Death end re;Quest 2 and Ao Oni: when a horror JRPG and an indie survival-horror collaborate

It is nice to see when two different worlds collide together in the video game format. It happened several times, especially for big companies, for example hunting a Final Fantasy’s Behemoth inside Monster Hunter World. However, what is not so common is a collaboration between a big company and an obscure indie title, especially if they are from far away worlds such as JRPGs and survival-horrors. But this is exactly what happened between Death end Request 2 and Ao Oni.

Death end Request 2 is a JRPG with a strong horror component and a creepy set of creatures. If you follow the blog, the game should be already familiar since I wrote different articles about it, including a review where you can find more complete information: Death end re;Quest 2 Review: mysterious Visual Novel by day, horror JRPG by night. On the contrary, Ao Oni is a Japanese game survival-horror, a freeware and obscure title that got quite popular around 2007. The game is a RPGmaker-style horror game, with a great focus on hiding and surviving a creepy stalker. The game got quite a following in Japan, even getting manga, anime, and live-action movie adaptation. The real protagonist of the game is the enemy, the actual Ao Oni, a gigantic blue ogre with a peculiar face and altered proportions. The creature got iconic, an example of Japanese indie horror games, with a look not so intimidating, but for sure somehow disturbing.

How the collaboration between Death end Request 2 and Ao Oni take shape? During the first playthrough of the game, the player will see nothing related to the Ao Oni. Anyway, horror elements will be not missing from the experience, from gory and tragic bad endings to multiple grotesque enemies (more info here: The most creepy and disturbing enemies and bosses of Death end re;Quest 2). After reaching the good ending, in Death end Request 2 it will be possible to continue in a NG+, keeping the experience and the equipment, while accessing new contents, story branches, and a new ending. It is during the NG+ that the Ao Oni will become a more present element.

In the first area of the game, an old telephone will allow the player to access new contents. The first one is a mini-game, and it is the most horror-shaped experience featuring the Ao Oni. In this short but intense mini-game, the main character needs to run fast inside a city area while avoiding different Ao Oni jumping out from nowhere. The creatures are of different sizes, from small Ao Oni to more human-sized ones. They will also jump out from the most unexpected places, including cars and water elements.

The stressful event is a fast and crazy run against the deadly blue humanoids: trial and error is the only way to survive and conquer this mini-game. Only by learning the positions of every sudden appearance of the Ao Oni, the player will have a concrete possibility of surviving. Avoiding the many blue creatures while running is not the only way of surviving because scattered around the map there are suspicious closets that can be used as temporary hiding places. Of course, this is not a completely safe solution, since the Oni can still discover you while hiding. This mini-game is an easy and different addition to the main game, and it really tries to encode the horror atmosphere of Ao Oni, with frenetic chases and breathless hiding.

There is also another surprise involving the Ao Oni in Death end request 2. Moreover, during NG+, starting from the third Act, it will be possible to visit a challenging bonus dungeon: the Pain Area. This place is a hellish maze with dozens of tough and mandatory battles, including unique and interesting bosses. But the true surprise hides on the fifth and last floor of this dungeon, where the ultimate boss fight against the Ao Oni itself will take place. The blue ogre is the toughest battle in the entire game, the secret hidden boss typical of JRPGs, which usually needs the best equipment and high-level characters. The Ao Oni is a super boss for a reason: it has an insane amount of HPs, the highest in the game, with >6 million, plus maximised attack and defence. The creature is indeed an extremely dangerous foe able to use many tricks, including almost every possible negative effect, and a complex combo of energy attacks executed as fast karate moves.

Watching the giant blue creature rendered in 3D graphic, performing deadly attacks while the group of heroines throws it around the stage, is a unique and bizarre experience. A collaboration between indie games and a big production is always a welcomed experience, especially if horror elements find a new home inside JRPGs.

The most creepy and disturbing enemies and bosses of Death end re;Quest 2

Death end re;Quest 2 is a proper horror JRPG, with an interesting battle system, disturbing scenes, and creepy monsters (for more info check my complete review: Death end re;Quest 2 Review: mysterious Visual Novel by day, horror JRPG by night). I personally find the design of the monsters as a jump forward for the saga. The first Death end re;Quest had enemies almost entirely modelled around insect anatomies, probably to convey the concept of computer bugs in a metaphoric way.

