Scarlet Nexus review – banal in the brain

Despite being created by much of the same team as 2019’s Code Vein, Scarlet Nexus – also a melee-focused third-person anime game – is certainly not Soulslike. Instead, it’s an intense character action game with psychic powers and absurd monster designs that would make Hidetaka Miyazaki blush – and if that’s your thing, you can buy it here. Sadly, those great qualities are offset by a silly story, irritating characters, and a dreary game world.

The story takes place on an alternate Earth where two countries depend on psychic soldiers to protect them from attacks from twisted creatures called Others. There is a civil war in the background that erupts halfway through the story, and there is no shortage of political intrigue and teen drama. This is all a great place to start, but Bandai Namco Studios overload every little nook and cranny of the world with superficial detail that only serves to bog down the story.

There’s a narrative here, but it’s overworked, melodramatic, and steeped in worn tropes. It’s written with the confidence of a game that has a detailed and expansive world, but in reality, it works on very ordinary things. Plot elements are introduced and then forgotten, there are coined words for everything from drones to health microphones, and military branches with names like Septentrions – that’s a lot of noise to go through.

Scarlet Nexus’ biggest storytelling failure is its characters. Despite an imposing cast, there aren’t any real characters that stand out and I had a hard time liking any of them. Companions like Shiden are memorable, though mainly because he’s selfish and abrasive, and Arashi can at least be ironic and funny, but that’s about it. This isn’t helped by the fact that all of the characters seemingly have the same face – there’s tiny differences, but for the most part, the outfits make the characterization.

That’s a shame, as Scarlet Nexus starts off promisingly by having two distinct characters, each with their own storyline and playstyle, immediately doubling the game’s already extended playtime. Yuito, the upbeat and positive of the two, is a close range fighter, while Kasane, who is slightly icy in comparison, has more range. Unfortunately, none of them really grow up as the story progresses, and there aren’t many opportunities to get to know them outside of the main story.

Drawings of monsters in Scarlet Nexus would make Hidetaka Miyazaki blush

The Bonds episodes – side stories that help deepen the relationship between the characters – don’t offer a choice of dialogue, so you often take the backseat for a few minutes at a time. Frustratingly, you have to increase the links in order to unlock better powers, so sitting through these episodes seems mandatory while in most games getting to know the characters is usually the best part.

Thankfully, Scarlet Nexus is primarily an action game, and the combat is good enough to make up for its narrative missteps. It’s fast, sleek, and loaded with enough depth to ensure fights never get stale.

Fight in Scarlet Nexus

The basic attack suite is comparable over the course of the genre – there’s a light attack, dodge, receding attack, and a sharp uppercut that knocks enemies into the air where you can continue to inflict punishments with air attacks. But the fight gets really interesting with the introduction of psychokinetic powers. For the most part, psychokinesis just throws nearby objects at enemies – anything from a small vase to an SUV – and that never gets old. Sometimes an item can be used as an ultra-powerful special attack, like repeatedly smashing a statue on an enemy, emptying a canister of water to make them wet and susceptible to electric attacks, or my favorite, manually drive a truck towards them.

Combat becomes even better when you can use the unique abilities of your companions. These include electricity, invisibility, hyperspeed (essentially bullet time), duplication, teleportation, the ability to see invisible enemies, and fire. These powers help take down enemies faster, but they can also be used tactically – for example, throwing a can of oil at an enemy and then attacking with pyrokinesis will result in a devastating explosion.

More like this: Here are the best anime games on PC

Most enemies have armor that you will need to reduce before you can reach their soft, spongy flesh. Get their health to zero and they die, sure, but if you break their armor you can pull off some over-the-top insta-kill animations (even by anime standards). When all the mechanics come together, the battles of Scarlet Nexus are brilliantly explosive. There are also Brain Drive and Brain Field modes, where you get into a sort of brainpunk rage mode – the latter is overpowered satisfactorily, but spending too much time there can kill you, so use it sparingly.

Fight large enemies looking like mannequins in Scarlet Nexus

The combat is fast-paced, surprisingly tactical, and always exciting. There are so many potential options available to you at any given time, so provided you don’t just hammer home the basic attack button all the time, you should have fun. It helps that Bandai Namco Studios does a great job of introducing and encouraging the use of every power, ability, and special move available. The fights get more complicated as you progress through the story, until the end of the game, but at no point did I feel overwhelmed.

Scarlet Nexus’ monster menagerie completes the flashy combat. The Others are probably the most absurd creations of creatures in any game I have ever played. You will fight a vase of flowers on legs, wearing high heels and with a skeletal tail. Another is literally a giant vat of wine on hooves, with massive arms and a tree sticking out of it. Even the names are hilarious – fingers crossed that Scummy Rummy, Winery Chinery, and Cushion Pound will be some of the best baby names of 2021.

It sounds good ? You can buy Scarlet Nexus here

There are a few issues with combat that keep him from growing up. For starters, the dodge seems pretty inconsistent and it’s never really clear when you should hit the evade button. Doing a perfect dodge and getting a counterattack is glorious, especially when I throw an enemy’s own projectiles back at them, I’d just like to know exactly how to time each dodge so I can do it more often. Encounters with human bosses are also a sore point, often creating jarring spikes in difficulty, taking too much time, and repeating the mechanics.

Battle cutscene in Scarlet Nexus

What makes Scarlet Nexus so frustrating is that the rest of the game does its best to diminish its excellent combat system. The drab cookie-cutter characters and over-the-top storyline are part of the problem, but the worldview is probably the worst part. The environments and level design are generic throughout the countryside, incorporating the eclectic tastes of construction sites, gray hallways, crumbling city streets, and occasional icy areas. Whenever the level’s design threatens to do something cool – like an area filled with giant furniture like you’ve been shrunk, or an Inception-like mirrored city in the sky – it’s quickly dropped or reserved for the background.

every corner is crammed with superficial details that muddy the story

The levels are very linear and to make matters worse you return to the same dreary environments multiple times throughout the campaign. You revisit a ruined city three times, and each time the looted items are reset, you have to check all of the side parts again.

The lackluster design of the levels doesn’t make Scarlet Nexus much fun to watch when you’re not battling nightmarish monsters. The shooting distance is particularly problematic, as in most large arenas enemies will simply disappear if you get too far away from them.

Vase enemies in Scarlet Nexus

Still, the cel-shaded anime look is pretty and will help Scarlet Nexus age gracefully. And while all of the characters look like carbon copies of each other, the combat effects are excellent – especially the flashy Brain Field which turns the battlefield into a Daft Punk music video – bringing a lot of personality to the debates. Speaking of music, the soundtrack is for the most part awesome, although there are sudden leaps between J-pop beats and radical orchestral pieces that will raise eyebrows.

If anime is really your thing and your focus is on battling weird monsters, then you might like Scarlet Nexus. In the thick of battle, when you build up psychic powers and dodge attacks from the sentient ceramics, Scarlet Nexus can be a parcel of pleasure. Unfortunately, pretty much everything else works against this.

Scarlet Nexus comes out later today and you can buy it here. You can also check out our lists of the best RPG games and the best cyberpunk games on PC if you’re looking for something else to sink your teeth into.

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