The left trigger has many uses – hitting the brakes in a racer, aiming in a shooter – but you don’t usually pull it back for a killer move. So there’s something novel and gratifying when, after hacking and slashing enemies until their shield has shattered, a prompt urges you to hit the trigger for a spectacular finish. It’s like setting off fireworks each time, and never gets old.
In this ‘brainpunk’ future, humans have psionic powers, not least psychokinetic protagonists Yuito Sumeragi and Kasane Randall. Special attacks build up a psionic gauge that can be spent on flinging objects at your foes, making the flow of melee and psychic combat akin to Control. And unlike the Hiss in Remedy’s game, the Others you face here have some wildly distinctive designs: early ones resemble mutant pot plants while others have the appearance of a deity Bayonetta would’ve given a spanking.
Scarlet Nexus is also a party-based action RPG. Borrowing your allies’ abilities adds further depth to combat, since skills are key to cracking an enemy’s weakness. These powers do stretch the definition of ‘psionic’, though: clairvoyance lets you see hidden or disguised enemies, which makes sense, but elemental attacks like fire and electricity? It’s best not to think too hard about it.
You can better expand your teammates’ abilities through bonding episodes or giving gifts between story phases. Fans of Persona 5 will enjoy this sort of downtime, but sometimes it doesn’t make a whole lot of narrative sense and adds to the already lengthy runtime that would take up several seasons of an anime. It could be argued that Scarlet Nexus would have been much more effective as a tight, ten-hour action game.
The ideas it puts forth – disturbing imagery automatically censored by your brain; communication with teammates through the equivalent of a cerebral Slack channel; a hugely powered-up state that can also literally fry your brain – are arguably more fascinating than the daft plot twists. (That said, if you enjoyed the “that wizard came from the moon” line cut from the original Destiny, you’re in for a hell of a time.)
Nonetheless, the story’s delivered by an earnest and likeable cast who transcend the usual tropes, with a refreshing absence of dodgy fan service. The leads are compelling in their own right, and even if their paths don’t necessarily diverge all that much, their distinct personalities and arcs make it worth a second playthrough. Compared to player-created blank slates, Scarlet Nexus proves that these kinds of games do benefit from putting fully authored characters at the centre of the action.
It might not have been the likeliest candidate to show off next-gen when first revealed at an Inside Xbox showcase, but Scarlet Nexus has arguably the most outstanding anime visuals, from the slick combat animations to even the manga-style stills. The latter aren’t just illustrations but the same in-game models, who also sport whatever changes you’ve made to their outfits and accessories.
A little too eager to fry your brain, Scarlet Nexus is at its best when focused on the action.
Genre: Action RPG
Format: PS5 (tested) / PS4 / XB X|S / XBO / PC
Developer: Bandai Namco Studios, Tose
Publisher: Bandai Namco
Release: Out now