With Scarlet Nexus joining Xbox Game Pass (September 30), we're re-publishing this review.


A few hours into Scarlet Nexus your fingers are dancing around the controller as you're directing the ballet of action on screen. By the end of the game, you're not only directing the experience, but you're also producing it, controlling the lighting, and fulfilling the role of every member of the ballet. How it eases you in and teaches you the mechanics up until this point is a stroke of genius, and is complemented by some truly visceral action. It's narrative attempts to run parallel to all of this with the same degree of insanity, but ultimately falls short of its stellar gameplay.

Attempting to explain the plot of Scarlet Nexus would most likely end with you popping some painkillers as your brain helplessly attempts to process it all. It's utter nonsense - and not in the good way. There's some enjoyment watching each story beat attempt to upstage the last by further reaching out of the realms of reality, but it's hard to resonate with a plot which constantly throws revelation upon revelation. It feels as though the story is always trying to fight for your attention and in the process causes a disconnect.

As a basic outline, Scarlet Nexus is an anime action-RPG set in the near future where humans are gifted with unique powers. This can range from pyrokinesis to telekinesis, as certain members of the public belong to a company known as the OSF, the Other Suppression Force. In the world of Scarlet Nexus, Others are monsters which plague humanity, with the OSF working to defend the public against them. Going any further would delve into spoiler territory, but you are able to experience the story via two perspectives - Yuito or Kasane - each who have their own unique abilities and story beats to follow.

You're going to want to play both of these if you want the full picture. Each campaign - especially in the early hours - plays out through a variety of different circumstances. Events that happen in one are explained in the other and vice versa. It's a big ask, considering one playthrough can land you anywhere between 25-35 hours depending on how much you complete, but each offers enough reason to revisit its world if you do become invested.

Of course, these stories intertwine, but it feels heavily convoluted and forced. In fact, the first half of the game could be boiled down to a ten minute sequence if the all the characters involved just sat down and talked to one another. It's beyond infuriating and makes the narrative unnecessarily complex to follow. It doesn't help that with both campaigns you're thrown into the world with little backstory as to what's happening, acronyms you're unlikely to understand, and a ton of terminology thrown at you. It takes a fair few hours to understand some of the components in play.

While the narrative suffers, the combat absolutely shines in one of the most polished and addictive systems in recent years. No matter how you tackle situations in Scarlet Nexus, it's given an incredible amount of style to feast your eyes over. It never feels as though the substance has taken a backseat either, as it grows more and more complex as each chapter goes on. By the end of the game you'll be balancing so many mechanics with ease it's hard not to have a smile on your face.

It all starts off fairly basic. Yuito is more suitable for close quarter combat, while Kasane operates with mid-range tactics. Accompanying this are telekinetic abilities, which you use to throw objects at enemies for additional damage. You can mix these in with your regular attacks to rack up some impressive combos or even stagger opponents. Along with a health bar, foes also pack another bar which can be broken down to then use a finishing move. It adds some tactics into play as you work to mix up your style to quickly defeat enemies.

As each chapter moves forward, the combat constantly evolves. More characters join your party and you can borrow their abilities. You'll be able to teleport towards foes, set them on fire, or even seek out invisible monsters with clairvoyance. All while this is happening, your own skills are being constantly improved. A few hours in, you earn something called Brain Drive - a heightened state where your attacks pack more of a punch. Further along after that, you unlock Brain Field, where you enter an overdrive state by clicking in both of the thumbsticks to unleash some truly powerful telekinetic attacks and quickly dispense enemies. With so many systems in play, and an upgrade tree that fleshes them all out, you have a lot of toys at your disposal, keeping every encounter feeling fresh.

It's not all combat, though. In between chapters you'll spend some down time in your hideout. Here you can talk to teammates, give them gifts, and even go on something known as Bond Episodes. These visual novel sequences flesh out the relationships between you both and attempt to add more personality to each member of your squad. It's a great concept, riffing off of games such as Persona 5 and Fire Emblem: Three Houses, but it feels very basic compared to the games it's influenced by. You have no direct control over these segments and instead are just made to watch a variety of extended cutscenes. In the early hours you only have a few comrades to talk to in-between chapters, but by the end you can have upwards of eight and it unfortunately makes the downtime feel more like busy work.

Still, it is lovely to see the characters fleshed out. Some are more compelling than others. Yuito's childhood friend Hanabi is a stand-out as their relationship develops throughout the adventure, whilst Kasane's interactions with the less-than-serious Kagero bounce off each other perfectly. Building up the bonds between characters through episodes and gifts also improves their combat efficiency, unlocking even more new skills to play around with.

You can also venture into many hub zones such as the main city, New Himuka. There's not a ton to do here outside of main missions, but you can talk to its inhabitants and even pick up a few side quests. Although, these side quests work more like requests, tasking you to defeat enemies in a certain way or retrieve a specific item. It's a shame there's no further involvement in the world outside of combat, whether that be using your team's abilities to solve puzzles, or more things to do in its hub worlds. As pretty as the anime art direction in Scarlet Nexus is, it often makes its world feel empty.

Despite that lack of personality, the game looks stunning - especially on Xbox Series X. Its 60fps combat flows perfectly, and it marries the anime characters with semi cel-shaded environments with ease. The action is filled with explosions, unique enemy designs, and a constant barrage of artefacts flying across the screen. Throughout the 25+ hour adventure, there were no frame drops or crashes. The only issue we encountered was a glitch where the enemy's health bar disappeared and a reload of the game was required.

Conclusion

While its story falls short, Scarlet Nexus is expertly elevated with stunning combat. The consistent evolution, polished control scheme, and powerful feedback make each fight more satisfying than the last. If only the game had managed to incorporate a stronger story, more depth to its character bonds, and more things to do outside of combat, Scarlet Nexus could have been something special. As it stands, it feels like a solid first step for a new IP, and one where a sequel could really steal the show.