Scarlet Nexus is a cross-gen action RPG from Bandai Namco Studios. The game's director, Kenji Anabuki, has worked on several Tales games including Tales of Vesperia and the upcoming Tales of Arise. Coupled with a futuristic, psychokinetic-infused setting inspired by the cyberpunk genre, referred to as brainpunk, Scarlet Nexus is a promising new IP. A public demo is out on Xbox platforms with a PlayStation demo releasing May 28th. Does this demo follow through on any of the game's potential?
Scarlet Nexus prides itself on its dual-protagonists. Both Yuito and Kasane are members of the OSF, a special task force that exists to hunt down Others, this game's organic monsters. They work for different squads, meaning they'll be given different missions and experience the story from different perspectives. As always, demos can and should not be taken to represent the entire experience. There's no way of knowing how different these stories are until the game is in our hands; however, the demo doesn't instill confidence.
The opening moments of dialogue are eerily similar between the two characters. Both cover the same ground, with many characters communicating the same information albeit with a different tone by way of slightly different wording or voiced inflections. Mission critical dialogue makes the squads feel like alternate versions of the same characters rather than wholly distinct entities. Even the demo's final boss encounter pans out similarly between the two campaigns despite taking place in different locations. Approach your excitement for the dual narrative with caution.
The Scarlet Nexus Combat Loop
Even if the storytelling and advertised social sim elements (not present in the demo) turn out half-baked, Scarlet Nexus can still get by with strong enough combat, an element the Tales series typically succeeds at even with varying levels of quality in cast and writing. Don't go into this expecting a Tales-style combat system, though. In spite of its lineage, Scarlet Nexus' combat loop feels distinct.
Unlike the story portion of the demo, which felt borderline copy/pasted between protagonists, Yuito and Kasane's approach to combat elicits a more positive response. The core systems operate similarly, but the way they engage with them differs pretty significantly to the point that the right choice of character may influence how much a first-timer will enjoy killing Others.
Both characters have a basic three-hit combo executed by mashing the X button, though this can be extended through the skill tree, known as the brain map. The Y button is relegated as a special attack that can only be used once per combo string with the option to extend this through skill tree progression. Yuito's special attack carries an AOE property, whereas Kasane's basic combos already cover that ground. Instead, her special is a backstep attack. The difference in specials highlights how they tackle combat. Yuito is meant for those that like getting up close and personal with Kasane stepping in for players wanting a slower paced, more methodical experience. This has a profound effect on the way you'll engage with Scarlet Nexus' systems.
A psychokinesis meter determines how often objects can be hurled at enemies. Physical attacks fill this meter, allowing for longer psychokinetic onslaughts. This cerebral aspect is tapped into further with the rush system. Tossing an object at an enemy, followed by initiating an attack closes the distance, otherwise known as a rush attack. Conversely, using psychokinesis during a combo resets to neutral, meaning you'll be able to perform the special attack and begin the basic combo again. JRPG's too often fall into the trap of introducing gimmicks that don't feel necessary. In Scarlet Nexus' case, psychokinesis is the combat's center, with other systems supporting it.
Yuito prescribes to this to a T. Kasane, however, requires a different approach. The outlined mechanics work the same way, but she's slower and focuses on mid-range area damage as opposed to high damage single targeting. Additionally, Kasane's psychokinesis meter fills up much more slowly, forcing more keen awareness and balancing between physical attacks and psychokinesis. She's a much more difficult character that feels built for those that have mastered Yuito. Kasane and Yuito also have access to different squad powers, though their utility is pretty similar. Instead of Yuito's fire-infused squad power, Kasane gets electric-infused attacks. Instead of Yuito's clairvoyance allowing him to see invisible Others, Kasane's Invisibility disguises her from foes that otherwise hide around her presence. Considering how differently encounters play out between Kasane and Yuito's paths, we can hope the final release diverges more in this respect.
It doesn't take long to come to grips with the combat loop. It's engaging albeit a bit basic. Successfully performing combo strings and psychokinesis while avoiding damage leads to an intense level of satisfaction even if the execution barrier isn't very high. It's an aggressive system that makes psychokinesis an essential tool rather than a redundant option. Its success hinges upon meaningful progression that opens up new combat avenues.
Scarlet Nexus Hype
The Scarlet Nexus demo offers a decent look into what to expect from its combat. There may be several warning signs--story divergence and technical prowess chief among them. Having played the demo on an Xbox Series X, for example, I was shocked by how awful the image quality and pop-in was. Texture quality and asset variety aren't strong suits either, but character models look good. The lack of polish on a next-generation iteration of a cross-gen title is alarming, but at the end of the day, Scarlet Nexus will live or die on its action. There's a solid foundation that etches a unique identity. If the final release can build upon these core systems in ways successful action games and RPG's do, this is a title worth keeping eyes on. If nothing else, that Dream in Drive theme is sick.
TechRaptor previewed Scarlet Nexus on Xbox Series X via a publicly available demo.