In the distant future of 2020, humanity lives in fear of monsters called Others. The discovery of a psionic hormone dormant in the human brain has given people psychic abilities, which some now use to combat the Other threat. Because of this danger, the government of New Himuka has formed the Other Suppression Force (OSF) to protect those whose powers are too weak for battle and recruit children with promising skills. Yuito Sumeragi and Kasane Randall are fresh cadets, having volunteered and been scouted at the age of 12 respectively. Over the course of their stories, they’ll uncover government conspiracies and the truth behind the Others…
When starting a new game in Scarlet Nexus, you’re asked to choose between Yuito or Kasane as your protagonist. They both fight using the same power, psychokinesis, to wield their weapons and throw objects at enemies. I chose Kassane for my first playthrough, who uses several knives floating around her to attack, which I find cool as heck. Combat in Scarlet Nexus is very unique and a big highlight of the experience. Using her knives, Kasane can fight at mid to long range with her basic attacks. Pressing X performs a normal combo, while Y is your special which in Kasane’s case is a retreating slash to get some distance between you and the enemy. Just attacking isn’t enough to properly fight others though, which is where your psychokinesis comes in. Using objects in the environment, you can hold RT to send a crate, ice sculpture, or anything really flying at your target for massive damage. Conversely, some objects require you to press LT and complete a quick time event for an even bigger amount of damage or a special effect. You can’t use this repeatedly though; every use of psychokinesis depletes the music visualizer-looking gauge just above your health bar which is replenished with normal attacks and special attacks. This adds a wonderful rhythm to the combat: dash in for some quick combos, retreat for psychokinesis, repeat.
While this loop is fun enough, the Struggle Arms System (SAS) is what makes this game truly special. This allows you to link your brain with another party member to use their power for a short time, like borrowing Shiden’s electrokinesis to shock and stun a foe covered in water. While you can only use one SAS power at a time at first, using the Brain Map skill tree to upgrade your powers will let you borrow two at a time, and eventually four at a time. By the end of the game you’ll be combining powers constantly, making for some exciting battles that, on top of being fun, are a joy to watch. Personally, I like to use Arashi’s hypervelocity to slow down time, Kyoka’s duplication power to create three of myself and any object I throw, and Kagero’s invisibility for automatic critical hits. Managing all of these powers’ cooldowns and effects creates a combat system that’s on the level of some of Platinum’s best.
In addition to all of that, you also have two special abilities you build up over the course of battle: Brain Drive and Brain Field. Brain Drive powers up Kasane or Yuito for a short time and activates automatically once the meter is filled. You do more damage in this state and SAS abilities refresh faster along with depleting slower. Experience for enemies defeated while in Brain Drive is also increased based on a multiplier slowly going up for each kill. Dealing enough damage in BD gives you access to Brain Field, where you trap nearby foes in a dimension in your mind. While you can’t use SAS in this mode, your psychokinesis is cranked up to eleven, with normal attacks now using objects floating above you, and you can hold LT to unleash a barrage of thrown garbage. Brain Field is dangerous to use however, as a countdown will begin at the bottom of the screen when you press in both sticks to activate it. When that timer reaches zero it’s game over no matter what, so you have to either finish the encounter or deactivate it before that happens. At halfway through the countdown (15 seconds) your character will momentarily be stunned to let you know it’s almost over. While I wish I could use Brain Drive when I wanted instead of automatically, both of these feel great to use and Brain Field in particular gives you a power trip which is contrasted nicely by the risk of instant death.
My one big problem with combat in Scarlet Nexus is that you can’t dodge cancel. You see, in most action games of this caliber you can stop the animation of any attack to dodge out of the way of incoming damage. Many games, including this one, reward the player for perfectly dodging an attack at the last second. Performing a perfect dodge here will allow you to counter with a special Read Attack either with psychokinesis or your weapon, but actually getting that to trigger can be tough. Enemy moves are perfectly telegraphed for you to do this, but by the time your character finishes their attack animation and starts to dodge you’re probably on the floor instead having taken the hit. It’s very frustrating to see an attack coming your way but have no way to avoid it.
