Hands-on Scarlet Nexus Preview (PC) – Neon, Katanas and Monsters, oh my!

An ordinary city street.

A market stall overflowing with pamphlets and papers showing a spiky-haired superstar, decked out in black and smiling at the camera. A faintly flickering neon warning floats gently in the street as a creature stalks back and forth looking for juicy human prey, its elongated legs clicking on the cobblestone. 

This is Scarlet Nexus and we are members of the OSF – a special task force devoted to protecting the human race from a breed of strange and surreal enemies that want nothing more than to wipe out every fleshy civilian they see. 

Scarlet Nexus Preview

Let’s get one thing out in the open at the top – Scarlet Nexus is gorgeous. It looks like a hand-drawn episode of Attack on Titan, dripping with neon light. It’s one of the more anime games that I’ve played in some time and is all the better for it. No surprise then, the team is working on an anime to be released later this year.

Scarlet Nexus is filled with overly dramatic characters, big flashy attacks and super weird enemy designs that answer the age-old question – what if someone opened a store devoted solely to mannequins, flowers and angry zoo animals? This preview covered the first four or so hours of the game. We had a little bit of time to spend with each character and explore their story in the early hours.

There’s a demo launching soon which will give you a shot at the same content. Details of which you can find at the bottom of this story. 

This preview was played on PC using an Xbox controller, running at 60FPS on a 4k display, powered by a water-cooled Intel 10900K, 1080ti and 32gb RAM. We don’t have recommended specs at the moment, but this was on nearly max settings and buttery smooth. 

Scarlet Nexus’ world feels like a near-future Japanese anime. There are cars driving around modern-looking city streets with neon signs floating in mid-air as if projected straight into the minds of the populace. Those people living in the city do so under constant threat of attack by “Others”, strange alien-like creatures that have a faint whisper of our world built into them. To give you a taste, I saw green slimeballs that look made out of walking garbage, enemies with goat-like legs and red high heels beneath red corsets with flowers coming out the top. Then the first boss was a massive bull-like creature with a skull for its head and a red mane as well as flowers growing on its back. 

Fighting these creatures you’ll play as one of two heroes Yuito and Kasane; each has their own story and playstyle. Yuito is close quarters with a combination of sword attacks and psychokinesis, while Kasane is ranged with multi-blade attacks and psychokinesis abilities.

Combat is where Scarlet Nexus gets most of its style, so let’s take a look at that next.

Slicing and dicing like a pro

Combat in Scarlet Nexus is a mix of melee abilities and powerful psychokinesis that will have you picking up pieces of the environment to hurl at your enemy. It’s very bright and flashy; akin to Devil May Cry or Nier Automata

Beyond your chosen character, you’ll be joined by a few other members of OSF on missions, each with their own abilities that you can borrow for special attacks. For instance, Hanabi is the shy, quiet one. Borrowing her Pyrokinesis power lights your attacks on fire, does increased damage to enemies with the ‘Oil’ status effect and adds flame to your psychokinesis attacks. 

In fights, your party members fight alongside you, bringing flashy fireballs, bolts of lighting and zippy neon-powered super speed to the fray. In the menu, you have some control over how these characters will fight, such as telling them to target the same enemy or different, protect themselves or fight however the AI wants them to. It’s this blend of melee attacks and a range of abilities that makes the combat feel varied and flashy. Between sword swings and dodges, you grab pieces of the environment, cars, concrete slabs, or other pieces of debris to hurl at the enemy. There are also larger attacks that pull big cinematic finishes.

One such interaction pummeled the enemy with oil drums and threw the contents all over them. The enemies were then susceptible to fire attacks by borrowing pyrokinesis from Hanabi. Another grabbed a heap of metal beams and spun them like helicopter blades to damage a group of enemies in an area.

As combat evolved, I started to see a bit more strategy develop – enemies with status effects could really change how you approach a fight. For example, one early enemy could apply the ‘Oil’ status effect, which makes you more susceptible to fire as well, but also removes your ability to dodge attacks.

