Mary Skelter: Nightmares (PS Vita) Review

By Gabriel Jones 13.09.2017

Review for Mary Skelter: Nightmares on PS Vita

Welcome to the world beyond hope. A labyrinthine prison where Alice never found her Wonderland, nor did Cinderella ever attend the ball. Every moment is spent in fear. Fear of torture, fear of death, and the fear of losing whatever sanity that remains. Worst of all, the jail itself is a living creature, one that feeds off of the suffering of its captives. In the deepest recesses of this horrifying abomination, the "Blood Maidens" are attempting to break free. Why the foreboding name? Perhaps it's because these women harbour a dark secret. In Mary Skelter: Nightmares, the player must lead the aptly-named Blood Team through a twisted fairy tale.

There have been a lot of DRPG releases lately, haven't there? Fans of the genre, particularly Westerners, haven't had it this good in decades. Still, it's as they always say, not all games are created equal. Some stand out, others languish in mediocrity, and a few just aren't worth bothering with at all. It's a bit strange, really. One could argue that all a DRPG needs are some mazes to explore, monsters to battle, levels to gain, and gear to acquire. It shouldn't be too hard to design a masterful game with this blueprint. Then again, consider how often beat 'em ups and shmups miss their mark. What's simpler than punching people or shooting enemy ships?

Needless to say, with how much that can and will go wrong, sometimes the safe approach is best. Mary Skelter: Nightmares has some good ideas, a few unique twists on core elements, and will consume dozens of hours before one can shake free of its vice grip. It's also not quite as strategic or challenging as it lets on. After a long enough period of time, players will realize that they're just going through the motions. They want to fill out all of the maps, raise their stats to staggering levels, and crush monstrous beasts in as few moves as possible. It is comfort gaming, a palette cleanser when life is getting just a little too stressful.

Screenshot for Mary Skelter: Nightmares on PS Vita

Exploring the dungeon is a much more dynamic and involved part of the game than one would expect. Each floor is filled with an assortment of obstacles to overcome. Furthermore, everything is happening in real-time. Care must be taken to avoid shifting spike traps. Puzzles can sometimes involve pushing objects, or making use of the Blood Maiden's special powers. Red Riding Hood's scissors can cut through wire fences, or free treasures hidden inside the jail's innumerable organs. Cinderella is so fast that her feet barely touch the ground, which is necessary for crossing rotted planks that would normally collapse under a feather's weight.

Traversing the disturbed locales is made more difficult by the presence of nightmares. These fiends are practically invincible, and will periodically chase the Blood Team down. Fighting them is usually a futile effort, though there are special rewards for breaking off pieces of their body. Random encounters can occur while trying to escape, which further complicates things. The nightmares will gladly take pot-shots at the party, while they're trying to dispose of whatever is slowing them down.

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As is standard for the genre, combat is turn-based, with preference given to heroines and monsters with the highest agility. Though party members and their respective classes can be switched around, there's always one constant: blood. This is going to get redundant, so bear with me. Marchens, the monsters that regularly accost Blood Team, have a nasty habit of bleeding profusely. Critical hits, attacks that target the weak point, or overkills will result in large amounts of blood. All of this neon plasma will splatter on the heroines. When their respective gauge is filled, the Blood Maiden will enter Massacre mode on their next turn. This leads to increased damage and new special attacks.

However, Marchen blood can become corrupted, particularly if the Blood Maiden takes a lot of damage, or one of her companions falls in battle. If left unchecked, the corruption will cause her to enter a frenzied state known as Blood Skelter. Her strength spirals past the point of absurdity, but she loses control. Her next attack might wipe out the enemy party, or slaughter all of her friends. Jack, the one member of the team who doesn't actively participate in combat, uses a Mary gun. His special blood can counteract the corruption, but he only has so much to give at a time. In some cases, it might be a better idea to just lick the blood off. No, really, it actually works. Licking a partner clean offers numerous benefits such as health replenishment or stat buffs.

Screenshot for Mary Skelter: Nightmares on PS Vita

This might sound like a lot to absorb, but in practice it works very well. Since Jack never actually fights, he can focus on monitoring the blood gauge, or using items whenever they're needed. As long as everyone is kept relatively healthy and stable, Blood Skelter isn't much of a threat. That said, its presence does heighten the player's involvement in every battle. The benefits of a good licking are also worthwhile. Utilizing these aspects helps to give the game a very unique quality.

