Bandai Namco recently gave us the opportunity to play the first two chapters of Scarlet Nexus. The upcoming JRPG has two central protagonists and we have to choose between them at the beginning of the game. Depending on your choice, you will experience one side of the central story. While the fates of Yuito Sumeragi and Kasane Randall might be linked, their two stories have some differences to them as well.
Yuito begins his military training at the OSF (the "Other Suppression Force") as a modest recruit who quickly makes friends because of his open manner. Kasane, on the other hand, is so fixated on her big sister that dealing with other people becomes somewhat of a drag to her. Her perspective seems narrow-minded, occasionally a bit harsh, awkward and even funny. Regardless of both of their idiosyncrasies, these two are very reliable and gifted with extraordinary abilities.
In terms of content, the two playthroughs seem to differ significantly from one another, but there are also similarities between them, especially in the early stages. If you choose Yuito, for example, you head to a nearby shrine with your best bud, while Kasane just happens to be there because her sister dragged her along. Yuito's platoon is exploring a certain level in the course of his campaign while Kasane has the opportunity to head there via a side quest later on. If you want to experience both sides of Scarlet Nexus' story, you have to repeat the key moments, but the repetition of known sequences is somewhat limited (in the first two chapters). From a narrative point of view, I found the different perspective enriching and varied when playing the preview build for the second time.
Gameplay wise, the two main characters share their special abilities of telekinesis, but they use individual play styles, too. Yuito is armed with an old-fashioned sword that he uses at lightning speed. Kasane uses a collection of small daggers that she twirls around her with the help of her mind. Her bladestorm has a longer range and a higher attack radius, which is why we encounter flying enemies early on in her missions.
I would like to highlight a small confrontation that happened relatively early in the story. Kasane and Yuito will compete against each other as part of a training mission, and the story reacts to who will be victorious in their duel. This encounter was one of the greater moments I had with this game so far, because the battle was both challenging and very stylish. This also shows that we aren't only competing against strangely designed creatures but might also cross blades with other people.
The combat system of Scarlet Nexus is built around an acrobatic alternation of close-range and long-range attacks. If we use telekinesis after using our sword/dagger combo, our character withdraws to a safer location in order to build up concentration for subsequent attacks. If this hit lands, we can extend the combo with a swift sprint to the target and switch back to close combat. At the beginning of the game, many confrontations, even against more challenging foes, are suddenly very feasible if you internalise this action-packed flow of combat. However, if we don't find the right timing, the tide can turn quickly, as (without the right skills) we are very vulnerable to enemy attacks.
If we are accompanied by comrades, and that is often the case, then we can borrow their special abilities for a short time. By doing this, invisible opponents can be made visible, our attacks cause additional elemental damage and status effects or we won't be interrupted by enemy attacks. In the best JRPG manner, we deepen the bond with our comrades in optional side quests in order to make those borrowed gifts even stronger. Yuito and Kasane also develop further in the course of the game and we can expand their skills in a small skill tree.
Giving shape to one's own thoughts is a big theme of Scarlet Nexus and therefore this power fantasy plays an important role in battles, too. If you come across a big enough time window, Kasane and Yuito can use their telekinesis to take advantage of certain objects that cause high damage to their surroundings. In a subway tunnel, for example, a crashed train wagon can be set in motion and on a construction site there are parked vehicles that we can throw on monsters to make them stumble.
This is often connected to the use of classic quick-time events (QTE), which Bandai Namco likes to use during their battles. Our attacks will target both the life bar of dangerous enemies, but also reduce its endurance. If this happens to be emptied, we can finish off foes with a quick strike (depending on the enemy). Those animations make Yuito and Kasane look incredibly cool but with normal opponents I can see that fun could quickly become somewhat repetitive. Also, if we use telekinesis on smaller objects, this sometimes triggers QTEs as well.
Scarlet Nexus is split between major episodes and minor breaks. Every now and then we have some free time on our hands. During these periods you can explore the many corners of the Brainpunk metropolis, accept fetch quests, and chat with your friends. Both characters have access to an (identical) safehouse, which is quickly taken over by their comrades once the location is revealed. That's where the crew is hanging around between important missions and where we can increase our loyalty ranks with them. This part seems optional and it does rely on backtracking, but you get some valuable experience points, items and background stories out of it. Some of them are really cute because there are so many different characters involved.
The fantasy of igniting or moving things by the force of your will alone holds a lot of potential and I am looking forward to seeing how the game will explore this idea even more in the further course of the story. Scarlet Nexus is combining this fantasy with modern sci-fi tropes which also shows in the high-tech world that looks very exciting and brave in some points (although, I wouldn't say that about all areas I have seen so far). The contradictory design of the creatures we are fighting against is also very noticeable and succinct - they are rather fascinating to look at honestly.
Because the RPG systems seem simple and functional up until this point, much of the experience might be based on fighting. The battles take some time getting used to and honestly I wonder how the developers are going to evolve this foundation. We already saw some kind of rage mode that makes us even stronger and while it looks cool (similar to the finishers), it doesn't really change the game flow at all. Also, I felt too little control over whether a battle would end in victory or defeat, but that could also be due to the streaming setup that I used for this preview session.
That might have sounded a bit critical in the end, but up until this point I had a lot of fun with Scarlet Nexus. The first few hours are exciting and entertaining, and I would like to keep playing. However, the game won't be released on old and new consoles (plus PC) until the end of June.