Involving Keita Iizuka and Kenji Anabuki, as producer and director respectively, I have got to say that I was pumped to hear that Bandai Namco Studios would commence the newest generation of gaming with a brand new IP rather than solely relying on their classics. Scarlet Nexus was the product of their work, the action RPG releasing on store shelves for the PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X|S late last week. The game draws elements from Tales of Xillia and the Tales series as a whole, complementing it with a more action-oriented combat system, a technical environment, and two protagonists who each have their individual routes to follow. But did these changes and innovations make the game a must-play or something forgettable? Read on to discover my thoughts.
Two Routes, Two Playthroughs
In an alternate reality to our own, humanity finds themselves under constant attack from mutants known as ‘Others’, mutated beings who are common enough that even residential zones can have a weather-service like broadcasts for them. To protect society from its downfall, the Other Suppression Force (OSF) recruits and forcibly enlists those with incredible superpowers, from pyrokinesis to teleportation to the ability to duplicate oneself, to protect the citizens. Before starting the game, players must choose to experience Scarlet Nexus from the perspective of Yuito Sumeragi or Kasane Randall, two new recruits from affluent families in politics and manufacturing, respectively. Although assigned to separate platoons, the similarities in their psychokinesis abilities and training schedules continually draw them, and their fellow platoon members together.
Similar to Tales of Xillia‘s handling of the Jude and Milla viewpoints of their storyline, choosing one character or another is more about highlighting one particular perspective or another. This is especially prominent from the early-mid to late game when a significant event separates the cast into two distinct groups. There is a good level of consistency between both narratives so that you won’t end up with two substantially different conclusions to events – even in the early stages of Scarlet Nexus. On the one hand, this means that not everything is fully unveiled to players during their first playthrough and encourages a second run, but on the other, it means you are playing through many, unsubstantial elements of the game’s narrative twice.
RPGs from Bandai Namco Studios typically have a fun, character-focused, anime-esque element to their narratives, which is on full display here. However, their overarching narratives can sometimes feel haphazard, less-fleshed-out and forgettable than competition on the market. Unfortunately, this is true in Scarlet Nexus’ case as well. Although nailing the development of each character through interactions with the protagonists, the story was average at best. The side-quests were uninspired fetch-quests, while the main story isn’t adequately paced, spending a bit too much time shifting around characters (in the early parts) and focusing on inconsequential matters. Because of this, I found it difficult to enjoy what had the fundamentals of a great story. Unfortunately, Scarlet Nexus also has that knack of spoiling which characters would leave the story or not travel with the cast, finding every way to have them avoid being part of the protagonist’s party.
Supernatural Abilities With Neon Set to Max
With Scarlet Nexus being a completely new IP for Bandai Namco Studios, they had a bit more free reign to cast the game world in a completely new light. The options they went with involve expansive cities (even if you can only visit a portion of them) holding the brunt of the population and some less-populated / unpopulated areas such as construction sites, subway stations, abandoned cities or research labs for your party to go Other-hunting in. Regardless of the location, the creative team did a pretty good job adding “futuristic” components into their design language. The character designs also consist of various anime character design tropes and OSF uniforms, which are tailored differently for each character while consistent for NPCs. Oh, and the attachment system makes a return, which is nice if you want your platoon to all wear cat ears, tails and paws!
Concerning combat, attack animations on behalf of your chosen protagonist are strong and feature enough variety that you will not tire of them too quickly. Pulling off combos in battle is also a feast for your eyes, offering a light show of neon and other effects with each hit. The face-paced action also ensures there is never a dull moment on offer. But where Scarlet Nexus does falter, I think the visuals could have been so much better being exclusively for the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X. Seeing what Insomniac Games did with Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart, for example, has gotten me thinking which games could look next level on the latest hardware. Scarlet Nexus is one such example. Sadly, no high-FPS or high-resolution modes are available on the new consoles.
