REVIEW: Mary Skelter: Nightmares

Wednesday, October 4th, 2017

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Mary Skelter: Nightmares | Jack

Jack is the erstwhile hero, but he’s really only useful to stand in front of the girls or bleed on them.

The concept of having a male character that acts as the player surrogate but has a group of girls fighting for him is not new, it is certainly a feature of the dungeon crawler Moe Chronicle from the same developers. But Jack (of the Beanstalk fame) is a little better than most other examples, and a little worse. The way in which he is better is that he actually has more functions as a member of the party. Sure, he cannot attack in any manner other than using attack Items. But what he can do is either step in front of a specific girl to take the next blow from an enemy (and becoming stunned for his trouble), or more importantly he can spray his blood on a Maiden in order to reduce her blood corruption and prevent her from entering the Blood Skelter state. Later on, after he upgrades his blood gun, he can also restore some SP to the maidens to make dungeon crawling without coming back out to town much easier. Where Jack is a worse example is that he tends to have even less backbone than other harem protagonists, and acts even younger than the embarrassing wealth of high school heroes that are so common coming out of Japan. That’s not to say he doesn’t have redeeming qualities, but he is very unlikely to be a very good surrogate for most gamers who are going to play this game. And he is almost definitely not going to be the primary appeal, that is going to be the Blood Maidens themselves.

Mary Skelter: Nightmares | Interactions

The visual novel style interactions are interesting, especially if you like fairy tales.

The Blood Maidens are as follows; Alice, Red Riding Hood, Thumbelina, Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, Gretel, Rapunzel, Cinderella, Kaguya, and Hameln. Of those fairy tale archetypes, possibly the only two that most Westerners will not recognize are Kaguya and Hameln. Hameln is actually the town featuring the fairy tale of the Pied Piper, and Kaguya is a famous princess of Japanese legend, worth becoming acquainted with if you’ve never heard of her before. There is a reason all these fairy tale characters have come to life in this gothic world of the Jail, but stating why they exist would obviously involve extreme spoilers. It does create some interesting tensions in how they interact with each other, though, because all these different fairy tales have quite a wide array of personalities and purposes. Initially I was a bit put off by how Western centric all the fairy tales were, as someone who studies world mythology and fairy tales, but with the rest of the setting being so Western Gothic (in a very Tim Burton way) it ended up fitting fairly well.

Mary Skelter: Nightmares | Massive Nightmares

Thankfully there were only two massive Nightmare fights, because they were super annoying.

My first issue with the game was that even though all the girls were fairly well written, there was not enough attention paid to why they existed in the first place and the repercussions of their existence. It was revealed and it was discussed, but not in a way that seemed at all realistic emotionally. That also extends to the real final bad creature in the game, I saw that coming from Chapter 1 or 2. So it was zero surprise when I reached Chapter 8/Final Chapter. But I can forgive it being a little obvious since that’s not what dungeon crawler games are really about, they are not even really about the story. They are mostly a grind fest for people who love grindy RPGs. That being said, other modern examples have done those things better. Also regarding the final boss, you can potentially not even get to fight him until you come up with a very specific sequence of events, one of them being clear back in Chapter 3. If you reach the last boss without doing all the events and without being able to pick out the correct clues from a sequence of several questions, then it will send you back to a time before, so you can do it again. It should also be noted that you cannot get the good ending for the Maiden you want unless she has maxed affection, you defeat the real final boss, and you have upgraded your blood gun to its highest level. So some people may find that a bit too hardcore or esoteric for them.

Mary Skelter: Nightmares | Bloody Dungeons

Spend enough time grinding in one place and dungeons become quite the pink mess.

The music for the game is pretty good, each dungeon having its own theme and a separate boss theme, Nightmare theme, and battle theme. In general the music matches the Tim Burton gothic chic aesthetic pretty well. But like most dungeon crawlers, once I reached around 8-10 hours in the same dungeon I was usually putting on some different music in the background for me to listen to. So the music wasn’t anything spectacular. Unfortunately the English voice acting has to go into that category as well. Some of the English voice actresses really did not match their characters very well, and I suspect that may have something to do with the SAG Voice Actor strike. There wasn’t anything horrible, but they just weren’t nearly as good as the Japanese. So once I had heard enough of the English I switched to the Japanese (which comes with the game) and enjoyed the characters more. Switching to the Japanese also made me notice that it seems like there is a lot more Japanese voice acting in the game than English. Perhaps it’s just where I switched over, but many sequences that weren’t voiced in English seemed to be voiced in Japanese. All around it ended up being more fun that way and all the characters reminded me of the caricatured girls of the Japanese classic horror movie HouseĀ (Nobuhiko Obayashi, 1977), a movie that I really love.

