When I was given the opportunity to spend 3 hours previewing Scarlet Nexus, Bandai Namco’s upcoming third-person anime adventure, I figured I was in for some old-fashioned anime bashing. And I was. What I didn’t factor in was just how much Scarlet Nexus would be like watching an actual anime.
Scarlet Nexus is getting an official anime adaptation — it’s been licensed by Funimation (although it’ll air on Animelab here), and it’ll officially premiere this July. But you might find the experience of actually playing Scarlet Nexus, at least in the game’s opening, fills exactly the same void.
This post has been retimed following the release of Scarlet Nexus’s demo on Xbox, which is out today.
If you’ve ever played the Naruto Shippuden games, which are effectively 10 to 15 minute long episodes of anime with the occasional fight and video game hubs to explore wedged between, you’ll know what I mean. Scarlet Nexus starts out by giving you the choice of two campaigns. But whether you play as Yuito Sumeragi, a close quarters specialist, or the ranged specialist Kasane Randall, you’ll meet both characters at some point.
Bandai’s anime-adventure begins through what looks like mental torture: potential candidates for the Other Suppression Force (OSF), the psionic-military squad protecting New Himuka from a truly bizarre alien invasion, are forcibly connected to army’s mind network. The main characters survive, of course, but the process looks like it just flat out kills those who can’t hack it.
A lot of these early hours, and even your early interactions, play out like the beginning of a shonen squad anime. Kasane gets into the OSF with her sister, Naomi, and despite a bit of wincing they’re both capable of handling the pain caused by the constant, Ghost in the Shell-esque brain connection. And that’s what the game calls it later: your internal messaging system is “brain talking”.
But Kasane and Naomi’s concerns are pretty minimal, almost as if it’s just another day in high school. Which isn’t by accident — one cutscene reveals that the OSF specifically scout teenage candidates who score the highest in the national physical exams, although candidates can volunteer for the OSF themselves, or join up later in life.
So the first hour or two is largely more about getting used to OSF life. You run around the city, talk to civilians and other OSF members. One mentions how they had their pay docked for “arguing with a civilian on Psynet”. Naomi and Kasane head to a local shrine for a fortune; along the way, they spot a pair of OSF members who look kind of cute. (It’s Yuito and his colleague Nagi — I wonder how the scene plays out from the reverse perspective.)
Kasane’s fortune is shitty, so Naomi offers to trade. It’s a pretty simple life for a city under siege from flower pots in heels.
I don’t know what the in-world explanation for whatever the hell this is, but it’s one of the first things you fight when Scarlet Nexus formally introduces you to the Others. These aren’t Neon Genesis-esque level threats, although plenty of OSF soldiers do lose their lives on the job: the game even makes a point of pixelating their faces, given the Others have a tendency to eat human brains.
Fortunately, New Himuka has heroes to save the day. Not Yuito or Kasane, but the Scarlet Guardians. They’re the most talented soldiers and leaders in the OSF, described as Septentrions and leaders of squads in a manner that reminds me a lot of Bleach. The city itself makes a big deal about their presence too: little media drones follow them around and record their battles real-time, replaying their efforts on national TV for both propaganda and moral support.
One of these psychic captains, General Spring, has the ability to copy others’ psionic powers. Most others only have the one psionic ability (kind of like Hunter X Hunter). Every anime I’ve ever seen eventually results in the “copy other powers” dude doing a heel turn at some point, although the opening hours definitely don’t delve that deep.
Eventually, however, you’ll get to fight the Others yourself. This brings the two protagonists properly together, albeit only for a small time, and it’s here Scarlet Nexus‘s Tales roots begin to emerge.
Like the Tales games, Scarlet Nexus has a combat system that draws a lot of inspiration from fighting games instead of the Batman Arkham series, which inspires most Western action-adventures.
Your basic attack starts with the X button, which does a simple jab. Hitting Y then caused Kasane to do an attack that dashes backwards, restoring some of her psychokinesis meter. Hitting A and X would execute simple punches while in the air; hitting both buttons together uppercuts enemies into the air.
From there, it’s all about layering attacks. The right trigger is used to, Control style, Force Throw environmental objects at enemies. But it’s really best used to trigger different combos. You could throw in a couple of jabs and then hit RT to launch a car at an enemy, pressing Y after that lands to restore some of the psychokinesis energy spent.
The tutorial outlines all of this to you pretty quickly; not so quickly that you won’t remember the combos, but enough that it got my mind thinking about ways of approaching combat. I don’t do this particularly often, but here’s a set of notes that I took during the preview, which gives you an idea of what it was like actually playing Scarlet Nexus:
A+X together does a different uppercut to A, X, which is more of an aerial juggle. Y – attack + dodge backwards, refills the psycho meter much more greatly
Hold RT + x will do a charge attack after the force push. RT after X/Y lands will do a psycho follow-up attack (can Y combo out of it to restore the gauge?)
So principally you want to: X, Y (to restore gauge), RT after Y lands, hold, X, then Y again (for more restoration)
And this is all before your squadmates add up to 4 extra layers of complexity on their own. This is described as a brain assistance system that maximises your psionic power, but fundamentally it just lets you access the special abilities’ of whatever allies you happen to go into combat with.
The first two examples of these in Kasane’s campaign were invisibility and psychic duplication, which just basically lets you throw more environmental objects at enemies to break their shields faster. You can use the latter ability to slap down any enemy, of course, but it highlights the overall logic in Scarlet Nexus. Different groups of enemies will require different approaches, making the whole experience more of a fast-paced action puzzle.
There’s also a pretty broad skill system, too, with three interlocking trees you can invest BP (brain points) into. Early options include the usual suspects, like enabling double jump, mid-air dashes, or simple stat buffs. I didn’t have a lot of time to explore the game’s hub areas, but I did run across a couple of vendors and find lots of alleyways with various consumables, which are all accessed during combat via the D-Pad.
It’s a relatively straightforward action-RPG approach, with a combat system that should suit fans of the Tales series quite well. The roots of Scarlet Nexus come from fighting games, but even though the knockdown animations can be astonishingly long, Scarlet Nexus isn’t a super complicated fighting game. Even the boss battles have a very familiar flow to them, with wide sweeping attacks that have to be dodged, quicktime events that you’ll trigger at predetermined times, and attack animations with plenty of leeway to dodge.
It’s a game that very much wants you to sit down and enjoy the ride. There’s a world to explore, loot to uncover, hideouts to unlock and squadmates you can bond with, and a lot of these moments get their own cut-scenes and lengthy exposition. The only part I didn’t really get to properly enjoy was what it’d be like on a console with full HDR, as I was demoing the game on PC. (It did, however, happily run at 4K with no complaints.)
But if you’re not sure about whether Scarlet Nexus is too much anime for you, there’s a bonus. In the nice trend that’s been sweeping the industry over the last year, Bandai Namco will release a demo for Scarlet Nexus on both console platforms later this month. Xbox One, Xbox Series S and Xbox Series X users will get access to the demo from May 21, while a PS4 and PS5 demo will hit the PlayStation Store on May 28.
The demo will let you play as both Yuito and Kasane until the game’s “first major encounter”. Yuito and Kasane are in different squads, so you’ll have access to a different set of powers you can borrow from your teammates depending on who you’re playing.