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Scarlet Nexus secretly features some of 2021’s most complex characters

Bandai Namco successfully sold Scarlet Nexus as an anime-inspired action RPG featuring a unique “brainpunk” world, satisfying hack-and-slash gameplay, and a lovable cast of characters. Even with its emphasis on characters, though, I didn’t realize how complex the cast was at first glance. It wasn’t until I watched the game’s slew of “bond episodes” that I truly appreciated just how fully realized each one’s arc truly was.

Bonding moment

Bond episodes, aka the side stories that take place between the main chapters of the game, flesh out relationships between characters outside of the plot. They’re essentially sidequests that give players some rewards and flesh out each character with additional dialogue. Despite being optional, it’s highly recommended to play through them considering that bond levels strengthen team members with unlockable skills.

There’s just one problem. The bond episodes aren’t that special — at least, not at first.

hanabi and yuito bond episode 1

Some scenes are just plain awkward or don’t make much sense. One time, one of my characters called another out to talk and then downright insulted them before leaving in a way that can only be excused in a B-tier anime. Others engage in seemingly pointless conversations. At one point in the plot, two teams split up into opposing sides where one side is trying to kill one of the two main characters. But characters on separate teams, even when they are fighting to kill each other, act like there are no hard feelings during the bond episodes. “Sorry that my friend tried to kill you, but let’s chill in a café together.” Huh?

In short, these cringe-inducing interactions didn’t leave a good first impression. I judged them as a poor attempt at copying Persona’s social links or the support conversations from Fire Emblem a shallowly duplicated trend gone wrong. However, after a certain point, the bond episodes actually start to get good. The themes of the episodes started to tie together.

yuito activates gemma sas ability

Yuito and Gemma have one of my most favorite bond episodes. Their relationship starts with lighthearted attempts at helping Gemma feel younger again and deals with his conflicted feelings toward retirement. Those scenes evolve into a bigger story that addresses feelings of loss and grief, then adds some world-building to boot. Gemma finds out about a retired friend who was shipped off and slaughtered because he wasn’t seen as useful anymore after retirement. In a bittersweet finale, he finds out that he helped his friend= find peace before his death and decides to enjoy his own retirement for the both of them.

Bond episodes also differ between Yuito and Kasane for the same characters they interact with, so you get to know them through two different lenses if you play both routes. After all, these protagonists’ backgrounds and personalities differ enough that they would have separate relationships with all the cast members. In Kasane and Gemma’s bond episodes, Gemma addresses the guilt he feels about her sister’s death and failing her as a leader. That’s just one example of many satisfying bond episodes that come after seemingly rehashed clichés and strange pacing.

hanabi and yuito in their final bond episode

Don’t give up

Gifts also tie into bond episodes. For example, Shiden likes photography and lightning, which his bond episodes directly address with his view on his powers and admiration of Captain Seto. It makes sense that one of the presents Kasane can give him is a photograph of a lightning strike. Meanwhile, Hanabi happily accepts gifts that don’t necessarily relate to her bond episodes, but still make her out to be a multifaceted character. She likes fashion magazines, candles, and gym bottles, which imply that she has a range of interests like a real person. Most importantly, they don’t strictly adhere to a character archetype.

The care the developers took to craft these characters eventually manifests. It almost makes the bumpy middle few bond episodes forgivable. Almost.

Make no mistake: Scarlet Nexus could have done better with its bond episodes. However, it successfully built its characters past surface-level clichés. If you fell off the game because of the tiresome bond episodes, this is your reminder that maybe you should try again. There’s hidden depth to them that makes its characters shine in the end.

Scarlet Nexus is available for PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X/S. It also has two DLC packs for sale, in case you’re interested in even more bond episodes.

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