Great English and Japanese Voice Casts
With an English voice cast featuring the likes of Chris Hackney, Erica Mendez, Megan Taylor Harvey, Xanthe Huynh, Zach Aguilar, Chris Patton and Lauren Landa to name a few – you are in good hands when it comes to choosing to play Scarlet Nexus with English dubbing. For me personally, it is just great to see the amazingly talented Chris Patton voicing a new character!
Fun to Play, But With Flaws
As mentioned above, Scarlet Nexus makes use of an action-RPG combat system which feels like a good balance between the Tales RPG combat system and a hack-n-slash action game like Dynasty Warriors or Bayonetta. Transitioning seamlessly between movement and combat modes without shifting characters into alternate planes of existence, Scarlet Nexus strikes a good balance between logically defeating enemies and providing fast-paced combat on the fly. While some of the more generic enemies are overused, and the difficulty can shift back-and-forth within each dungeon, the combat system is very satisfying. The most notable element of the game’s battle system is the psychokinesis ability of each protagonist, allowing you to fling or even break apart objects within your vicinity at a foe.
On the field at any one time is the player-chosen protagonist and two other party members of your choosing. Given the game sticks you with a party of four for a good chunk of it, you are left with the feeling that parties of four would have been the most logical option. However, even when you have a complete party to choose from, there is virtually no penalty for just picking your favourite characters, as you only control the protagonist during each fight and the other characters appear to have minimal impact on the outcome.
Instead, through the in-game “SAS System”, your protagonist can borrow powers from up to eight (of the game’s nine) party members at any one time. With the ability to combo up to four at any one time (as the game progresses), the joy of the game’s battle system comes from mixing and matching ability combinations. Want to teleport to far-off enemies while your sword is imbued with fire magic? You can do that! Want to duplicate into three, travel at super-speed wielding electrified knives while identifying the “real enemy”… there is a combination for that. While I maintain that at least four party members should be present on the field at one time, potentially even being able to switch between the two, combining each character’s different abilities kept battles interesting. Combine this with the protagonist’s psychokinesis, and suddenly there are a lot of ways you can start flinging dangerous projectiles at others, from imbuing them with an element to joining forces with your fellow protagonist and unleashing projectile hell!
Building upon Scarlet Nexus’ party system is its own version of ‘Social Links’. By having characters in your active party, interacting with them and providing them gifts – you can access special cutscenes and dungeons exclusively with them. Each party member has six ranks, with each providing access to improved abilities. These enhancements can range from additional effects, prolonged SAS effects and the random ability for each character to support you on the battlefield (even when not a part of your party). With Scarlet Nexus’ strength in character-based storytelling, using this system was very much welcome around linking their stories to ongoing events and providing perks to slow down and enjoy the experience.
Although character events are, on average, excellent, the same cannot be said about the game’s many side-quests. None of them ever feel to surpass the “Generic Fetch Quest” role, and even then, there is nothing that makes them memorable or compelled me to seek them out. Given how the system is set up and not the easiest to access through the in-game menu, they felt like an afterthought. Without a good side-quest system or much in the way of interesting post-game content, I found there little to convince me to continue on after my play through, and simply jump (and speed run) through New Game Plus.
Final Words on Scarlet Nexus
Scarlet Nexus did not end up being the game-changer I had hoped it would be. This is a shame, given the market is craving for a fantastic current-gen futuristic action RPG. Despite having many of the elements which would have rendered it an amazing game – some moderate issues with the delivery and pacing of the storyline, lack of incentive to replay the game from the other protagonist’s perspective, and lacking side-quest and post-game opportunities left it being only “Pretty Good”.
For those who enjoy the Tales series or just after a competent anime-themed action RPG, you will likely find much to enjoy in Scarlet Nexus, complemented by the anime which will begin airing worldwide next month. However, there is room for a sequel and I look forward to seeing what Bandai Namco Studios deliver in a sequel… should they decide to develop one.
Scarlet Nexus was reviewed on the PlayStation 5. A review code was provided by Bandai Namco Entertainment Australia for the purposes of this review.