At its core, the game screams JRPG, which isn’t the least bit surprising given the development team’s extensive pedigree. In a nutshell, you command a team of young OSF (Other Suppression Force) soldiers who are tasked with ridding the world of the aforementioned Others, which are mutated monstrosities originating from a terrible place called the Extinction Belt.
If you’re the least bit ARPG-adjacent, there’s no doubt you’ve at least heard some positive rumblings about Bandai Namco’s post-apocalyptic, anime-inspired, sort-0f-dating sim, sort-of-not, cyber-brain adventure Scarlet Nexus. It’s got several folks from the Tales series of RPGs behind it, so before you even set foot inside this wildly original Japanese cartoon, it’s readily apparent that you’re going to be in good hands.
This is all happening amid a far-future setting in which everything is broadcast via swarming camera drones, the government is shady at best, and holographic AR advertisements (or Visions, as they’re called in-game) pollute practically every square inch of modern life. Kind of sounds familiar, really.
Speaking of which, with gorgeous cel-shaded Unreal Engine 4 visuals, Scarlet Nexus is truly a sight to behold, especially on some of the newer console hardware and a proper 4K display.
There’s a heavy emphasis on different extra-sensory brain powers in Scarlet Nexus, like pyrokinesis, sclerokinesis, electrokinesis and the one used most often, psychokinesis. With the latter, you can grab practically any nearby object and fling it at adversaries as you slash at them with melee attacks. It all looks amazingly fluid during the game’s hectic battles.
The smart people over at Digital Foundry published a solid side-by-side graphics comparison for the different versions of Scarlet Nexus, most notably between Xbox Series X and PS5. More or less, DF claims that both versions of Namco Bandai’s ARPG run at 4K 60FPS, though with slight caveats and under-the-hood tricks being deployed by both systems. The PS5 version does seem to edge out the Xbox Series X port just slightly, with less temporary framerate drops into the upper 50s and slightly faster loading times.
These frame dips are really just that: slight, and incredibly so, probably not even enough to be noticeable to the average gaming eye. I’ve been playing Scarlet Nexus on my Xbox Series X and the performance has been downright beautiful, the in-game cutscenes and epic finishing moves (Brain Crushes) especially so. I only took note of the small framerate drops after later viewing Digital Foundry’s video. To be totally objective, though, PS5 does come out on top with this title, even if it is by a hair.
Unfortunately, for how well the game runs, there is some significant pop-in on both versions, most notably with vehicles and other interactive objects as you run through the city. I’m really hoping that Bandai Namco can patch this out at some point, because otherwise Scarlet Nexus is a visual treat. It has to be, because the creatures you fight are anything but, and in the best possible way.
The tree spigot creature I mentioned in the intro to this article, AKA the Winery Chinery (yes, that’s its actual name), is but one of countless enemy abominations originating from the Extinction Belt to the more civilized environments of Scarlet Nexus. And really, ‘abominations’ is generous. These things, whatever they actually are— and kudos to you if you can put them into any kind of meaningful natural order— more fall into the category of ‘Nature’s egregious mistakes’. You know, like the blob fish or the goblin shark. Take the Auger Sabbat, for example. Masked horse with a drill face, I… guess? Naomi Randall, with its weirdly normal name, is part actual house, part blind twin mannequin busts. Saws Paws is, as far as I can tell, one of those Rafflesia corpse flowers that’s wearing a corset (because of course it is) carried around on a pair of arguably feminine legs with—yes, you guessed it—hand saws for feet.
I mean, just what the hell are these entities? They’re like this off-putting amalgamation of household items, animal parts, bad feelings, and backward-crawling Exorcist animation. All I’m saying is that Scarlet Nexus gives the Silent Hill series a run for its money in the WTF department, and I’m certainly not complaining. It has me craving a first-person spin-off that leans into the horror aspects of the game’s unsettling enemy art. One complaint I have is that the game’s environments, in contrast to its incredible monsters, are rather bland and same-y. I get that Scarlet Nexus takes place in the distant future, and that distant future is dystopian, so lack of color and variety is mostly on-brand. At least on the mission front, it’s a lot of abandoned factories, lonely construction sites and drab, empty freeway overpasses. Sure, there’s some bustling city life in between carrying out orders, trying to woo your teammates with gifts and obliterating Others. But would it have killed the dev team to throw in, I don’t know, something green once in a while? A damp forest? A waterfall grotto? A disgusting kale smoothie? You get my point.
My biggest gripe (and this might be personal preference, so take it with a grain of salt) is the sheer amount of dialogue going on throughout the narrative. We’re talking Hideo Kojima levels of conversational self-indulgence. These often redundant exchanges, from normal progression bits to the extra Bond Episodes, are very common and can derail the action for sometimes 10 minutes or so at a time. I never thought the story was nearly good enough or captivating enough to warrant that kind of devoted attention. I mean, the writing is okay, but nothing amazing. Again, if you’re into this sort of anime that veers into cheese, cringe and trope on the regular— and nobody here is raining on that particular parade, you do you— then you might find Scarlet Nexus’s insistence that it’s characters are supremely interesting and absolutely worth everybody’s time…charming? I think what I’m trying to say is that it’s not for me, but I hardly think I’m the target audience.
I can absolutely deal with these drawbacks, however, because the real highlight of Scarlet Nexus for me (and it’s a huge one) is the awesome action battle system. Combat is fast, frantic and buttery smooth. It’s all about linking together physical attacks, psychokinetic pummeling and teammate tag-ins into elaborate, seemingly unending, combos. The flow does take some getting used to, and unlocking different moves can be a bit of a drip feed via the Brain Map, and I’m looking at you double jump. Once you’re linking things together, and flinging military Humvees while effortlessly pulling off Brain Crushes, the whole process starts to feel like a kind of destructive poetry. This is made even more apparent by the high energy music that somehow struck me as a modern take on Phantasy Star Online.
I think no matter what hardware you’re playing on, even the lower powered Xbox Series S, Scarlet Nexus is not a game you want to miss. The last I heard it wasn’t selling too terribly well, which I hope will turn around as word-of-mouth does its thing.