Burnt out on cyberpunk stuff yet? Brain implants and the proliferation of technology seems to have become the new ‘zombies happened’ as far as world building goes, but Scarlet Nexus is here to upload a virus to the system.
Welcome to the hot new cyberpunk subgenre ‘brainpunk’, and a world where psychic-powered Japanese teenagers battle against dadaist-esque hordes of brain-eating monsters. We hope you’re ready for some anime!
As newly accepted members of the Other Suppression Force (or OSF), Yuito Sumeragi and Kasane Randall are tasked with defending the citizens of New Himuka from attacks by the Others – a bizarre and unpredictably weird looking group of monsters who look as though they might as well come directly from the mind of a marbleless artist, let alone the sky directly above New Himuka. The Others descend on the city from what’s called the extinction belt, an atmospheric phenomenon that humanity tracks as though it were a constantly shifting storm, allowing the New Himuka government to forecast attacks by the Others.
At the outset, New Himuka is a peaceful, if disconcertingly well policed, society. Media censorship and government secrecy is a common theme – a childhood friend of Yuito’s remarks, “Nothing is more important than blotting out things you don’t want to see,” and state-owned media drones chase you around in an attempt to valorise your every victory. There’s an overarching feeling that it doesn’t take much to step on the toes of the powers that be in New Himuka, and while psychic ability is certainly normalised, there is plenty of trauma and pain wrapped up in each character’s involvement with the OSF and broader New Himuka culture. Also, the monsters are literally called Others, so there’s that too.
“We hope you’re ready for some anime!”
After attacks from the Others begin to be more unpredictable, and internal struggles within the OSF blow wide open, the world of Scarlet Nexus is thrown into complete disarray, pitting each protagonist on opposing sides. After choosing to play as either Yuito or Kasane at the game’s opening, much of Scarlet Nexus’ broader narrative remains shrouded in mystery until you complete a run through as both characters, with a significant portion of our initial playthrough as Yuito being spent trying to puzzle out the intentions of Kasane and her allies.
The OSF itself is a military group packed with supernaturally powered teenagers and their commanders. The backstory of the world lays out that 99.9 per cent of the population has some kind of higher brain function, with children who display clear psychic powers getting drafted (or ‘scouted’ as the OSF says) into the force as soon as they’re discovered – whether they like it or not. Some can teleport, some control fire, some can read minds. Yuito and Kasane each have psychokinetic abilities, allowing them to whip objects around at great speed, turning things like fridges and cars into homing projectiles during combat. Trust us, you do not want to fight these kids.
The unique nature of abilities among OSF members also makes up the core of combat in Scarlet Nexus. Yuito and Kasane can dish out both physical and psychokinetic attacks, launch enemies into the air, and enter into an uber-psychic mode.
Fighting alongside other OSF members means you can call on them to temporarily share their psychic abilities with you (through the Struggle Arms System, or SAS), tweaking your fighting style by adding a burn effect to your weapons, upping your defence, or even exposing invisible enemies and secrets.
Beyond passive buffs, you can also raise your bond level with each member of your team via short Persona-esque narrative interludes or gift giving, unlocking more benefits like unique attacks and increased damage. A particular favourite ended up being the ability to teleport, meaning Yuito could ‘blink’ around the area, dodging attacks and covering ground like nobody’s business.
Sitting above all of this is the simple fact that choosing either Yuito or Kasane at the game’s outset means you’ll see differences in their skill trees, combat style, party member abilities and campaigns. This is not simply a binary choice of male or female, and Scarlet Nexus is a game designed to be replayed.
After unlocking a few upgrades for increased combos and extra mobility, Scarlet Nexus’ combat starts to take on a satisfyingly crunchy flow, with attacks moving you around the combat arena in a way that has just the right amount of choreography. Use psychokinesis to launch an object at an enemy and you’ll be able to follow up with a forward dash attack to get up in their face; send them skyward with an upward strike, and start wailing on them with physical and psychic attacks alike. Psychic abilities drain your psychic meter, so you can’t just sit at a distance and chuck shipping containers at your problems all day – you’ll need to deal physical damage to refill it, meaning combat in Scarlet Nexus becomes a dynamic tightrope walk between attack styles.
Weaving together these two types of attack – once you get the hang of it – feels wonderfully seamless, astoundingly satisfying, and it’s the game’s biggest success. Character action games live and die on their combat systems, and in that regard, Scarlet Nexus is positively electrifying.
Scarlet Nexus is available June 25 on PS5, Xbox and PS4.