The creatures roaming the streets of Le Choara, the town where Death end re;Quest 2 is set, are disturbing and twisted beings that will be perfectly integrated even if moved inside a classic survival horror game. From obese creatures imbued of an unknown energy, to laughing dolls missing the eyes: the level of horror elements inside the design is always of great visual impact. The connection with horror games is so strong that even the Ao Oni, the famous immortal monster of a Japanese indie game, will make the appearance as super boss.

Worth to specify that creatures showing a twisted insect morphology are also present in the sequel, but this time other concepts are far more common in the monster designs. Doll-like enemies are a major part of the pool of deranged foes, both bosses and common enemies. More than common dolls, straw or rag dolls are more present, providing an additional level of creepiness with the stitches covering their bodies, or the organic secrets hidden below the fabric. Symbolism hidden behind the design is also quite common, especially for bosses, with complex designs enriched in elements underlying a complex story, such for example twisted and jealous love.

The battles are interesting puzzle-like challenges, where each enemy can be thrown around the battlefield, to crash against barriers, or to be intercepted by other party members. The size of the enemies also affects this throwing mechanic, so forget about launching colossal bosses around the arena. Each monster is also associated with one of the three elements, star, moon, and sun, and will receive damages accordingly.

In the following article, I will describe the most creepy and disturbing creatures of the game, from bosses to common enemies. The article is practically spoiler-free, so feel ti jump inside without much worry.

Laughing Mary

A sort of doll, or a small girl with something really wrong, dressed in elaborated and ancient clothes. She always comes running, with the arms open as if she is ready for a hug. While standing-still, Mary happily moves and performs pirouettes. This apparently sweet girl is a terrifying creature since she is missing any facial features, with the exception of a cartoonish and big smile that looks like stitched on a sack. Laughing Mary acts as the boss in Chapter 2, becoming soon after a regular enemy, changing colors of clothes and also of skin, such as Metal Mary, a version with dark and metal skin.

Killer Filler

The disturbing creature looks like a nightmare born from Tim Burton’s mind. The body is an amorphous mass covered in a torn green piece of cloth, like a sort of grotesque dining table. A grinning face comes out from the front, a dark clown with heavy makeup and reversed anatomical traits, with the grinning smile in the place where the eyes should be. From a hole in the middle of its body, right below the fabric, insect-like appendices turn out like a mass of teeming organic scythes. Killer Filler moves and attacks on the four legs, like a feral predator. It is not a super dangerous foe, but some of the most evolved variants can be quite troublesome if not quickly eliminated.

Evil Vigor/Gigas

This disgusting and obese obscenity would not be a surprise if seeing wandering in Silent Hill. The monster is the first boss of the game, before becoming a regular enemy with many variants. The chubby and pale body is covered in veins, while a sort of liquid energy is flowing inside its massive neck. Other variants, called Gigas, have their middle part of the bodies completely exposed till the bones, as if the glowing energy corroded their flesh, or exploded shredding their bodies. The fatty creatures usually attack in couples: they hit strong and, due to their weights, are quite difficult to throw.

Blood Butterfly

An upgraded version of Laughing Mary, but this time the doll-like creature is mixed with a butterfly, creating an abomination that looks like a sweet fairy. The creepy stitched smile is still there, but this time the creature has also the eyes, similar to the ones of a fly. The monster is very fragile but hard to hit, it is also quite bothering since can heal or power-up other enemies, and even flee the battle if too damaged. The Blood Butterfly variant is one of the last battles in the game, an enemy that is better to not underestimate.

Dias

A huge dragon without a face, the creature is a secondary boss inside the game. If its body is clearly resembling a dragon or a similar beast, what is happening where the head should be is a really interesting and peculiar detail. The upper-body is covered in a combination of black goo and crystal shards, creating a sort of glitchy effect on the creature, as if it was an incomplete or still in developing being. The head is a long worm-like appendix, amorphous and missing any anatomy, just a long and disgusting mass of blackness. The incomplete creature is a strong enemy that works as a hidden boss for some Side Quests, but it will get a common enemy in the last hidden dungeon during NG+.

Mother Fearest

The boss of Chapter 5 is a true nightmare, not only for its design but also for its strength. Just by looking at it, the boss sends symbolic vibes of whatever could be wrong in a mother-child relationship. The abomination is a towering and obese creature, with the purple skin terraced by fatty rolls or falling breasts. The legs are especially disgusting, composed of lumps of red flesh fused together. Like souls trapped inside a living material, disturbing faces are emerging from below the skin of the legs. The twisted mother is wearing a cuff similar to the ones used for babies, and she is wielding a massive club that also looks like a baby rattle, strong details amplifying the twisted mother-child dualism. The boss is one of the toughest battles in the game. Its attacks are quite dangerous and can easily kill a character in one turn. Moreover, the boss has a massive amount of HP, and it is even able to completely heal itself with just one action, creating a long and exhausting battle.