Mary Skelter: Nightmares | Censorship

The fact that this game made it here uncensored is a huge deal for me, and builds more respect for IFI.

There were a couple translation errors and poor grammar, there was also an entry or two on the Monster Compendium that were not translated from Japanese, but those are pretty minor things that really didn’t impact my enjoyment of the game. And they were more than balanced by the fact that we actually received this game from the developers in an uncensored and uncut state. With the rubbing game (infamous in games like Moe Chronicle) and the scantly clad girls when they go into Blood Skelter state, there was every reason we either wouldn’t get this game or that it would be butchered. But Idea Factory kept to their word and gave it to us intact. Unfortunately there is one issue with the game that I suspect has more to do with the PS Vita than with Idea Factory. I understand that this niche genre is very fit for handheld play, but there is a disadvantage in the processing power of a handheld system (notwithstanding the Switch, which comes with it’s own issue of getting content past the Nintendo nanny). There is a little bit of slow responsiveness sometimes when there is a lot of action on the screen, and often you can totally skip a required enemy interaction if some random dungeon event happens at the same time, but these are fairly simple concerns.

Of larger concern is the auto pathing limitations of the game, particularly in the last few dungeons. The game has a real difficulty auto pathing you back to a point of your choosing if there are possible hazards in the way or if you even enter a room with a pit in it. But then it will ignore other potential traps that could possibly take off a massive amount of health. Worst of all is the issue with the final dungeon (the one that you can enter only after beating the final story boss and have rolled the main game credits) auto-pathing. The final dungeon is simply the largest dungeon I’ve ever played in a dungeon crawler, which is a good thing, don’t get me wrong. I did enjoy taking 4-6 hours to completely map out a single floor in a dungeon. But the maps were so massive that not only was it very difficult to orient your very small cursor to where other places in the dungeon were, but auto pathing was almost impossible there and twice when I attempted it the game simply locked up because the dungeon was too complex and large for the game to compute.

Mary Skelter: Nightmares | Many Girls

I only was able to use 5 of the girls actively and only saw 1 of the good endings.

It could be said that like it’s a fair amount of criticisms for one game. But this game is still going to get a pretty high score from me because it was always a lot more fun than it was a hassle due to any of the issues. And there is a ton of game here to love that is built from the ground up to appeal to fans (like myself) of this very niche genre. There is also an enormous amount of replay in this game even after the 115 hours that I’ve already spent in it. I completed every dungeon all the way through the secret floors, and you really need to if you are going to complete the game on anything but Easy. But even then I only really used 5 of the 10 characters in my party to save time, I never did more than a level 15 Devolution (out of a possible 80 levels), and I only saw the ending for Alice even though I had max affection for all 10 girls. So I would love to eventually go back and see all the other endings and truly make a 10 person powerhouse team that can destroy even the Hard difficult mode of this game. Is the game worth it’s $39.99? Of course, like any major dungeon crawler, you get a very long game out of that as long as grinding is your thing, or you at least don’t mind it. But even more than some other dungeon crawlers, this one brings some new ideas to the fold and has an extremely interesting aesthetic to keep you interested while diving those dungeons for hours upon hours. The post credits dungeon ends with the possibility of a continuation for the series, and I for one would love to see a sequel. Mary Skelter: Nightmares is a really good example of why we dungeon crawler fans keep on coming back to this genre and spending hundreds of hours each time.

Review Score

Review Copy Provided By The Publisher


About William Haderlie

Born in the 1970's, I've been an avid participant for much of video game history. A lifetime of being the sort of supergeek entrenched in the sciences and mathematics has not curbed my appreciation for the artistry of video games, cinema, and especially literature.

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