Dear Scarlet Nexus: It’s Not You, It’s Me

I still remember how much fun I had when I tried the Scarlet Nexus demo last spring. I couldn’t wait to play the full game, though it was about a week ago that I finally got around to it. I was really excited to dive in.

Since my last post I’ve put about 12 hours into Scarlet Nexus and…I’m not enjoying it at all. In fact I’ve decided to stop playing, and that makes me really sad. HowLongToBeat says I’m halfway to one third of the way through and I feel like if I’m not having fun now, I’m not going to suddenly start having fun.

So what happened between the demo and now? I’m really not sure. I just can’t grok the flow of combat, and the game is really all about combat and cut-scenes and very little else. If I’m not enjoying the combat (and I’m not) then there’s little point in playing. I find even after 12 hours I’m just kind of frantically button mashing trying to keep up with everything going on on-screen (and to be clear, it is NOT a game that rewards button mashing).

Maybe there are just too many systems operating at once for my old man brain to deal with? You have weapon attacks which include basic attack chains, perfect dodges with a reaction attack, launch attacks that send the enemy in the air, then air juggles with air dashes, and there are heavy attacks that fling you backwards. Oh and a ground smash attack for when you’re in the air.

All that I can deal with.

Then there are the magic attacks. Hold RT to fling something at the enemy. Hold LT on other things that spawn a quick mini-game to do extra damage. But if you break the ‘shield’ of the enemy then LT becomes some kind of Brain attack that rips the enemy’s head (or what passes for its head) off (every time you do this a cut-scene plays). Sometimes RT does something else but I’m not sure what…a button prompt flashes on screen when something happens but I haven’t figured out what yet. Then there’s a mode where you press L3 & R3 at the same time to go into an alternate realm with slightly different combat.

And you can (and more or less need to) combo magic and weapon attacks, by following up one type of attack with one of the other type. So you fling a car at an enemy (that’s magic) then time it right and you can rush in with a powerful melee attack. You’re supposed to be able to do the opposite, too: melee combo into magic attack, but the magic attacks take so long to spin up I’ve never figured out how to do these.

Then there’s buffs from other party members, fired off via RB+face button; they all do different things like infuse attacks with electricity or give you hyperspeed. Or you can do LB+face button to get a friendly to attack for you.

R3 will lock on to an enemy and I think RB+right stick is supposed to change what enemy you have targeted but I haven’t had much luck with that. I generally just unlock and re-lock instead.

I’m sure I’m forgetting things. So you’re doing all these combat systems in a fenced-off arena while getting pummeled by all sides. You can use a healing consumable by pressing down on the D-Pad but 9 times out of 10 as soon as you let go of the left stick to tap that d-pad you’ll get hit by a projectile. Enemies are uncanny with ranged attacks…no matter how you zig and zag if you stop moving you get hit.

If the game offered something other than combat, combat, combat, I might stick around, but the environments get really same-y really fast and it’s all corridors to run down. Heck your character has a double jump but can’t jump over most things because of invisible walls. Like maybe you see a delivery truck. You can jump high enough to clear it but if you try you’ll find the sides of the truck are invisible walls and just bounce off the air above the truck.

There are ‘side quests’ but those mostly boil down to “kill enemy type X using attack type Y” and they have zero story or lore attached to them. There’s no ‘over-world’ but instead you teleport from level to level. Really you’re either running down a corridor fighting things or you’re watching cut scenes. There is zero exploration. And the main character I’m playing (Kasane) is about as likeable as a box of stale crackers.

Anyway, I’m really bummed that I’m not liking it more, but at this point I’m so frustrated that playing it is just making me angry. “Trash” mobs aren’t bad, but the boss fights are just difficulty spikes that have me burning through all my healing items just to squeak by, after which I have to spend all my currency replenishing healing items.

I guess I could just go back and replay earlier areas over and over for items to sell and to get some combat experience to level up, but this is not a game where I find grinding fun.

Fortunately it is on Game Pass so at least I didn’t spend $60 to find out I am not enjoying it [glares at Dying Light 2] but still, I’m disappointed. And I know it is me, because I have friends who played and really enjoyed it. There’s just something about the combat I’m just not getting. Maybe five years from now I’ll try it again and it’ll all make sense and I’ll love it and… hey, I think I’ll go play some Bloodborne.

Scarlet Nexus, Finally

Back in December (I think?) I started playing Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age on the Xbox. It was on Game Pass and I was on a Final Fantasy bender. Then in typical fashion I got distracted and let it drop, but I still had it pinned near the top of the Xbox dashboard because I had every intention of getting back to it.

The other day I opened the Game Pass app and there under “Leaving Soon’ was “Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age.” Bummer. In theory I could drop everything and try to mainline FFXII and finish it by the end of the month (I think that’s when it drops from the lineup) but I know doing that when I wasn’t in the mood would just make me hate the game. I considered buying it, but it is still something like $40 which seems like a lot for a game that originally came out in 2006. Granted this is a remaster but still. Anyway, for now I wave farewell to FFXII and maybe I’ll snag it on sale at some point.

On the same day I got this news, I opened the Microsoft Rewards app to earn some sweet, sweet Microsoft Points/funny money. There was a challenge to “Earn an Achievement In One of Our Top 10 Games”. I looked at the list of games, which I think is more “The top 10 games we want to promote” than anything. Scarlet Nexus was in there.

Before it launched, there was a demo for Scarlet Nexus and I had played it and enjoyed it. I’d even planned to buy the game at launch but something came up…who can remember back that far? And then it popped up on Game Pass and I was happy I hadn’t spent $60 on it. Now I could play it for “free.” *happy dance*

Except I didn’t. This is my Game Pass Achilles Heel. A game I want to play hits the service, I get excited and put it on my mental list of “games I’ll play Real Soon Now” but…I forget that inclusion on Game Pass is transient. Generally games are on there for a year or two, maybe even longer, but most do eventually leave. Use it or lose it. Play it or… belay it? (I’ll work on that.)

So this Microsoft Rewards quest thingie was thankfully the kick in the ass I needed. I fired up Scarlet Nexus and quickly remembered how much I’d enjoyed the demo. It didn’t take long to earn an Achievement to get the Rewards points, but I didn’t stop there. Now I’ve been playing it for a couple nights and my intent, as of right now, is to finish it. Tomorrow that intent may change, what with me being me.

I particularly enjoy Scarlet Nexus while wearing headphones with the sound cranked up. I’m finding the music a delight, even though it is not really in my wheelhouse. The whole anime vibe of the game is enjoyable too, and the Others (the monsters you fight) are delightfully weird.

None of this is news to anyone. We all played the demo, and a good number of us enjoyed it, at least based on my Twitter circles.

So this whole post is really just a cautionary tale about waiting too long to play the Game Pass games you want to play. Don’t be like me, sitting here with my crushed Final Fantasy XII dreams…

I’ll come back to actually playing Scarlet Nexus in a future post. Maybe.