When an anime and a game share the same IP, it tends to be that the anime is the original source material (which is probably based off of a manga before that) and the game is the adaptation. However, in Scarlet Nexus’ case, it’s the opposite way round. I watched the Scarlet Nexus anime earlier this year upon release, and found it painfully average – a 5/10, wouldn’t recommend – but when I found out that it was based off of a game, well, how could I resist?
What is Scarlet Nexus?
Scarlet Nexus is an action-RPG by Bandai Namco (the only people who are able to make half-decent anime games these days). It’s a fast-paced sci-fi themed hack ‘n slash. Fans of the Nier and Devil May Cry series’ will feel right at home here.
Scarlet Nexus’ concept is pretty out-there. It is set 3,000 years in the future in a dystopian Japan and follows a group of soldiers who use their artificially-enhanced psychokinetic abilities to defend their country from the Others – probably the most bizarre-looking and utterly random monsters I’ve ever seen in anime, who literally fall from the sky like rain and like eating people’s brains for some reason? It’s hard to take a lampshade with legs seriously as a threat, but the game assures me they’re dangerous and who am I to argue?
Scarlet Nexus is actually a dual-narrative with two protagonists – Yuito and Kasane – with their own separate narrative arcs. For what it’s worth, I think that Yuito is the more likeable protagonist out of the two, in both the anime and the game, whereas Kasane comes across as arrogant and antisocial. I also happen to think that Yuito’s fighting style is cool as hell – he uses his psychokinesis (essentially telekinesis) on his sword to slice ‘n dice his enemies with its massively extended reach. OK, yeah, I simp for Yuito, wanna fight about it?
Bizarre but fascinating concept
Scarlet Nexus’ combat system is truly the jewel in its crown. As I said before, it borrows a lot from the Nier and Devil May Cry combat systems, with an emphasis on well-timed attacks, stringing together combos and staying mobile on the battlefield.
Scarlet Nexus’ combat system is incredibly dynamic, with a huge range of abilities and weapons at your disposal. You have psychokinetic attacks, weapon attacks, special attacks, aerial attacks, rush follow-up attacks, SAS, countering, Brain Drive, Brain Field, combo vision, and more that I’m sure I’m forgetting. It all sounds quite intimidating and it can be overwhelming at times, but thankfully the game takes care to ease you in by introducing only one mechanic at a time as the story progresses – my only advice is to make sure you read the tutorials properly when they flash up on screen because knowing how to use certain abilities like SAS is absolutely essential to beating some of the bosses.
Unsurprisingly, with a complex combat system comes an even more complex control scheme that can take some time to master… but once you’ve gotten to grips with the controls, combat feels very fluid and extremely satisfying. You need never approach an enemy the same way twice with such a wide array of attacks at your disposal, and that’s what makes Scarlet Nexus’ combat so much fun.
Say hello to the ‘Brainpunk’ aesthetic
The first word I would have used to describe Scarlet Nexus’ distinct aesthetic is ‘cyberpunk’ but it is perhaps more accurately described as ‘brainpunk’ – the stark contrast between the futuristic neon technology and the dreary industrial environments creates a unique flavour that’s not only super interesting artistically, but also very pretty to look at. The graphical quality is exactly the standard we would expect from a game released on next-gen consoles – great shading, high-quality textures, smooth animation – it’s great to see the genre keeping up with the rest of the industry at large.
Of course, like many sci-fi, it asks the viewer to think about the wider question of whether the amazing benefits technological progress can bring to our society in terms of productivity and capability are worth the many sacrifices that would be necessary in achieving that technological progress.
I’m a huge fan of Scarlet Nexus’ aesthetic; I think it’s one of the things that stands out most about the game.
The storytelling here is better than in the anime, but still…
There’s no doubt that the quality of the storytelling in the Scarlet Nexus game is significantly better than in the anime; mostly owing to the fact that the developers can afford to take their time a little more telling the story over the span of a 40 hour game as opposed to rushing it out in one season of an anime. The pacing is a lot better, and many plot points left me scratching my head whilst watching the anime are explained in greater details.
However, in my opinion, the story itself is not Scarlet Nexus’ strongest suit (which is strange, considering that it garnered a lot of critical praise). To put it simply, it is overly complex and confusing. This is common mistake that sci-fi IPs make, especially ones which (spoilers) involve time-travel and alternate dimensions – they take a straightforward idea which is interesting in its own right, and tack on all these extra plot points and characters until it all becomes just too much to keep track of.
I feel that a lot of what makes following Scarlet Nexus’ story a little challenging is the fact that the story is told as a dual narrative. Both Yuito and Kasane’s campaigns are designed to uncover half of the story’s mystery, split between Kasane investigating one political group and Yuito investigating another; this means that, if you’re wanting to play each campaign to completion one-at-a-time, you’ll only ever be seeing half the whole story play out at any one time. I could recommend playing each character simultaneously – the game does give you ‘standby phases’ which are essentially breaks in the story where nothing happens, presumably designed to facilitate you doing just this – but it would be such a pain having switching between fighting styles all the time and remembering which team members on each time have which ability. I just couldn’t be bothered with that.
There’s a lot of talking but not a lot of cutscenes
There’s a crap load of talking in this game, but the vast majority of it happens as above and not in fully animated cutscenes. The only proper cutscenes happen at the most crucial points in the story. Thankfully, the voice acting is excellent (at least, the Japanese VA’s are) but it would have been nice to have more than a handful of fully animated cutscenes. Presumably, this was to save time but I would rather them have cut some lines and gone for quality over quantity.
Repeating areas and enemies
The variety of locations and enemies in Scarlet Nexus is pretty poor. Even the bosses start to repeat themselves once you get more than halfway through the game. I suppose I could consider this a fair trade-off since the areas themselves are highly detailed and look stunning, but they’re not very large and it is disappointing to have only 10 locations.
Maybe the source material really will always be superior to the adaptation?
Honestly, I’ve never subscribed to the belief that the source material is always superior to any adaptations, but looking at Scarlet Nexus, it makes me feel like maybe there might be something to the saying. The game completely blows the anime out of the water in terms of quality – it looks great and feels great to play, with an excellent combat system, stellar voice acting and a deep if not somewhat convoluted story to wade through (if you’re into that sort of thing).
…But this makes the fact that the anime was so painfully average even more annoying! I’d hate to think of people being put off the IP just because the anime fell flat. Hopefully, the world will conveniently forget about the anime so that the game can live on unimpaired by the shame of its successor’s mediocrity, like the deformed sibling your parents are keeping in their basement. What deformed sibling? you might be asking. What deformed sibling indeed. Exactly. Let’s keep it that way.