Scarlet Nexus Review

Richard Walker

Scarlet Nexus is an unusual game. A story of two gifted cadets summoned to a military unit known as the OSF (Other Suppression Force), developer Bandai Namco Studios' action game is one part hack-and-slash combat, and one part anime-style exposition – the runtime weighted substantially towards the latter. It turns out there's a lot to learn about the OSF and their mission to keep bizarre monsters, known as Others, at bay – only those imbued with remarkable psionic powers are considered for recruitment, assuming they can survive the painful, potentially fatal, but also mandatory 'Struggle Arms System' (SAS) connection. You play as one of two such OSF cadets: bright-eyed young lad Yuito Sumeragi, or acerbic, ice-cold pragmatist Kasane Randall – both have intriguing pasts, and both are handy with their weapon of choice. And it's all remarkably good fun.

Let me reach into your brain and have a feel.

Opening with Kasane and Yuito cutting their teeth as rookie Scarlet Guardians, Nexus sees each character embark upon a journey to become the best of the best the OSF has to offer. These members of the force hold the honour of being called 'Septentrions', the most famous of whom is a man named Karen (pronounced Car-en), who holds the ominous moniker of 'brain eater'. Unsurprisingly, there's something dodgy about Karen, but that's not all. There's a revolution brewing in New Himuka's second capital, Seiran; a dark conspiracy unfolding in the background; a black hole known as the Kunad Gate threatening to end the world as we know it; and, meanwhile, Yuito and Kasane have their own scores to settle, as well as their own set of motivations that help propel the narrative. It can all be a little convoluted at times, and some of the dialogue is woefully clunky, but there's a kernel of intrigue that manages to just about keep you hooked, dangling from its 'Red Strings'.

From the outset, you can choose whether to start as Kasane or Yuito, each given their own narrative, which intertwines with the other. Yuito is a close-range fighter armed with a sword, and Kasane favours medium-range attacks, using levitating blades that swirl around her body – both are imbued with psychokinetic powers, enabling them to reel off speedy combos and hurl around scenery like a bolshy Darth Vader on a really bad day. With a migraine. Pretty much anything you can see is ripe to be plucked up into the air and thrown at enemies by holding down the right trigger/R2, or, if you really want to do some damage, holding the left trigger/L2 on certain items initiates a more elaborate throw, punctuated by a devastating QTE finisher. The best one? Leaping onto the roof of a bus and driving it into an enemy never fails to raise a big grin. Or maybe pulling down a chandelier, then sending it spinning into enemies like a top.

Some enemies also have a yellow crush gauge beneath their health bar, which, once depleted (by targeting a weak spot), enables you to unleash a suitably flashy, cinematic finishing move, that sees Yuito and Kasane yanking out an Other's lightbulb-shaped brain and spectacularly crushing it. This is fittingly called a 'Brain Crush', which makes sense. Yuito and Kasane have a lot of abilities prefaced by the word 'brain', including Brain Drive, which temporarily heightens your combat prowess for a short time; and the Brain Field, an overdrive skill that transports you to another plane where your powers are sent into a psionic frenzy, which, if used beyond the allotted timer that ticks away, kills you stone dead.

Using each protagonist's Brain Map skill tree, you can extend the time you're able to spend in the Brain Field, and slightly dampen its adverse effects. Add to that the different SAS powers you can borrow from allies for a limited time, like Shiden's electrokinesis, Kyoka's duplication, Luka's teleport, or Tsugumi's clairvoyance ability, which enables you to see enemies through walls, and you've always got something to fall back on and exploit in a fight, as well as a nice layer of RPG depth to tinker with.

Combat in Scarlet Nexus is exceptionally thrilling and immensely gratifying, which makes it all the more curious that it hasn't been placed front and centre. Much of Bandai Namco and co-developer Tose's unique action game is spent watching cut-scenes, the majority of which are delivered through a static background image with overlaid talking heads chatting to one another. The action is enjoyable enough that you'll be itching to wrangle back control, so you can return to the more involving tasks of fending off the hordes of weird monsters that have been unleashed across the game's futuristic Japanese city of New Himuka. While the completely bonkers story has its own merits, it's simply not as exciting as the game's high-tempo combat, although it does present you with ample time to regroup and slow things down a touch between missions.

Forming bonds with your allies when on standby back at your hideout helps to bring a sense of camaraderie to proceedings, while taking the time to complete short Bond Episodes (more cut-scenes) pays off with additional SAS abilities and better synergy while in battle, upon levelling up. Raise your Bond level sufficiently, and allies will call out to signify an Assault Vision attack, and when you fall they'll be more likely to revive you. The more time you put into completing Bond Episodes and plying your OSF friends with gifts, the greater the level of flexibility and options you'll have in combat – it's a worthwhile, though incredibly slow, endeavour.

Psionic high-five!

Indeed, Scarlet Nexus as a whole feels like a worthwhile endeavour. The game's story and the way in which it's delivered might not be to everyone's tastes, but there's no escaping the quality and versatility of its intuitive combat mechanics. The way in which Kasane and Yuito cross paths during each character's campaign also adds meaningful plot development and replay value, their abilities and allies succeeding in making each playthrough different enough to warrant playing them both. You don't need to be a fan of anime to enjoy its distinctive visual style, either, or to appreciate the freneticism of the game's action. Scarlet Nexus is an inviting and hugely entertaining experience, which nonetheless could have benefitted from a much leaner narrative, and more of an onus on the stuff that really makes it tick: that sweet, sweet combat.

Scarlet Nexus

Going rather heavy on its convoluted, nutty storyline, Scarlet Nexus delivers on all fronts as far as its combat is concerned, with fast, flexible action that's always a joy. Bandai Namco's game is certainly bizarre, but it's also unique and well worth playing - it's the best Brain Punk game ever made.

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Running a gamut of musical genres from rock to techno, smooth jazz and everything in between, the soundtrack will burrow its way into your head and stay there rent-free for a few days. The voice acting is mostly good, too.


The weirdest monster designs ever (walking bouquet of flowers in high heels, anyone?) butt up strangely against the more traditional anime humans, but overall, Scarlet Nexus is a truly lovely-looking game.


When you are given the chance to bust loose with psionic powers and fast-paced combos, Scarlet Nexus comes to startling life. The only downside is that you'll be spending a disproportionate amount of time watching cut-scenes.


If you love sitting back and watching anime cut-scenes – many of which aren't fully animated – then you'll be in heaven. The story is completely mad, and doubles down on that with each passing chapter. More animated cut-scenes and actual combat would have been nice.


A really good spread of tasks across the game's two 25-ish hour campaigns means you've got plenty to do, but you'll have a lot of fun doing it. There are some pretty interesting tasks to complete in here, and a decent overall mix of objectives.

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