What I'm Playing - No. 171
Welcome back to another weekly wrap-up of the games I’ve been playing over the past week!
Click a title to skip to that section. Games contained within this post:
Scarlet Nexus (PS5)
The people of Earth are facing a crisis unlike any they’ve faced before. Bizarre monsters called Others attack the few remaining cities, hellbent on eating human brains. In this world turned upside down, there’s only one way humanity can fight back: Psionics. Those with strong psychic abilities form the OSF - the Other Suppression Force - and with their power, they’re able to keep the Others at bay and defend their home. Kasane Randall is one of them, scouted by the OSF due to her strong psychokinesis power. She joins the OSF alongside her sister, Naomi, wanting nothing more than to protect her. But shortly after completing her training, she meets another OSF rookie named Yuito, who seems convinced they’ve met before, and she’s haunted by strangely realistic dreams where a woman warns her not to let go of the red strings. What does any of it mean…?
Scarlet Nexus is a 2021 action RPG from Bandai Namco. I played it on PS5, but it’s also available on PS4, Xbox One, Xbox Series, and PC. In addition to the expected action RPG mechanics like fighting enemies and leveling up, it’s also dripping with style, with an aesthetic it describes as “brainpunk.”
There’s two main characters to choose from: Yuito, and Kasane. At the beginning of the game, you pick who you want to play as, and you’ll follow the story from their point of view for the entire game. It’s the same plot regardless of who you pick, but they each see different parts of it. They do cross paths several times, so there are scenes that are the same in both routes. Yuito and Kasane both have the same psychokinesis power, allowing them to move and throw objects with their mind, but they do play slightly differently in combat since they use different weapons. Yuito uses a sword, and Kasane uses three daggers controlled with psychokinesis. A quick side note, I played through Kasane’s story first, so most of the footage you see will be from Kasane’s route since I recorded more during my first playthrough.
Combat is fantastic. It’s fast, but it feels more calculated than button-mashy, and has a really fun pace and flow. Kasane’s attacks are a bit slower than Yuito’s, but have a longer range. Attacking with a combo and then winding up a psy attack at the right time so that when you throw the object at the enemy, you’re ready to launch into another followup attack right away. Landing those combos just right feels great. You can’t just spam psy attacks from a distance either since using them drains your psy meter, and you need to land weapon attacks to replenish it. Once you level up enough and buy the perks to fully upgrade your psy meter, you will have enough psy to throw several objects at enemies in a row before you need to use melee attacks. Using that later in the game to run around enemies and avoid their attacks while pelting them with cars and other objects using telekinesis was awesome!
While you can have up to two party members on the field fighting alongside you, you can only control your main character, either Kasane or Yuito depending on who you chose at the beginning. But you’re not limited to only using their psychokinesis power thanks to SAS. The SAS system allows you to borrow your teammates’ abilities for a limited time. This isn’t limited to just the two teammates on the battlefield either, you can borrow the powers of anyone in your party. Borrowing their abilities drains the SAS gauge for that character over time. It only recharges when you’re not using it, so you can’t just borrow their abilities all the time. Using the right SAS powers against the right enemies is crucial to taking them down efficiently. Breaking through enemy armor is much easier when borrowing Kyoka’s Duplication ability, and defeating enemies that retreat into their shell is nearly impossible without using Kagero’s invisibility or Arashi’s hypervelocity. Everyone’s power has its own particular strengths, and switching between them as needed during battle feels great. You can also borrow multiple powers at once if you buy the right perks.
There’s also Brain Crush moves that instantly defeat an enemy. You have to deplete their crush gauge first by attacking them repeatedly. Once you’ve done that, a button prompt will appear for you to execute the finisher. These are awesome. The animations are stylish and cinematic, and I never got tired of seeing them. You can turn them off in the settings if you get sick of them though.
Another cool combat thing: there are sometimes special objects you can interact with during battle using psychokinesis. Some of these are barrels of water or oil you can use to douse enemies and make them more susceptible to electricity or fire, but usually they’re just another way to deal decent amounts of damage. There’s one area with buses you can use, and your character jumps on top and steers the bus using psychokinesis, allowing you to run over a bunch of Others. It’s fantastic, I loved this part in both of my playthroughs.