Watercooler convos – with knives and monsters

Speaking of characters, if your favourite part of Fire Emblem or Valkyria Chronicles is getting to know the members of your party then this is a perfect piece to fill that anime drama-shaped hole in your heart. As you work your way through missions, members of your party will constantly chat back and forth, bicker or flirt with one another – at times it had me flashing back to the boy-band antics of Noctis and comrades from Final Fantasy XV

These interactions are great at fleshing out the characters and making them feel like humans, rather than just punching bags for the nearest angry mannequin. Between battles, cutscenes are fully animated and filled with highly detailed character models as well as flashy neon-drenched abilities. The backgrounds can feel a little scenic and lifeless, but I wouldn’t be picking that out if I wasn’t looking for it. 

Between the full cutscenes are more static comic-book style conversations with slightly moving panels that make up the bulk of conversations. This style doesn’t feel like cutting corners though the panels move and sweep around the screen and overlay one another to keep up visual interest in conversations, they’re also ringed with a pulsing red neon light that looks very cool. 

Between missions you can head to a hideout and talk to the other members of your party and platoon, as well as give them gifts to raise your bond and unlock new story beats as well as abilities. Even early on, it feels like there will be a lot to go through if you want to learn everything about every character.

You’ll also receive brain messages from different characters – a very Persona feeling system where you can read about what each party member is thinking and you can reply to get more information. There is a mechanical benefit to all this talking as well – getting to know your comrades better allows the powers you borrow from them to become stronger as you grow your bond with them. Getting to know the members of the squad feels like it’ll be a lot of fun, even though at the outset they feel like standard anime archetypes – there’s the stoic one, the cutesy one with a temper, the burly guy who gets injured without realising etc. Fingers crossed there are a couple of twists with them as the story unfolds.  

Dripping in techno and neon

As the demo rolled on, we got to check out a few different areas of the world, ranging from run-down shopping districts to a picturesque shrine, and an off-kilter construction site where the world in the distance shot up into the sky at a right angle, giving a surreal vertigo effect as you looked forward to see the tops of buildings. This is all offset by a thumping techno soundtrack in combat, as well as some soothing bouncy shopping music between bouts.

There are a couple of very interesting commentaries about the place of media and technology in this advanced world. As we learnt more about the members of OSF, it’s clear that the media treat them somewhat like rockstars, when they roll into battle they’re followed by a swarm of automated media drones that broadcast the fight live to other parts of the city; there’s even an over-the-top Monday Night Raw style announcer who keeps tabs on the fight. Some of the OSF members play it up and love the media attention, while others couldn’t care less or actively try to get in the way of their reporting. This interesting tug-of-war and turning the fight into entertainment plays up the futuristic nature of the world and gives a bit of tension within the team. 

There was also an interesting scene after an ‘Other’ attack where a civilian body was being wheeled out past the players and the government projected -Censored- bars over the face of the victim. The characters commented about how it’s done to protect the mental health of onlookers, another character commented later in the in-game chat that he was grateful for censorship so that he didn’t have to look at dead bodies. I’m hoping the story explores these elements further, as it feels like there are rumblings of the government being more controlling than they let on – but don’t come back here if they turn evil and that’s a spoiler. 

After four hours with Scarlet Nexus, I have a lot of questions about the world, the characters and how this all plays out. But I also have an itch for a spectacle fighter that’s been scratched and a stylish new neon-world to sink my teeth into. 

Scarlet Nexus releases on June 25 for Xbox Series S/X, PS4, PS5 and PC, with an anime instalment scheduled to be released shortly afterwards. There is also a demo being released on consoles in a few weeks – May 21st on Xbox Series X and S, then May 28th on PS4 and PS5. 

Nathanael Peacock attended a preview event as a guest of Bandai Namco.

Nathanael Peacock
Nathanael Peacock
Nathanael is a gamer and writer in Melbourne, Australia. You'll likely find him either up to his eyeballs in RPG lore, or spending way too long in any character creator. In his spare time he also rides motorbikes and sword-fights competitively.

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