This week on Zero Punctuation, Yahtzee reviews Scarlet Nexus.
I relish a chance to go into a game knowing nothing about it; it's like how I prefer to be paddled by someone wearing a mask so we don't have to make awkward conversation about it later while waiting for the bus. I didn't know anything about Scarlet Nexus but the title, which told me jack shit, although it does sound like a bad erotic fiction author's euphemism for lady bits: "Her scarlet nexus quivered in anticipation as he unveiled his magenta ambassador." There was also the one image on the Steam page, which seemed to depict some Jawas from Star Wars with orange tubes coming off them like they rigged up a Lucozade delivery system, which was intriguing enough.
So I immediately started it up in preparation for something wholesome and sports drink-related, only for everyone to pull their hoods down and go, "PSYCH! It's an anime game." Doh! You got me again, anime! "We sure did, fuckface! Now choose your protagonist; do you want to be Tedious Generic Anime Schoolgirl, who thinks the best way to convey seriousness of character is to have the emotional range of a bathroom sink, or Tedious Generic Anime Schoolboy, who remains inexplicably oblivious to every female character in the game openly vying to knob him?" Oh well; at least if it's a Japanese game, it's not just going to be another Jiminy Cockthroat or survival crafter like everything that comes out of the West. But then again, Japan has its own Jiminy Cockthroats, or over-represented tropes.
Let's take a look at the story, for example: Earth has been ravaged by apocalypse except for an outpost of humanity with access to really advanced technology for some reason, and this outpost is being constantly assaulted by mysterious monsters, necessitating the creation of a defensive force of people with superpowers or special technology, almost none of whom, for generally unexplored reasons, are old enough to shave. Now, which action sci-fi anime did I just describe? Basically all of them? Yes, that was my thought. It also describes several Japanese games I've played, including Astral Chain, Xenoblade Chronicles X, that Attack on Titan thing.
And there tend to be a lot of similarities in the way gameplay's structured: generally, there's a core combat mechanic with a hack and slash-y emphasis and lots of very elaborate finishing moves that involve jumping very high and going, "YAH!" This combat is relegated only to fenced-off arenas, while the rest of the gameplay consists of exploring open areas full of very interesting scenery, mostly behind invisible walls, while the only things you can interact with are a hundred copy-pasted NPCs that all have one dialogue line that plops out of their mouth whenever you press on their head like a fucking Pez dispenser. Oh, and the story will feature a cast of diverse characters with unique weapons and haircuts, including enough waifus to cover all the standard archetypes, if not a full-on dating sim mechanic, because as we all know, erotic fan-art accounts for something like 97% of the Japanese economy.
If we might as well think of everything I just listed as the Japanese equivalent of Jiminy Cockthroat - Chihiro Cockthroat, if you will - then this cock has been completely enveloped by The Scarlet Nexus, and the result feels inescapably generic, but for the plot occasionally going in slightly bananas directions that make me think it was a mistake for the game to divide it across two parallel campaigns, as whichever path you pick, you're going to miss out on a few bananas plot points that kind of lose something when just being verbally described to you in the bits where Generic Anime Boy and Generic Anime Girl meet up to compare notes. "Hi! We just got back from Narnia, where we learned that the monsters are actually made of jam and all along, one of our party members was secretly an artisanal jam-maker from the dark side of Mars." "Well, I know you're too boring a character to have made up something like that!"
But let's stick our fingers up the primary gameplay loop and check it for prostate cancer. The core combat is based around you being a psychokinetic who can fling bits of scenery at enemies and also has a big sword, but that kind of goes without saying; first day of Anime Protagonist High School, you get the big sword with your campus map and your homework diary. So, combo-ing involves switching between twatting with sword and twatting with random chairs and radiators and things, and honestly, I'm not sure I like it; in the heat of battle, you don't seem to have a lot of power over which random bookshelves and wheelchairs your powers are going to fling at the target, how long it'll take for them to get there, or if they'll hit from the right angle to smack into their dangling, hairy weak spot.
And it's let down by some dodgy control choices, like having to press two buttons to switch the targeter back to the main threat you're trying to focus on, because the game fucking auto-targets anything you hit even if you're only giving it a courtesy maiming in passing. And while there's an interesting abstractness to the monster design, it's fucking hard to intuit what they're about to do. Oh, that one's stomping its high-heeled shoes and wiggling the garden gate it has for a face; is it about to charge or trying to find a wi-fi signal? I can't fucking tell.
The other gimmick is your fellow party members, whose unique powers you can borrow to augment your attacks or add other buffs and conditions, but what with having to include every character archetype, including Inexplicable Asshole Boy, Dude Everyone Calls The "Old Man" 'Cos He's Over 25, and of course, a full waifu inventory, there's kind of too many party members to keep in mind, especially when the two factions join forces halfway through, and suddenly, we have to deal with double-tapping shoulder buttons to switch between character wheels. Quick question, game; are you Microsoft Windows? No? Then don't use double-clicks for interface navigation in the middle of combat! (And don't use Microsoft Windows in combat either, thinking about it.)
Speaking of party members, the game plays up the relationship mechanics by having these little chill-out sessions in between story missions, where you increase your bond with the party by making conversation and passing out whatever presents you crafted from the random bullshit you found in the last mission's bins, and it's a right pace-killer, especially after, again, the two protagonists' factions join forces, and suddenly, you're hosting a fucking office Christmas party and have to mingle around, listening to everyone's anime bullshit for half an hour, 'cos if you don't, you won't be able to make your sword attacks strawberry-flavored in combat.
After all that, I can't think of much that recommends Solar Plexus; I liked the monster visual design, and some of the plot curveballs were fun, but the combat is full of little annoyances, and there's a lot of the critical path gameplay that feels obnoxiously padded-out. It is also simultaneously anime as dicks and anime as balls, and I understand that saying that will immediately turn off half the audience and electrify the other half, but it often seems to be going out of its way to hit all the points on the anime checklist, and comes out feeling like a terribly generic anime action RPG. When Anime Waifu #3 appeared and my anime schoolboy protagonist introduced her as his childhood friend, I remember literally saying aloud, "Of course she fucking is!" And oh, look, she's secretly in love with someone. Can I guess who? Is it 90's-era David Duchovny? "Ooh! Good guess, but think slightly blander."
- Spoon bender: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw
- Those tubes coming off all the characters sometimes have a certain tentacle-y quality, don't they
- Everywhere I look, giant cocks and tiny mouths