People might be familiar with Idea Factory and its visual novels like “Hakuoki” and “Amnesia”; while Compile Heart as the guys behind the Neptunia games. In the case of the later, their games usually have cute girls going on adventures, and they continue their tradition with Mary Skelter: Nightmares, though this time the adventures aren’t as cute as the protagonists. This humble server’s bad jokes aside, both companies brought something quite entertaining to the Vita table with this dungeon crawler RPG.
From the official site:
“The Jail was a being – a living prison. The young boy, Jack, and his longtime friend, Alice, were brutally tortured as prisoners by the mysterious Marchens. Each day brought about its own forms of madness. The two kept their sanity by supporting each other and promising that one day they would escape from this hell alive.
As if mocking their promise, the torturing they received intensified as the days went on. Just when their bodies and souls were about to break, and when the hopes they had kept alive were close to shattering, a young girl appeared with a pair of giant scissors dripping with pink blood. You’re the ones I’ve been looking for!””
Years ago, the Jail appeared out of nowhere in the middle of Tokyo, growing its roots through the city, corrupting it and burying it 666 meters underground, dooming people to a life of darkness. The Jail feeds from the torturing humans locked in it suffer by the hands of the Marchen, monsters whose purpose is to fulfill the Jail’s desires: hunger, sleep and libido. After Jack and Alice are rescued, they join Dawn (an organization whose goal is to escape the Jail) and become members of the Blood Team.
Which is a special group formed by Blood Maidens, girls with special abilities whom become powerful after entering in contact with Marchen blood, Alice finding out she’s one of them. As the story progresses, they will meet other Blood Maidens, allies and shady characters as they fight their way out of Jail and finally take humanity to the surface.
Compile Heart took care to integrate these aspects of the story into the core gameplay, and as previously mentioned. The Jail is sentient and has desires that must be fulfilled: fight and splatter blood to satiate its Hunger, find treasures or emotion points to calm its Libido and avoid battles or don’t get hurt for it to Sleep soundly; when you fill one of its desire gauges the Jail grants you a perk that can range from items and gold to delaying the Nightmare or discovering a secret area of the dungeon.
This being a dungeon crawler RPG you are meant to explore the vast dungeons jail offers: each one is about five or so areas of varying sizes, some are 20×20 while others may be massive, so you’ll have plenty to do if you’re a map completionist. However random battles are not the only threat around the corner, as those places are filled with traps and puzzles that you have to avoid and solve, but what makes Mary Skelter: Nightmares unique is that traps all work in real-time, so forget about getting surprise traps hitting you out of nowhere, these throw the punches, and you must evade them from the get-go.
All of that pertains to the mechanics regarding dungeons, but the next chunk is regarding gameplay mechanics with the characters: Jack and the Blood Maidens. Exploring and battle is done in first-person view, but your team consists of and five Blood Maidens. Each girl represents a type of job/character found in RPGs (Alice is more akin to the Paladin line while Thumbelina follows the Mage path).
However, they have other jobs they can change into proven you have Job Rights and the amount required of Blood Crystals, the former gained after reaching certain levels and the later through battles. Each job has a weapon the girl can equip, its own unique stats and skills; the fun part comes when you unlock the job and have the skills available, as you can take skills from already-unlocked jobs and assign them to your current job, making interesting things like a Berserker with healing abilities.
When in battle, hitting Marchens or Nightmares with certain skills makes them splatter blood! And when it happens, some of it goes onto the girls, filling a gauge: you can have one girl lick the blood from another to empty it and gain certain perks. Such as healing or evasion boosts, or let the gauge fill completely and enter into Massacre Mode, which raises their stats and gives them access to certain skills only accessible during that state. Furthermore, when killing an enemy in Massacre mode the blood splatters may heal and refill the girl’s MP.
“It’s too good to be true” so you may think, and it is: too much blood on the girls, critical hits or elemental weakness hits raises the girls’ Corruption levels, tainting their blood gauge darker, and the darker it is the more chances of going into Blood Skelter mode, essentially a Berserker mode that can turn fights on the ugly side pretty fast; here enters Jack, who, while not an active fighter, purifies the girls’ Corruption with his blood and can even take them out of Blood Skelter. However, his blood isn’t infinite, and if he uses much of it, he gets stunned and won’t be able to act…And if it happens twice in a battle, he’ll be knocked out for the rest of the encounter, so be careful when using his blood with the Mary Gun.
Now onto the big guys: the Nightmares. In each dungeon, there is one Nightmare working as a boss. Even so, what makes this boss different is that it isn’t locked in his hideout; rather, it roams around and about, and it is quite possible for you to encounter it before actually having to fight it. Whenever a Nightmare is close, you can hear its screeches and growls from the direction it is you can see its dark aura if you’re relatively close. So if you’re really close to it, your whole surroundings go dark, and if you encounter it prepare for one hell of a jump scare.
