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[Review] Scarlet Nexus - A Flawed But Welcomed Addition to the Action RPG Genre

With so many Animé styled games on the market, you'd be forgiven for thinking Scarlet Nexus was just another cash in, but co-developed by Bandai Namco Studios and Tose, Scarlet Nexus is a great new addition to the Action RPG genre, if a little flawed and here's why.

When you first fire up the game, you're given the choice to play as one of two playable characters - Yuito Sumeragi or Kasane Randall. Yuito is liked by most with his positive, friendly and understanding attitude and is definitely the most light-hearted option of the two, where as Kasane tends to be closed off and much colder towards others, with a much more realistic view of the often harsh and brutal world around her.

On my initial playthrough I opted to go with Yuito who, after being saved by a mysterious girl at an early age, decides to join the OSF with his best friend Nagi. Dedicated to fighting off the creatures known as 'Others', the OSF is a military organisation which employs those gifted with psychic powers to protect the rest of society from the invading threat.

Kasane is also a member of the OSF, but instead of signing up with her best friend, it's her sister Naomi who she must work alongside. Initially, I thought the character selection in Scarlet Nexus was going to be mostly cosmetic, with no real impact on the story, but the further I progressed through the campaign, the more I realised this couldn't be any further from the truth.

Yuito - One of two playable characters within the game.
While certain points of the story do cross over, there are large segments of the game where you'll only see the events from the perspective of the character you chose to play as. That first choice actually makes quite the difference, even going so far as to dictate the team mates you'll be playing alongside as you work to eradicate the 'Other' threat. This is by no means bad however, as it just gives greater incentive to play through the story a second time from the perspective of the character you didn't play as the first time around. By the time you reach endgame on your first playthrough, you'll likely be in the level 60's, so the fact you can continue your save with the opposite character in New Game+ is nothing but a bonus here.

As for gameplay, though Scarlet Nexus takes some pretty obvious inspiration from the likes of Nier Automata and other similar titles, it's an entirely unique experience with a fun, fast-paced and engaging style of play. To elaborate, Yuito fights with a futuristic Longsword and while you can unlock further attacks, increasing your combo count as you level, one of Yuito's main strengths is his ability to use Gravikinesis, blending it in with his normal attacks.

There's an interesting mechanic here, which functions very similarly to Final Fantasy XIII's stagger system, so imagine that but in a much faster paced live-action game. Effectively, any attacks you make will deplete an enemies defense gauge, while different attacks will deplete this gauge to varying levels. For example, lifting up a car with your psychic powers and slamming them into the side of your enemies is a lot more effective at breaking your enemies defense than attacking them with your sword. With the right plugins however, you can balance this somewhat by having slightly less attack power in favour of bolstering your ability to break your enemies defense. This is something you absolutely want to do, because if you completely deplete an enemies defense gauge, they'll enter a stunned state where you can press L2 to finish them off with one of the many super satisfying QTE finishers embedded within the game. The only exception to this is bosses, which more often than not need to be broken in multiple times before you can finally finish them off.

"I'll crush you!"
That said, it's a good idea to build your characters around the playstyle that fits you most. The only character you can fully build the way you want to is the one you opted to play as, but that's not to say you can't tweak your allies in effective ways with a number of plugins you'll find for purchase or exchange (with any components you find) from the in-game OSF merchant. While there are some plugins exclusive to the protagonist, the majority can be used by any character to make them more effective at what they do.

For example, if you're wanting to empower Yuito's obvious love interest Hinabi, who uses Pyrokinesis, you can acquire the Enhance Burn plugin to make her psychic attacks a lot more effective. The same can be said with Shock and other elements, but what should be noted is that to begin with, each ally will only have around one plugin slot available until you unlock more throughout the campaign. Each character can unlock a total of three slots to aid the protagonist however the player desires.

Yuito/Kasane can also equip these plugins for themselves, but their main method of advancing their abilities and techniques is through the Brain Map upgrade tree. Both Yuito and Kasane have slightly different Brain Maps, giving them different abilities to unlock at different stages of the game, depending on the upgrade branch they follow. Upgrades include abilities such as 5% bonus to weapon attacks, 5% bonus to psychic attacks, combo extensions for both weapon and psychic attacks, each of which are broken up into categories and types. For example, a good support type upgrade lessens the cooldown between item uses, enabling you to use curatives more frequently when in danger, while some of the expanded upgrades grant mid-air dashing, multiple dashes and the double jump ability.

Everything looks so much cooler in the Brain Field.
If that wasn't enough, three of the key combat mechanics are Brain Drive, Brain Field and SAS. These abilities, each unique in their own right, prevent the game from ever feeling stale and serve to keep you engaged at all times....well, between the dialogue at least, but more on that later.

Brain Drive is a pretty decent mechanic because the Brain Drive gauge builds up considerably when finishing enemies off with L2. This rewards offensive play because when you've got a few skills behind you, you'll be breaking and finishing enemies left, right and centre. Once the gauge is full you'll enter a flashy little cutscene where your hood goes up, a mask goes over your face and you enter what can only be described as a super-heightened state. While in this state, damage, experience points and movement speed are all increased, and any psychic attacks you make are not only quicker to perform, but also consume less of your psychic gauge which you can only build up with restoratives and by attacking your enemies normally (with your sword generally).

