Mary Skelter: Nightmares Review

Game Title: Mary Skelter ~ Nightmares
Developer: Compile Heart / Idea Factory International
Platform: PlayStation Vita
Download: 2.9 GB
Availability: Retail / Digital Download
PSTV Support: Yes

I’ve had a strange relationship with the First-Person Dungeon RPG genre, or commonly referred to a DRPGs. Along with Tactical RPGs, I like them, but I can’t get into them all the time, like I can with Action RPGs and traditional turn-based RPGs. Because of this, I have not played and reviewed a lot of the DRPGs available on the PS Vita, like the New Tokyo Legacy games, despite reviewing others well, like Demon Gaze and Death under the Labyrinth’s localization.

There has been one DRPG I have actually been looking forward to from Idea Factory International. And that is Mary Skelter, which had a very unique look and appeal with its darker setting and art style. It is finally time to jot down my thoughts for you all. Here is my PS Vita and PSTV review of Mary Skelter: Nightmares!

Story

Mary Skelter takes place in an undisclosed city of Japan after it is hit by a disaster. After hit by a disaster, the citizens are left stranded in a deformed city controlled by a giant, living tower known as “The Jail” and Marchens, monsters formed from fallen humans. With little ability to fight off the monsters, citizens are left running for their lives or captured and tortured until death.

The plot surrounds two survivors of the Marchens’ torture. Jack and Alice, whome are childhood friends and carry within themselves special blood that enables them to fight back against the monsters. After being recruited by a group of “Blood Maidens” who also share the ability to fight back, Jack and Alice assist them in trying to take out the tower so everyone can escape from their prison.

The story of Mary Skelter is unique because it is so different from all of the other DRPGs I have played. MeiQ was about Maidens fighting off a recurring evil threat, while Demon Gaze was about a man recruiting demons in a fantasy world. Mary Skelter takes the post-apocalypse scenario of only a single city falling to these strange monsters and the uniqueness of basing each Heroine off of famous folklore women, like Princess Kaguya and Thumbelina, really helps Mary Skelter stand out.

Gameplay

The gameplay of DRPGs rarely moves that far from the formula, no matter which game you play, and Mary Skelter maintains that trend. At its core, the game is a first-person dungeon crawler where you go from your base of operations to dungeons, explore the dungeons, go back, and repeat the process. While it does have its own unique features, the basic DRPG formula is here, like many others of the genre.

The main point of Mary Skelter is to clear dungeons, though the dungeons of the game are all intertwined. As you explore the City Streets dungeon, you will find exits to other dungeons, creating the feeling that it is one giant world that you can explore in first-person rather than individual stages. Think the kind of progression from games like Mega Man ZX or Kirby and the Amazing Mirror, but with warp points in each dungeon to prevent needless backtracking.

Actual dungeon exploration is pretty simple. You move in a grid-like manner as you explore each square of the dungeon, fighting enemies while finding hints, opening locked doors, and eventually making your way to the next story segment so you can recruit more party members, take down bosses, and see more of the game’s story.

Dungeon Exploration is further expanded with character abilities and Dungeon Mood Swings. Each recruitable character has a special ability used for clearing away new paths for you to explore. These are both required, but there are also a lot of paths that are optional and only available until you gain new party members in later dungeons. There is also Dungeon Mood Swings, where the dungeon will go through emotional shifts as you explore it, giving you various positive or negative effects. Using emotion points in the dungeons can help you manipulate these, especially if you are about to go into a boss fight.

As far as characters go, all playable characters are story-based and recruited, but maintain a significant amount of customizability and depth to them. Every character comes with their own class, which has its own sets of skills, be it inflicting status ailments, buffing and healing, or powerful elemental attacks. As they grow, however, you can change their jobs to other classes in case you don’t want Red Riding Hood to be your healer or if you want Thumbelina to go from your Spellcaster to your Archer.

Combat is a bit unique as well. The way the story goes, all Blood Maidens are slowly corrupted as they use their powers and can enter elevated Berserker states called Massacre Mode where they become significantly stronger and Blood Skelter where they become unaware of who is friend or foe, attacking enemies and allies at will. Just as much strategy goes into managing corruption as fighting off enemies. You will have to use the main character’s abilities to watch and lower corruption so Blood Skelter does not come up and wipe out your party.

Before going out of this section, I’ll mention the fanservice mini-game that game has. Lowering Corruption in dungeons will eventually unlock a mini-game that resembles the Torture Mini-Game from the Criminal Girls series. It shows the girls in a sexual pose while you “rub” blood on them to free them of corruption. These fanservice sections pop in once per character and really felt like they weren’t needed. The game’s plot and story scenes really don’t set a tone that would call for NSFW material, so it really felt like this feature was just put in there so the game would have fanservice for the sake of having fanservice.

All of these elements slowly grow across the game’s journey, and speaking of that journey we should talk about the game’s length. The game does progress quickly, but the dungeons get longer the further along you go. If you play on the Easy or Normal difficulties, the game can easily last 30-40 hours, counting story progression and inevitable grinding you do for difficulty spikes.

Controls

Controlling the game is not diffiult, and they make it easy for you. Before going into anything else, the game has a great way of accessing control help. If you stop doing button inputs for a few seconds, you get a prompt at the top corner that has you hit Select to view controls. This is a great feature, especially since some games of this type have no real tutorial or controls explanation.

As far as controls go, you use the D-Pad or the Left Analog Stick to move in menus and to navigate dungeons. L and R are used for strafing (L1 and R1 on the PlayStation TV). And then the face buttons. X is used for interacting with objects while Circle lets you use a field ability. Triangle pulls up the customization menu, and Square pulls up the map for quick-travel.

As I said before, the game is simple to learn and if you forget, that Select Prompt for not doing any input for a few seconds really helps.

Presentation

Visually, DRPGs are mostly 2D in nature, with cutscenes having VN properties and enemies in dungeons having hand-drawn sprites. Compile Heart has been known to switch this formula up, and they do in this game as well.

Graphically, the environments are more 3D and all of the battle effects and monster sprites are in 3D. These models look pretty decent, with very little to no jagged edges anywhere, and the battle animations look very sharp from the fire spell explosions to the explosions of blood when an enemy is defeated.

Performance I have no real issue with. Load Times are quick, fps stays steady throughout the entire game, and the optimization on both the Vita and PSTV runs well.

 

Summary

In conclusion, Mary Skelter is a fun DRPG with a darker tone that DRPGs seldom dive into. While the fanservice feature really feels out of place, the game's art style, unique features, and interesting story will be plenty to draw in fans of the genre and fans of RPGs in general.

9/10

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