Scarlet Nexus for Xbox review: A shallow but entertaining anime adventure

Scarlet Nexus nails its futuristic cyberpunk aesthetics, but its gameplay is stuck in the past.

Scarlet Nexus Kasane Hero
(Image: © Windows Central)

The Xbox is the go-to system for shooters and multiplayer games, but it's always had a weak spot when it comes to RPGs, specifically JRPGs. One can probably attribute the lack of those titles to Xbox's meager presence in the East. With every console cycle, Microsoft makes an attempt to court the Japanese audiences and fans of the genre away from other platforms but with the Xbox Series X, the push has never been more palpable.

So, it makes sense that Scarlet Nexus, despite being a multiplatform title, has begun resonating with Xbox faithful. Bandai Namco Studios have become best known for their anime tie-in titles, but Scarlet Nexus is a wholly original project helmed by the team who worked on Code Vein and the Tales series.

It's an enjoyable action JRPG that's heavy on the anime. It excels at world-building and features great music and rock-solid performance on both Xbox One and Xbox Series X|S. But for the longtime JRPG fans who've played any of Bandai Namco's anime games before, Scarlet Nexus isn't exactly groundbreaking or as exciting as I would've hoped, held back by repetitive combat, basic RPG elements, and a presentation that's all talk and no action.

Scarlet Nexus: What I liked

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)
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CategoryScarlet Nexus
TitleScarlet Nexus
DeveloperBanda Namco Studios
PublisherBandai Namco Entertainment America
GenreAction RPG
Xbox VersionXbox One and Xbox Series X|S
Game Size16.8 GB
Play Time20 hours
Xbox GamePassNo
Launch Price$60

Scarlet Nexus takes place in a distant dystopian future where humanity is under constant threat from brain-eating monsters called Others. The only defense that humanity has against them is the Other Suppression Force, or the OSF, which uses a substance to alter their brains to unlock extrasensory superpowers. You play as either the cheery Yuito Sumeragi or moody Kasane Randall, new cadets who both find themselves connected in different ways, and are thrust into the middle of a mind-bending conspiracy. While I won't get into spoilers, like any good JRPG, it takes a while for the story to get interesting and it was fairly predictable for about the first 12 hours or so until a twist pumped the gas on the plot.

I played as Kasane for my first playthrough and spent a few hours with Yuito on my second, but aside from some different perspectives on the greater plot and different interactions with other OSF members, the stories mirror each other thematically. No matter who you choose, you'll basically get the same outcome.

It was fairly predictable for about the first 12 hours or so until a twist pumped the gas on the plot.

Most of your time will be spent on missions in the field, where gameplay follows your typical action game format. Players enter small arenas and the only way to break free is to defeat all the threats in fast-paced hack and slash gameplay, similar to what we've seen in Nier Replicant. Both Yuito and Kasane have psychokinesis, which allows them to hurl debris and objects at enemies to stun them and inflict massive damage with a QTE (quick time event) if you manage to manipulate the right hunk of junk.

If you deplete an enemy's stun gauge, they'll leave themselves open to a Brain Crush finisher, a flashy move that's always guaranteed to end the fight. Eventually, players will get access to the Brain Drive, an automatically activated special mode that boosts your stats once you've done enough damage, and the Brain Field, an all-or-nothing attack that can potentially kill you if used for too long.

In addition to psychokinesis, you can access your teammate's psychic power by using what's called the SAS, or Struggle Arms System. Mixing and matching powers each mission is where the gameplay starts to get interesting. As you level up, you'll be able to unlock more moves for Kasane and Yuito, but you'll also get opportunities between missions to improve your relationships with your team to unlock more battle skills.

Anime fans should note that the game supports both English and Japanese dubs. I played with both, and while I prefer the Japanese dub, the English dub is serviceable, though some of the seriousness and urgency of the dialogue is sometimes lost in translation.

Dystopia but make it fashion

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

Outside of combat, the world of Scarlet Nexus is an intriguing one. New Himuka is a combination of Western and Eastern aesthetics, wrapped in a cyberpunk sheen. The city of Suoh, where you start your journey, is almost utopian in its cleanliness and efficiency, melding electronic ads and signage that reeks of rampant capitalism and an authoritarian government in that classic cyberpunk way. The OSF team communicates with messages sent from their brains, and their own HUDs are sometimes censored and obscured without their consent.

