Until now we knew about cyberpunk and steampunk. But did we have Brainpunk? Obviously the answer is no and Bandai Namco takes care to make it known, or rather to establish the new term itself. However, the term is nothing more than a marketing ploy to make the concept of cyberpunk fancier. After all, the Japanese are dying for unusual styles and poses. Hence the company's new title, Scarlet Nexusis a game that incorporates all the anime clichés to the core (far-fetched storyline, over-the-top characters, long dialogues), but it's also a pleasant surprise in the action/RPG genre, with an emphasis on the first compound of the term.
Scarlet Nexus takes us to an alternate reality in 2020, where humanity is confronted with some unknown's origin creatures (called Others), which have a huge craving for human brains. But humanity has radically changed its DNA, as the vast majority of its inhabitants have psychic powers that originate from specific parts of the brain. The most powerful of them, either voluntarily or completely "democratically" (that is, by force), are recruited into the OSF (Other Suppression Force), which is humanity's main shield of protection against the Others.
At this point the protagonists of the story appear, Yuito Sumeragi and Kasane Randall, who have just graduated from OSF school and are about to undertake their first mission. Soon, their role in the story will become much bigger than even they could have imagined. This is because the situation with the Others is not as simple as it seems (i.e. just monsters who have suddenly appeared to eat the world), and the personal motivations of the majority of the characters in the story end up in some truly extreme situations.
We would like to avoid providing more spoilers on the story of Scarlet Nexus, which is admittedly quite interesting and engaging, at least in the first half of the game. From then on, things get out of hand both with the thunderous plot developments, which are hard to digest, and with the theoretically more "philosophical" issues it touches on. Also the presentation of events in visual novel style rather than with animated cut-scenes (there are very few) sometimes gets tiring, combined with the lengthy and verbose dialogues, so the skip button often becomes a temptation. Nevertheless, if one accepts what happens "as-is", without fussing about why and how, he won't have a bad time by the end of the almost 25-hour adventure.
Twenty-five hours only in terms of one part of the story, though, as our first choice in the game is whether to follow it through Yuito's or Kasane's eyes. Remarkably, the playthroughs of both characters feature several differences between them, to the point where it is worthwhile to deal with both heroes after completing the adventure with one of them. Also their differences in fighting style are obvious, as they may both possess the same mental strength (psychokinetic), but Yuito emphasizes fighting from the fray thanks to his sharp katana, while Kasane prefers long-range attacks with a special type of knives.
Besides, the characters that make up our team are also different, leading in turn to alternative approaches on the combat arenas. After all, combat is the backbone of the game, to such an extend so that the RPG co-feature it has been given is overly generous (not to say unfortunate). Playing the game, one is given the feeling that it has more in common with Devil May Cry rather than with Tales of Berseria, for example. Admittedly, it doesn't have the same depth or similar learning curve as the aforementioned Capcom's game, yet the combat system is set up very well and includes several clever ideas that make the clashes exciting.
Operating on real–time environment and wandering on strictly linear levels (with minimal deviations), every now and then we encounter various types of enemies (mostly Others), which we can eliminate either with our weapons or with psychic powers. If you have had recent experience with Remedy's Control , you can get an idea of how Yuito and Kasane's powers work. We can send from tables and chairs to cars and trains into the heads of the monsters, while dealing a lot of damage to both their health and crush bar, which also indicates the opponent's brain "health".
If it is dropped to null, then the hero can execute a... fatality causing either instant death or the removal of a respectable amount of health, if we are facing a boss. However, the reserves of psychic energy are limited and the only way to replenish is either to start hitting enemies with melee attacks or to drink the related (hard to find and expensive) potion, in an attempt to achieve a balance in the combat system, so that is not possible to constantly spam the heavy items. A balance that has been successfully implemented to a fairly large extent.
But Scarlet Nexus doesn't stop there. In addition to the protagonist, we are joined by two other members of our team, who in turn are on the battlefield and it is possible to equip them and give them some general instructions as to how to behave (battle at will, frequent healing, defensive or offensive style, etc.). While we can't rely completely on them, there are times when their reactions are life-saving, so it's a good idea to keep them alive as often as possible. In any case, the main reason for their usefulness is their own, distinct psychic powers, which we can "borrow" for a finite period of time through the SAS system.
