gripping, fluid, fast-paced and enjoyable combat I've ever encountered in an action-RPG.
Playing as one of the two main characters, most of your main combat abilities are focused on psychokinesis, the ability to control objects with your mind and use them as weapons against the enemy. Discarded items can be flung as projectiles, trains can slam into and destroy enemies instantly, or environmental ornaments like chandeliers can be flung around like a deadly spinning tops. Using psyonic attacks will deplete a meter which can be refilled through weapon attacks, all of which will slowly deplete the enemies' break gauge. Once the enemy has been broken, a finishing attack can be performed which will unleash a devastating move that will either completely destroy the enemy or remove a large chunk of the bosses' health. Though that's really only the surface of the combat.
Combat really ramps up when you get other OSF team members involved. As you progress through the game you'll have several other recruits added to your squad, each of whom have a unique ability that can be used both inside and outside of combat. Activating their ability applies a modifier to your own skills, such as turning you invisible, giving you super speed, duplicating yourself, or adding elemental attacks. What initially starts off as a fun mechanic becomes engrossing when you unlock the ability to apply 2 or even 4 of these modifiers at once. You'll be able to decimate enemies in seconds thanks to the abilities your team-mates confer. Turning invisible and activating hyper-speed to 1-hit KO an enemy with a sneak attack is supremely satisfying.
Finally, the most satisfying element of combat doesn't appear until you've dived deep into the game, when the ability to activate the Brain Field is finally unlocked. Plugging in and entering a space beyond reality, your attacks become overpowered and amplified, and can be used to quickly overwhelm the enemy. This is accompanied by a distinct visual sequence that transforms the world around you. Though this must be utilised with caution, as Brain Fielding for too long will be harmful to your character and can even kill them completely.
Quite possibly the most anime aspect of Scarlet Nexus is its visuals, particularly in regard to its character designs and animations. Models for characters are clean and crisp, especially when playing on PlayStation 5 where the games runs at 4K and a buttery 60fps. Despite being rendered in 3D, the game achieves a character style that feels authentically anime, and the designs of the characters emphasise this with their varied characteristics, hairstyles, physiques and weapons. Each character during combat has distinct attacks and colours - these look great and help the player to distinguish which character is making an action or active in combat.
While the cutscenes too look excellent and are well-animated, it's disappointing that the majority of the game is presented as bland static scenes with character panels overlayed. It's a simplistic way to convey character interactions, but just not particularly engaging, especially when you're made to sit through lengthy scenes of exposition. Thankfully there is always a skip button available if you're finding a conversation to be bland or tedious.
Most of the environments unfortunately are nothing to write home about, and occasionally feel quite generic. When out on missions you'll explore locations like factories, abandoned quarries, mysterious libraries, suspicious research facilities, and overgrown highways, often revisiting these areas on several occasions. It's not that they look bad, but they're just not impressive or eye-catching. This is made even more obvious when you're exploring the city of New Himuka, which looks comparatively brilliant with its hustle and bustle of neon lights and busy walkways.
Unusually, the composer Hironori "Guts" Anazawa, isn't known just for his contributions to videogame music. Though he has prepared and composed music for prominent games like Pokemon Sun/Moon, Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate, and Daemon x Machina, he's also responsible for music heard in the anime Prison School, and featured in multiple Japanese TV commercials. An interesting and varied portfolio!
The music he has created for Scarlet Nexus presents a plethora of genres, spanning multiple musical styles. With songs consisting of synth/electro through to lounge/acid jazz, J-pop and hard rock, all the way to industrial metal, there's something here that will appeal to almost everyone. Tracks feel distinctly futuristic fitting with the game's setting, and music ramps up in response to your combat, increasing both the pace and pitch when certain abilities are activated.
Thankfully a game featuring a truly colossal (and sometimes overwhelming) amount of dialogue also features some excellent voice acting performances. When beginning the game you'll be given the option to pick between English/Japanese voiceovers, which is a nice touch for an anime-style game and will satisfy subtitle purists as well as dub heathens. Having played exclusively in Japanese, I can vouch for the quality of the Japanese cast, who could easily convince you into thinking you were actually watching an anime. The quality of these voiceovers certainly helps during some of the arduous dialogue.
Thanks to its intriguing story and truly excellent combat, Scarlet Nexus offers one of the better original anime game experiences in recent years. Although the game achieves some phenomenal highs and will almost certainly appeal to those seeking brilliant sci-fi action, there are unfortunately many moments where interactions and excessive dialogue feel like bland filler episodes and will tempt you to skip them entirely. Thankfully the enjoyment of the more important parts of the game vastly outweigh its drawbacks, and overall anime fans would be foolish to avoid Scarlet Nexus because of this. Bandai Namco have created a brand new series that I'm already eager to see return, even to the point where I would happily consider playing through the game once more to experience the other protagonist's perspective.
So, why should you play it?
You're a fan of anime, particularly those with an emphasis on sci-fi/action.
Truly brilliant combat system that is engaging and fast-paced.
Intriguing story with numerous unexpected plot twists.
Colourful cast of characters.
But why shouldn't you play it?
Excessive dialogue can be tedious and bland.
Gameplay can feel repetitive at times.
A review code on PlayStation 5 was provided for the purpose of this review.
Ben 'Qualbert' Schuster
Ben is a game reviewer and collector with a passion for the Australian games industry. His favourite game is Ōkami and he spends most of his time playing JRPGs and indie games. You can read more of his reviews and retrospective articles at qualbert.com