Review: ‘Scarlet Nexus’ gameplay almost makes up for its dizzying ‘Tenet’-like plot

Describing what’s going on in “Scarlet Nexus” is like explaining the plot of “Tenet.” It’s a tough and complicated task. On the surface, Bandai Namco’s latest project is a quick-twitch action game in the style of “Devil May Cry.” Players take on the role of Yuito Sumeragi or Kasane Randall, both start as new recruits for the Other Suppression Force.

They are essentially trained super soldiers with psionic abilities who must protect humanity from monsters called Others that descend from a toxic atmospheric band called the Extinction Layer. But as players advance through the story’s 12 phases, the narrative introduces a civil war, government conspiracies, time travel and colonization.

Kasane Randall is one of the characters that players can pick in “Scarlet Nexus.” (Bandai Namco) 

LAYERS AND LAYERS OF STORYJust one of those subjects would be enough for a regular game, but “Scarlet Nexus” tries to juggle all four ideas and weave in the interpersonal drama among the characters. It can be a dense, confusing mess at times as players must sift through twists and turns while understanding the emerging factions among the locales of Togetsu, New Himuka and Seiran.

In addition, depending on their choice of protagonist, players will encounter a different story that ultimately intertwines with the other hero. It adds additional replay value for those who want to uncover all the details.

Like “Tenet,” it’s a lot to absorb, but thankfully, “Scarlet Nexus” is a joy to play, with mechanics and concepts that offer intriguing depth. Each protagonist leads a squad of four teammates who each have their own psionic abilities. I picked Yuito, who specializes in close combat and can toss objects with his psychokinesis. His storyline has him teaming up with Hanabi Ichijo, who wields fire; Gemma Garrison, who can harden his body for defense; Tsugumi Nazar, who can spot invisible or cloaked enemies; and Luka Travers, who can teleport for quick hits.

Kasane is focused more on midrange attacks with her knives. She also has psychokinesis abilities that work similarly to Yuito. She partners with Kyoka Eden, who can duplicate thrown objects and the protagonists; Shiden Ritter, who controls electricity; Kagero Donne, who can turn invisible for sneak attacks; and Arashi Spring, whose speed makes the world slow down around her she can execute brutally fast attacks.

Half the game, players will learn to master their chosen hero’s power ands squad before the two platoons combine. They can upgrade abilities via experience points and Yuito and Kasane grow more adept at battles. What’s more interesting is how Bandai Namco integrates the team’s powers with the protagonists that players control. During a fight, the heroes can call on their teammates to borrow their powers using the Struggle Arms System. With fire and electricity users, the SAS imbues the attacks with the elements causing Others to be hurt over time with blazes or be stunned via shocks.

The other powers are more complicated but they’re just as useful. Teleportation and Hypervelocity are two ways of attacking fast enemies or penetrating their defenses. Other abilities such as the armor of Gemma are great at keeping the heroes alive so they can use a potion.

Team combat is important in “Scarlet Nexus” and players must use all the abilities of their teammates to augment their powers. (Bandai Namco) 

SINGLE-PLAYER TEAM-BASED FIGHTING What’s brilliant about this combat system is that all these powers are useful when it comes to fighting and exploration. Hard-to-reach areas will require Luka’s teleportation to go through mesh walls or cyclone fencing. Arashi’s speed can help players run through doors that automatically start closing when players are in range.

With combat, Yuito and Kasane platoons mostly fight the creepy-looking Others, who come in different forms and sizes. Each of these monsters has their own weaknesses that players have to exploit using the team’s psionics. For example, one of the Others can disappear or create doubles of itself. Players must use Tsugumi’s clairvoyance to find and target the enemy. In another instance, players will encounter enemies that are vulnerable to fire or electricity and players will have to combine abilities — a skill that’s learned later on — to create an opening for the attack.

Finding the best combinations to dominate adversaries is a fun experiment. Bandai Namco creates scenarios that will challenge players and let them plumb the depths of the combat system in order to find their own tactics and style. Like the level design, the encounters aren’t elaborate. The developers just throw enemies at players in a crafted order or position them so they work together to make players’ lives tough.

Bandai Namco relies on throwing waves of enemies at players and this move is especially egregious toward the final phases the campaign. The battles can be exhausting, but it’s also a good test of how well the players mastered the ingenious combat.

The final part of this system is the relationship building that’s included with each squad. Yuito and Kasane have to foster bonds with their compatriots by giving them gifts and taking them on side quests and missions. The deepening ties improves the SAS combat and even gives players added perks. Allies will step in to take a hit for the protagonists or let them use their powers longer. It’s a huge bonus especially during some of the more difficult confrontations.

All of this creates an entertaining but flawed campaign. The “Scarlet Nexus” story is a mess despite the slick character design and excellent combat system. Those two elements are almost enough to carry the game to rarified heights.


‘Scarlet Nexus’

3 stars out of fourPlatform: PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X|S, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PCRating: Teen

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Author: Gieson Cacho

EastBayTimes