A JRPG with a dark and creepy setting is a rarity these days. Unexpectedly, a dungeon-crawler with an aesthetic close to a hentai production, is instead one of the most interesting and dark experience for RPG lovers.
The Jail is a mysterious and colossal living organism that suddenly emerges from the underground to devour a city. Instead of simply dying, the people survived imprisoned by monsters, under constant weird tortures without an apparent reason. The Jail is also able to mimic and transform the environment, creating surreal and bizarre sub-worlds full of monsters. The protagonist of the game is one of these prisoners, suddenly joining a group of female heroines based on fairytale characters, able to use their own blood to fight the Jail and its creations.
From the gameplay point of view, Mary Skelter is a dungeon crawler with turn-based combat, random encounters, item crafting and a deep job system. Everything to enjoy and explore a complex, deep and classic system. But Mary Skelter also adds many innovative elements. The main character is for example unable to fight, but can manage his own blood to cure and restore the heroines, can use items or his own body as a shield to cover them. The other party members are instead able to take different jobs, each with its own skills and peculiarity. Other than mages and classic ranged and close attackers, there are also original jobs. For example an Item Meister is focused on improving the loot, while the Mimic can use skills from the enemies.
The setting and the atmosphere are the most interesting sides of the game. Exploring the Jail is full of surprises and never boring. I am not a huge fan of dungeon-crawler, since they can get easily boring and repetitive, but in Mary Skelter the dungeons are always alive and interesting. There are many creepy and surreal details all around, the walls are not just empty surfaces. Eyes, pulsing hearts, empty armours, hidden creatures, alive paintings… dozen of details. There are of course many secrets and traps: in this case the unique ability of your team will be helpful to make explode a wall, cut a net or activate with an arrow a far switch, for example. The exploration is never boring and always rewarding, with trap and gimmicks to add constantly variety, and hidden floors full of treasures to discover.
Also, since the dungeon is a living creature, it has some specific “needs”, that the player can satisfy to obtain random bonuses. Splatter blood around the dungeons to satisfy its hunger. Find specific points in the dungeon to satisfy libido. Explore and fight while not taking damage when the dungeon is sleeping to satisfy sleep. This concept is very interesting, because will make you feel like if truly exploring an alive organism, especially regarding the Hunger related to blood. After a tough battle, the walls of the dungeon will be splattered in (pink) blood forever, keeping always track of the fight.
The concept of blood management is also very interesting. The party can drench in the blood of the enemies to go in a sort of frenzy, or can “lick” the blood from each other to heal (and satisfy also the libido of the dungeon, since all the party is composed by female heroines). Even if this can sound weird, it adds another level to the dark environment of the game.
The RPG side is well developed, with challenging fights full of innovative mechanics, and an interesting system for level up and craft items. New weapons can really change the fate of an entire dungeon, improving the power of the party exponentially. But, since the drops are random, this sometime implies a bit of grinding, hoping to obtain a nice reward. This is never particularly boring and, expect for the beginning of the game that could be tough, there is never a huge necessity for farming experience or money, since the game is well balanced.
The monsters are truly creepy, bizarre and disturbing. If the design of the normal enemies can be sometime plain and simple, the Nightmares are always a brilliant surprise. These are immortal enemies, one for each dungeon, which at the beginning cannot be defeated. When the darkness arises, a nightmare is close. The only way to survive is to escape from it, or to knock it down temporally. In theory you can also use traps to slow it down while escaping. This concept practically transforms the game in a horror one, with a great improvement for its atmosphere. Also the map is disabled during a Nightmare chase, creating even more stress since it is very difficult to orientate. The Nightmares can be finally challenged at the end of each dungeons, providing complex and satisfying battles. Some of them are huge monstrosities, and the battle will transform in solving environmental puzzles while avoiding their area attacks.
The plot is enough interesting, using the dark and mature environment to keep the attention always up. There are also couple of expected plot twists, to add spiciness to the story. Worth to specify that there are also two different endings with two different bosses. Sadly, the characters are instead quiet plain and not well developed, but the innovative environment and the bizarre monsters will balance the equation. There is always a dense sense of mystery regarding what the Jail, the characters and the monsters truly are. Secrets and misinformation, in this case, are the best vehicle to paint an interesting story.
The graphical design of the dungeons and the enemies is especially good. In this kind of production often the enemies are static and lacking animations, but luckily this is not the case, with interesting enemies fully animated even when not attacking. The main characters on the contrary are simple portraits, and also during the dialogue everything is quiet static.
The only true negative side of the game is the wall of text. There is so much to read, and sometime the dialogues are really superficial, slowing down the pacing of the game. Also there is a bit of fan service, but luckily less than expected. A specific minigame to clean the corruption from the heroines has a lot of sexual references, but could be avoided after the first time. Also, the heroines are half-naked when entering in a frenzy state for blood corruption, but, since their design is very well done, personally this is not a negative thing.
After the main game there are also several secrets, for example a hidden party member to recruit and a huge bonus dungeon with a super boss at the end. Also each heroine has her own specific ending, so the final boss could be faced multiple times in order to see everything.
Mary Skelter is an interesting and innovative RPG, with a dark and creepy atmosphere and setting. If you are looking for a long game, focused on the exploration, with an almost horror setting and you are not scared by the amount of text, this is a game to try.
The game is available both on PS VITA and recently on STEAM.