Succubus

The boss of Chapter 4 has one of the most complex and symbolic designs in the game. At first glance, the creature looks like a cute fairy, with a delicate body and colorful butterfly wings. However, at a closer look, all the creepy details emerge. The face is partially blindfolded, while the body has multiple arms, similar to the ones of a mannequin. Another head is positioned in the belly, even bigger than the actual one. Every detail in the design screams about a painful love, one not corresponded, from the eye blindfolded to the two independent heads. Everything is fitting with the events of Chapter 4, but I would avoid spoilers. The most creepy details are the legs, twisted like a rope to form a single appendix. If you still have doubts about how this design is a symbolism of twisted love, this particular choice for the legs is clearly inspired by the tragic end of two lovers in Junji Ito’s masterpiece Uzumaki.

Kidnapper

The boss of Chapter 3 is a disgusting and strong being. The creature is described as an old man practically naked, with a mouth opening in its belly. When discovered, the monster was ready to eat two children with fork and spoon, like if they were a proper meal. The obese creature has a dumb and void expression on its face, with intimidating and gigantic proportions of the body. The boss wields a scythe and is able to use it quite deadly. The battle is, in fact, the toughest one until that point, not only for the amount of HP of the boss, but even more for its ability to heal almost completely and to kill a character with a single swing of its scythe.

Skinshank

The boss of Chapter 7 is bigger than expected, a colossal being that looks like a nightmarish version of a Shrek character, or an inhabitant of Halloween town in Nightmare Before Christmas. The monster is a sort of humanoid sack, a rag doll with stitches all around its body. However, the creature is well-dressed, with a hat, a wig, gloves, and boots, providing even more cartoonish vibes. But the creepiest detail is what lies below its artificial skin. A mass of raw and amorphous flesh is revealing where the cloth is not falling apart, a layer of grotesque skin covered with eyes. Something monstrous is clearly living under that fake fairytale appearance. The boss is wielding a giant anchor as a weapon, a deadly mace used to crush the opponents. The battle is a long fight of eroding strategy. The boss not only is hitting hard, but has also an obscene amount of HP. The boss is even able to use a defensive pose, counter-attacking all the player actions in a deadly and accurate way.

???

The real name of the boss will hint heavy spoilers on the game’s plot, so I decided to leave it blank. The titanic abomination sends strong Lovecraftian vibes in any detail, especially in the face. A grotesque puzzle of eyes and teeth, the creature is a terrifying nightmare, including long hair composed of a sort of yellow tentacles. The hands are even bigger than the rest of the body, totally out of proportions, gigantic and intimidating from the long fingers to the claws at the end. The monster killed a multitude of humans during a rampage, this explains while the hands and the mouth are covered in blood. The boss doesn’t have much health, compared to previous encounters, but sadly this is its only flaw. Its claws will kill any character with one single attack, transforming every turn in a desperate struggle to increase defence or gain immunity.

Death end re;Quest 2 Review: mysterious Visual Novel by day, horror JRPG by night

Death end re;Quest 2 is classified as a horror JRPG for a reason, and it does everything to support the definition. The general atmosphere is oppressive and tragic, a world where every person could experience a brutal death or an unfair fate. Every story and background is not for the faint of heart, usually involving abuses and tragedies. This is the story of a girl with a traumatic past, searching for her sister in an orphanage for girls only. This story is not a common drama but something deeper and more twisted, set in a mysterious town with a secret. People at school and also at the town are involved in the mysterious religion of “El Strain,” so it will be very clear since the beginning that the small town is hiding a secret, and the curfew at midnight is only a part of it. Obscure religions and alternate realities will meet cyberpunk themes connected with the first Death end Request, creating a complex atmosphere for one of the few and rare Japanese horror RPGs. However, knowledge of the first game is not essential to enjoy the sequel (in fact, I still didn’t have the chance to play the prequel).

Gore and blood are also quite present, especially in the cutscenes, both in anime and 3D events. Special examples are the Bad Endings, graphic and violent Game Over scenes that are associated with bad decisions during the events, even if it is often text-only violence. This in not unfair as could sound, and discovering all these violent endings will soon become more interesting than avoiding them. The darkness of the writing it is not a surprise knowing that Makoto Kedouin, writer for the survival-horror series Corpse Party, was involved in Death end Request 2. Worth to notice that several secondary characters are disturbed or plainly psychotic, behind their friendly facade, with cases of bullying and toxic friendships.

