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I've been following Scarlet Nexus for a while. In previews, I found myself drawn in by the frenetic look of its gameplay, the monstrous-yet-alluring enemy design, and a star quality I couldn't quite put my finger on. Well, I'm delighted to say the game is even more enticing when played. Combat and the in-game world would both feel right at home in a PlatinumGames title, which is about as big a compliment as I can give (I mention my love for Platinum here). Honestly, it seems we have something very special on our hands here.
I'll just say here that this isn't a full review because I'm only five hours in, and although I'm very excited to play more, I can't speak for what I haven't experienced. That being said, Scarlet Nexus is shaping up to be the sleeper hit of the year, so far.
Watch the trailer below to see what Scarlet Nexus has to offer
Scarlet Nexus has two playable characters: Kasane Randall and Yuito Sumeragi. I picked Kasane, and her story sees her join the OSF (Other Suppression Force) as a cadet, alongside her sister Naomi. The OSF's duty is to deal with 'Others' - strange creatures made up of both organic and mechanical elements, resulting in some truly unnerving hybrids (more on them later). I won't go further into the story so as not to spoil anything, but I will say that there are plenty of side quests, and both characters have roughly 20-hour campaigns.
Visually, Scarlet Nexus is a joy to behold. The sublime lighting brings the beauty of games like 13 Sentinels to a fully 3D space, creating environments that beg to be explored at a leisurely pace. Structures reflect light as if turning to gold before your eyes, as unnatural hues of green and purple loiter, corrupting the delicate lustre and reminding us that this is a world with an overwhelming dark side. This duality of hope and dismay resonates profoundly, and it's awe-inspiring.
Gameplay is initially reminiscent of Nier: Automata (one of our Top 100 Games Of All Time), with fast and furious combat and a variety of attainable power-ups that let you customise your character to suit your individual combat style. However, it goes much deeper than that. You wield an array of short- and long-range attacks, with plenty of unlockable moves to acquire as you level up. Increasing your level grants Brain Points, which can then be spent on enhancing your character's health, gaining new techniques, and so on. The level of depth here is excellent, and no two playthroughs would need to be the same.
Another dimension to combat comes from your party members. As you play, you'll be granted teammates who let you "borrow" their abilities. Ranging from Clairvoyance to Electrokinesis, each skill has its benefits. For instance, the former lets you detect enemies when they aren't visible, while the latter does extra damage to those vulnerable to electricity.
Enemies wouldn't look out of place in a Bayonetta game. The Others are both unsettling and charming, much like the heavenly abominations from the aforementioned title. Their designs combine organic and mechanical elements, resulting in distinctly horrifying foes that you can't help but pity. There are various classes of Others, with varying strengths and weaknesses, so getting familiar with them is vital to success. This is especially true of bosses, who seem designed to play on any bad habits you may pick up. Be patient, follow the tutorials, and you'll make it through, cadet!
Despite my constant referencing of another studio's works, Scarlet Nexus does feel unique. Although clearly inspired by multiple other games, Bandai Namco's latest release feels original in its execution. The visual style may bring to mind games like Astral Chain, and the world might feel reminiscent of anime like Neon Genesis Evangelion, but these homages are made with such love that it's almost as if Quentin Tarantino developed Scarlet Nexus.
There's even an element of Persona 5 Royal. I know how saying that is a meme in and of itself, but I'm not just talking about the use of jazz-pop in some of Scarlet Nexus' OST. Bandai Namco's game has a social element known as 'Bond Missions', which let you get to know the supporting cast more intimately. This also gives you an advantage in battle, so don't shrug it off if you don't normally go in for this type of thing. Now listen, I know this isn't necessarily a Persona-esque element on its own, but when you include the way Scarlet Nexus uses a black-and-red colour scheme for most cutscenes, it's clear to see the influence. Again, this homage is no bad thing.
Overall, Scarlet Nexus takes from other great works and masterfully blends its inspirations with some truly excellent individual quality. Gameplay is satisfying but provoking, luring you to play endlessly in a way not many games can achieve. The story is fascinating and the characters are all appealing enough to make you want to get to know each one of them. Then there's the visuals, which are so staggeringly beautiful that I found myself lying awake at night just thinking about them. Although I've much more to play, I feel confident in saying Scarlet Nexus is shaping up to be one for the ages.
Scarlet Nexus releases June 25th for PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation5, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X/S. Game tested using PlayStation code provided by the publisher.
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