At this stage if you encounter a Nightmare a Murder Hunt begins: the boss is unkillable at this point so you gotta run for it; but wait! Your map disappears (on Normal and Horror difficulty). Everything is dark, traps are still working, and random battles are still a thing. So you can get caught in one, in which case they’re called Booked Battles and you can’t escape them. So your only option is to kill whatever is in the way before the Nightmare reaches you and attacks you as well. As a last resort, you can fight it and destroy one of its parts to stop it and buy some time, but that’s as far as you can do. All of this helps to create a great deal of tension whenever you’re exploring an area and all these signs start to show up, and when escaping from certain ass-kicking.
Next up is the dating sim part of the game because yes, you can have a waifu (or all of the waifus!) in Mary Skelter: Nightmares. Each girl has an affection stat that you can check on in Jack’s Room, and you raise it by giving the girls gifts that they like or decorations for their rooms. Of course, the girls have their tastes and giving them something they dislike lowers their affection. So once a certain threshold is reached you get an event with the girl, these can be at the Liberated District or a dungeon, so you got to look for them. Once you see them; you’re treated with a special CG, which I won’t describe to keep the surprise.
On sounds and visuals, the Visual Novel parts of the game are pretty: decent backgrounds, animated sprites, double audio options. The dungeons are colorful and bizarre, fit the overall feel of the game, albeit can become repetitive on later areas and some of the music tracks can become annoying as time passes. Unfortunately, and as much as I’m having fun with the game, there are a few downsides to it. First and foremost is a glitch present in an area of Downtown dungeon, where the AI for the Nightmare is much more aggressive in its patrolling of the area and Murder Hunts are more frequent.
There is a section in said floor with jumping panels, and it may happen that you could be in the middle of a jump above a chasm and bam, a Murder Hunt happens and stop you in midair, effectively making you fall into the pit. It happened to me, got hurt and back on the last spot I fell from, but for this user in GameFAQs it gave him a Game Over, which makes me wonder if there was some sort of retcon for the game over screen from the original Japanese release.
After all this issue the next one seems like nothing, but enemies sort of lack variety in their own areas. Most of them will be recolors from the first monsters you encountered on the first area with some design quirks to differentiate them, more often than not even sharing elemental weaknesses. That said, Marchens are quite different from one area to another, and Nightmares have very well-earned their names, design-wise.
Other downside is Blood Crystals being the universal material for everything in this game: want to unlock a job? Blood Crystals, want to upgrade equipment? Blood Crystals, Want to add skill slots to a girl? Blood Crystals, Devolution? And so on and so forth. Normally this wouldn’t be an issue, but certain Blood Crystals are almost rare drops, particularly the one with Rh+ and Rh-, so this scarcity of materials feels like a padding or fake extension of the game to make you try and farm them.
Finally, I got a pet peeve with the frequency you can change jobs. You get Job Rights every 10 levels, so if you change into another job and only had one Job Right you’re stuck with it for a while, and the game still charges you Job Rights to change back into previously unlocked jobs, so even if you just get jobs to unlock their skills you’re going to have some grinding and devolving to do. Oh, and you can have only one Devolution Right at a time
In other words, think carefully how far you want to go back, because sooner or later you will have to devolve to get more Job Rights if you want to unlock’em all for each girl. Ah, and while talking about the girls, the dating sim part of the game felt somewhat bare, since you only raise affection with the Blood Maidens by throwing gifts at them and seeing their events. Wished there was a bit more to it, like affection growing by keeping your waifu in the party, but alas.
In conclusion, while not a perfect game Mary Skelter: Nightmares is an engaging experience that will give you plenty of hours to experiment with classes, equipment and rubbing blood on your favorite girls. Your money and time will be best invested in this title.
+ Long game overall
+ Pretty visuals in the VN parts and some scary Nightmares as well
+ Gameplay mechanics allow you to play with team compositions
+ Dungeons are big, with several areas each. Some may reach almost 50×50
+ Likeable characters despite being archetypical in certain regards
+ Lewd CGs uncensored
+ Fantastic opening and dual audio English/Japanese
– Downtown area seems to be the buggiest one
– Areas in each dungeon tend to look sort of the same
– It takes quite a bit of work to unlock all of the girls’ jobs due to the requirements
– Blood Crystals being the universal material for any kind of development on top of drop frequency
– Monster recolors
Replay value: 4/5
The dungeon RPG genre might not be everyones cup of tea, but “Mary Skelter: Nightmare” has a something that makes you play the game over and over again until you have spent +60 hours on the game (yes, just like that). From exploring the dungeons to getting stuff to raise your favorite girl’s affection you’ll find yourself with something to do while the plot progresses with each finished chapter. So in overall, “Mary Skelter: Nightmares” is a great addition to the Vita library. Oh, and there’s a set of free DLC and two themes up for grabs, so don’t forget to get those up too.
Title: Mary Skelter: Nightmares
Developer: Idea Factory/Compile Heart
Format: PS Vita
Genre: Dungeon RPG
Resolution: Vita standard
Release date: 2017-09-19 (NA), 2017-09-22 (EU)
Spent time: +61 hours
Average grade internationally: 73.33% Gamerankings.com
PEGI/ESRB age rating: PEGI 16/M
Disclaimer: Code provided by Play-Asia.
Robin Ek – Editor
The Gaming Ground
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