PREVIEW: Bandai Namco Games' Action RPG Scarlet Nexus

by Heidi Kemps,

In a COVID-ravaged world, game previews have changed. No longer are we invited to events where we can get hands-on time with upcoming titles – instead, we have online demo events where we watch a development-in-progress version of the game get shown off for us. While understandable, it's rather unfortunate, because you get way less of a feel for a game watching it than trying it for yourself. And in the case of Scarlet Nexus, it's especially unfortunate, because now that I've seen it, I really want to play it.

Bandai Namco Games’ “brainpunk” adventure Scarlet Nexus, which was announced earlier this year during Microsoft's Inside Xbox stream, is a retro-futuristic action/RPG with a lot of interesting hooks. Kinetic superpowers fueled by brain energy? Check. Anime hero with a sense of justice whose naive idealism is tested by harsh reality? Check. Weird monsters from parts unknown that are bizarre nightmare amalgams of living and inorganic things? EXTRA check. From what we've been shown far, Scarlet Nexus looks like it could be a cult hit in the making.

Scarlet Nexus takes place in the far, far future, where hero Yuito lives among the populace of massive megacountry called New Himuka. Life here in New Himuka isn't too bad, even with a constant stream of terrifying, interdimensional beings called Others flooding in to eat human brains with relative frequency. This is thanks to the efforts of the OSF, the Others Suppression Force, a sort of military unit tasked with protecting the people from these horrors. They seem to be rather good at it, too, as they rescued Yuito when he was a wee tyke. Now he's ready to join the OSF team!

Becoming an OSF soldier isn't easy, though – it involves some pretty intense brainpower. See, New Himuka's citizens all have a mind-connection to a super-powered-thought-internet called Psynet, which allows them to access information and perform mundane activities using their brain energy. Being an OSF member, however, involves having your brain connected directly to every other member of the squad – an excruciatingly painful process we witnessed in a cutscene. But it's through this deep red, interconnected brain energy – the titular Scarlet Nexus -- that OSF squad members can loan each other their strength.

Visually, Scarlet Nexus is a very striking game. Despite the game's future setting, the environments have a very retro feel to them – a design choice that's totally deliberate. Producer Keita Izuka, director Kenji Anabuki, and art director Kouta Ochiai described to us how they used imagery and environments from 1990s Japan in order to create a sort of altered-reality future-past. The result is a world that feels both very familiar and unsettlingly off.

Speaking of unsettling, there's the Others. A lot of effort went into Scarlet Nexus' creature design, and it shows. The Others are created from mixtures of familiar organic and inorganic things, resulting in creatures made from rather ordinary parts fused together into a creepy, unholy abomination that looks and feels wrong. Many of the monsters are designed by freelance artist Masakazu Yamashiro – while he hasn't worked on any video games before, he does a lot of advertising and cover art, which you can see on his website. (I do recommend checking it out, his art is phenomenal.) The Others were among the most memorable parts of the presentation, and I am certainly eager to learn just what the hell is up with these bizarre things Yuito's trying to kill.

Gameplay-wise, Scarlet Nexus is primarily an action game with light RPG elements. You control Yuito on field, using combinations of sword strikes and psychokinetic (PK) energy to combat the invading hordes of Others. It's ideal to use both methods of attack as needed: PK energy is limited, but can be refilled by using your sword. Not only that, but using sword slashes to combo into a PK attack boosts the damage output of the PK skill. By collecting upgrades and gear through fighting and questing, Yuito can enhance his base skills and learn new abilities to increase his combat capabilities.

Of course, it's not just Yuito doing the fighting. He'll be accompanied by other OSF members, including a lady named Hanabi Ichijo. Hanabi's specialty is fire-based attacks, so when she's on field, she'll be attacking with burning swipes while Yuito slashes through things. By building up a rapport with Hanabi – presumably, by questing and doing story-type events with her – Yuito can use something called the SAS system. (The SAS stands for… something that will be revealed in-game, I'm sure.) This allows him to borrow the abilities of Hanabi (and, I assume, other party members he's buddies with) to augment his own skills for brief periods. In the gameplay clips I was shown, Yuito's sword strikes turned into massive, fiery slashes when he was borrowing Hanabi's power – a connection that was indicated though a bunch of red tubes flowing out of his body.

Overall, combat looks fast, flashy, and fun, and the character-bonding element looks to add a nice layer of both strategy and fan-pleasing character interaction. (No word yet on if Yuito can romance anybody, which would definitely make the fanfiction-shipping crowd keen on playing this.) As I watched the demo, I found myself frequently thinking, “dang, I wish I was actually playing this,” which is certainly a good initial sign. Unfortunately, it might be a while. Scarlet Nexus will launch sometime next year for Xbox One, Xbox Series X, PS4, PS5, and PC via Steam, and I'll be keen to try it out as soon as I can.

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