How Hayata Takeda’s Music Elevates Relationships in Scarlet Nexus
It doesn’t matter why we’re friends. Just make sure the music is good.
It is hard not to compare Scarlet Nexus to other games. Developer Bandai Namco Studios and producer Kenta Iizuka want you to think it’s some wholly unique creation. In a prerelease interview, Iizuka said that despite some Nexus team members having experience working on fellow Bandai Namco series God Eater, and “I myself personally love the idea of a futuristic world under threat and dark heroes who control forbidden powers”, I think this is where the similarities end.
Similarities are nothing to be ashamed of. Nier: Automata plays similarly to its PlatinumGames soul sister Bayonetta, but that doesn’t stop Nier from forging its own path with storytelling. Housemarque’s Returnal shares the high-octane action of Resogun, just as Detroit: Become Human’s core play style harkens back to Heavy Rain.
Scarlet Nexus, however, rubs shoulders with more than games under the Bandai Namco label. It self-defines as brainpunk, which taps into the same visual overload as games in the cyberpunk genre, with holographic advertisements and digitally produced barriers dotting the landscape. Its combo system boasts less of the Tekken or Bayonetta precision and more of the strategy of Astral Chain, with the main characters incorporating party member abilities with their own.
With that cast of characters also comes Persona-like “Bond” events. At break points throughout the story, protagonists Yuito and Kasane can share conversations with their teammates, strengthening their connections, and unlocking enhanced abilities. Like social links, these events provide exposition, helping to build relationships between characters who, despite being soldiers, fall into similar, high-school tropes as other anime.
Scarlet Nexus hits its marks on most of its gameplay beats. Unlike other action RPGs, the game doesn’t force players to traverse a sparsely populated open world. Nor does it over complicate the inventory system, limiting players characters to just a handful of stat-enhancing equipment instead of incorporating a tedious forgery mechanic.
The Bond events might be the game’s weakest link, as players are thrust into the story without establishing a reason to appreciate all of the soon-to-be party members. Where Persona games slowly craft a team out of some lovable outcasts and misfits, Scarlet Nexus opens up with what amounts to an entire class of characters who accompany the protagonists because they have to (they are soldiers, after all).
And while the game does a great job of swapping out party members to keep lineups fresh, it lacks sticking points — like saving Yosuke Hanamura from his shadow self in Persona 4 or developing Makoto’s social skills in Persona 5 — to make the gang feel relatable.
The game’s missing levity is rectified, however, by composer Hayata Takeda’s soundtrack, which blends all of the aforementioned gameplay nuances into a metamorphosing playlist of techno and jazz funk hits.
Is that you, Shoji Meguro?
Though Takeda is relatively new to the video game soundtracks — Scarlet Nexus is his debut role as lead composer — he manages to hit on the requisite ear worms needed in a 50-plus hour adventure. The game is set on a futuristic earth in which cities are largely devoid of greenery and imposing metal structures litter the sky. But rather than composing heavy handed hip-hop tracks or stifling rock melodies, Takeda leans on synthy house and jazz compositions that contrast with the world’s overarching sense of despair.
“A Sparkling Red Metropolitan,” the track for the city Suoh, is a lollygagging mix of whimpering synths and a handful of record scratches that plays up the city’s easy-going nature. Despite the presence of existential threats called Others, Suoh is portrayed to be well-protected by its armed forces, allowing for the carefree existence of its denizens.
The Musubi cafe earns a similar electronic arrangement, peppering in just enough bass plucks to add diversity without straying too far from the soundtrack’s status quo.
Takeda’s piano work is also adeptly implemented. When paired with less-synthy, more realistic horn samples, like that on the area theme for the construction site, it’s effective in sonically merging the area’s scenery of undeveloped dirt pits with the chunks of metal shooting into the sky.
Likewise, he knows when to drop the piano in favor of the electric organ, as he does on the hideout theme. Persona series composer Shoji Meguro indulged in the e-organ on the Persona 5 and Persona 5 Strikers soundtracks, using its fluctuating warble to ease the tension of the game’s ever-darkening story.
Here, Takeda uses the organ to similar effect at the hideout, which provides our protagonists a moment of solace amid worsening conflicts.
Even though Scarlet Nexus’ companion characters skirt the deep relationships of the Persona series, Takeda’s compositions help elevate the team’s companionship beyond casual acquaintances. These are tunes that contrast well with the game’s dreadful, scorched earth future, allowing calamitous songs like the electric guitar-heavy “Incompatible Thoughts” ring out.
Scarlet Nexus isn’t perfect at being each of the games it tries to be. You can find deeper combat, more customizable character growth, or a more meaningful story elsewhere. It does, however, package each of its systems up nicely, sealed by the bow that is Takeda’s catch-all soundtrack.