Each Blood Maiden has five classes available to them. In most cases they fall under the general description of melee, ranged, or spellcaster. There are some nuances to take into account. Certain classes might be better tuned for debuffs rather than straight-up nukes. Giving a fighter a giant hammer allows them to do more damage per turn, but they're liable to get less turns, due to the penalty to agility. Classes also have their own stat allocation and unique skills, which might not be ideal for some players. In this case, it's wise to make use of the class change system.


 
The class change and blood devolution sub-systems are very clever. Skills can be freely equipped to any class, but sometimes there aren't enough class points to unlock their full potential. Every level up awards a single class point, but there's also an incentive to level down. With blood devolution, a character can be taken back several levels, even starting over from the very beginning. However, they get some generous stat boosts as well as a stack of class points. These systems can't be abused to recreate a level 1 heroine with maxed out stats, buts the pros outweigh the cons.

The base is where everything from class changing to weapon upgrading gets taken care of. This is also where Jack can hand out gifts to all of his friends. Affection can go up or down depending on the gift. This has some effect on the ending, so be generous and mindful of your favourites. Numerous skits will play out depending on how much affection is achieved. These scenes wouldn't feel out of place in most anime produced nowadays. There's a surprising amount of "slice of life" content in this game about warriors that go into berserker rages, after getting soaked in the blood of their enemies.

Screenshot for Mary Skelter: Nightmares on PS Vita

Then, of course, there's the characterization, which tends to be suspect. Most of the main characters, like Jack, Alice, and Red Riding Hood, are decently written. Gretel is also pretty interesting, though her most memorable quality is her sadistic smile. Is she happy, or is she plotting somebody's death? It's hard to tell. However, there are a few who are one-dimensional, such as Sleeping Beauty. Sleeping Beauty is tired all of the time, and that's it. Well, okay… she also has large breasts. In one of the skits, they inexplicably smother Jack. This paragraph could have ended on a witty comment, but my brain gave up.

There's also an option to purge corruption, which grants additional resistance as well as health or skill buffs, which last until the next time Blood Team returns to base. This is one of those "WHY?" modes designed to give the Vita a bad name. Basically, the player has to rub off numerous blots that have accumulated on the Blood Maiden's skin. Everyone is wearing one-pieces during the process, but the suit becomes transparent when rubbed. Thankfully, the mini-game can be skipped after it's completed once. The added resistance and HP/SP bonuses aren't all that necessary, anyway.

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Overall, the difficulty is rather low, especially considering the genre. Although the enemies hit hard enough, it doesn't take much of a strategy to demolish them. Debuff spells are readily available, and they do a fine job of crippling the Marchen's offensive capabilities. Marshals and Speed Gunners have special "rush" attack skills. They're multi-hit, and scale appropriately with the heroine's stats. By utilizing the class change system, melee characters go from strong, to an absolute force of nature. Destroyers are somewhat similar to glass cannons, trading their defence away for exceptional attack power. Give them a rush skill, and they humiliate everything they come across. Even the toughest nightmare can't handle losing a quarter of their HP in a single round.

There are also times where the mechanics of the game can work against it. On one occasion, while exploring a room filled with bottomless pits and jump panels, the party was ambushed by a nightmare. This already unfortunate situation was compounded by the fact that said nightmare blocked a space that needed reaching in order to progress. Every time the party stepped on the jump panel, they were launched towards the fiend, but were then knocked away and into the pit. There was no other way to go, aside from the "Game Over" screen. It's an exceptionally rare case, but it is reason enough to make frequent saves.

Screenshot for Mary Skelter: Nightmares on PS Vita

Cubed3 Rating

7/10
Rated 7 out of 10

Very Good - Bronze Award

Rated 7 out of 10

Although it definitely has style, Mary Skelter: Nightmares doesn't quite excel. The unique premise tends to be undermined by the typical eye-rolling nonsense that plagues anime. There's also not enough of a follow-through when it comes to encounter design. Each class is capable of numerous and creative skills, but the direct approach is almost always the right one. As the game continues, it actually becomes less complex, until the player is merely spamming whatever kills monsters quickly. Still, this DRPG does more than enough to keep one occupied for quite a long time.

Developer

Compile Heart

Publisher

Idea Factory

Genre

Turn Based RPG

Players

1

C3 Score

Rated $score out of 10  7/10

Reader Score

Rated $score out of 10  0 (0 Votes)

European release date Out now   North America release date Out now   Japan release date Out now   Australian release date Out now   

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