"Loss" is one of the keywords to understanding Scarlet Nexus. It's the loss of normalcy, in a world that is designed from the outset to look similar to ours. It's futuristic, but not wholly unrecognizable; a contrast that makes its main enemies, the Others, all the more horrifying.
An invincible and malicious blend of wireframe and flesh that invades the world, the Others are unsettling, even creepy. When the first trailer for Scarlet Nexus aired during Xbox's May showcase, its blend of many different styles and ideas into one world made an impression.
Despite being a new setting, this upcoming Bandai Namco game certainly has a pedigree; developers from some of the company's most notable RPG hits, from the Tales series on through 2019's Code Vein, are working on Scarlet Nexus. We recently had the chance to talk with game director Kenji Anabuki and producer Keita Iizuka about how this confluence of design has resulted in Scarlet Nexus, an action-focused RPG that seems to combine years of Bandai Namco design into one new supergame.
As Anabuki tells it, the past experience has helped build something of a foundation for Scarlet Nexus. "Designing the battle system, character development, balance between story and gameplay, growth system, and designing the game cycle are all constructed with our experience with the Tales Of series," Anabuki says.
The melding of real-time action combat and traditional RPG concepts is becoming commonplace. While the Tales Of series has been doing so for some time, other notable RPG franchises have been drifting that direction, most notably Final Fantasy with 15 and the remake of 7. It's not too different from the trajectory Tales of Arise is taking to change up that series, either.
"In order for the player to feel directly involved with the story, action elements are definitely a must and the need for it, to be honest, has existed for a while," Anabuki says. "The biggest reason for more action elements in Scarlet Nexus is to also fit into the superpower narrative we are trying to tell and draw out as much of its potential as possible." Scarlet Nexus is a story-driven RPG where Psychokinetic soldiers fight the monstrous, mysterious Others. The idea is that action and storytelling will be able to co-exist, without stepping on each other's toes.
The protagonist, Yuito, uses Psychokinesis in real time to manipulate objects, swinging them around or crushing enemies under heavy objects. As Anabuki describes it, the player can swap between weapon attacks and Psychokinetic assaults to create a fast barrage. This is all done using simple button sequences, but intended to make players feel the power of moving objects with one's mind (and subsequently pummeling an enemy with said objects).
"Humankind has always desired to obtain superpowers," Anabuki says, and he's not wrong. The way Yuito flings debris brings to mind games like Psi-Ops: The Mindgate Conspiracy. But just because fights are real-time and active doesn't mean narrative should take a back seat.
"We are conscious of the gameplay balance, however," Anabuki says. "While the player is progressing through the story, although they will be required to participate in battles, they are not overly confined by them. We balanced the gameplay so that players who like battles and those who prefer story and character development can both enjoy the game."
The other half of Scarlet Nexus' world is its style. Anabuki tells me the keyword is "loss;" the team designed backdrops, objects, and environments that are familiar but shouldn't be possible in the way they're depicted. Buildings that stretch too tall, or abstract themselves in ways that don't make sense. The Others push this further.
Made of wireframe and limbs, the Others are a mystery that players will have to solve over the course of the game. As the trailer notes, they were previously unkillable until Yuito and others with Psychokinesis were brought in. Like something out of the haunted dreams in Puella Magi Madoka Magica, there's a blend of the manmade and organic that seems pulled from my own personal nightmares.
Their unsettling mix of real-world aesthetic isn't just for mystery. "By combining things that are harmonious with each other we can create entities that feel unnatural and emanate a sense of hostility," Anabuki says.
Combine with '90s era expressions and objects, as well as color processing used to invoke a "nostalgic feeling," and it results in a future that feels amiss and unsettling. The world of Scarlet Nexus is soaked in this nostalgic feeling.
The brainpower extends to everyday life as well. While Yuito is special in possessing Psychokinesis, Scarlet Nexus is in what the developers call a "brainpunk" future. Iizuka says in Scarlet Nexus' world, brainpower is much more developed than in our own. Even average citizens can interact with technology using their minds, rather than just their speech or touch. Holograms and banners project ads into people's minds, Psionics are able to craft phenomena with their minds, and the Others seek developed minds for their own reasons.
Load It Up
Being part of the Xbox showcase, Scarlet Nexus has been confirmed for both the current and next generation of consoles. Iizuka says that while there are differences between hardware, the core intent is to provide the best gameplay experience, no matter which system players have.
"Developing on new hardware is a process of trial and error, but we are having a fun time with it," Iizuka says. When it comes to improvements, Iizuka says the team is able to accomplish higher frame rates while investing more demanding processes related to character representation. "Shorter load times also gives us a more immersive game experience than ever before," he adds. The SSDs of both systems have been touted as a way to cut down on load times, and for Scarlet Nexus, it sounds like the team is looking to take advantage of that.
As an action-RPG, Scarlet Nexus looks to continue blending action and traditional role-playing concepts even further. The team certainly has the staff on board to do so, and with the right blend and some satisfying mind-powered combat, it seems like one to look out for when the next generation starts to launch this holiday season. I'm always on board when the Tales Of franchise is brought up, but the Scarlet Nexus team is striking out on its own in a way that sounds intriguing for more than just the RPG diehards.