Scarlet Nexus' visual style is one of its strengths. The game and characters ooze it, even if their personalities are run-of-the-mill anime tropes. Everything from the goofy pervert to the loud-mouthed 13-year-old-who-is-actually-much-older-than-they-appear is accounted for, and they all have their reasons for joining the OSF.

Scarlet Nexus: What I didn't like

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

Unfortunately, for all the character and world-building this game has, Scarlet Nexus makes the odd decision to show almost none of it. Instead of cutscenes depicting wild transformations and over-the-top anime fights, you're often met with a slideshow of sorts and a talking portrait, and those conversations are often expositions dumps that could've been shown instead of told.

For all the character and world-building this game has, Scarlet Nexus makes the odd decision to show almost none of it.

I found that Scarlet Nexus often takes one step forward and one step back in its presentation. The 4K cel-shaded visuals look great, loading times are lightning fast, and the performance is a rock-solid 60 FPS, but the cool and interesting world of New Himuka is often seen as a PowerPoint presentation. Cities are full of invisible walls and sidequests are boring fetch quests. Exploration on the field isn't much better, and you'll find yourself returning to the same levels over and over again.

Scarlet Nexus feels distinctly last-gen in its design. It's extremely linear, and for an RPG there's almost no incentive to explore. The field is separated into sections by loading screens and aren't even that big. I don't expect every game to be open in that sense, but other cyberpunk anime games like Astral Chain manage to make their hub worlds with things to do, and Scarlet Nexus seems to have forgotten to do that.

One step forward, one step back

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

As I mentioned before, the Scarlet Nexus is pretty predictable in its first half, and fatigue started to set in fast once the overall gameplay loop of mission and post-mission friend bonding revealed itself. If you're going into Scarlet Nexus anticipating action, it has that in spades, although it's admittedly not too deep. However, if you're hoping for deeper RPG mechanics, you'll find that Scarlet Nexus is about as deep as a kiddie pool.

That's not to say that there isn't a feeling of progression, there's just not much to graze on aside from adding equipment to boost your attack and defense, and unlocking skills on the Brain Map. You only ever get two elemental attacks, and you'll constantly find opportunities to use them in a combo. You'll also occasionally need to crack an enemy's shell or use a power to get sneak up on an enemy, but that's as complicated as combat strategy goes. Your party only exists to offer their power, as they're useless on the field, and you're also bombarded with tips for things you don't need tips for. I was constantly reminded that fire is hot and will burn me if I touch it every time I encountered it.

This all may sound negative, but I didn't hate my time with Scarlet Nexus, I just felt that with every positive I found, a negative was close behind. I had been watching Scarlet Nexus since its debut, and I was hoping for it to not feel like your run-of-the-mill action RPG with an anime facade. I was able to adjust my expectations and enjoy it, but it reeks of missed potential.

Scarlet Nexus: Should you play it?

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

If you're expecting Scarlet Nexus to be something out of the ordinary, you'll find yourself quickly disappointed. Scarlet Nexus squanders its original premise with shallow gameplay, but if you're an Xbox anime fan craving a fix and you don't mind some of its cliches, you'll find an enjoyable sci-fi story. Scarlet Nexus looks and plays great on both old and new hardware, and at just around 20 hours, you'll get your money's worth out of it. But if it's not your vibe, you can always wait until the anime adaptation airs this summer.

Scarlet Nexus design might feel dated, but it's not necessarily a bad thing. The game's world, music, and visuals are unique enough to warrant the time spent with the game. While it plays itself way too safe for me, anime fans familiar with Bandai Namco's licensed games might be willing to deal with the basics for an original story.

I applaud Bandai Namco for taking a chance on an original project like this. It might not be the best RPG on the Xbox, but it could definitely satisfy an anime craving, in the same way that cotton candy might satisfy a sweet tooth. With Tales of Arise on the horizon, I hope that Bandai Namco strikes the perfect balance between aesthetics and satisfying gameplay in their next RPG attempt.

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.