The fairy tales that many of us grew up with throughout the years have been told in many forms, ranging from child friendly to even more twisted than the originals. Both Western and Japanese developers have had their fair share of these stories and Mary Skelter: Nightmares happens to pull slightly from these fairy tales while also delivering its own take on the first person dungeon crawler. Is this combination one worth picking up?
Many years prior to the start of the game a mysterious event created a living breathing prison that engulfed an entire city and sank it into the abyss. The residents of this city now found themselves inside of what would eventually be called the Jail, a living dungeon that is capable of consuming both living and unloving material to further its growth. To make matters worse, this Jail became home to terrifying Marchens, demonic beings that used to be animals and humans before succumbing to the Jail.
The story begins with two teenagers named Jack and Alice who have just undergone their latest bout of torture at the hands of the Marchens though much to their surprise this would be the last time they would have to endure such a hardship. A girl calling herself Red Riding Hood manages to free Alice, Jack, and other prisoners in their block from the Marchens and informs the pair that Alice has the same capabilities that Red does, the ability to become a Blood Maiden.
Once free Alice and Jack are led by Red to the current bastion of humanity inside the Jail where an organization called Dawn is seeking out a way to escape from Jail. With the Blood Maidens being the only ones capable of actually harming the Marchens Alice, Red, and others like them will lead the charge but Jack happens to be a bit more than your standard male tag along. Instead Jack happens to have the ability to calm the tainted blood of the Blood Maidens, preventing them from being overwhelmed with the corruption that comes with their powers, allowing them to avoid entering Blood Skelter, a state that guarantees a maiden’s death and death to all those around her.
The story for Mary Skelter: Nightmares may take a bit of time to pick up the pace but players will quickly find themselves getting into the swing of things and working to advance the story to see what will happen next, though be prepared for plenty of downtime in-between large events and don’t expect an exceptionally well written plot here either. Players will eventually find their party expanded with characters such as Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, and many more as the roster grows, allowing players for more freedom when it comes to creating a party and more interactions with the cast.
Many of these interactions can be found through side activities that help expand the personalities of the girls when Jack visits them in their rooms and gives them various gifts to raise their affection levels. These may seem rather superficial in nature though actually raising a girl’s affection to the max is rather easy but it does help give the story a little extra meaning and players a chance to interact with their favorite girls.
It is also worth noting that thanks to Jack’s personality and eagerness to protect those precious to him and make use of his abilities in combat even though he is far weaker than the rest of the group, allows him to be handled far better than your average male lead who tends to be inserted into these types of games.
Mary Skelter: Nightmares’ basic elements are fairly straightforward when it comes to traversing the dungeons that make up the Jail. Players will explore through first person while uncovering more of the map as they travel along, finding treasure chests, gathering points, and avoiding various traps along the way. There are a few little tidbits here and there such as portals to teleport you through areas, chains to cross that involve a balancing game, and even a desire system that gives the player the ability to satisfy the dungeon’s three needs through combat and exploration. When one of these gauges is filled a simple roulette appears to give the player a bonus of sorts, all while taking part in combat against numerous Marchens.
One place that the game does differ quite a bit comes in the form of Nightmares. These Nightmare creatures can appear at any time while you are exploring a dungeon and will hunt your party down until you manage to get far enough away. Attempting to fight the Nightmare is impossible until a certain requirement in a dungeon is met and until this is done, players can only stall these Nightmares by damaging limbs that will recover very quickly. Failing to escape will lead to constant damage to the party, even more so if you happen to be in combat against smaller enemy types.
Once you do find yourself in combat players will find a decent amount of mechanics to mess around with. First we have Jack who cannot attack enemies directly but does have the ability to use an item, gather blood, purify one of the girls, attempt to run from combat, or protect a specific girl from one hit of damage. Managing Jack’s blood gauge as well as his life can be a bit tricky as his ability to take a hit for one of the blood maidens tends to leave him stunned for a few turns, but this can also be a major turning point that allows one of your party to avoid a killing blow.
As for the standard party the blood maidens can dish out standard attacks while also performing devastating skills that can target an enemy’s elemental weakness, buff party members or debuff the enemy, as well as heal your team. Whenever an enemy is overkilled or hit with their weakness a spray of Marchen blood will splatter across the area and land on the blood maidens, allowing them to fill up a blood meter. When this blood meter is filled the girls can enter a Massacre state that gives them an all-around boost to their stats, a special skill that can be used, and even some health and SP regeneration, though if you do not wish to enter this state it is also possible for one girl to “lick” the blood off of one of the other blood maidens in the party, healing the licking girl and providing a buff while decreasing the blood gauge of the licked girl.
While the Massacre state can prove to be a powerful tool, it is also another element that players will need to keep an eye on. As the blood maidens fight they will be corrupted and if they happen to reach a critical state, as shown by their blood gauge growing darker as it fills, they will enter Blood Skelter mode, triggering a transformation where their clothing is reduced and they go on a rampage attacking friend and foe alike. It is possible for Jack to purify a blood maiden from this state though it does require a massive amount of blood to do so and can quickly lead to a game over if it occurs at a bad time.
It is also worth noting that players will need to keep an eye on their saves in this title as it is entirely possible to go for quite some time without saving. This is due to saving being only available at specific spots, though this tends to be avoided most of the time thanks to special skills unique to each blood maiden. While most girls have abilities to damage parts of the Jail to reveal hidden paths Alice is capable of creating a “rabbit hole” that not only allows for teleportation back to the main hub where you can purchase and sell items as well as upgrade weaponry and armor through crystals dropped by Marchens, but also save at any time. This is a highly useful skill but it does mean that if Alice is not in your party, either due to story reasons or wanting to use other blood maidens, you’ll need to keep a close eye on your status to avoid losing progress.
It is interesting to note that there is a touch mini-game that is also included in Mary Skelter: Nightmares though it is kept to a minimum if you happen to not prefer fan-service. This mini-game makes use of Jack’s ability to purify the blood maidens while also providing stat boosts. The fan service is kept to a fairly small level here as the blood maidens are still covered up quite a bit during the rubbing game, especially compared to other games that feature such a touching type of mechanic.
Visuals & Audio
One of the best elements in Mary Skelter: Nightmares happens to be the way that the game’s aesthetic is handled. The darker and more twisted nature of the dungeons players explore inside of the Jail and the designs of the enemies that you encounter, especially the incredibly creepy Nightmares, are outstanding. Along those same lines the character designs are highly detailed, with girls even getting special outfits when swapping between jobs and the fan service level is balanced nicely here, with the most revealing elements tending to be the most dangerous for the player at the same time.
This game does feature an English dub for those who want to play with that option and thankfully the English cast does do an exceptional job here with their roles. That being said there are a number of unvoiced lines though this does appear to be similar to the Japanese counterpart. The soundtrack for the game also features a great selection of tracks that work quite well, with the dungeon themes standing out as being perfect when accompanied with their creepy visual design.
Mary Skelter: Nightmares brings just enough to the table in the way of different mechanics to make it a dungeon crawler worth checking out, especially with the designs of the Jail and although the story may not really hold up too well, the character interactions do tend to be quite enjoyable. With solid combat mechanics forming the foundation, Mary Skelter: Nightmares comes together to be an enjoyable dungeon crawler with a bit of a darker theme to it that will please fans looking for something a bit different but still familiar.