Scarlet Nexus from Bandai Namco is an action-RPG about the bonds between companions. While it's extremely common for a JRPG to examine the relationship between characters, Scarlet Nexus focuses on literal bonds that tie people's brains together and let civilization achieve new heights.
"'Nexus' means 'connection,'" says Scarlet Nexus producer Keita Iizuka in a preview video distributed by Bandai Namco. He and the game's director, Kenji Anabuki, explain how the RPG explores loneliness in a hyper-connected world—something that echoes our own modern problems. Our personal lives and data pour onto the internet in a torrent, but many of us feel as isolated as we've ever been.
"We always say that a person is lonely when they're on their own," says Scarlet Nexus art director Kouta Ochiai. "But even when we connect our brains, are we really not alone? In a society where everyone's brains are forcibly connected, what is real loneliness? Although this is not the theme of the game, the player will be encountering these questions."
Despite all the problems the internet causes us, it's not easy to flip a switch and disconnect. The internet sustains us; the COVID-19 pandemic that's forced most of us indoors is proof of the vital role the internet plays in acquiring food, necessities, and even education. In Scarlet Nexus, that connectivity is taken to physical extremes—and again, it's out of necessity. Scarlet Nexus presents a world where the bond between soldiers is the only thing that lets citizens lead a relatively normal life even as indescribable monsters try to kill them.
Our current struggle to maintain normality through the pandemic makes Scarlet Nexus's premise weirdly identifiable. Obviously, Bandai Namco started working on Scarlet Nexus before COVID-19 started creeping its way through 2020. It's just coincidence that this flashy, stylish action-RPG reflects our current reality—even if said reality lacks Scarlet Nexus's extremely JRPG heroes and their extremely JRPG combat outfits. (Side note: If a JRPG hero's threads don't make me stop and wonder, "How long does it take them to unbuckle for a pee," they ain't a JRPG hero.)
Scarlet Nexus's action revolves around Yuito Sumeragi, a fresh recruit in the Others Suppression Force (OSF). Iizuka and Anabuki say much of the game's story involves the inexperienced Yuito discovering "more about the world" while he feels "strong emotions such as anger and sadness throughout the story." Scarlet Nexus is more or less a shonen "coming of age" story, but it's the aforementioned "Other" that give me pause.
The Others are the enemies Yuito and his comrades fight against as members of the OSF. They're hostile life forms that are an extremely unsettling mishmash of recognizable and alien elements. Some are covered with twisted masks and armor made of otherworldly substances. Some resemble the nightmarish scribblings of a fevered toddler. "Here's a flower bouquet with horse's legs" sounds funny on paper, but watching it stagger around on the battlefield is another matter.
Despite their wildly-differing appearances, the Others share one goal in common: Attack humans and consume their brains. The Others have no emotions or purpose beyond that single-minded drive; Anabuki compares them to natural disasters, like earthquakes in Japan, a frequent, dangerous occurrence that humans must learn to live with.
The Others rain down from an "Extinction Belt" that drifts up high in the sky, and humanity has come up with means of predicting their attacks. There are even day-to-day forecasts to alert people if there's a chance the Other might drop—and like the weather forecasts those reports resemble, they're not always 100% accurate. This allows citizens to live their lives as normally as possible under the circumstances. They've learned to "sort of co-exist" with the Others.
Similarly, us denizens of planet Earth are gradually learning how to co-exist with a primal evil: a highly contagious virus for which we have no vaccine and no natural immunity. While COVID-19 doesn't strike with the deadly efficiency of the Other in Scarlet Nexus, it can certainly kill. Even in the "best case scenarios," the instances where victims become well enough to function again, poorly understood health problems linger.
COVID-19 has become a hot political topic, particularly in the United States. It never should have become a political topic, but that diseased horse isn't going back into the barn. Point is, we've spent much of 2020 trying to figure out how to function with some measure of normality while a potentially deadly virus looms around us. As in Scarlet Nexus, we have people who fight on the front lines to contain the virus and keep us safe. We also have apps that alert us to potential exposure, and public areas usually make masks and hand sanitizer readily available. We're adapting, like the citizens the OSF fights to protect. Simply going outside means risking exposure, but what can you do? We all have to keep taking care of our families, keep shopping, and keep working even though the failing economy means our jobs are in jeopardy. (A point that rightfully kindles heated discussions about the importance of a universal basic income, but I digress.)
Scarlet Nexus has already connected with me, even if Keita Iizuka and Kenji Anabuki probably never intended for me to associate the game with our scramble to keep on living in the face of COVID-19. But hey, Scarlet Nexus is all about forming bonds, right? Maybe they'd be pleased to learn their game's premise prompted me to make the connection, even if it's just coincidental.
Major Game Releases: August 31 to September 4
Here are the major releases for the week of August 31 to September 4. Want to see the complete list? Check out our full list of video game release dates for 2020.
