Scarlet Nexus (Review)

Crazy thing, though, that I’m playing a JRPG on an Xbox platform.  Scarlet Nexus even has a marketing deal with Xbox, but that’s not important to me.  What’s important to me is if this tickles my continued fancy for JRPGs and finally puts a more modern graphics wrapper on it.


GAMEPLAY

The combat system takes some level of intelligence…

If you’re not familiar with the core JRPG formula, then this game might be a struggle for you.  They do, indeed, stick to this more traditional formula: linear levels, large focus on dialogue (and fair warning, about half your time playing is probably, indeed, dialogue!), lots of reading, and most importantly: complex combat.  And that last part needs a disclaimer: don’t be surprised if even 10 hours in, you’re still getting a feel for the subtle nuances.  The combat system takes some level of intelligence, and that’s not mocking anyone, that’s saying that making full use of it requires both time and focus.  When you do get the hang of it, combat is surprisingly satisfying… until JRPG-trope difficulty spikes lay you out.  Fair warning: there’s a lot of in-fighting, but that’s also standard JRPG formulaic stuff, too.  Outside of combat, though, the large focus on developing characters means lots of optional time to spend with them, and I definitely recommend it.  Bonding with your team empowers you and makes a world of difference in late game combat.  There are a few JRPG nuggets it leaves behind, though: there isn’t much to the gear system other than upgrading weapons, plugins, and a dizzying array of completely inconsequential visual accessories.  But I actually applaud them: JRPGs are known for vast amounts of equipment and insufferable inventory management, but that’s not here and I’m glad (even if I do miss the idea of all kinds of weapons and armor).  Unfortunately, it does still carry one tradition I hope will eventually fade: backtracking.  You’ll do lots of backtracking, going through the same levels a few times each… But that note leads into the next most important part of the JRPG formula.


CONTENT

…but for a JRPG, it’s definitely on the short side for most…

JRPGs are often known for their length, even if that includes grinding, and this leaves me with a conundrum.  I watched the credits roll around 22 hours later and, based on how much I bonded with my team, you’ll get between 20-25 hours.  Now, you might be wondering if you need to play it through the second time as the other character, and the answer is no: that’s for completionists.  Most of the other character’s story is told to your character.  But as aforementioned, if you’re a completionist, you’ll need to play through it a second time for both achievements and, more important to the JRPG formula, likely a secret ending.  Thus, in terms of overall hours, it’s acceptable for $60, but as a JRPG, it’s definitely on the short side for most, yet provides more for completionists.  Conundrum, indeed.


PRESENTATION

…looking better than the vast majority of JRPGs in existence.

The good news here is that this game also takes some steps forward from the JRPG formula of generally sacrificing graphics for stylized, lower-quality in favor of gameplay and content.  And this game does take you through some interesting level designs while looking much better than the vast majority of JRPGs in existence.  Unfortunately, it’s still clear the game was built targeting last gen systems despite running 4K60: draw distance issues; a mostly pre-baked lighting engine; strange screen-space reflections; and a shadow system that… doesn’t always work?  Nonetheless, JRPGs rarely focus on graphics, so to see a step up was pleasant.  This includes the occasional cinematics which follow a very clean and strong anime aesthetic.  And then there’s the story, and while I’m not going to spoil it, let’s just say it turns into a very strong JRPG epic of impressive character development (across so many main characters, I might add!) and how they handle a changing and grueling world.  Sure, most of this is delivered in these dialogue windows that clearly save the budget, but they’re a rather clever format, and I found myself rather engrossed in both the world lore and the characters.


CONCLUSION

I needed a core JRPG to spice up the variety…

I needed this.  I needed a core JRPG to spice up the variety of games I’ve been playing for the past eight months since relaunching my channel.  On most of those expectations, Scarlet Nexus delivers, but in others, it sticks too hard to tradition and misses.  It’s still very linear, and very dialogue heavy, yet its combat is satisfying to master because it’s hard to pick up.  It’s a bit short for a JRPG, but wastes no time with grinding or equipment management, yet still offers completionists a reason to keep going.  It’s better-looking than most JRPGs, but it was built for last gen and comes with all those shortcomings.  But it does masterfully give me character development across a large cast and a story about a fictitious world that makes me care.  Quintessentially, it’s a balancing act.

I give Scarlet Nexus

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