How Scarlet Nexus’ Brain Punk and unique monsters are taking the action JRPG into the next generation

Everyone in the world of Scarlet Nexus is connected and intertwined, but it’s not through the familiar elements of our world like smartphones, databases and cookies, it’s quite simply through people’s brains. A psionic hormone was discovered, granting enhanced extra-sensory abilities, with humanity entering an era that can only be described as Brain Punk. But how is that much different to cyberpunk and other sci-fi futures that creators have envisaged?

Game Producer Keita Izuki explained to us the need for a new term: “Really it’s because we think the brain is what is specific about the Scarlet Nexus world. It has an effect on everything; the world itself, the special powers that characters have, and also the enemies. They are all inspired by a certain aspect of the brain.

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“We imagined a world where the technology has developed a little bit further than what we know from our world, but we also to include elements of the past. We tried to think of a present day if it was defined by more developed brains and how this would have effected the world that Scarlet Nexus takes place in.”

The increase in psionic abilities opens the door to all manner of wild powers, but also connects people to one another in a way that feels like an extension of our modern world. Everyone being connected opens the door to explore some of the themes of 1984, Brazil and, you know, the everyday invasion of privacy that you get from Facebook and GCHQ.

“Being connected to everyone all the time can be very handy, but it has the downside to it that everything can be managed,” Izuki-san said, “that every last aspect of life can then be controlled. That also includes parts that you do not want to show, and that does play a role in Scarlet Nexus.

“But on the other side, we do definitely show the advantage of having the option of connecting to your companions, as it brings you great advantages in the battle scenes as well. We try to show that aspect of it very positively.”

Besieging this futuristic world are the Others, bizarre-looking creatures that have emerged and have a real hunger for human brains. It’s these that are the real stand out design element in Scarlet Nexus, the team avoiding the well-trodden paths of having unknowable tentacled horrors or more traditional demonic foes. Instead they’re bizarre combinations of real world creatures and inanimate objects, such as a bouquet of flowers sprouting out of a corset on legs, a bull-like creature with hot rod exhausts sprouting from its side, or a six-legged robot monkey torso with red gloves on and what seems to be a big coffee pot on its back.

Game Director Kenji Anabuki explained, “The design idea really came from our art director and a certain designer, Yamashiro-san that caught his attention with the artistic sense and aesthetic. His aesthetic really is something quite different, they really stand out and are very unique. Our art director used some of his images to present to all project members and everyone was instantly fond of this direction and content with going for that style. It was really born from our art director and that designer.

“What our art director had in mind at a basic level was mixing organic and unorganic, really to put things together that absolutely do not go. By mixing these into one, we wanted to express a feeling of heterogeneity and differentness.”

“It’s not only that they’re dangerous beings,” Izuki-san added, “but really puzzling. They should create a feeling of ‘What the hell is this?'”

To my mind, there’s a kind of bodyhorror to several of the designs we’ve seen through trailers, gameplay and screenshots, or at the very least the possibility to create some subconscious unease within the player. Whether that’s the intention or not throughout the game’s story, it’s effective and gives Scarlet Nexus one of its most unique hooks, but it’s not the only moment of of visual flair that the game has.

Our hero, Yuito Sumeragi signs up for the Other Suppression Force (OSF) to act as part of the last line of defence against these Others, and in addition to being a dab hand with his rather large sword, combines these attacks with his latent psychokinesis to grab objects from around the world and fling them at any Others that he fights through this fast-paced action RPG.

“We really wanted to focus on giving you an experience of owning such brain powers,” Anabuki-san said, “and definitely the power of Psychokinesis is the central power that you will experience. Alongside that, you will also be able to borrow brain powers from your companions, so it’s also about choosing certain powers, depending on what enemy you’re facing.”

Anabuki-san said, “We really tried to provide the experience of using quite a few things from your environment using your psychokinesis, but it is a game, it means there are also some things you may not be able to pick up. Overall, it’s really quite varied and most of the things that are lying around in your environment will be possible to use.

“Above that, it’s not only possible to pick up things through psychokinetic power and throw them, but also to use machines. For example, you can use vending machines to tear those out and squish someone between them, or parts that fall off objects, to use those again as well. There will be quite some variation to your psychokinetic power.”

One of the key advantages of brain connectivity allow you to borrow the abilities of others, stylistically represented by having dozens of red strands shooting into his body. The first example of this comes from fellow OSF new recruit Hanabi Ichijo and her pyrokinesis, imbuing Yuito’s sword with elemental damage and granting him the ability to spew great big gouts of fire from his hands, but there’s more to come.

“As the story unfolds, the number of companions that you meet and get to know will rise as well,” Izuki-san explained. “Through the story there are certain points where you will be able to meet certain characters, and in battle, you will be able to take along two companions, but it will also be possible in the battlefield to change the companions that you have alongside you and switch. Above that, you will be able to use the brain powers of other OSF companions, even if you haven’t taken them along with you.”

Of course, one of the big reasons that JRPG fans might be looking at Scarlet Nexus will be that it’s arriving just at the start of a new generation. It will bridge the divide between PlayStation 4 and Xbox One and the next-era of hardware on PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X. It’s bound to be a hugely challenging time for developers trying to get the best out of the next-gen consoles while also catering to existing machines.

“It definitely is a challenge,” Anabuki-san admitted, explaining that “the points it will especially have an effect on is the frame rate, the resolution and the loading time.

“Having to take into account both generations at the same time is definitely a challenge, but at the same time, we really enjoy and look forward to being able to use those new features which will enable people to have a completely different experience again. I think in that sense, we as developers are really fond of having those options and are looking forward to enabling an even more exciting experience to users.”

Regardless of the generation of console you play on, Scarlet Nexus looks like a rather individualistic new twist on the Japanese action RPG. It will be fascinating to see how it can explore some of its more dystopian themes and the breadth of intriguing weirdness that the  Others can bring as you battle them.

Our thanks to Izuki-san and Anabuki-san for taking the time to talk to us. Scarlet Nexus has no confirmed release window, but will be coming to Playstation 4 and PlayStation 5, Xbox One and Xbox Series X with Smart Delivery, and PC.

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