Some of the bosses are quite challenging. When I was playing on Normal for my first playthrough, there were many bosses where I wouldn’t have survived if I hadn’t been so well stocked on healing items. I got a Game Over on at least one boss. You can adjust the difficulty at any time between Easy, Normal, and Hard, but the challenge is there for those who want it. I appreciated the balance of Normal difficulty, it wasn’t too hard outside of boss battles most of the time, but it was nice to run into a boss that kept me on my toes every now and then. For my second playthrough, I played using New Game+ and carried over my levels and equipment, so I turned the difficulty up to Hard to somewhat balance things out a bit. I was able to steamroll through most enemies for a lot of the game, but some encounters and bosses were still a bit challenging by the middle of the game, even with my party already at the level they would be at the end of a playthrough.
Between chapters, Standby Phase lets you hang out at the hideout or go back through previous levels to fight enemies and complete side quests. I really only used this phase to spend time with my teammates though. This is kind of like the Social Link system from the Persona series. You can give your teammates gifts to raise their affinity with you, and there’s scenes called Bond Episodes as you level up your Bond with them. Leveling up your Bond unlocks new abilities and actions when using SAS with that character. They decorate the hideout with the gifts you give them too, and sometimes you’ll see them using a gift you gave them previously. That was a really nice detail to see! It was always fun to see them randomly using something I gave them a few chapters ago.
The story in Scarlet Nexus is great. It consistently maintains interest by creating mysteries about the world and characters, answering these questions over time, and then presenting new questions and twists that keep you wanting more. The pacing does fall off a bit here and there, but the gameplay holds up the experience well when that happens. There were some plot points that seemed a little weak, but it’s a fun ride nevertheless.
A big part of how much you enjoy the story will come down to how you feel about how most of its cutscenes play out. For some key moments, Scarlet Nexus has fully animated cutscenes. But for the majority of the scenes, they’re told through a series of still images using the characters’ in-game models. They’re still fully voiced acted, but when characters speak during these cutscenes, their portraits appear in a little rectangle and their mouths just do “lip flaps” rather than being accurately lip-synced. I found this style of cutscene rather charming myself, they remind me of skits from the Tales series. But your mileage may vary, and if you can’t stand this cutscene style then you’re in for a rough time, because it’s used heavily throughout the game.
Something I didn’t hear a lot of hype about before playing this game is its soundtrack, but I’m not sure why that is because the OST is really good. It works very well, I was bopping along to the catchy tracks regularly while playing, but there are also excellent calmer tracks for the more somber and emotional moments. It definitely has its own unique sound, but if I had to draw comparisons I’d say it reminds me of a mixture of Danganronpa, Digimon Story Cyber Sleuth, and Persona soundtracks, with maybe a little Blue Reflection in there too.
Another thing that helped endear Scarlet Nexus to me was its English voice cast. There’s tons of overlap with Fire Emblem Three Houses cast. Practically the entire cast of Three Houses is in Scarlet Nexus. I mean, just look at how long this list is! This overlap is probably because the English dub for both games was done by Cup of Tea productions. It’s a great cast, they’ve done good work here!
- Chris Hackney (Dimitri, Yuito)
- Erica Mendez (Bernadetta, Kasane)
- Xanthe Huynh (Marianne, Tsugumi)
- Nathan Hendrick (Balthus, Gemma)
- Zach Aguilar (Male Byleth, Luka)
- Mark Whitten (Seteth, Shiden)
- Chris Patton (Linhardt, Kagero)
- Griffin Burns (Cyril, Nagi)
- Kyle McCarley (Gatekeeper, Wataru)
- Salli Saffioti (Hilda, Haruka)
- Laura Post (Catherine, Kodama)
- Kirk Thornton (Additional voices, Joe)
- Allegra Clark (Dorothea, Wakana)
- Armen Taylor (Miklan, Karen)
If you’re planning on trying Scarlet Nexus for yourself, I recommend playing through Kasane’s story first, like I did. With Kasane’s story, I feel like you get more important information on the big picture than you do with Yuito’s story. Either way, if you’re into anime action RPGs, then I definitely recommend checking this game out. I really enjoyed my time with it. My first playthrough as Kasane was great, but I’m surprised at how much I enjoyed my second playthrough as Yuito as well. I didn’t have a very high opinion of Yuito from playing Kasane’s story, but he really grew on me over the course of his story. I still like Kasane and her story more though. My final time after completing Kasane’s story was 26 hours 26 minutes, and my final time after completing both Kasane’s and Yuito’s stories was 46 hours 50 minutes.