At the centre of Bandai Namco's latest action game there are two young soldiers named Kasane and Yuito. At the beginning of the game you have to choose one of them as a playable character and that decision will determine, which part of their interconnected adventure you will experience in the hours to come. While the developers ensured that a single playthrough (which, by the way, easily weighs in at 25 hours) is enough to follow the overall storyline, you have to experience both sides of the coin to completely understand what's going on. Yuito's challenges are very different from Kasane's adventures, as they both go through a lot of struggles over the course of the game.
The story of Scarlet Nexus starts out close and personal, but goes a long way. We begin our journey in a small military corps, in which our budding heroes make a name for themselves. Getting to know everyone is only the beginning and socio-political and even existential topics take over the discussion from here. It can be challenging to follow the vast amount of different themes that Bandai Namco brings to the table over the course of the story because not all of them are evenly well discussed. That makes it all the more important to experience the second perspective. If you stop after your first playthrough, you might have got the bigger picture, but you will miss many motives and important background information.
It is worth mentioning that both protagonists also differ from one another in terms of their playstyle. Kasane uses pointed dagger fans in mid-range combat while Yuito is a swordsman who always finds himself in the middle of the action. The two of them get help from their own set of companions who bring individual skills to the table. While it admittedly doesn't make a big difference whether or not you enhance your own weapons with fire or electricity, relying on stealth and illusions in combat feels very different than teleporting yourself directly into battle with a protective skin as tough as rocks.
The combat system is an exciting topic to discuss, but I feel that it doesn't quite work out in the end. We can use close range combat and telekinesis skills as well as a wide range of unlockable moves and even different combat modes to slowly drain either the enemy's life bar or their mental status. If that second energy bar is empty, we can deal a high damage blow that is called "brain crush", defeating most of the enemies with a single hit. Being aggressive feels nice but when fighting multiple foes at the same time you often have to defend yourself using evasive dashes. Since our attacks can easily be interrupted, the skirmishes can go south very easily, too, so you have to stay on your toes.
Most of the battles (and also the level design, by the way) are tailored very specially around the abilities of our respective teams so that the players learn when to use certain skills. The amounts of abilities you can use at a given time grow over the course of the game and in the last third it can become tricky since confrontations almost force specific counter-reactions. You can always defeat the opponent using only normal attacks, but the flow of the game clearly suffers from that as a result. This game design is not as restricted as in, for example, Doom Eternal, but you better follow the developers' recommendation to make your life easier.
Between the main missions you can engage in optional side content or spending time with your friends. The side activities are the most generic "Kill enemy X under condition Y" type of mission you can imagine, so don't spend too much time on that. If you choose to focus your efforts on your comrades, on the other hand, you will have a lot more fun, because the developers did a good job depicting individual growth in friendly banter. If you take good care of your comrades, you will also unlock powerful special abilities that widen the fairly restrictive fighting mechanics of Scarlet Nexus a little more.
Scarlet Nexus introduces us to the so called "Brainpunk" age, which is essentially a futuristic sci-fi fantasy in which people learned to use magic at some point. In this world everyone is connected with one another and brains have developed far enough to act as biological supercomputers. Visually, Bandai Namco's world design is largely based on well-established cyberpunk tropes that feed into the everything-is-connected mentality. The very well done anime style gives the game a concise visual identity that manages to create inspiring images from time to time.
The terribly disfigured monsters we face in this game are evenly memorable but for another reason. They come from the hand of the Japanese artist Masakazu Yamshiro, who manages to fuse everyday objects with animal limbs to bring grotesquely deformed nightmare creatures to life. Although these monsters eat brains, the game does not rely on explicit representation of violence and is approved for teens. I'm only highlighting this because I find some subjects the story touches upon remarkably macabre and dark.
Bandai Namco is clearly making an effort to explain the many abstract and complex subjects of Scarlet Nexus in an appropriate manner, but they do not always succeed in that. Unfortunately, the shortcomings of the storytelling are self-created by the dual narrative structure which makes it hard to swallow the plot twists on your first playthrough. Our two main characters receive different information and the exchange of opinions often takes place in group chats or in fix party dialogues with many people talking through each other. Just to be clear: This exposure is necessary so you better take your time between battles to take in all the details.
Unfortunately, this is ultimately a bigger problem than you might initially think. The developers obviously spent a lot of time building this fantasy world, the story premise, and everything around it. But in order to get the entirety of Scarlet Nexus, you have to play through it twice. On the other hand, the last chapters drag on for hours and hours trying to catch up on both characters stories and leading both adventures to a grand finale that practically undermines the central premise of a second playthrough (since it pretty much forces you to take a break afterwards). If you however manage to stick to the game while recovering from these minor detours, you can most certainly have a great time with Scarlet Nexus' intriguing sci-fi-fantasy.