The following article contains spoilers for both Silent Hill 2 and Scarlet Nexus.
I don’t know whether Silent Hill 2 artist Masahiro Ito ever met the Scarlet Nexus team or, if they did, they asked him to hold their beer. But Scarlet Nexus’ monster design is so strikingly reminiscent of Konami’s survival horror that, for a die-hard like myself, it’s like going home.
I’m not suggesting Bandai Namco intentionally copied Silent Hill 2. This Japanese action RPG’s futuristic metropolis is as far removed from that title’s foggy town as you could get (though I’d still love a Silent Hill set in a major urban center). Instead, the similarity stems from the way both Silent Hill 2 and Scarlet Nexus’ enemies make use of sexual symbolism to put you on edge.
Silent Hill 2’s Bubble Head Nurse enemy is the most obvious example of this, but the Mannequin and the Abstract Daddy are similarly disconcerting. There’s an erotic element to each, but their grimy otherworldliness conflicts with this. Push-up bra or not, Silent Hill 2’s faceless nurse will happily bash your head in. And the Abstract Daddy might look very different to abuse survivor Angela Orosco, but to protagonist James Sunderland, it’s him and Maria/Mary going at it like rabbits. So there’s that brief microsecond, when you first cast your eyes upon it, where you’re not entirely sure what you’re meant to feel.
Scarlet Nexus goes out of its way to amplify that confusion, and at times, it’s hugely disconcerting. The sexual elements are more overt than in Silent Hill 2, though less so than the work of H.R. “Big Martian Wangers” Giger. It also benefits from having a world that’s not as grim as Giger’s.
“By combining the two things that seem to repel one another visually,” explained art director Kouta Ochiai, “we are able to effectively express to the players that the Others are the kind of incomprehensible creatures that are conceptually and mentally different from us humans.”
That’s certainly true of some of the game’s foes, the Others, which blend organic and non-organic elements. But where sexuality is pushed to the forefront, it really dials up the conflict between that and their alien nature. The second foe you fight resembles an underwear-clad mannequin, complete with stockings and corset.
But then you look again, and you realize it’s half-constructed from household objects; what you saw as stocking-clad legs are in fact umbrellas, minus their fabric covers. Even if your preferences don’t fall into that wheelhouse, your brain is still telling you that something’s not right here. You end up trying to reconcile the two images, but lacking the aforementioned Silent Hill and Giger-inspired gloom, it’s much harder to pigeonhole them.
And it’s not just the visual elements that Scarlet Nexus has dialed up; in Silent Hill 2 you’ve got time to think before the pipe-wielding nurse reaches you, but the brain-munching Others will have their teeth in your head before you can blink. Then, when you’ve finally mentally labeled the creature as an enemy, Scarlet Nexus throws another equally distracting foe at you.
Even the monsters’ names are distracting; they bear monikers like Scummy Pendu, Buddy Rummy, and so forth. “Scummy” is self-explanatory, but Pendu sounds like some kind of wide-eyed, fruit-munching creature you might see roaming around the rainforest. Abstract Daddy is an off-putting name, but while you had to search through Silent Hill 2’s strategy guide to find it, Scarlet Nexus’ monster names are in your face.
Unlike Silent Hill 2, Scarlet Nexus doesn’t really explain why its foes are the way they are or why so many of them are feminine or have feminine elements to them. The former’s monsters are molded by the mental state of the people who enter the town, which is why, after Mary’s illness canceled their sex life, his desire gives birth to the Bubble Head Nurse and her monstrous compatriots.
Here, even though it’s revealed that some of the Others are former people and animals, the exact nature of their transformation is kept a secret. But given the choice of receiving a potentially unsatisfying in-world reason or being kept in the dark, I’d choose the latter.
Scarlet Nexus’ monster design succeeds, whether or not the beasts were intentionally inspired by Silent Hill 2, as they utilize the same principles of attraction and repulsion. Even if you’ve leveled up to the point that you can annihilate low-level foes in a heartbeat, toting the kind of hardware that would make James Sunderland weep, it’s the conflict between these two sensations that prevents you from ever truly being at ease.
The way Scarlet Nexus accomplishes that without ever drowning you in gloom, making everything near monochrome, or pouring on a myriad of other visual tropes really is something. Team Silent would have been proud.