The game shows two souls, perfectly divided both for aesthetic and gameplay. During the day, Death end Request 2 is mainly a Visual Novel (VN). The player can explore the school and the town to interact with several secondary characters and discover new events. Some of the dialogues will add background to secondary and main characters, providing also small clues to enrich the complex lore of the town. Other events are just plainly comedic and light-hearted, useful to break for a moment the dense and dramatic atmosphere of the game. The wall of text is not as thick and aggressive as other productions, plus players that want to jump directly into the action can easily skip the daily events, of course losing layers of information about the game. From an artistic point of view, the VN sections are also well realised and rich in detail. Characters have nice animated portraits and are able to show many different expressions. The dialogues are also almost entirely dubbed in English and Japanese, providing an additional level of immersion and quality.

During the night, the gameplay will switch toward horror JRPG. The player will explore the town, a creepy and eerie place of twisted architectures, where disturbing monsters roam in the streets. During these moments, there is of course space for exploration, collecting items and discovering secret paths by hacking cameras or using character-specific skills. Monsters are visible on the map and can be avoided or attacked to gain an advantage. The battles are where the gameplay truly shines for originality. Each battle is a sort of kinetic puzzle. The characters can freely move around to decide the best position and angle to execute the actions. The battlefield is full of glowing spheres, assembled in complex patterns, which provides a bonus if touched or by throwing an enemy on them, from healing to a boost in attack or defense. The ideal strategy is to attack and throw the enemies around the battlefield, deciding the best direction to maximise the number of glowing symbols touched by the enemy. But this is not everything: the knock-back function opens a world of possibilities. Enemies can be smashed on each other, threw against energetic barriers, or in the direction of an ally, which will perform a counter-attack launching the enemy even more further away.

Even if this mechanic is already deep enough, each character has also its peculiar way of attacking and throwing, plus a complex set of skills to use and unlock. In a single turn, each character can execute a combination of 3 skills and actions, and some combinations will even unlock extra skills! The game also offers a good level of personalisation: favourite skills can be arranged in groups, while weapons and accessory can be changed from the menu to improve each character. Weapons also change in appearance during battles, and trust me, having the main character fighting with a hatched or a chainsaw is really rewarding. Battles are unique and deep, but it is also true that sometime even the most standard battle will need time to be completed. This can add some tedious moments in long explorations, but luckily the escape action is there to help. The maps are also quite linear, but the variegated selection of creepy adversaries and the many rewards scattered around every corner are keeping high the attention. Moreover, the game does not require excessive grinding, it offers a fair but not to be underestimated level of challenge, but levelling up is quite easy and the results quite fruitful. Boss battles can be especially tough, with some enemies able to destroy a character with a single attack. Good planning and a bit of luck will be crucial for these tough encounters. Some of the bosses can be really long and a bit unfair battles, not only for the one-hit-kill, but also because they have millions of HP and they are even able to heal at full life with one action. Be prepared for a difficulty spike after the first chapters.

The enemies are disturbing and creepy beings, far more characterised and interesting than the ones of a standard JRPG. Clearly, the team pointed toward a horror atmosphere in every artistic direction, and the monsters are not an exception (if you are looking for the most creepy monsters, have a look here: The most creepy and disturbing enemies and bosses of Death end re;Quest 2). Sometimes you will even forget that you are not wandering the streets of Silent Hill. Bosses are especially disturbing both for design and name: fighting a mass of tentacles and fangs called “No Face” has clearly a different effect, or “Laughing Mary,” a doll without a face. Moreover, I am not here to spoil the game but for fans of indie Japanese horror games, if the name Ao Oni sounds you familiar, you will be glad and surprised to know that it has a collaboration with Death end Request 2 (and if you are really curious you can find more info on this Gematsu article).

But the horror doesn’t end here. While wandering in the city at night, sometimes the player will be ambushed by the Dark Shadow, a tall and disturbing creature with the only aim of annihilating the party. Since the first encounter with the creature, it is very clear that the only option is to run away as fast as possible. Because being caught by the Shadow means an instant game over. This small detail provides an even stronger horror profile to Death end Request 2, a deadly and immortal stalker that will instantly slaughter the entire party. Idea Factory/Compile Heart already explored a similar idea with the Nightmares of Mary Skelter, with really good results (here my article about: The Nightmares of Mary Skelter: fairytale characters reborn as twisted immortal stalkers).

