Scarlet Nexus preview: A promising action RPG brimming with anime style

Scarlet Nexus preview finisher
Scarlet Nexus preview finisher (Image credit: Bandai Namco)

The cyberpunk aesthetic has recently made a comeback in popular culture in a big way. The dystopian blur of neon lights and cybernetic enhancements have set the stage for many adventures, but a Brain Punk future? Well, that's something new. The upcoming action RPG, Scarlet Nexus, is Bandai Namco's latest attempt at crafting a futuristic world caught between technology and psychic abilities, and is packed full of mysteries.

I was lucky enough to spend some time within Scarlet Nexus' Brain Punk future ahead of its June release, and I walked away with high hopes. As a new, untested IP, Scarlet Nexus attempts to blend fast-paced action with story and style in an attempt to stand out in an ocean of JRPGs. Whether it can pull off that feat remains to be seen, but there is no denying the potential there.

Turn on your brain

Source: Bandai Namco (Image credit: Source: Bandai Namco)

In the world of Scarlet Nexus, you have to use your brain to survive. In the future, a special hormone has been discovered in the brain, which grants people special powers once activated. While this allows humanity to progress at an accelerated rate, deranged mutants called the Others begin to wreak havoc on the world, seeking out humanity's upgraded gray matter. The Other Suppression Force (OSF) was then established to combat them.

The city of New Himuka depends on the OSF for support, and the soldiers of OSF have become sort of celebrities. The police state is always a threat in futuristic narratives like this, but in Scarlet Nexus, things play out a little differently than how you'd expect. Upon your first victory, for example, you're flooded by the paparazzi in the form of reporters and drones looking to grab a statement to celebrate your victory.

Scarlet Nexus Battle Scene

Source: Bandai Namco (Image credit: Source: Bandai Namco)

At the very start of the game, you have to choose between playing as Yuito Sumeragi or Kasane Randall, two very different sides of the same coin who find themselves a part of the latest class of OSF students. Yuito's cheerful positivity plays off of Kasane's serious, almost stoic personality nicely and adds charm to their interactions. They also both play well off the cast of characters around them, which includes a colorful cast of anime archetypes.

I say that with love, of course. Anime fans, in particular, will find a lot to love here, especially if you enjoy Japanese audio in your games since both English and Japanese VO will be available from the start. As Scarlet Nexus' story begins to escalate, so does the drama that causes the new class to choose sides. While most of the juicy plot details are being kept under wraps until launch, Scarlet Nexus seems to be hellbent on keeping players on their toes.

Your mind is a powerful weapon

Source: Bandai Namco (Image credit: Source: Bandai Namco)

Scarlet Nexus is an action RPG, first and foremost, helmed by the team who worked on Code Vein as well as various Tales titles. Right off the bat, you might find yourself reminded of games like NieR: Automata or Astral Chain, but while the game isn't as combo-heavy as those titles, action is still very consistent. What sets Scarlet Nexus apart from other games are those aforementioned psychic powers. The game opens with either Yuito or Kasane having a SAS installed, or the Struggle Arms System. With the SAS, Yuito and Kasane can leverage their party member's psychic abilities and combine them with their own to craft devastating attacks.

That's where you'll find the depth in Scarlet Nexus' combat. Yuito and Kasane both have psychokinesis powers and can use them to toss debris at enemies to break shields and open them up for attack. Eventually, you get the ability to mix and match powers with the party members who join you on the field.

Scarlet Nexus Party

Source: Bandai Namco (Image credit: Source: Bandai Namco)

Combining the powers in clever ways is one way to dispatching the Others. For example, at one point, I used my psychokinesis power to dump oil on an enemy, and then channeled my party member's pyrokinesis, setting the Other on fire for additional damage. Some of the skills are more passive and help you navigate the dungeons, so there's a good amount of variety and combinations to be found.

At a certain point of the game, you have access to Hideouts, which act that as a safe house where you can hang with the rest of your party. Here's where you can learn more about your comrades, and even engage in bonding episodes. These mini vignettes are opportunities to learn more about your party members, as well as grow bonds with them. As your bonds increase, so will your options in battle when using that party member, so it's in your best interest to learn about your comrades.

What's wrong with a little style?

Source: Bandai Namco (Image credit: Source: Bandai Namco)

The world of Scarlet Nexus is as much of a character as your OSF members. New Himuka, the city the OSF risk their lives for, is a futuristic semi-open world city that blends both western and Japanese aesthetics to create something that feels genuinely unique. It's not dire and run-down like the streets of Cyberpunk 2077, but its clean, futuristic aesthetic is refreshing. Whether it's the virtual ads glowing against storefronts, or the censorship of violent images seen on the field all add a distinct flavor to the world of Scarlet Nexus, unlike other cyberpunk type games we've seen.

And speaking of style, the enemies are also equally unique, made up of man-made objects twisted into horrible aberrations which reminded me of games like Bayonetta or even Shin Megami Tensai. Breaking down their shield can often lead to a Brain Crush opportunity, a flashy special move that sees either Yuito or Kasane use their powers to rip a monster to bits.

Other moves include the Brain Drive, a move that boosts the player's stats temporarily, and the Brain Field, a special move that will turn your powers up to 11, but use it for too long and you could accidentally kill yourself. Each move is flashy, over the top, and a lot of fun to use in battle.

It's clear that Bandai Namco is confident in Scarlet Nexus world, as an anime adaption of the game is also releasing shortly after the game. The opening cinematic, as well as the accompanying song provided by Japanese rock band The Oral Cigarettes, all set the stage for a stylish adventure that anime fans will love.

Ties that bond

Scarlet Nexus Battle Scene

Source: Bandai Namco (Image credit: Source: Bandai Namco)

After about a dozen hours, I had only barely scratched the surface of the Scarlet Nexus. The combat was energetic, the stylish world and characters were engaging, and I was interested in seeing where the plot would take me. Scarlet Nexus is brimming with potential, and I'm excited to see whether Scarlet Nexus' Brain Punk future is worth getting lost in. It could very well be one of the best RPGs on the Xbox.

Interested fans will get a chance to try it out themselves very soon, as a demo of the game arrives on the Xbox One, as well as the Xbox Series X and Series S on May 21. While you won't be able to transfer your save data to the final game, playing the demo will unlock two cosmetics for each protagonist, as well as a plug-in that provides attack and defense boosts.

Scarlet Nexus is dropping on the Xbox family of consoles on June 25. You can preorder the standard edition or the Digital Deluxe edition now, as well as a special Guardians Edition available exclusively on Bandai Namco's website.

Zackery Cuevas

Zackery Cuevas is a writer for Windows Central, Android Central, and iMore. I like playing video games, talking about video games, writing about video games, and most importantly, complaining about video games. If you're cool, you can follow me on Twitter @Zackzackzackery.