- Crusader Kings 3 [September 1 for PC]: If you've got a bit of time on your hands—okay, a lot of time on your hands—Paradox has one heck of a strategy game for you. Crusader Kings 3 is here, and it's absolutely massive. If you're interested, reviews editor Mike Williams has an in-depth preview of the game. He quickly loses his husband in-game, which starts him down a spiral of bad luck. Be sure to pay respects. [F.]
- Doraemon: Story of Seasons [September 4 for PlayStation 4]: Doraemon is a beloved Japanese mascot who just never seemed to get any purchase in the West, unlike Pikachu or Totoro. The big ol' earless blue cat still got his own localized Story of Seasons game. The usual farming tropes apply here: till the land, grow crops, keep livestock, earn cash. The difference is Doraemon and his friends show up to encourage you. Doraemon: Story of Seasons received a Nintendo Switch and PC release last year, but this PlayStation 4 version runs at 60 FPS.
- Marvel's Avengers [September 4 for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC, and Stadia]: Well, like it or not, the Avengers are assembling on your consoles and PCs this week. Reactions to the beta for this action-adventure game from Crystal Dynamics have largely been "Ehhh…?". After trying the beta for himself, Mike determined Marvel's Avengers spends most of its time fighting itself. We'll see how the final product performs soon enough.
- Paradise Killer [September 4 for PC, Nintendo Switch]: If you, like us, have been missing the Danganronpa series in the three years since Danganronpa V3 released, then you're in luck. Paradise Killer is a new open-world, first-person investigation game with a similarly vibrant color palette to the Danganronpa games. Considering the detective genre in general is criminally underutilized, we're especially looking forward to seeing how Paradise Killer pans out. Look forward to our review of it later this week.
- Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 1 and 2 [September 4 for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC: "I love you. You love me. Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 3. With a great big hug and a kiss from me to you, Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 2." (No Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 3 on this collection, unfortunately, but there's more than enough nostalgia in this collection to resurrect your old sk8r b0i persona.)
- NBA 2K21 [September 4 for PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch]: With NBA Live taking another gap year, this year's another time for 2K's basketball sim to shine. It's a big year in general for sports sims, as they release this year's annualized releases, with next-gen versions due for this holiday season. NBA 2K21 is no exception, with its Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5 version controversially $10 more than the current gen versions. We've yet to see where the improvements lie there, but in the meantime, we can see what's new with NBA 2K21 this year later this week.
Five Things You Should Know Heading into This Week in Gaming
- Oh Ubisoft. Allegations of sexual harassment, racism, and abuse have pelted Ubisoft for some months now, and the massive studio's latest stunt hasn't won it many new friends, either. The recently-released mobile game Tom Clancy's Elite Squad kicks off with an opening video that explains the movements of a secret organization named Umbra that's dedicated to stoking protests and unrest. Basically, not a great look in a time where ongoing protests call attention to society's major social problems—particularly excessive police brutality against Black people. Moreover, Umbra's symbol co-opts the raised "Black Power" fist, and its whole premise is based around conspiracy theories about shadowy cabals controlling us all. It's a mess, in other words. Ubisoft has since apologized for the gongshow, and says the introduction will be pulled from the game.
- On the topic of Ubisoft saying things, there was a kerfuffle this morning when a Ubisoft page about game upgrades insinuated the PlayStation 5 won't be backwards compatible with the PlayStation 3, 2, or 1. Ubisoft has since retracted its statement. PlayStation 5 architect Mark Cerny has spoken about a "legacy mode" for PlayStation 5 that will make most PlayStation 4 games backwards compatible with the new system, but Sony hasn't delivered any other information about backwards compatibility.
- Let's talk about something a bit more wholesome. Moon is here, and you should give it a try if you're an RPG fan. I wrote a primer last week that explains this unorthodox retro RPG, which finally has an official translation. Moon is one of the inspirations for Toby Fox's Undertale—and as some astute readers have pointed out, it's a major inspiration for 2005's adorable Chibi-Robo, too!
- It's Madden season. Kat Bailey, our Editor-in-Chief and sports enthusiast, checked out Madden NFL 21. It's pretty much what you'd expect from a yearly update of a major franchise.
- The Eiyuden Chronicle Kickstarter is done, and it was tremendous. The final tally clocks in at over $4.5 million USD. The team responsible for Suikoden 2, one of the most beloved RPGs of all time, now has the means to make the Suikoden successor of our dreams. Now comes the hard part: making the actual game. Developing a game via Kickstarter funding can be tricky, as developers like Bloodstained's Koji Igarashi know all too well.
Axe of the Blood God for August 31
In 1997, a small group of former devs from Konami and Square got together to make Moon: RPG Remix Adventure, an affectionate parody and tribute to the role-playing genre. More than 20 years later, it's finally out for Nintendo Switch, and Kat and Nadia dig into the legacy of this curious creation by Love-de-lic. Plus: Wasteland 3 impressions, Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles online woes, Dragon Age 4 teasers, and reactions to rumors of a "Switch Pro." Listen here!