When I was a kid, I wanted to be a superhero more than anything in the world. Saving citizens from melodramatic villains and preventing the end of the world seemed much more glamorous than being a celebrity. I always daydreamed about being able to save people while looking cool. Invisibility, teleportation, laser eyes — I wasn’t picky about my hypothetical superpowers.
Despite being the perfect medium for living out superhero fantasies, few games have actually made me feel like the superpowered badass I longed to be. Most of the time, I feel like a kid in a costume instead of a cool superhero. Aside from more recent attempts like Insomniac’s Spider-Man, superhero games lack a strong connection between character and player, making it hard to suspend disbelief. Scarlet Nexus prioritizes that connection by making its protagonists relatable through their emotional vulnerability. It’s easy to understand their confusion, anger, and motivations, so that in turn, their power feels more like your own.
Scarlet Nexus has two available protagonists, Yuito and Kasane, who share the same power of psychokinesis. Both are new members of a military group called the Others Suppression Force. Others are brain-eating mutants shrouded in mystery that the OSF hunt down using their soldiers with psionic abilities, and the NPC squadmates who accompany you wield everything from invisibility to pyrokinesis. When they aren’t using their blades for melee damage, psychokinesis allows Yuito and Kasane to turn their surroundings into a weapon by telekinetically controlling whatever’s around them. And it feels awesome.
Special objects in the environment require you to wait a few seconds before activating a QTE. Pulling off the prompts leads to devastating and unique attacks, such as swinging telephone poles around like baseball bats or spinning a chandelier like a top to mow down crowds. I lost count of the number of times I shouted at my TV whenever I used one for the first time, and the sequences never grew old. You can even hop onto a bus, use it as a fucking surfboard to run over enemies, before making it all explode. The adrenaline rush is amazing.
Outside of those mini-set pieces, you slam down cars midway through combos and perform flashy finishing moves that literally tear Others apart. But just like with special objects, you can’t use your power instantly. Instead, you hold a button down until a gauge fills, limiting how often you can use it. There’s an element of risk/reward in knowing when you can afford to pause your movements to levitate objects, but doing so drains your psychokinesis gauge. It’s a smart way to ensure fights can’t be easily rushed through.
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The story is delightfully weird, full of plot twists and government conspiracies, though it’s nearly impossible to talk about without spoiling the story. Yuito and Kasane’s perspectives overlap at certain points in the shared story, but it’s impossible to understand the full picture from just one of them. The supporting characters, for example, differ based on which protagonist you play, and there are subtle differences in how the two handle their weapons in combat. It gives more than enough reason to play through both campaigns.
I was surprised by how quickly I became invested not only in Scarlet Nexus’s plot, but in its world as well. This is largely due to the characters, who are more than the simple anime archetypes they appear to be at first. There’s the childhood friend that’s pining for the protagonist, the arrogant and snarky jerk with glasses, the cocky womanizing himbo with a secret soft side — the list goes on. But like the best RPGs, if you take the time to dig into their backstories, the characters rise above their tropes in surprising ways. Unfortunately, doing this can be a hassle.
To increase your bond with teammates you give them gifts, triggering either cutscenes or mini-missions about them and unlocking new ways for them to assist in battle. It never comes close to rivaling the meaningful social links of the Persona series and distills your teammates’ entire personalities down to bare traits. Worse, it makes no sense narratively.
These characters go through an absolute whirlwind series of betrayals, traumatizing discoveries, and deadly encounters together. There’s no reason that Tsugumi only opens up to me if I chuck plant-related trinkets her way. Hanabi has known Yuito since childhood and is crushing on him hard, so only seeing their relationship explored if I give her enough magazines is baffling. It’s an unnecessary obstacle that stands in the way of getting to better understand the endearing cast.
Yet, these flaws didn’t deter me from pursuing the bonding episodes, because my attachment to the characters made each shocking story revelation more impactful. I found myself gasping out loud during big surprises and frantically trying to explain what happened to my husband over dinner because I couldn’t stop thinking about what I had just uncovered. Though it’s clichéd to say about a JRPG, playing Scarlet Nexus really is like playing through an anime, and it’s one that’s engrossing enough to gleefully binge.
Being a superpowered badass is incredibly fun, and I only felt stronger the more I played. The game does an excellent job of using its combat to enhance the player’s connection to their character. That careful balance between gameplay and narrative elevates Scarlet Nexus above other recent action RPGs. It reminded me of why I first fell in love with stories about superpowered characters as a kid — not for the powers themselves, but the people who wield them.