A Japanese role-playing game with engaging battles, but a protracted narrative and too little brain in its brain punk concept.
I have just been attacked by those I thought were my friends. It is of course a transformative experience and I get away with just the horror. A few minutes later I receive a telepathic text message from one of those who just tried to kill me, and we meet for a relaxed coffee. Welcome to Scarlet Nexus highly reasonable world.
It is probably an interesting game world that Bandai Namco paints here, although the design of it is often uneven. The environments are poor in detail and consist mostly of small, narrow corridors full of standard enemies and the occasional boss.
The brain punk concept, where a large part of the population has psychic powers of various kinds, and where you communicate with a mix of technology and telepathy, is good. But the story is messy, despite the fact that the characters spend a ridiculously large amount of time lecturing about all the details and everything that happens in long but static intermediate sequences that consist of sad stills, despite a perfectly okay game engine. Because the developers did not have the strength, desire or time to animate proper intermediate sequences in the engine, other than on a few occasions.
It feels quite slack, and the tempo in the story stops when the game, as it were, pauses, changes to still images and then the characters start waffling for 10-15 minutes in the shock. It’s good tough. Not to mention that the quality of the dialogue itself is very uneven, sometimes downright embarrassing and not so long-winded, or that the characters’ actions feel ill-considered and illogical at times. Like those who said one moment want to take on each other and in the next chat with each other or become friends again as if nothing had happened. Sometimes I wonder if there has been some time travel or that someone is dreaming, because characters behave so strangely, but it is simply just a bit rather shaky written. Definitely quantity before quality in terms of dialogues. Same with the voice acting. The English voices in particular are insanely uneven, and it gets extra comical when an obviously adult person tries to pass as a small child, as if it were a Lucio Fulci film from 1981 (yes, I think little boy Bob in House by the Cemetary).
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Better a poor horse than no horse at all
Fortunately, the characters often keep their swords silent in the many battles. These are mostly witty and intense deals with enemies that are often quite bizarre creations, often with strange plant elements (like a pair of legs with potted plants instead of upper body and head).
At the highest difficulty level, some battles get a little too long, as the stronger enemies then endure unnecessarily much. But at normal difficulty, the game is reasonably challenging. You have to use the many different abilities to cope, and even if the game likes to spam projectiles at you later in the game, it is usually possible to get out of trouble by using both your and your partners’ abilities in the right way.
Depending on which of the two playable characters you choose, you get different companions with slightly different abilities. It increases the replay value – at least for those who can stand listening to hour in and hour out of those dialogues again. You can also give your partners gifts to become better friends with them, which unlocks new abilities, plus small scenes that embroider their personalities a little more. These are not the deepest or most interesting personal portraits I have encountered in a role-playing game, but the characters are at least mostly lovable. With some noisy exceptions, as always.
Much of the fighting revolves around balancing melee attacks with psychic abilities where, among other things, you throw a lot of rubbish at enemies with telekinesis. Companions can also allow you to attack with fire, become invisible, teleport you and various other useful forces to play with. Plus then you have a skill tree to unlock during the game. It is a solid system, even if the battles inevitably become somewhat repetitive after a while. They are definitely the game’s greatest strength, no matter what.
Tasty and mixed
Most of it Scarlet Nexus is uneven. The music oscillates between captivating and feeling like old electronic cupboard food from the middle of the 00’s. The aesthetics are quite nice, but technically the graphics feel a bit greyish old – especially when it comes to the environments. There are a few exceptions that rise above the crowd, but a little too often you run around cranking in dilapidated ruins or a city hub there is nothing to do at all.
The side missions, if you can even call them that, are useless and consist only of collecting a certain number of an object or defeating a certain number of enemies in a specific way. The rewards are not worth it at all, as you can still buy or exchange what you get from the side quests.
I still like the overall mystery of the game, despite the shortcomings of the narrative. I just wish everything was better designed, with less ill-considered filling and more well-written and well-directed scenes that took the action forward in an effective way – instead of stomping water for a few hours at a time to then let someone hold a monologue in what feels as a minor eternity.
It’s easy to understand why jrpg fans, who are starving for new titles in the genre this year, have been hoping for a lot. Scarlet Nexus. And the game has been received very well, which in the end, after all, surprises me somewhat. For me, the shortcomings are more obvious than the merits, and you have to be very forgiving to love this game unconditionally. The battles are good, but not as good as in a pure action game like Devil May Cry, after all. And the narrative is not really able to fully engage, as I said.
But at the same time, there is something in this world that makes me curious to fight on, even when I get frustrated or annoyed at the stupidity of the game. The more I play, the more charmed I become by the game, on some level. Not that I can fully overlook the shortcomings, but that I can recommend the game to a very specific audience. This is not the game that convinces skeptics of the brilliance of the jrpg genre, but for those already saved, this may still be worth a look.
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Uneven, spongy and a little loosely told, but at the same time also with a difficult-to-define charm.