The disbandment of Japan Studio hit PlayStation fans hard this year, but playing the first three hours of Scarlet Nexus this month left us reminiscing about Gravity Rush and Freedom Wars. Make no mistake, the Bandai Namco action role-playing release very much has its own identity – but if you find yourself yearning for the aforementioned Sony exclusives from ye olde days, then you’ll probably feel right at home here.
The narrative, based on the opening exchanges, stinks, of course. You play as either Yuito Sumeragi or Kasane Randall – we chose the latter – who are each armed with psychokinetic powers and subsequently have been recruited by the Other Suppression Force (OSF) to fight against a strange alien phenomena known as the Others. The art direction on these enemies is really interesting, as some resemble bouquets of flowers with legs – it’s all a bit surrealist.
The Others exist to consume human brains, and so you’ll be working with allies from the OSF to protect the people of New Himuka. The plot unfolds gradually with – surprise, surprise – Gravity Rush-esque comic book panel cutscenes, but the writing is characterless and laced with so much lore that it quickly becomes tedious. We quite enjoyed the sassy quips of Kasane – again, it reminded us of Kat – but found ourselves quickly tuning out during dialogue.
Fortunately the gameplay is a lot more engaging, and has some interesting wrinkles. As alluded to previously, whichever protagonist you select has psychokinetic powers, so can summon objects like cars to toss at enemies. There is a gauge, however, which restricts how many times you can use the ability, and to recharge it you’ll need to use standard melee attacks. Mixing the two together to retain your stamina while still being able to perform special moves is entertaining.
As you progress through the early encounters, a fair amount of depth is layered into the system, too. For example, you can chain psychokinetic manoeuvres with standard attacks for maximum damage. Then, once you get access to allies, you can channel your companions’ abilities to buff your own combat-style, augmenting electric or fire statuses. Some foes are weak to specific traits, so presumably later in the game you’ll need to select your accomplices carefully.
As you level up you’ll gain skill points which can be spent on a Brain Map to enhance your character in key areas. It’s all fairly standard stuff – and we did notice that the skill tree looks quite small overall – but we imagine there’ll be just enough depth when you pair this with all the different allies you’ll recruit over the course of the campaign. It’s worth noting that you can also strengthen your relationships with party members to enhance their effectiveness.
The game looks decent enough, particularly environmentally, as New Himuka is densely detailed and makes for a great backdrop. Unfortunately, despite its visual scale, it’s quite claustrophobic overall, as there’s very little to actually explore. Most of the game’s environments – in our demo, at least – are presented as small hubs, and loading screens are triggered each time you transition to a different one. We also found ourselves returning to the same places more than we’d like.
So it’s quite traditional and that comes with its own caveats, but this may be just what the doctor ordered for fans of Japan Studio’s output and its ilk. The combat has a frenetic feel to it that we anticipate will only get more chaotic as you progress through the campaign, and while the story setup did little to engage us, we did find ourselves captivated by the title’s dense and occasionally surreal art direction.