As fans of slasher movies should know, horror and sexual themes are often two sides of the same coin. Death end Request 2 is not very different, often jumping into subtle sexual dialogues between the protagonists. Of course, the setting of a school for only girls is already hinting to the majority of light sexual elements and jokes associated. Also while fighting, the girls will enter is an overpowered Glitch mode, changing into more revealing outfits. Again, nothing too much aggressive about it, just a bit of skin revealed.

With very few pure horror JRPG around, and even less available outside of Japan and for PC, Death end Request 2 is a game to really take into consideration. If you want and classic JRPG but with a unique and interesting battle system and a mature and horror atmosphere, Death end Request 2 will be a game to try.

The review is based on the STEAM version, for which I received a key from Idea Factory International.

The Nightmares of Mary Skelter: fairytale characters reborn as twisted immortal stalkers

Mary Skelter Nightmares is an innovative dungeon-crawler in which female characters from fairytales fight to escape from a huge living prison, using the blood of the enemies as a weapon (for more info check my full review: Mary Skelter Nightmares Review: an innovative dungeon-crawler where fairytales are drenched in blood).

If common enemies are sometimes lacking innovation and personality in their design, the Nightmares are a completely different story. Creepy and disturbing enemies, Nightmares are almost immortal foes limited to one for each dungeon. In the beginning, there is no way to permanently defeat a Nightmare, and their appearing transforms the game in a survival-horror. The best way to survive a Nightmare is by running away, escaping the immortal stalker before being captured. The chase will not end up in an immediate Game Over and there will be still the chance to stun the monster and escape, even if the chances of dying are quite high. The Nightmares are the equivalent of immortal Stalker in survival-horror games, such as Nemesis or Mr X for Resident Evil, but this time inside a JRPG.

However, at the very end of each dungeon, it is finally possible to defeat a Nightmare. The battle is always divided into two steps. First, the external armor of each Nightmare, comprised of different parts, needs to be destroyed. The items themselves are very interesting, revealing information on the Nightmare’s background. After that, the monster will lightly change shape, starting the real fight.

As previously explained, Mary Skelter is connected to fairytales, since the main characters are all based on fables, from Cinderella to Rapunzel. Each dungeon/chapter of the game is focused on the background or the struggle of one specific character, morphing the world around according to that fairytale. The Nightmares are also gears of this mechanism, showing complex symbolism and a multitude of details related to a specific fairytale.

In the following article, I will analyse the Nightmares of Mary Skelter. Except for the first Nightmare, for which a nice concept art is available, the other images are compacted into slideshow sand, by clicking on the arrows, it will be possible to see both the forms, with and without the armor.

City Streets Nightmare – Alice in Wonderland

MarySkelter-4

The first Nightmare to face during the game has a really creepy and grotesque design. A nice piece of concept art is available for this monster, showing both forms of the creature. The Nightmare is clearly female, judging by the breast, and it is regally dressed, with jewels and even a cape. The most distinguishable element is the neckpiece covering the head and almost half of the body. The humanoid creature has goose- or duck-like morphological elements integrated into the design, especially arms and legs. The bird motifs go even further, with the white and spherical head resembling an egg. The most evident armor is the one around the neck that, after being destroyed, will reveal a sort of organic tissue covered with eyes. The expression on the face will also become more feral and aggressive, probably since the creature is wounded. Since the first chapter is based on Alice, this monster is a clear symbol of the Queen of Hearts of Alice in Wonderland. The elaborated clothes and the female body are already a sign, and the make-up on the face, clearly resembling the one on cards, confirms this connection. The bird-like morphological elements are probably associated with flamingo, the bird used by Alice to play against the Queen.

 

Graveyard Nightmare – Sleeping Beauty

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At first glance, the Nightmare guarding the Graveyard is almost silly or parodic, instead of being creepy. However, the creature still shows some interesting details, especially after breaking the armor. The humanoid creature has insect-like elements integrated into the design, with 5 pairs of limbs. While the armor is intact, the creature is wearing regal white clothes, including an apron, leggings, gloves, and boots. A huge hammer is fused in its right arm, integrating a lethal weapon in the body of the creature. The face is quite bizarre, with a long nose and gigantic purple lips. After the clothes and the hammer are destroyed, the creature will reveal its true form. The body is wounded and decayed, partially due to the tough battle, with even bones exposed. However, the skeletal feet were probably always there, hidden by the boots, defining its connection with the Graveyard and the land of the dead. In place of the hammer, now destroyed, there is a sharp needle. This spindle is a reference to Sleeping Beauty, one of the party characters and the main victim of a spindle in her story. A huge vertical mouth crosses all its body, previously covered by the apron. The mouth, now wide open, reveals a yellow eye deep inside it. Together, the mouth and the eye could reveal a far more grotesque truth, in which another entity, or the real body of the creature, is hiding inside the flesh of the Nightmare.

