Review: Mary Skelter – Nightmares

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Com­pi­le Heart don’t have the best track record for qua­li­ty games. The ear­ly Nep­tu­nia games, Aga­rest and Mugen Souls were all very poor games in various ways, but in recent years they’ve star­ted to impro­ve. I feel con­fi­dent in say­ing that, while not wit­hout flaws, Mary Skel­ter is by far Com­pi­le Heart’s best game and hope­ful­ly a sign of things to come.

From the visu­als alo­ne, it’s easy to tell that Mary Skel­ter is dif­fe­rent from the usu­al Com­pi­le Heart affair. Sure, there’s the usu­al cast com­pri­sed of most­ly teena­ge girls, but the over­all tone is dar­ker across the board. This leads well into the pre­mi­se of the game. The game is set in the night­ma­rish “Jail”, a living pri­son that feeds off the emo­ti­ons of its tor­tu­red pri­soners. Jack and Ali­ce are two pri­soners who are freed by a girl named Red Riding Hood. We quick­ly learn that both both Ali­ce and Red Riding Hood are “Blood Mai­dens”, girls who are capa­ble of figh­t­ing the mini­ons of the Jail, known as Mar­chens.

Again, this is noti­ce­ab­ly dar­ker than some­thing like Nep­tu­nia, though they don’t real­ly take it very far. Asi­de from the the ope­ning chap­ter, not­hing par­ti­cu­lar­ly gru­e­so­me actual­ly hap­pens and most of the more inte­res­ting events are just hin­ted at or men­tio­ned in pas­sing. It feels like they didn’t want to go all in on a ful­ly matu­re or vio­lent sto­ry which is a shame.

The sto­ry for the most part is a mis­sed oppor­tu­ni­ty. The sto­ry quick­ly beco­mes fair­ly mun­da­ne with only a few stan­dout moments, and the focus ends up shif­ting to the various Blood Mai­dens you encoun­ter. Each one has various events that can be unlo­cked by reaching cer­tain levels of affec­tion. Affec­tion is increa­sed by giving them items and fur­ni­tu­re for their room. You can try to give them gifts they like for a hig­her affec­tion boost, but it’s gene­ral­ly easier to just spam a lot of che­a­per items. This sys­tem has no real depth and just feels tacked on, which is some­thing that can be used to descri­be the “romance” style game­play sys­tems.

For examp­le, there’s a pur­ging sys­tem that allows you to buff the blood mai­dens tem­pora­ri­ly by… rub­bing them. This sys­tem can easi­ly be igno­red and feels like it was some­thing that Com­pi­le Heart added just to make sure the­re was enough fan­ser­vice. Speaking of fan­ser­vice, asi­de from the afo­re­men­tio­ned pur­ging, the­re is very litt­le of it which is honest­ly wel­co­me. The­re are some cos­tu­mes that show off a fair bit of skin, but by Com­pi­le Heart stan­dards the game is pret­ty tame over­all.

When it comes to game­play, Mary Skel­ter doesn’t stray too far from other games in the gen­re. Dun­ge­ons are explo­red in a first per­son fashion, with various laby­rinth are­as to dis­co­ver. The powers of each Blood Mai­den are brought into play for puz­zles and tra­ver­sal of hazards. An ear­ly examp­le of this is Red Riding Hood’s scis­sors that can be used to des­troy fen­ces and other objec­ts. Also as a decent qua­li­ty of life fea­ture, Ali­ce allows you to save near­ly any­whe­re in a dun­ge­on or trans­fer back to town. This does take away the ten­si­on of making your way though lon­ger dun­ge­on floor, but it’s a wel­co­me fea­ture for tho­se unfa­mi­li­ar to dun­ge­on craw­lers.

Puz­zles unfor­tu­n­a­te­ly never beco­me too dif­fi­cult, and will gene­ral­ly be repeated over a few dun­ge­ons. This is a mis­sed oppor­tu­ni­ty, sin­ce a wider varie­ty of uses for each of the girls’ abi­li­ties would hel­ped to break up the fair­ly gene­ric dun­ge­on craw­ling. Many of the abi­li­ties are also nee­ded rare­ly, fur­ther redu­cing their use­ful­ness.

During dun­ge­on explo­ra­ti­ons, three meters will fill up: Hun­ger, Libi­do and Sleep. Hun­ger fill with batt­le, libi­do with item collec­tion and sleep by avoi­ding dama­ge. The­se meters grant bonu­ses once fil­led, given to you by a rou­let­te wheel. Most of the effec­ts are minor, but the dun­ge­on growth opti­on gives you access to new are­as that are hid­den other­wi­se. I’m not too big of a fan of hiding are­as behind RNG, but sin­ce the meters fill up so often it isn’t too hard to unlock all the growth are­as even­tual­ly.

The only tru­ly inte­res­ting idea that Mark Skel­ter brings to the table during dun­ge­ons are the Night­ma­res. The­se lar­ge enemies show up at ran­dom to stalk the play­er, and once wit­hin ran­ge they initia­te a cha­se which only ends once you mana­ge to run out of their ran­ge. The Night­ma­res move in real time, inter­rupt batt­les and can­not be kil­led until you des­troy the dungeon’s core.