Next up we have the Brain Field, which is something else entirely. The Brain Field can be activated by clicking both of the analogue sticks in, pushing you to your absolute limits. In this mode, you shift to an almost virtual arena where the longer you remain fighting, the more chance you stand of killing yourself through overexertion. Thankfully, you just need to keep an eye on the timer (which can be extended via plugins and character upgrades), but the main benefit to this is that you have infinite psychic energy, so you can just keep slamming your heaviest psychic attacks at your enemies over and over again. It'll save your life more than once, so make sure you use this.

When Shiden isn't insulting you for just existing...
Lastly, we have SAS. In Scarlet Nexus every OSF Soldier is connected to one another via a wireless network of sorts that enables them to see the digital overlay of the world. Those without this ability or any form of psychic power are known as duds. With this network connection, the need for roadside barriers and physical posters are mostly removed, because why use valuable resources when you can just generate a digital, holographic overlay? Another benefit to this is that due to this network, anyone connected to it doesn't have to suffer the effects of war because things such as beheadings are automatically censored in real time. I also mention beheadings because the 'Others' feed on human brains.

That said, SAS in combat is a different story altogether. What SAS actually does during combat is allow you to connect to the powers and abilities of anyone else in your team/party. At certain points of the story you can change who's in your team, allowing for that extra level of customisation, but there are moments where you have access to eight characters at once. Borrowing say Gemma's ability (pronounced Geh-mer, it's a guy) enables you to become temporarily invincible, while Shiden for example lends his power of Electrokinesis to stun and electrify your opponents. Other abilities allow you to effectively pause time to move faster, see invisible enemies with Clairvoyance and go invisible for some super slick sneak attacks (thanks Kagero!). In addition to this, holding L1 and pressing the corresponding ally button will allow your team mates to come in and do an individual attack of their own. Later on you can have 2 of these abilities active at once and even later on once you've unlocked the ability in the Brain Map, you can have 4 activated at once, making for some incredibly powerful attack combos. Each character has their own unique abilities, so it really is a matter of learning them and knowing the best times to take full advantage of your allies.

The combat in Scarlet Nexus is deceptive in that at first glance there's a lot to take in and consider, but once you start getting into the swing of things, it really isn't as deep as you'd initially think. If you're looking for the Animé equivalent of Devil May Cry, you'll likely be disappointed because there isn't anywhere near that level of depth to Scarlet Nexus' combat, and if you really wanted to, you could beat the game with the same combo over and over again, but the fun is in mixing things up with your own melee and psychic attacks in conjunction with the SAS commands, Brain Drive and Brain Field mechanics. Ultimately, the overall combat experience is fun, even great at times, but no matter how satisfying it can be, you'll wish you could unlock more combos for your melee weapon other than the two or so provided. As such, all Brain Drive, Brain Field and the SAS commands really do is serve to prevent Scarlet Nexus from ever feeling truly stale, which is a shame.

Kasane getting ready to wreck with the gang.
Between missions you'll also have the opportunity to go out on friend dates, take up side quests, hang out in your hideout and bond with other OSF members. The side quests are pretty basic and are what you'd expect from quests that don't actually add anything to the plot, but what you don't want to miss are the bonding missions with your fellow OSF Soldiers.

Bonding with the OSF team is where you really get to know your allies likes, dislikes, strengths, weaknesses and personalities. The trouble is there's just so much talking, it's hard to stay focused. This is true for the general plot of the game too. Scarlet Nexus presents its story with both animated cutscenes and still images, and whether this was due to time constraints or not, I'm not sure, but the animated scenes are way more exciting and entertaining and I just wish there was more of that here.

Bonding actually serves another purpose too, in that it improves the way other characters perceive you (which is especially true in Shiden's case - that patronising, cheese grater) and actually levels up their ability to fight. Most of the time you can have two additional team members in your party, but you almost always have access to the SAS abilities of 4 OSF members. Leveling up your individual bonds levels up individual ally SAS abilities, while taking part in the Team Bond activities levels up the entire teams abilities respectively. You're also not majorly penalised for gifting the same item over and over again, so if you're looking to level up your team abilities a little quicker, this is the way to go.

Overall, if you can get past the often boring, painfully and unnecessarily long over-explained dialogue that frequently likes to point out the obvious in excruciating detail, Scarlet Nexus is an otherwise great game, and one of the most unique Animé styled Action RPG's to date. The overall plot may be what you'd expect of a typical Shounen Animé story, but where Scarlet Nexus really shines is in its presentation of the surrounding world, the society within it built around augmented reality, and the multitude of satisfying ways you'll be ridding the world of enemies. With absolutely incredible visuals, a great soundtrack and some truly likeable characters, each with their own unique and individual personalities, there's a great deal of charm to be had here, and while Scarlet Nexus is far from perfect, it wouldn't be a lie to say I'd like to one day see a sequel to this often great, but flawed title.

Scarlet Nexus is out now on PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X, Series S & Microsoft Windows.

Great Game! is the second highest rating we award and is reserved for
great titles that still have a little room for improvement.

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