Earlier this week, after playing through loads of the 40 free demos that launched on Xbox during E3 2021, I decided it was high time to give Scarlet Nexus a whirl. For those unacquainted with it, it’s an intensely anime action-adventure game that opts for a combination of the kind of hack-and-slash combat you’d find in Devil May Cry with the traversal and mobility of a game like Nier: Automata, except faster. For the most part, it’s actually pretty good – but Genshin Impact is better.
When Genshin launched late last year, people all over the world immediately started jabbering about how it was brazenly derivative of Breath of the Wild. I mean, sure, it has a watercolor palette, a glider, stamina-based swimming and gliding, and a host of other features and mechanics made famous – at least in this iteration – by Nintendo’s revered Switch killer app. I, for one, was of the opposite opinion, and wrote about how Genshin Impact gripped me way more than Breath of the Wild ever did. I’ve since fallen off the Genshin wagon, mind, but I still dip in for a few Wishes occasionally, and I know for a fact that once things start to click for me again, I’ll probably lose another 100 hours to Mihoyo’s beloved gacha game.
Scarlet Nexus casts you as one of the two alternate protagonists, both of whom join a defensive institution known as the Other Suppression Force (OSF). Together with your fellow agents, you have to take down loads of beasties and creepy crawlies that exist as weird manifestations of some unknown, mysterious power. It’s high-octane combat at its best, and at least relatively satisfying at its worst, but it feels like an experience that is borrowing from everywhere without offering any collateral. What I mean is, if Scarlet Nexus were a debtor and games like Nier, Devil May Cry, and more were moneylenders – or, more accurately, the debt collectors working for them – Scarlet Nexus would be toothless before it could say “Featuring Dante from the Devil May Cry series”.
Granted, I’ve only played the demo, although after reading our own Jade King’s review of Scarlet Nexus, most of the suspicions I had about how the game might progress seem to have rang true. The one get out of jail free card it had was its potential to tell a unique story, although it seems as if it hasn’t quite managed to stick the landing. Aside from that, its amalgamation of different ideas from everywhere else but itself actually feels weirdly akin to Genshin, mostly in terms of combat and general moment-to-moment atmosphere.
Scarlet Nexus, like Genshin, allows you to operate in a party of four. While you’ve actually got two physical buddies beside you in Scarlet Nexus, you can temporarily activate one of four powers belonging to a remote agent, whose abilities and visage you take on for a short time. It’s similar to Genshin in this way, although Genshin obviously lets you switch and stay at will – I mained Diluc for so long that I might as well not have had other party members with me, while I usually only bring Fischl out if the Oceanid decides to summon those annoying birds. Honestly, forget about every other boss in the game – those stupid water birds can get straight in the bin.
The thing is, this works so much better in Genshin Impact than it does in Scarlet Nexus, as does the whole feeling of actually playing with someone. While Scarlet Nexus’ power users occasionally appear in cutscenes, they’re only really there to serve the strict function of allowing you to teleport, or lighting your sword on fire. In Genshin, every single character has so much personality. Idle for five minutes? Razor will let you know he’s keeping watch. Upgrading a weapon? Looks like you’ve got new voice lines, bud. What’s more, all of the possible fighters you can unlock have arcs of their own, which means if you’re of a high enough level, you’ll get to know each and every one of them in great detail.
But it’s not just the personalities or the writing – the actual combat itself works better, too. Genshin is a little slower, mind, but Scarlet Nexus occasionally feels as if it’s chasing speed it can’t justify. I love fast, aggressive combat – I didn’t Platinum Bloodborne because I hated it – but Scarlet Nexus trips over itself as if each of its shoes are tied to the other one. Genshin, meanwhile, allows you to strategically chain and stack all kinds of complementary and contradictory effects while rapidly rotating through the elements – also, while Nexus might have stylish art direction for cutscenes, nothing quite beats watching Diluc summon a gigantic flaming phoenix whenever he uses Dawn.
Scarlet Nexus is great, and I’ll probably play the full game… eventually. If you’re on the fence, though… well, all I’ll say is that Genshin Impact still feels like a better version of a similar game, and it’s available completely free of charge.
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