At first, the­se Night­ma­re encoun­ters do a good job at kee­ping you on your toes. Howe­ver, it quick­ly beco­mes appa­rent that they aren’t as sca­ry as the game wants you to belie­ve. Most of them can be lost after tra­vel­ling a short distan­ce away, which is qui­te easy even with the mini­map disap­pearing during cha­ses. The only times I found the Night­ma­res to be some­what chal­len­ging was against the lar­ger ones, whe­re you have to des­troy mul­ti­ple parts while tra­ver­sing the envi­ron­ment.

Batt­les are fair­ly stan­dard, but again the Blood Mai­dens and Jack bring some uni­que mecha­nics that are fair­ly fle­shed out. Each girl has a blood meter that can be fil­led by hit­ting an enemy’s weak point or doing enough extra dama­ge to over­kill them. Once fil­led they enter mas­sa­cre mode, boos­ting their stats and giving access to more power­ful attacks. Sin­ce Mas­sa­cre mode is so power­ful, you’re rewar­ded for lear­ning ene­my weak­nes­ses and doing as much dama­ge as pos­si­ble.

Aiming for mas­sa­cre mode does bring its own risks though. If the girls are hit with hea­vy attacks or ones they are weak against, the blood meter starts to dar­ken. This rep­res­ents their cor­rup­ti­on, which increa­ses the chan­ces of them trans­forming into “Blood Skel­ter” mode. Like mas­sa­cre mode this powers up the girls, but with the added down­si­de of being com­ple­te­ly uncon­troll­ab­le.

To avo­id the chan­ces of this hap­pe­ning, Jack must use his blood to puri­fy the girls which is his pri­ma­ry focus during batt­les ear­ly on. Jack does gain extra moves as you pro­gress fur­ther in the game, but for the most part he’s the­re to redu­ce cor­rup­ti­on and can­not fight direc­t­ly. The dyna­mic of blood and cor­rup­ti­on helps to keep batt­les fee­ling more ten­se, sin­ce there’s a chan­ce that someo­ne could enter Blood Skel­ter and take out half your par­ty in an instant if you’re not pay­ing atten­ti­on.

To impro­ve your cha­rac­ters during batt­le, the game gives you access to various faci­li­ties. The main one of the­se is the labo­ra­to­ry, allo­wing you to chan­ge a Maiden’s job, increa­se their skill slots or use Blood Devo­lu­ti­on. The­se all requi­re Blood Crystals that are drop­ped from enemies and the envi­ron­ment. Each Mai­den has six avail­ab­le jobs, though you only start with one unlo­cked. Jobs not only chan­ge stats, but also give you access to new skills.

The skill sys­tem is whe­re most cha­rac­ter cus­to­mi­sa­ti­on will come from. While pas­si­ve skills are only avail­ab­le on the job you unlock them from, all other skills can be mixed and matched free­ly. This allows you to take some hard hit­ting moves from one job, while also having access to buffs and other bene­fi­ci­al effec­ts. Batt­les in Mary Skel­ter over­all aren’t too chal­len­ging, which gives you some lee­way on the types of cha­rac­ter builds you can run. I’d like to see this job sys­tem used in more dun­ge­on craw­lers, sin­ce it gives you enough cus­to­mi­sa­ti­on wit­hout being over­ly com­pli­ca­ted.

Blood Devo­lu­ti­on is ano­t­her addi­ti­on to cha­rac­ter deve­lop­ment, redu­cing a cha­rac­ters level in exchan­ge for per­ma­nent stat boosts and skill points. This adds ano­t­her way to power up your cha­rac­ter, along with the added bonus of being able to chan­ge up your unlo­cked skills if you desi­re. As with the job sys­tem, it’s a gre­at and simp­le way to add extra depth to the game.

As men­tio­ned near the begin­ning of this review, the visu­als of this game real­ly stand out. This app­lies both to the gre­at 2D art (fea­turing the same artist that worked on Tril­li­on) and the varied 3D envi­ron­ments and enemies. The dun­ge­ons espe­ci­al­ly are fun to explo­re, each with their own inte­res­ting visu­al the­mes. This is a mas­si­ve step up from the bland envi­ron­ments of the afo­re­men­tio­ned Tril­li­on or even most of Idea Factory’s other works. The game does suf­fer from per­for­mance issu­es though this isn’t too big of a pro­blem thanks to most of the game being turn-based.

Ene­my designs, espe­ci­al­ly the Night­ma­res, are crea­ti­ve and give extra charm to the game. The­re are perhaps a few too many reco­lours of enemies for my liking, but the ori­gi­nal designs are good enough for me to excu­se the asset reu­se.


Some of this review may seem too harsh on Mary Skel­ter, espe­ci­al­ly after loo­king at my claim in the ope­ning para­graph. Howe­ver, this is only becau­se I had wis­hed for the game to be more than it ended up being. With a stron­ger sto­ry and a big­ger focus on the dar­ker side of the jail, Mary Skel­ter could have been tru­ly gre­at. The game we ended up with is still a com­pe­tent dun­ge­on craw­ler, but I can’t help but wish that it ended up being some­thing more.

Game Tit­le: Mary Skel­ter: Night­ma­res

Gen­re: Rol­len­spiel

Release Date: 22.09.2017




This game was pro­vi­ded by the publisher for review pur­po­ses, check our review poli­cy for details.

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