So by pressing the appropriate combination on the gamepad/keyboard, we temporary gain a member's attribute, which can be either adding fire to our weapon, teleporting, becoming invisible, slow time and so on. The tactic in question is strategically important in the majority of battles, as depending on the enemies we are facing at the time, we have to apply the relevant forces to achieve maximum damage output. For example, an Other who sprays oil splatters is prone to fire damage, while another who is a water lover doesn't do well with electricity at all. Remarkably, the powers we can borrow are not limited exclusively to the two members of the team who are accompanying us, but also from those we have left out of the team, which makes things very convenient. Especially when we can later combine up to four different powers at once, the combos become particularly devastating.
Of course, to get there, we need to raise our character levels and place the points at the appropriate Brain Map. This is practically the only element that could be said to make Scarlet Nexus feel like an RPG. The Brain Map (basically the skill tree) is long, with many useful skills and several customization options, whose branches expand as you progress in the game, placing the extra attributes of the Brain Drive and Brain Field on the table. Essentially two more weapons in the hero's quiver, where they significantly empower him when the relevant bar is filled - in the first case it happens automatically, in the second when we choose it.
If all this sounds like a lot of information to you, in practice it turns out that it is not that difficult to remember and apply it all. Quite the opposite we would say, as the combination of psychic powers offers a relatively satisfying variety in the pattern enemy killing. A pattern that is constantly repeated, especially in the latter stages of the game, overdoes it with a series of non-stop battles, so the game would be overly boring if it weren't for a battle system with a bit of imagination as a garnish.
Admittedly, repetitiveness is not entirely avoided, as the types of Others turn out to be quite few in number. After a certain point, we just got bored of constantly beating up the same (with a few variations) enemies, who may have a completely bizarre appearance that makes you wonder what Bandai Namco artists are carrying on their heads (ever seen a vase with heels?), but after the hundredth time we've encountered them, they don't make any impression anymore. At least the bosses compensate in a nice way, being huge, impressive and appropriately challenging in terms of difficulty, where brute force is often not enough to take them down, but you'll need to put your brain cells to work.
However, if anything needed a big improvement, it was definitely the side quests. There are dozens of them, but they are limited to challenges like "kill x enemies in the y way", with the rewards being nothing special. Besides, there is a rudimentary crafting system (exchange is called and it can be found at every save point we visit), which makes it much easier to get the job done. Side quests, however, also include bond episodes with the other members of the team, which are mostly short visual novel interludes, and help to develop better relationships with the protagonist, and also to outline the background of each individual. If we offer them presents, then they will love us even more.
Bond episodes are optional, but we actually have to deal with them extensively, as the more a character's friendship bond with our protagonist grows, the more efficiently will be working his borrowed psychic power. From how long it will last to whether he/she will step in front of us to save us from a fatal blow. This process can sometimes become tedious and breaks immersion, especially when the plot is running at a dizzying pace and we have to interrupt to go out for a drink. On the other hand, they last a few minutes and if we are not interested in their personal problems, we have the option to skip the dialogues, unless it's a normal mission within an arena, in which case we'll necessarily have to make it to the end.
Moving on to the technical aspect of the review, Scarlet Nexus is quite impressive and effective, as it has nothing to envy from a recent anime film, with the action flowing smoothly no matter how much is happening on screen at the same time. However, it's unique artistic approach is the belle of the ball, being very imaginative in both the urban and industrial environments depicted and the extreme surrealism of the creatures. The soundtrack, on the other hand, features a variety of moods and genres (from rock, electronic music to jazz), but essentially does not include anything memorable. As for the voice-over, opting for Japanese voices, the quality is at a consistently high level, and surprisingly so is the English, as long as you prefer to play a Japanese game in English (who does that?).
To sum up, Scarlet Nexus has paid a lot of attention to the action part and succeeds very well in delivering an intense, fun and enjoyable game. If there was a more substantial story, more imagination in the latter stages of the game and more RPG elements, our impressions would definitely be better. However, the hours we spent with it were not wasted at all and it's a worthwhile addition for fans of Japanese action games to their collection.
We warmly thank Bandai Namco Greece for providing the review code.