Another frustrating thing: side quests. You can accept side quests from nameless NPCs in towns (which is the only thing you can do in them), these quests are typical “get X number of Ys” or “defeat X number of foes while using Y”. The rewards are mostly inconsequential, being accessories you can equip to change up a character’s look or items and materials. I didn’t do many of them, because quest tracking is literally useless; it only displays the title of the quest on your HUD, not what you need to do. Side quests certainly aren’t the focus, so I’d recommend accepting them and occasionally checking if they’re completed, since you can turn them in right in the menu. Regardless, you can still get the accessories through the shop if you want them for your friends.
Who you bring with you into battle is just as important as what you can do. While their AI is pretty stupid and won’t be attacking much, they all provide you with decreased consumption of their SAS power, along with character specific effects you gain by increasing your relationship. Between each chapter, you’ll return to your platoon’s hideout to relax, and while you do that you can view Bond Episodes for nice character moments or give your party members gifts to level up your bond up to a max of 6. Every level gives you a new skill, some are passive like Kyoka’s power giving you more clones while others allow them to swap in to take damage for you or do a special attack. I really enjoyed the character development you get in the Bond Episodes, my two favorites being Arashi and Shiden, but developing relationships outside of that feels a little shallow. Instead of talking with allies like a normal person, you instead shower your friends with gifts to get them to like you.
You get presents using the local save man’s (who saves your game by reading your mind) little shop trolley. Here, you can buy items and equipment with money, but you’re much better off using the Exchange system since money is scarce early on and it’s the only way to get presents. It’s basically a crafting system, with each item requiring a certain amount of materials dropped from enemies or found in dungeons to “purchase” them. This is the best way to make new equipment too, since you can incrementally improve them instead of having to buy a new one for a hefty amount of cash. Back on gift giving, characters will actually display what you’ve given them around the hideout, which is a nice touch, but it does feel a little superficial to simply earn their affection through gift giving, and a few instances of having a conversation with them outside of Bond Episodes would have gone a long way to making these relationships feel more real.
The characters are some of Scarlet Nexus’ best qualities outside of combat, they all undergo a lot of character development over the 25 hours it takes to finish the story, but the actual plot behind the game takes a while to get going. The first few hours will be spent on character introductions and a whole lot of exposition which can be a drag. From all this, it’s fairly easy to tell the general direction the plot will go, though to the game’s credit there are a ton of interesting twists and turns on the way there. I did enjoy the characters I got to know, but the early hours are spent on things that just don’t matter, like Kasane being selected for a prototype SAS augment that is never mentioned ever again. Overall, the story has some less than great pacing and can feel like it’s skipping over important topics to get to the emotional catharsis, which mind you still feels earned apart from one instance at the very end. It’s a good, if very flawed plot.
While that may be the case for the narrative, the locations you visit as part of the story feel anything but flawed. Every single place is gorgeous, with a more realistic touch contrasting the anime character models and distant objects losing their color for a sketchbook like appearance. Every area and scene is accompanied by an excellent tune or two that reminds me a lot of games like Sonic the Hedgehog, Sonic Adventure, Jet Set Radio, and Scott Pilgrim. There’s lots of synth and chip tunes mixed in with traditional instruments, which is my personal jam. The music is a little low in the mix though, even when set to its maximum, so make sure to wear headphones or crank your TV up.
Speaking of settings, the PC version of Scarlet Nexus is… serviceable. It’s not the worst out there (see the Ninja Gaiden Trilogy), but it’s far from the best with very few options, the most egregious of which is the inability to increase the Full Screen resolution beyond what your monitor offers. I actually had to use Nvidia’s control panel to set my desktop resolution to 4K to increase the in game setting, and even then it would still revert to 1080p if not set to borderless windowed mode. This game is even more beautiful in 4K and the PS5 and Series X run that way by default, so why can’t I do that or go even higher on PC? It’s just ridiculous, so hopefully a patch comes along to fix these issues as well as add the haptic feedback when using a DualSense. If you don’t have a console that can run the game at 60, this will easily let you do that with the hardware, but not much else.
Scarlet Nexus is an absolute blast from the start and only gets better as you progress. The characters are charming, the story has nice twists and turns, and the combat is simple to understand but hard to master. While it certainly has flaws, this is a must play for action game fans.