It’s disappointing that the PlayStation Vita doesn’t get much attention anymore as there are currently only a small handful of companies that publish games for the handheld system. However, it’s for the most part all been dungeon crawlers. While I do enjoy playing the genre every so often with titles like Etrian Odyssey, they all tend to play out the exact same way with very little separating them from the last. In the end, unless something really stands out, it can easily be lost in the shuffle, but Mary Skelter: Nightmares actually stands out quite well with a unique take on the genre. In Mary Skelter: Nightmares, your objective is to escape a sentient jail with girls who go on a complete rampage with names inspired by beloved fairy tail characters including Alice, Red Riding Hood, Sleeping Beauty, Thumbelina, Kaguya, Snow White, Rapunzel and Gretel.
Welcome to Jail!
The game is set in an alternate version of Tokyo where a mysterious creature has swallowed a good part of Tokyo and transformed it into a hellhole known as Jail. While the creature devours everything it doesn’t destroy, it instead absorbs it and mimics it, which leads to various area, locations and items being created in a world blocked out from the sun. At the start of the game, we find Jack and Alice who are prisoners in the Jail and are tortured daily. That is until a mysterious girl named Red Riding Hood arrives in order to break out Alice. It turns out Alice is one of the few girls who holds the ability of the Blood Maidens; the only people who can fight against the Jail filled with creatures known as Marchens. But as she escapes, she won’t leave behind Jack as the two travel out into the unknown.
Mary Skelter: Nightmares is your traditional dungeon-crawler; meaning be prepared to spend a lot of time just walking around filling out the map in order to find either certain points, items or proceed to the next area. It’s important to pay attention to your surroundings as you traverse the maps as various traps are placed in the dungeon to keep you on your toes, some that you can only get past by using one of the Blood Maiden’s unique skills.
Avoid Blood Skelter Mode!
While a majority of the battles in the game are turn-based, there are a few things you need to be aware of. You are able to take five of the Blood Maidens into battle place them either in the front or back row based on their fighting style. Each Maiden also has the ability to select between different job classes, which you can unlock and select. Each job class changes the way they fight in battle with a total of 20 different job classes to select from letting you create your ideal team.
While all the fighting is done by the girls, Jack plays a very important role as support. Jack is the only character at the start of the game who can use items to help the girls (you can unlock a class that allows Thumbelina to use items). Jack plays a much more important role by stopping the girls from going on a rampage. As you fight against Marchens, enemy blood will splatter on the girls and stage. When enough blood covers the girls, they enter “Massacre Mode” where they unlock a few special techniques as well as get a few stat boosts. The problem is that if they start taking too much damage or any of your companions fall in battle, they may enter “Blood Skelter Mode,” which is a berserk mode, and attack friend or foe alike.
This is where Jack really shines because the sixth member of the team can heal the girls with the power of his blood by using the Mary Gun, which is attached to his arm. With the Mary Gun, Jack sprays the girls with his blood, which can stop the corruption of each girl one by one or snap them out of Blood Skelter mode. Taking care of each girl’s corruption is important, and while Jack will be using a lot of blood, he can regain it each turn. If not, he will be stunned and useless in battle for a short time.
To escape the Jail, the end goal is to travel through the dungeons and locate the core of each stage. However, each core is protected by a Nightmare, a giant powerful creature that can’t be defeated until the core is destroyed. At the start of each area, you may find yourself near a nightmare, which is initiated as a dark sphere that covers the area you are in. If you are covered in darkness, the Nightmare will chase you as you try to escape from it as the mini map disappears, and you find yourself running with no idea where you are going. There are also two different type of Nightmare battles: one that features the typical turn-based battle system; and the second one features facing a giant Nightmare which, involves using traps and other interactive stage elements to damage and trap the boss before facing off against him. In this very unique and very challenging/frustrating battle system, every second counts, and you aren’t able to heal outside of battle. You may find yourself in a random battle against strong enemies while the Nightmare also attacks you. This adds a nice sense of urgency and adds to the suspense of survival.
It’s important to keep your Maidens well protected and happy!
Weapons, armor and accessories are mainly found in dungeons via defeated enemies and chests. Defeating enemies also awards you with crystals that are used to power up weapons and equipment, while also unlocking new jobs. As you level up, you also earn ability points, which let you unlock new skills for your maidens.
There are a few things you can do outside of the main game. You are able to win over the affection of each maiden by giving them gifts. As you raise the affection, you get a few extra scenes with each girl. You can also take on side quests which will reward you with various items that be sold or used.
It’s not all blood and Nightmares though, there is quite a bit of fan-service
With all the Marchen blood covering the girls, it’s only natural that there is still some elements of corruption there. In order to completely remove the corruption from the girls, you “Purge” them by playing a rubbing mini game using the PlayStation Vita touch screen. It’s not a PG-13 moment as the girls moan as you rub the blood off them. Successfully doing so gives the girls a bonus in the next dungeon and lowers the chance for them to enter Blood Skelter Mode.
A good reason to still own a PlayStation Vita.
Compile Heart does a good job of making Mary Skelter: Nightmares unique compared to many other dungeon crawlers with some pretty unique ideas that you wouldn’t normally expect. The inclusion of the horror elements with the Nightmare chases and battles is probably one of my favorite experiences in the game, which is honestly needed in this repetitive genre of walking around and fighting almost endlessly. If you’re a fan of the genre, this is one of the better titles I’ve easily played thanks to the characters, story and gameplay elements. It’s not perfect, and you need a lot of patience to play it, but it has easily kept my attention from start to end.