Anime has always had this wild ability to make me feel like a teenager. I left my teenage years behind a few years ago but the unabashed goofiness and commitment to over-the-top combat has always burst through that cynical shell to find the kid at its centre. Scarlet Nexus does this in a fantastic way - with a great setting and warm characters to back it up.
Upon booting the game up, the first thing you will notice is the game's first major choice. Do you pick Yuito Sumeragi or Kasane Randall? You might think this is how to assign your gender but it’s not nearly as simple as that. Scarlet Nexus tells one winding and huge tale through the eyes of two separate individuals.
They find themselves crossing paths and often joining forces but they are ultimately individuals - driven by their own goals and circumstances. This sets the player up for what Scarlet Nexus cares about most - its writing.
The story is often rather weird and self-indulgent in a way that feels confident in its abilities. It spins a tale through tens of little plot points and twists and I was more than willing to follow every single one of them.
Set in a “brainpunk” dystopia, creatures called 'others' terrorize civilians on earth where the OSF are the only force that can hold them off.
They do so by tapping into the latent powers most humans have to conscript soldiers to fight for them.
This backdrop is simply that - a backdrop. The story is wilder and much more unpredictable than the setting and to go into any more detail would spoil some of the game’s greatest moments.
Scarlet Nexus' story regularly made me gasp in surprise in a way that few games have this year. This being said, what truly makes Scarlet Nexus’ story shine is its expression of character.
Although, immediately, some of the characters play on tropes of the genre like the tsundere and kuudere, this contrived outer shell breaks apart to reveal well thought out characters with genuine emotional depth.
Look Inside the Mind
The entire game plays with this narrative around the human mind, what it means to be alive and what memories really mean.
It’s infectious to think about and often plagues your mind hours after putting it down. Characters are defined by their relationship to the world but what happens when those relationships break down and minds are changed forever?
Each character has their own quirks but none of these feel random, they all make sense in the tapestry of their past, present and future.
You don’t just explore the stories of the main characters, you come to understand every single character in the main cast. This is something very impressive I haven’t felt in a game since Persona 5 almost half a decade ago.
The comparisons to Atlus’ Magnum Opus don’t stop here. You can level up your friendships with outings and can give them items to make them like you even more.
This translates to unique cutscenes and special abilities in combat. Going into combat, you can bring up to 3 allies with you and they are made stronger by your relationships. Your allies are also chosen by which character you pick at the start, making a second playthrough much more than just a reskin.
Speaking of combat, Scarlet Nexus’ fighting is fluid and brutal, having you use special abilities and combos to effectively take down your enemies.
As you level up your friends, you can use their own unique powers. While Yuito and Kasane can throw objects with Psychokinesis, others can use flames, hyperspeed, clairvoyance and a multitude of other abilities. It really rewards customizing these abilities and only adds to them as you level up and get stronger.
How Does It Look?
Not only is the combat great, but the visuals and music are memorable and unique. The music moves from blast beats and techno to late-night jazz instantly and it works to give this otherworldy feel to everything.
The visuals do the same with intricate enemy designs and some very trippy scenes. When the story wants to get weird, every inch of Scarlet Nexus is dedicated to doing so.
Scarlet Nexus progresses forward over the runtime in a fascinating way. The world, characters, and combat keep rising and building the entire time.
Combat gets more intricate with an overdrive mode called Brain Drive and a few more tricks that I won't spoil here. These all come together to add complexity to the later levels that a beginner would struggle to keep up with it. Over your time with the game, you feel like you really learn how it all works.
The story shapes and bends to form a cohesive and utterly fascinating narrative that might lose some people in its willingness to take you to strange places.
Even though there are plenty of comparisons to be made to the likes of Atlus games and even Bandai Namco’s last anime RPG Code Vein, Scarlet Nexus feels so self-assured that its high-stakes story and distinct charm leave it hard to put down.
That’s not to say it doesn’t have moments of brevity. In between each main story section, you have the ability to go to a hideout where you can hang out with your companions.
Although initially a hindrance to the story, it starts to fit into this nice groove where I became grateful to see my party again and how they have developed since the last time we talked.
Scarlet Nexus is by no means a perfect game. The side quest system is a bit half-baked, with very trivial stories and meaningless rewards, and some of the environments can be a little too similar, making those side quests even more tedious.
On top of that, the last section of the story is a bit of a slog. But despite all of this, Scarlet Nexus is, by far, one of the best games I’ve played this year.
Scarlet Nexus is a game that consistently messed up my plans during the past week. Late night sessions and even later mornings, it’s one of those games that's impossible to stop thinking about until you’ve seen everything there is to find.
Luckily, with how great the characters are and how well constructed the story is, I wouldn't have minded if it had stayed around for much longer. Who needs a social life anyway?
RealSport Rating: 4.5 stars (out of 5)
We reviewed Scarlet Nexus on PS5 & Review Code was provided by Bandai Namco.