Thanks to Idea Factory International for the review code
Title: Mary Skelter: Nightmares
System: Playstation Vita/TV
Release Date: 09/19/2017
In a dark world inspired by fairy tales, a girl named Alice and her friend Jack are imprisoned in a dungeon, before a mysterious girl comes to free Alice. With Jack as her assistant, the three work together in battle to defeat the oppressive forces of darkness, working with a resistance to save humanity!
Mary Skelter looks and feels like your typical dungeon crawler, with a first-person perspective, simple menus, and easy to understand controls, bringing back the same vibe I felt when covering many other first-person dungeon crawlers on PSTV years ago. Yet easily the aspect that makes Mary Skelter more distinct than your average dungeon crawler is the theming, based off old fairy tales.
Creatures from Alice in Wonderland, Red Riding Hood, Snow White and other such fairy tales appear here in monstrous forms, whether they’re a terrifying, stronger Nightmare that chases you around the map akin to an FOE from Etrian Odyssey, to an ordinary common foe, all the enemy designs here are pretty top notch and creative, offering a refreshing change of pace from the done to death magic and warriors tropes in these kinds of games.
The music here is fairly solid, but the voice acting on display is really good, better than you might expect from an IFI game, in fact. While the VA jobs in IFI games are good enough to get the job done, I found Mary Skelter’s VA to be surprisingly fitting of the more serious tone here, unlike the usual light-hearted or crazier nature of most of IFI’s other games. It really does a great job at portraying the characters and their emotions, and the direction is solid too, meaning that even with the JP voices available, the dub voice track is still something I recommend you go with.
Joining a wide foray of first person dungeon crawlers, Mary-Skelter has a lot of elements familiar to those who’ve played similar games from Idea Factory such as MeiQ, and to the genre as a whole. The controls are just as you’d expect, and the combat is fairly straightforward as well, though of course this game has unique systems to shake things up, mainly in the form of how your party members can get into a powered-up state depending on their Blood status, and the fact the entire dungeon itself is a living being that changes with random effects.
Indeed, you still do have the classic setup of being able to go from a town with job requests and shops to the dungeon, back and forth as you gradually uncover new floors and areas of the Jail to progress the story, so if you’ve played other DRPGS then the general flow will feel familiar.
Thus, let’s look at the unique or quirky aspects that make Mary Skelter stand out. Besides the aforementioned fairy tale themes, Mary Skelter’s combat is really fun and fast-paced, thanks to being the simple fare you’re used to with these kinds of battle systems, plus a few twists.
For starters, your main character, Jack, is not a fighter in a traditional sense, and can’t attack the enemies in the normal way that the other party members can. Instead, he’s the “manager” of the party, being able to use items, guard, and shoot from his purifying gun to calm down the others if they enter the dark Blood Skelter state. Your other party members do the typical attacking and skill usage, but after a few turns their blood meter will be raised, and at max capacity it’ll cause them to turn into their massacre mode form, which gives them brand new, stronger skills, increases their stats across the board, and can even lead to them going out of control by changing into the Blood Skelter: thus, the need for Jack to purge them and snap them out of it.
Traversing the dungeons themselves is standard fare, but you also have access to skills usable within the out-of-battle exploration, usually used to progress to new areas or find secrets. Whether it’s cutting or bombing open a wall, shooting a target, or creating a save point on demand, these skills use up the same points that are available for skill usage in battle, so you’ll need to be just as conservative with these as you would with your attacking skills. Likewise, defeating enemies will let you earn experience points and leveling up, but you’ll also be able to earn points to spend on new skills, or upgrading them outright, so the general flow of the game is fairly enjoyable.
Of course, exploring the dungeon isn’t without some challenges thrown in the mix: not only can devastatingly powerful Nightmares come out to hunt your party, but there’s a variety of traps, hazards, secrets, and other things to keep in mind as you explore each section of the Jail, leading to pretty fun floor designs overall, that I felt compelled to try and cover each and every single tile of if at all possible.
In conclusion, Mary Skelter Nightmares was a fun dungeon crawler, and while I’ve played a lot of first person crawlers that I can’t really feel that this one does anything special outside of the unique themes, the mechanics here are solid, and the setpieces are interesting enough that fans of them will find a lot to enjoy, and the combat is very enjoyable, leading to a very satisfying gameplay loop for fans of the genre.
As my final Vita review, Mary Skelter may not be the greatest note for me to end out on, but it does show what the Vita was good at, and that was allowing RPG developers to push out experimental new IPs with little risk, and in the case of Mary Skelter, it led to a full fledged mix of Remake/Sequel on the Switch. This wasn’t the final first person RPG released for the system, but still is a solid one, even if I feel some others were better. Defintitely worth a pick-up if you’re looking for another solid dungeon RPG to add to your portable library.
I give Mary Skelter: Nightmares a 7 out of 10.