Dystopian future set in some city? Check. Playable male and female protagonists? Check. Over-the-top action combat with some unique though familiar gimmick to it? Check. A massively convoluted plot that doesn’t know how to end? Yeah, check as well. That is pretty much Scarlet Nexus in a nutshell because if you’ve played any sort of Action JRPG over the last decade, this one fits the mould and so you should know what to expect. Now, whether that is a good or bad thing is up for debate since the success of any game ultimately comes down to its execution. And in this case, Scarlet Nexus is a bit of an outlier on this for me, as it mostly gets it right but falls just short of being truly amazing.
An(Other) Dystopian City in the far off future
Scarlet Nexus takes place sometime in the distant future. You take on the role of one of two main protagonists, Yuito (male) or Kasane (female), who join an elite special forces unit called the OSF or Other Suppression Force which specialize in dealing with an unknown entity. A group of weird and grotesque monsters called Others. Yeah, it’s a weird name but we’ll just roll with it. The OSF soldiers use special psionic abilities to combat these dangerous enemies who each have their own unique abilities (because as we know, variety is the spice of life). Both Yuito and Kasane happen to have the same psychokinetic power which allows them to move objects around with their minds. Along for the ride are the OSF companions – a ragtag team of anime stereotypes.
While the premise starts out pretty straightforward, in typical anime fashion things quickly pick up the pace…
While the premise starts out pretty straightforward, in typical anime fashion things quickly pick up the pace, snowballing into a massive plot of twists, conspiracies and drama which, for the most part, works. However, it does start to fall apart a bit for several reasons. The whole story is very linear; There are no choices you can make that influences the outcome of the story or your relationship with your companions. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it is in this straightforward telling of this meaty story where Scarlet Nexus feels a bit flat.
The action, on the ‘Other’ hand, is flashy, stylish and fast-paced. It is fantastic. But then, unfortunately, all the cutscenes and character dialogues are done through Visual-Novel-style stills with character faces popping up on the screen as they talk with each other. So, essentially what you get is these awesome combat sequences, abruptly interrupted by a visual novel with still images and horrible voice acting spewing exposition and plot at you. And man is there a ton of plot and exposition in this game! I get that you need to understand what is going so there is a backstory to be told but the way it is done is just so boring and takes forever. When the story does get going though, it gets bloody exciting… that is until you get interrupted again by the repetitive and mundane.
Unfortunately, after a while, this all feels like a lot of padding that lengthens the already long and bloated story of Scarlet Nexus.
In between main missions, you head to the group’s hideout, which acts as a central hub where you can interact with your companions and learn more about them through bonding episodes. These come in the form of either more talking or a short mission you do with them. These encounters, along with giving them gifts to their liking, are necessary. They not only add to character development and the overall plot, but also improve their powers during combat. A nice touch here is that the whole hideout slowly becomes decked out with all the crap you’ve given them, and it is entertaining to see them interact with the stuff during the “break period”. Unfortunately, after a while, this all feels like a lot of padding that lengthens the already long and bloated story of Scarlet Nexus. The game expects you to play through it twice to experience both sides of the same story (for Yuito and Kasane). And while I definitely will do that at some point, I really can’t get myself to do it right now because of how drawn out the 20 odd hours felt.
But, that oh so satisfying combat!
You might be thinking at this stage that I really don’t like Scarlet Nexus at all, but that is not the case. Far from it in fact. The story is entertaining enough to keep you engaged and the characters are all endearing and well written. And while the English voice acting isn’t great, I still ended up sticking with it due to the possibility of missing something while trying to read subtitles as well as the fast-paced nature of the combat. And, oh boy is the combat entertaining! It is a sort of hack-n-slash action game that requires a lot less button mashing and a lot more precision and quick decision making. Also, depending on which character you play as, you either have close-range combat or ranged combat with both using psychokinesis as a superpower. Each of your companions has unique powers things like fire, electricity, super speed, duplication etc. and these can be used through a neural link called SAS by OSF soldiers. The stronger the bond, the stronger their powers and the more control you have over them. By linking your powers, you can imbue your own attacks with that of your teammates, dealing massive amounts of damage and chaining certain combos to incredible effect. The combat isn’t the easiest to get used to, but once you get going, it really feels amazing.
The combat isn’t the easiest to get used to, but once you get going, it really feels amazing.
As you traverse the linear maps to the final goal, each level feels a bit generic and bland, but the combat offers enough variety to keep you engaged. Enemy designs are weird and wacky and require different strategies to take down, and there’s enough of them to keep things interesting and fresh. This is really where Scarlet Nexus shines, and it is just a shame that the rest of it fails to follow suit and make it a truly amazing game.
Here’s hoping for more!
Despite a lot of issues I have with Scarlet Nexus, I did really enjoy my time with it. The story does feel a bit drawn out and long, but overall it was enjoyable enough. It is your typical anime sort of story, which kind of explains why there is an actual anime of it out right now, but there’s nothing wrong with that at all; It’s just a little bit stretched at times. The Visual Novel style cutscenes and storytelling isn’t bad, but it gets boring after a while due to the ton of exposition and dialogue that accompanies it. It does, however, have some of the best gameplay and combat I’ve seen in this sort of Japanese action game. It is flashy and over the top, but everything always feels like you’re in control. Yes, it is a bit tricky to get used to, but the payoff, in the long run, is really worth it.
So, my overall experience with Scarlet Nexus is a bit of a mixed bag. The story is decent, albeit a bit drawn-out and the way it is told could have been better. The gameplay however is truly satisfying and for that alone, the game is worth having a look at.