 

Downtown Nightmare – Cinderella

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One of my favorite designs for a complex and innovative monster. I already deeply analysed its design and possible meaning in another article, available here: Monster of the Week: Downtown Nightmare (Mary Skelter) — Surreal and Creepy. However, in that article, I didn’t mention its symbolism with fairytales. The creature is wearing a giant shoe, so then connection with Cinderella is quite clear. But this is only the beginning since the creature is a complex archive of references. While its armor is still functional, the monster has a giant round head, similar to a pumpkin, probably the one used to build Cinderella’s chariot. The face is also part of the armor, since the real form of the creature is a sort of fleshy leg full of eyes. Interestingly, the face is called “Masquerade Makeup” as a reference to Cinderella’s preparation before going to the party at the castle. The crown of rats is also a reference to Cinderella, in this case to the mice that helped her with the clothes. The creature has a really disturbing design, both with and without the armor, with the long purple tongue as the main weapon shared by both forms.

 

Temple Nightmare – Tale of the Bamboo Cutter

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This Nightmare defies the rules imposed for all the others. It will not appear often to chase the party and, when will be the time to battle it, the monster will grow to titanic proportions. The fight revolves around gimmicks and tricks, plus avoiding in real-time the area attacks. The main body of the creature is a gigantic spherical mass, fleshy and venous. On the monster’s face, there is only a huge mouth with big pink lips. The eyes are on top of long and flexible tentacles, appendices similar to snail’s eyes. The external skin on the face can be destroyed, revealing a smaller inner mass made of muscles. In its second form, the Nightmare is far more disturbing, with now a grin on the face made only of teeth and missing the lips. The creature is a representation of the moon, the homeland of Princess Kaguya in the Tale of the Bamboo Cutter. At a closer look, the eyes also resemble bamboo sticks, another connection to this old Japanese tale.

 

Dormitory Nightmare – Hansel and Gretel

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This Nightmare is strongly associated with gluttony and food excesses. The obese monster lives in a place completely drenched in sweet things and candies, a sticky ecosystem where the sugar looks like an organic substance. The fairytale reference this time is directly explained by the game since this Nightmare, smarter than the average, is none other than Hansel. In the beginning, the creature is covered in an armor made of sweets, layers and layers of glucose, strawberries, and cookies. Even its helm is called Delicious Burka since is composed of a giant cookie. Abducted children, such as Gretel, feed on the sweets coming out of its external layer. Yes, we agree this sounds really disturbing. Hansel is not only aggressive, but also smarter than any other Nightmare, making it a dangerous opponent. After its sweet armor is destroyed, a pale and obese body is revealed. A horrible mass of chubby flesh and muscles, terribly wrong and grotesque in every detail. The anatomy of the face is completely twisted but even more disturbing is the circular mouth opening in its belly.

 

Waterside Nightmare – Rapunzel

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This Nightmare has already a really interesting design with the armor still on, but after the secret beneath is shell will be revealed, its concept will become even more peculiar. The creature has a black metal body, an impenetrable and strong shell able to protect its inner body. Movement and attacks are both executed by a pair of highly-movable claw-like legs, still encrusted by the blood of the victims. In the middle of the armor, a gray humanoid figure lies protected by a bell-like shield. Judging by its color and the lifeless appearance, the humanoid creature could be a statue or an automaton. If you think that the humanoid figure is the one controlling the armor, you will have a surprise after breaking the legs and the main shield. Smaller versions of the humanoid figure, a sort of gray homunculi, are hiding in the armor, both under the shield and in each leg. The figures look like angelic cherubs, highlighting the possible connection between this figure and religious art. The homunculi are probably the ones responsible for moving the metallic claws since they are hiding exactly at the juncture-points. What it looked like a single entity is instead a sort of colony, or a hive, composed by small and mysterious lifeless creatures. The Nightmare is the living representation of Rapunzel’s tower, a huge and impenetrable object. This is even more supported by the long locks of blonde hair falling on the legs.

