Join several fairy tale characters on a macabre journey to escape a living Jail in an exploration-filled dungeon crawler that will keep you hooked until the end.
Mary Skelter: Nightmares
Compile Heart/Idea Factory
Platform: PS Vita
MonsterVine was provided with a PS Vita copy for review.
Mary Skelter: Nightmares has a fascinating premise. It follows a boy named Jack and his friend Alice who are prisoners in a living underground prison known as the Jail. When a girl named Red Riding Hood breaks them free from their cells, she takes them to join the Dawn, a rebel organization fighting to escape the Jail once and for all.
Alice, Red Riding Hood, and the other party members (all of whom are based on fairy tale characters) are Blood Maidens, girls who can fight the Marchens, monsters that inhabit and guard the Jail. It is a dungeon crawler RPG, so you’ll spend the bulk of your time exploring vast, maze-like dungeons. Filled with treasure and traps, these large sections of the Jail can take quite a while to traverse, but shortcuts and an auto-walk feature remove the frustration from backtracking. You’re also rewarded for fulfilling the “desires” of the Jail through various tasks, which can reward you with anything from restoring health to unlocking a bonus floor of the dungeon.
From time to time, you’ll encounter Nightmares, invincible monsters that force you to flee in real-time chase sequences. These are always tense and nerve-wracking whenever they occur, if slightly annoying if they interrupt your progress. Regular encounters, meanwhile, are handled through turn-based battles. Your party members’ combat skills are tied to their current job class, and you can unlock new jobs by spending Blood Crystals your earn from battles. Best of all, you can mix-and-match skills from across jobs, which allows for some customization.
However, there is more to pay attention to in combat than just attacking enemies. When Blood Maidens are splattered with Marchen blood by hitting enemy weak points and dealing massive damage, they enter a powerful Massacre mode that increases their power and gives them access to special abilities. Alternately, they can lick Marchen blood from one another for bonuses such as restoring health or reducing magical damage. Taking a lot of damage during combat increases their Corruption, which can send them into Blood Skelter, a berserk condition where they attack friends and foes indiscriminately. Fortunately, the Dawn soon learns that Jack’s blood has the unique ability to bring someone out of Blood Skelter, and they equip him with a device called the “Mary Gun” so he can shoot his blood at his allies.
Jack is primarily a support character in combat. He can’t do much aside from guard the Blood Maidens, use items, and purge their Corruption. However, this is a critical role, and it adds a fun element of strategy to make sure you don’t let your party members go berserk.
Now, if you haven’t already noticed, Mary Skelter has a bit of an obsession with blood. There is even a blood-related fanservice mini-game where you rub Jack’s blood onto the Blood Maidens to increase their resistance to Corruption, although you can skip the mini-game part after doing it once. However, the bright pink blood featured in the game makes it much less gruesome than you’d expect.
In fact, for a game about escaping a horrific living prison, Mary Skelter is surprisingly upbeat at times. It has plenty of dark moments, but also numerous lighthearted scenes between Jack and the Blood Maidens. The story is told through visual novel-like conversations, and you can also give your party members gifts to increase their affection. For me, the most intriguing part of the story was the mystery surrounding the Dawn and another liberated group known as the Order of the Sun–it is immediately apparent that these factions both have secrets, and watching that unfold was nearly as much fun as exploring the dungeons. Finally, you can find novel pages scattered through the dungeons that unlock a bonus side story told in novel form, giving you a further look at the intriguing world of Mary Skelter.
The Final Word
Its fascination with blood aside, Mary Skelter is not nearly as dark of a game as it appears at first–but it’s certainly a fun one. If you love exploring maze-like dungeons, mixing and matching skills across character classes, and learning the secrets of a dark, mysterious world alongside a cast of fairy tale characters, Mary Skelter: Nightmares is worth a look.
– MonsterVine Review Score: 4.5 out of 5 – Great