Friday, August 28, 2020

Scarlet Nexus First-Look Preview

Scarlet Nexus is a stylish, flashy, and edgy action-RPG; and features some beautifully grotesque enemy designs in the form of "The Others."  Though I didn't get to play it myself, I did get to see a 16-minute gameplay demo and presentation from the producer, director, and art director, and I came away thoroughly interested and a little hopeful.

So, first things first: Why the heck is it called Scarlet Nexus? Tales series veteran and Scarlet Nexus Director Kenji Anabuki, along with Producer Keita Iizuka, said Scarlet Nexus can be interpreted as "red connection,"  or "red bonds." Iizuka elaborated by saying "Objects or persons connected with red lines represent a big part in the visuals and key art of Scarlet Nexus."

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We see this obviously by the red tubes stuck into main character Yuito Sumeragi's back, which are applied in an early cutscene and appear whenever Yuito borrows power from his teammates. These red cables are actually "brain link cables" that connect the members of the Other Suppression Force, or O.S.F,  together.

Scarlet Nexus’ world is set in the "near future... but in an alternative reality where people discovered substances in the brain and developed their society greatly on that,” Iizuka explained.  These psionic brain hormones also grant humans extrasensory powers, which Yuito and the O.S.F. wield as a weapon.

The world is technologically advanced compared to ours, but this technology is all centered on the brain’s development, and the characters also have special powers by using their brains. All of this is why the developers have dubbed Scarlet Nexus’ genre “brainpunk,” deriving the new term from “steampunk” and “dieselpunk.”

Though this world is quite developed, monsters called "Others" fall from the sky and search for human brains to devour, requiring the assembly of the aforementioned O.S.F.  The O.S.F. saved Yuito from the Others as a child, inspiring him to join despite coming from a prestigious family. Scarlet Nexus picks up when Yuito begins his enrollment test for the O.S.F. How anime does all of that sound? I could go on, but I consider some other details revealed a bit within spoiler territory (though they might sound predictable if you're familiar with other "cyberpunk" style anime).

The otherworldly, disturbing designs of the Others are the brainchild of artist Masakazu Yamashiro, who has never worked in games prior, but Scarlet Nexus art director Kouta Ochiai knew he wanted to onboard him for Scarlet Nexus.

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The design rule with the Others is to combine the inorganic and organic to create something foreign, which really works. These designs are so interesting they’re, morbidly, like a train wreck--there are so many unique elements to each of them that it’s hard to look away despite their disturbing nature. Ochiai said, “The thought of something feeling off and alien is where we want our players to start having interest in the game.”

Scarlet Nexus Gameplay and Customizable Options

Other than the enemy design, Scarlet Nexus’ creators obviously want players to “pay attention” to the gameplay. Specifically, they focused on creating a superpower experience based around the protagonist's psychokinetic power, though Yuito also uses a sword and weapons for melee attacks.

Because I didn't get to play Scarlet Nexus with my own two hands, I can't tell you how it felt to pull off the stylish combos that melded sword and psychokinesis. I can't tell you if it felt smooth or segmented;  easy or difficult;  or most importantly, fun.  But I can tell you about what I saw and what stood out to me the most.

Watch new gameplay for yourself in the video below

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Scarlet Nexus certainly appears to be more of a character action game than a straight JRPG, because it relies on fast-paced, stylish combos in its combat and takes place in what appears to be linear levels. It oddly reminded me of Devil May Cry the most--of course if we're not considering the anime graphics, and I couldn’t begin to tell if it’s as technical.  But, the protag appears to explore abandoned city streets among a generally linear path--or at least, that's what I saw. Items could be found here and there, but because that portion of the demo was in Japanese, I couldn't tell you what the digitized red cube the player picked up actually was. When the player encountered the Others, artificial barriers walled them in, preventing them from progressing until they defeated the enemies.

During the demo, I saw Hanabi Ichijo in the player’s party, of which there were three total slots. Hanabi used a staff and wielded pyrokinesis instead of Yuito’s psychokinesis. She fought alongside Yuito and even burned one of the enemies, and her tactics could be changed via the menu as well. Only Yuito will be playable in Scarlett Nexus, but the skills of your party can be used by Yuito due to the brain link shared between O.S.F. members.

As for the controls, combos with weapons are enacted by face buttons as expected, while psionic powers--at least with psychokinesis--activated with the right trigger, as long as there were objects like chairs or cars to manipulate nearby. It seemed that the larger the object, the longer the trigger needed to be held in order to heave it at an enemy. But, the larger the object, the better the reward--in both damage and knock-back potential, even though pulling at a large object would leave you open to attack. Occasionally, this would leave the enemy entirely prone, or open another option to point both control sticks inward to trigger a powerful psychokinetic-caused environmental effect.

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Combos could be started either with psychokinesis or with a close-range sword attack, and follow-up attacks could be strung together with either. I did get a glimpse of a very RPG-like skill tree called a “Brain Map,” which includes three unique branches. The “Expand” path unlocked new abilities or combos like “Psychokineses Shockwave” and “Mid-Air PK Combo 2.” The “Enhance” path predictably enhances abilities, like “Weapon Power Up 1.” Lastly, the “Support” path unlocked abilities that, for example, pulls items toward you or allows you to recover after being launched by an enemy attack.

There also appear to be plenty more customization options. The equipped weapons had three “Plug-In” slots. The “SAS” screen showed the currently equipped extrasensory power - Pyrokinesis in Hanabi’s case - which had three additional empty slots, suggesting that perhaps each character could equip additional psionic powers. Her Pyrokinesis could also be leveled up to Level 6, and each level unlocked new skills - like Cooldown Reduction or a  Skill Change called Flamethrower.

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Overall, Scarlet Nexus heavily reminds me of some of my favorite anime, and I see many comparing it to Astral Chain. With a pedigree of designers who have worked on the Tales series, I can at least be cautiously optimistic. At the very least, wielding objects with psychokinetic powers against the morbid intriguing Others  in Scarlet Nexus looks hella fun to me.

For more on Scarlet Nexus, check out our interview with the developer and producer above, and stay tuned to IGN.

[poilib element="accentDivider"] Casey DeFreitas is an Editor at IGN who loves monster hunting, slaying, and catching. Catch her on Twitter @ShinyCaseyD.


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