 

Station Grounds Nightmare – Little Red Riding Hood

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This is truly a Nightmare in every shade of the word. A wolf with a red hood is, of course, a direct connection with Red Riding Hood, without many twists. However, this design is probably one of the sickest and disturbing versions of the Big Bad Wolf ever created in a videogame. The creature is an alien puzzle of flesh, with scars and sewing along all its body, especially in the paws. The eyes are also sewed together, forming like small mouths. The Nightmare is missing a proper external armor, and the scars along the body have the function of a protective shell. The name of one piece of the armor is completely nightmare-inducing: “Grammy’s Stomach.” A twisted and grinning face is fused with the flesh, a parasitic structure existing under the layers of skin of the wolf. But if the name already spoils the nature of that face, after removing the armor all the gory and disturbing details will be released. Tissue, scars, and seams will break, revealing raw flesh and what it is hidden beneath. Grammy’s face will now be visible, the distorted and grotesque face of the old woman that once was Riding Hood’s grandmother, now living as a sort of symbiotic parasite in the body of the wold. The eyes are now open, but the most disturbing secret is hidden in the mouth. A green and psychotic head is buried inside the mouth of the creature, a disturbing horror detail that will surprise and terrify the players. If the grandmother is the face on the back, for exclusion this is the hunter, maybe trying to escape from the stomach now that the mouth is open, or existing as a parasite inside the throat of the monster. What a disturbing and brilliant twist on fairytales.

 

Tower Nightmare – Jack and the Beanstalk

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The Tower Nightmare is not alone, but it is instead a couple of almost-identical creatures defending the last dungeon of the game. This is one of the most aggressive Nightmares, a fast and restless predator, which will appear with far more insistence than all the others. The monster is a proper knight, wearing metal armor and wielding a sword. The armor is covered in vines and small flowers or seeds, connecting the creature with naturalistic symbolism. The sword is the most creepy detail of an otherwise not so complex concept. A sort of saw-blade, the weapon is entirely composed of bones and skulls, somehow sewed together. The breakable armor is composed only of two elements, but the curtain of strong vines hiding its face is surely the most central. After breaking the armor elements, the Nightmare will reveal a huge and disgusting mouth, covering almost all its body. The Nightmare is probably connected to the story of Jack and the Beanstalk, since not only it is defending a Tower, but the strong vines integrating into the design are a powerful visual reference to the giant beanstalk.

 

Underground Nightmare – Rats of Hamelin

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Secret boss post-ending, this is the toughest Nightmare in the game. Living in a gigantic underground maze, the creature is as mysterious as dangerous. Even if for behavior and the appearance this is head to toe a Nightmare, it is officially called “Nightmare?” to particularize its ambiguous nature. The Nightmare is a titanic adversary completely enveloped in a sort of white exoskeleton. The main torso is also the head of the creature, or better the helm of the armor. Breaking the protection will reveal a similar secret to the Waterside Nightmare. Inside the armor, three mysterious humanoid creatures with dark skin are piloting the armor, like if the interior was the cabin of a Mech. The main hidden figure is playing the flute, one of the most dangerous weapons, able to make the entire party fall asleep. The flute and the appearances of the hidden creatures could be a connection to rats, and specifically to the tale of the Rats of Hamelin.

Mary Skelter Nightmares: When the dungeon is a colossal living creature with its own needs

There are worst things than wandering through the dark and cold corridors of a dungeon. If you think that a claustrophobic and repetitive space made of moistly walls and empty silences was the most terrifying and standard environment for a dungeon-crawler, now you will change idea. Because if the dungeon was instead a colossal living creature, the situation will be far worse. This is exactly the main idea for the setting of Mary Skelter.

While you wander through the dreadful but colorful dungeons, you may forget that you are instead inside the body of a colossal eldritch entity called the Jail. As the name suggests, for the few survivors it is impossible to leave the body of this creature, and they are doomed to endure terrible torture inside this organic prison. The Jail is able to mimic things that assimilated, explaining the peculiar and variegated environments. The creature also possesses a sort of immune system, but of course instead of macrophages and lymphocytes, there are monsters called Marchens, and the immortal abominations known as Nightmares (have a look at one of them here: Monster of the Week: Downtown Nightmare (Mary Skelter) — Surreal and Creepy). Sometimes by watching at the variegate and interesting dungeon setting, the player could forget to be inside a living creature, but the game will find ways to remember it. For example, it is quite common to find healthy flesh pulsing out of the walls, just a small fraction of a gigantic living organism. Sometimes, huge eyes will open on the walls, following the party in a creepy and disturbing way. Also the main objective of the party is quite straightforward: to search and to destroy the Jail’s hearts in each different layer.

