We are all aware of the blight that has forever tainted Cyberpunk 2077. The steampunk world filled with futuristic wonder really sucks you in. It shares that same similarity with Bandai Namco’s Scarlet Nexus, the cybernetic world and the cyberpunk aesthetic are a couple of the main draws of the game. Scarlet Nexus is much more than its world though, it’s an anime adventure filled with intrigue and mystery in not only its lore and characters but the overarching plot too, but it’s not free of shortcomings that fail to make it a standout next-gen masterpiece.
You begin the game by selecting between two protagonists, but don’t be fooled by thinking it is just a choice between playing as a boy or a girl as both characters, Yuito Sumeragi and Kasane Randall, have different paths but the same goal. Yuito joins the OSF, or Others Suppression Force, after being inspired due to an OSF member saving his life as a child, and Kasane was raised to become OSF after losing her parents to an Other attack. Others are the game’s enemies, and they have dropped from the sky to invade, with the game’s main location, New Himuka, being at the front and centre. Although the main plot surrounds the Others and the constant threat they pose, the plot fans out around chapter 3 when things go sour within the OSF, no spoilers. I enjoyed the story; however, it brought me my first critique of Scarlet Nexus: storyboarding. 90% of the game’s cutscenes are told and played out in a series of still images that swirl around as the scene is played out. Considering I was playing one of the most exciting games that was announced for next-gen platforms, this disappointed me. So too did the mediocre voice acting that failed to pull off any sort of convincing emotion and conviction when acting out an impactful scene. It’s a shame considering Scarlet Nexus has some interesting guys and gals in its cast. Yuito’s childhood friend, Hanabi, is constantly supporting him and may just have a crush on him too, and Yuito’s best friend, Nagi, is always looking for appraisal, and Gemma is a stoic leader with good intentions that is torn between two factions.
It would have been a pure slog playing through this game if it weren’t for the superb combat system. Yuito and Kasane, like all OSF members, possess kinetic powers. These powers are unleashed using their own minds. Our heroes’ specialty is psychokinesis, which they use seamlessly in combat. Their only difference is that Yuito wields a sword for up-close melee combos, and Kasane uses daggers that she hurls forward using her mind for a more ranged fighting style, but both characters can throw cars, trucks, lamp posts, anything in their vicinity that isn’t nailed down. The fluidity of the combat is excellent; using psychokinesis to chuck a car then holding the strong attack button down to immediately follow up with a combo feels sublime; however, powers are managed by a small gauge above your health, and overusing them depletes the gauge, meaning you won’t have anything but your weapons until that gauge refills. You’re also able to use heavier vehicles and debris against enemies using the opposite trigger. These take a little longer to pull off and use more gauge, but the results are more effective. Such attacks like riding a bus to run over enemies, splashing large oil drums over them ready for a fiery follow up or repeatedly whacking them with a massive steel girder are just brilliant to pull off and worth the extra kinetic gauge expenditure.
Later on, you’ll unlock “brain drive” and “brain field” abilities. Brain drive activates automatically once its dedicated gauge fills. This enables a sort-of empowered mode that heightens attack power, gives infinite kinesis meter and makes you slightly harder to take down. There’s no way of turning this on or off; however, there is a rage mode that you can activate at will, but it’s much more than just a type of rage mode. “Brain field” is activated by clicking in both thumb sticks, which shows your character zip up their cyber hoodie and have tentacle-like virtual cables shoot out from their backs. You also take all enemies in the vicinity to a form of cyber space; in here you get infinite kinetic power, and you have limited but way more powerful attacks, such as using a huge girder as a giant baseball bat to smack your enemies left and right. Brain field is a fantastic way of taking down tougher enemies, but there is a huge drawback; it is extremely taxing on the mind and drains the brain drive gauge, and once it depletes fully, your character dies.
Combat goes deeper thanks to SAS or Struggle Arms System. This is the ability to virtually plug into your allies’ mind in order to use their powers as if they were your own. Up to four allies can be assigned to each face button, and using the left shoulder button activates SAS for that ally. Hanabi uses Pyrokinesis, which allows your character to use fire-based attacks, Gemma uses Sclerokinesis, which protects from enemy attacks for a short duration. Each power opens up new strategies in battle, which is a good job because the enemies can be tough. Due to the bizarre design for the “Others”, it is extremely tough to read their attack patterns; therefore, you have to be on your toes at all times. Some enemies look like bouquets with legs, others look like armoured oversized crocodiles, while other variants are a mixture of human appendages.
As Scarlet Nexus is an action-RPG, levelling up is inevitable. You gain brain points to use to unlock more abilities in a skill tree. These abilities include more advanced combos, more health or kinesis, longer combo strings when swapping between psychokinesis and melee and more. Leveling up is done naturally through a playthrough of the story, but in order to level up faster, you need to fight more Others.
Scarlet Nexus is a great action game and storyteller; however, the storyboard presentation and emotionless, read-the-script dialogue and bizarre enemy design may cause some players to struggle to keep focused. The combat is more than enough to carry on though, it’s fast, fluid and deep.
Developer: Bandai Namco Studios
Publisher: Bandai Namco
Platforms: PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X and Series S, PC
Release Date: 25th June 2021
Gaming Respawn’s copy of Scarlet Nexus was provided by the publisher.