Ryu’s Musings – Mary Skelter Nightmares (PS Vita)

package2Language: Japanese & English (Audio), English  (Subs)
Developer: Idea Factory, Compile Heart
Publisher: Idea Factory
Format: PS Vita
Type: Visual Novel
Demo Box: PS Vita
Synopsis: Escape from the living prison JAIL in Mary Skelter: Nightmares for the PlayStation Vita system. The Nightmare monster actively stalks the player as you run through the dungeon, so you must use the dungeon’s gimmicks to impede its movements. This dungeon RPG features a turn based battle system that includes class change, a strategic blood‐licking transform system, and a blood‐rubbing system to power up your party. As you solve the dungeon’s mysteries and satisfy the prison’s desires, you just might make it out alive.

Mary Skelter Nightmares is a new addition to the first person dungeon crawler genre. A genre that has been a little on the stale side for a while now, so despite this coming from IF and Compile Heart, two of my fave developers; I have to admit I wasn’t expecting a lot.

So colour me surprised when I got my copy and started playing. The story this time was actually unique and interesting!

The story follows Jack and Alice, old friends surviving in JAIL, the place that used to be Tokyo. A long time ago JAIL appeared plunging Tokyo into darkness and bringing with it monsters called Marchen. Jack and Alice spend their days locked in a cell, being tortured and generally just trying to survive.

Finally, one day a young girl breaks into the Jail and appears before Alice claiming to have been looking for her. She’s a Blood Maiden, a young girl who can fight and kill the monsters, though paying a heavy price. Initially she’s reluctant to being Jack, but is forced to give in by Alice’s reluctance to leave him behind.

Just as well really, since after a few encounters Alice goes berserk as her Blood Maiden ability take over. Killing the Marchen, but also attacking Jack and the mysterious girl. Yet after she attacks jack she drinks his blood and the rage subsides. What’s going on? Why was Jack’s blood able to calm a supposed unstoppable rage? All good questions….with no answers!

Of course it docent just stop there, as well as everything else going on in the world you of course have to throw in raging politics with groups have both open reasons for fighting and supporting the resistance group: New Dawn. But they also naturally have hidden agendas, not all of them seem to be friendly or supportive after all.

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The characters are also interesting I found, being that they’re based on fairy tales from both western and asian sources. So you have the likes of Cinderella, Thumbelina, and Princess Kaguya (the only Japanese one sadly). I liked this mix of myths, and the fact that the girls were all named such. This gave them all character before the game even started, because you naturally expect them to have some of the traits and personalities of their namesakes. Which they do to varying degrees.

The game itself plays as you’d expect a dungeon crawler to play. You roam around killing stuff exploring the world as you go. What I did find really cool was that the game world is one large interconnected environment, much like a city (as it is). Each of the dungeons are all connected together, giving the feeling of it being a single large dungeon, rather than a series of smaller ones.

Like some others in the genre this game uses abilities to break past things like vines, broken walls and other environmental blocks. These abilities come with each new character you recruit, so you end up having to think about the environment you’re going to and what abilities you may need along the way.

Personally I love this mechanic because it forces you to diverge from a single all mighty party, leaving some characters never used. This way, all characters get used to some extent, cause even then we’re gonna have favourites!

Of course this also means you’re going to encounter some areas you can’t reach just yet, due to not having the correct abilities. So this does mean there’s going to be some back tracking as the game progresses. Thankfully, for the most part I found such back tracking to be rewarding.

The other mechanic the game uses is dungeon desires, since the premise of this game is that the dungeon is a living breath (and feeding) thing. So naturally it has desires!

So we have Hunger, Libido and Sleep, satisfying these desires leads to different rewards and perks. As you progress through the dungeon and fulfil its desires the gauges fill. For example to fulfil the hunger desire you’ve got to cause blood splatters during battle. Libido you satisfy by finding treasure, collection nodes and emotion nodes. and finally sleep is satisfied by doing anything in the dungeon without taking damage, while the dungeon is in it’s sleep cycle.
One these are satisfied you get a wheel of fortune style event which grants you rewards. Depending on the mood of the dungeon certain desires will fill faster than others, cause yeah, moody dungeon!

Rather disappointingly there’s no character creation in this game. On the one hand I understand it, given the story, but at the same time Demon Gaze allowed you to create your own character (even though it ignores all the choices). So it would have been nice to have had the option, even if the game itself didnt recognise it.

Combat is pretty much par the course of games like this, you move around the map exploring it bit by bit as you go. When you land on an enemy you go into turn based combat, which initially feels generic and not very exciting. This being an IF game of course means we have something interesting in the mix! Corruption.

As the Blood maidens fight their corruption level rises, once it reaches a certain point all hell breaks loose and they go berserk, which is both a good and bad thing. Berserk is split into two levels, level 1 is good. As they fight, hitting weak points, overkills and critical hits will cause blood splatters. Once the girls splatter gauge is filled up you can lick them (yes I did say lick them!) to send them into Massacre mode. Licking will cause them to be healed, have higher stats, and access to a unique ability. This mode lasts for a couple of turns before they return to normal.

Level 2 is a full blown berserk mode where the Blood Maiden will attack everything and anything, including her own party. While in this mode she’s able to one shot a lot of things, including you! Thankfully Jack (the only none female party member, cause harem’s rule!!)has the ability to knock the girls out of their madness by having them drink his blood….

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All told this makes for an interesting set of combat mechanics with some interesting risk versus reward. It also makes what would be generic combat a lot more interesting, impactful and satisfying.

However you’re not going to be able to walk over everything you come across in this game! Quite the opposite, the longer you run around killing stuff the more likely you’re going to run into a Nightmare, a boss level Marchen. Once one of these buggers set you you’ve got to run for it, otherwise if they catch you they will one shot you.

Thankfully early in the game you get the ability to fight them, but even then these battles are not easy. You can knock it down by destroying it’s parts and while it’s down run away (very viable choice early game!!). To truly kill the Nightmares you have to find and destroy the core, once you do it triggers a battle with a Nightmare, but this one you cant escape from. So you need to be fully prepared before attempting this, or it will stomp all over you!! (Talking from experience here lol)

So how long is the game? Depending on your tactics and the level of difficulty you choose you’re looking around 30-50 hours. Which is a good chunk of time!

I have to admit that for me this game was surprising. I went into this a little tired of the dungeon crawler genre as we’ve had a lot of them of late. Yet despite this it managed to win me over and was once again a rarity in that I completed the game. Thats why it’s taken me a while to get this review up!

Honestly I have no qualms recommending this game. IF and Compile Heart have once again struck a home run with this game! Which I have to admit they needed to, since this is a full priced £34.99 game. Also, you do get 5 bits of free DLC with no paid DLC (at time of writing). these include 2 PS Vita themes and 3 bits of in game items.

So, all said and done, this is definitely one to get if you’re into dungeon crawlers!

Author: Ryu Sheng