(Played mostly on OneXPlayer tablet through Steam in Japanese)
Without releases on the wiki, a scored user review for Scarlet Nexus is out of the equation as the time of writing. So I decided to dedicate my first blog post on Giantbomb.com to this debut title in a year filled with rerelease in the AAA space. I suppose I can write bit more spoilery here.
Scarlet Nexus is an action role-playing game very much in the vein of Square Enix’ NieR series and does share 2 Japanese voice cast members with 2017’s Automata. Released in other years, it might get overlooked by more (including yours truly) like Namco Bandai’s previous effort at debuting a new series, Code Vein. But it was released in the summer of PS5 and Xbox Series’ sophomore slumber, combined with buzz from Xbox’s Gamepass inclusion, it seems to be quite popular. Here is what I thought about it after 28 hours of playing.
Almost Pulled an Urobochi
Even with 2 paths to go down, one playthrough of this game is enough to get the whole story, at least for me. Like 2019’s Fire Emblem Three Houses, the cutey dozen introduced at the beginning would be divided into 2 sides of a battleline in the second act of the game. But unlike the Nintendo published tactic game where what is revealed respectively in the 3 houses would stay known only in those houses, Scarlet Nexus’ third act would see its young heroes hug, make up and compare notes on the mindfucks they discovered separately.
Between the 2 protagonists, I chose to play the girl, Kasane Randall. She is a softly spoken (At least it’s my impression of the Japanese vocal performance.) cynic as opposed to the boy, Yuito Sumeraki being a goody two shoe. Her team mates including the typical big sis Kyoka, your usual tsuntere firecracker boy Shiden, the always slagging off when not on carema poster girl Arashi (Sharing Japanese voice actor with Persona 4’s Chie in Yui Horie.) and the constant flirt Kagero (Sharing Japanese voice actor with NieR Automata's Adam in Daisuke Namikawa).
Compared to her squad of tropes, Kasane is certainly a fresher take on a playable character in a Japanese game. The voice actor, Asami Seto pulling a tough but no hard-edge voice here is quite the breakthrough of her career. Ms. Seto voiced the titular Bunny Girl in Rascal Does Not Dream of Bunny Girl Senpai, a seductive character still with her usual hard-edged voice. With Kasane being a cynic who still believe a noble cause, Ms. Seto is giving out a calling card to Gen Urobochi whenever he is ready to write a script for another animated series.
Speak of Urobochi, Scarlet Nexus has enemy designs falling straight out of a show he wrote, Pullea Magi Madoka Magica. In the PMMM, there are weird moving creatures known as Witches, and Scarlet Nexus’ Others is basically the same thing but polygonal. Another thing Urobochi is famous for, sudden and shocking deaths, Scarlet Nexus has lots of those in it first act, but fell short because the player barely got to know the deceased. The more effective NPC death would be the 2 sidekicks this game assign to the playable characters, both met miserable ends so don’t get too attached.
When id Software’s Hugo Martin speak about DOOM Eternal being like a Saturday morning cartoon, I did envision something more in line with Scarlet Nexus. After all Eternal does not have too many cut scenes with speaking characters, while Scarlet Nexus has loads of long graphic novel like cut scenes between its fights of varied lengths. Besides the playable characters Yuito and Kasane here feel a lot more like Heman the Master of Universe and She-ra the Princess of Power respectively than the DOOM Slayer. One cannot be a cartoon without refined personality and friends after all.
Scarlet Nexus’ story overall is a pretty standard action comic for boys type of affair. With psi powers and time travel thrown in, I still don’t see it being considered for a Hugo rocket next year. I cannot separate my enjoyment of the game’s story from my feeling that Attack on Titan completely shitted the bed at its home stretch earlier this year either.
At least, the final boss of Scarlet Nexus is a pretty much Eren Yaeger with the even more asshole sounding vocal performance from Nobuyoki Hiyama, a man who could have voiced Thesus in Supergiant’s Hades. But the epilogue putting him on a somewhat redemptive path still pisses me a little bit.
Long fights between longer talks
After rambling about the story, it’s time to talk about the action. There is the usual left face button for light attacks and up face button for the heavy ones. Dodge button being the right face button is bit tricky for me as I played Death’s Door shortly before committed to Scarlet Nexus. Death's Door has its dodge mapped to the down face button. Scarlet Nexus is a 3D game, so the down face button is for jumps. There is also the so-called Brain Field, the timed click both sticks super mode I’m aware of since 2005’s God Of War.
Scarlet Nexus would have you do more interesting things with shoulder buttons. Right trigger to throw lighter objects at enemies through telekinesis, and left trigger to throw heavier ones. The right bumper combined with face buttons would allow you to use the team mates’ powers for a limited time, like using Shiden’s lightning power to zap water containing enemies or Kyoka’s multiplier for more objects to throw. Left bumper plus face buttons would allow the team squad to step in the do some dirty work for you.
The bumper summon is the main reason why player needs to go through cut scenes called Bonding Episodes during Standby between the games’ 12 main chapters known as Phases respectively. Of course, you can skip all those and still get the perks.
Clocking at 28 hours, the game can feel way too long at times when things repeat. It’s the usually one arena fight after another type of deal. The puzzles, if you can call those that, are key finding affair associated with action games instead of action-adventure games. It’s just a excuse to open up another arena for player to fight in.
Kansane’s story line has her told by Yuito’s future himself in the end of world to assassinate the other player character. It’s fine as an idea, but twice player has to go through the same long fights. The second act of this game feels downright paddling. Sometimes I just got to watch the long cut scenes in the Bonding Episodes to wash off the fatigue I felt in the action. Don’t know if it’s intended that way.
As for those long cut scenes, I’m glad that I played this game on a capable Window tablet. Watch those as if reading a motion comic anywhere I go is more tolerable than seeing those sitting in front of a computer.
What Video Recording?
This is the question I asked in my mind when got the in-game message from the in-game café mascot Musubi. Looked it up on ign’s wiki guide, turns out it’s talking the animated adaption airing this summer.
Staring airing on July, 1st, the animated adaption came merely one week after the game’s launch and from what I saw, it feels like a story of New Game Plus. I guess one can pick up the game on launch day (June, 25th), “wolf” it down at the pace of 4 hours per day, and just in time to watch pilot the animated series. I don’t think when PC Gamer called this game “ambitious” multimedia was the reviewer’s mind, but here we are.
Anyway, as much as the game is not capital P Prestige, the animated series is certain the lesser way to experience it, with usual problems of animated series based on games like the hub area not feeling right for those who played the game. The motion comic style in game cut scenes are long but not without gems, some of those are fated to lost in translation to a 12 to 24 episodes long series.
All In All
When it’s time to make a list by the end of this year, I would still put Scarlet Nexus on it. It’s not something special, but manages to stand out in a year slowed down by both developers’ struggling to get the hang of new hardware and a global pandemic. Nominees for Giantbomb Games of the Year’s debunked Best Debut are few and far between now, I’m just glad I got to play one of those and enjoy most of my time with it.