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The really interesting thing is that being inside a living organism is not simply a storytelling trick to make everything more interesting, but it is directly integrated into the gameplay. As every living organism, the Jail has needs, both physical and psychological. If the player satisfies one of the needs, it will be possible to access to a specific wheel which allow to win a random reward. If some prices are bonus in battle, more experience or less enemy encounters, other bonuses are more rooted in the setting of the game. For example, one of the most interesting reward is the possibility to morph the Jail body itself, unlocking secret areas or creating complete new floors. To fully explore each level of the Jail will be not only necessary to satisfy its needs multiple times, but also putting extra care while unlocking the “random” rewards. The concept of satisfying the biological needs of a giant monster in order to control its own growth, to explore new floors of the dungeon, is a really innovative concept.

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Which are the biological needs of the Jail and how the player can satisfy them? Of course the primary necessity of any living being is the hunger, and the fundamental need of feeding. The Jail in this sense is not different from any animal and, even as a colossal abomination, it still needs food. The Jail will feed on the fluids of the creatures roaming inside of it, absorbing and digesting the blood that is splattered on the walls of the dungeons. How can the player satisfy this need? In each battle if an enemy is killed in a critical way, it will splat pink blood on the walls of the Jail. By critically kill many enemies, the dungeons will turn in a pinkish slaughterhouse, and the Jail will satisfy its hunger. Other than feeding the Jail, the blood will stain on the walls of the dungeon for the entire game. So yes, practically speaking, a player could turn the Jail into a pinkish hell.

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Another primary need of any animal is sleeping. Also the Jail, an eldritch monstrosity, sometimes needs to peacefully sleep. Only when the Jail is sleeping, the player can take advantage of this situation to satisfy this need. In some specific moments, the Jail will simply fall asleep. This is the only time when the player can fill the sleep bar. Just walking in silence is enough to keep the Jail in its peaceful sleep, increasing the sleep bar towards the bonus. Fighting will of course negate any satisfaction, since a battle is of course very noisy and will bother the Jail’s sleep. However, if the player is able to defeat the enemies without taking damages, this will provide anyway a step toward satisfying this need. For sure a quick and deadly battle is less noisy than a long one.

The third need is more complex and, well, a more delicate topic. Because apparently even for a gigantic eldritch abomination, the third physiological need is the libido. Japanese RPGs will never stop to be a surprise. Anyway, also this need can be satisfied by the player in order to take control of the Jail, its growth, and the relative bonuses. Before being traumatized by what the main characters should do the satisfy the libido of this huge abomination, let’s take a big breath because the solution is not as disturbing as could look. Scattered around the dungeon there are innocent looking heart symbols. Those are called “Emotion Points”, and are the quickest way to increase the Jail’s libido. If you forget for a second the name and the bland appearance of these symbols, the main idea is anyway that the characters are looking for “very sensible points to increase the libido from the inside of a huge organism”. Yes, now everything is really more disturbing.

If hunting for “Libido Points” inside a colossal being is not your daily meal, there is another more direct and less subtle way to satisfy the Jail’s libido. The main party is composed by only good looking girls, often with very few clothes on. If this alone could be enough to increase libido, they also have a more interesting secret. They are not human, but something called Blood Maiden, a class of warrior related to blood. Their true power arises when they get covered in blood. But when they are extremely drenched in blood, they could become corrupted, going into a dangerous frenzy. So what could be the most efficient way to clean the blood from their skin? Of course by licking each other. Japan, what a wonderful land for dark RPGs. This action is however not shown to the hungry player’s eyes, but, apparently, the Jail is instead enjoying the spectacle, since its libido will increase.

Mary Skelter is a dark JRPG with a really unique setting. Not only the player is wandering literally inside the “final boss” for all the adventure, but the player is also directly integrated in its ecosystem, trying to play with the Jail’s needs to control its growth. This is really a unique concept with a huge potential, and a very innovative way to connect the gameplay with the setting. For more info you can also check my review: Mary Skelter Nightmares Review: an innovative dungeon-crawler where fairytales are drenched in blood.

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Monster of the Week: Downtown Nightmare (Mary Skelter) — Surreal and Creepy

Origin: Mary Skelter Nightmares (PC, VITA) Appearance: The creature is defined as a nightmare by name and especially by design. In the first form, the monster provides the most nightmarish appearance. The giant round face is watching directly to the player, with big, swollen and red eyes. A long and sticky tongue comes out from a creepy […]

via Monster of the Week: Downtown Nightmare (Mary Skelter) — Surreal and Creepy

Mary Skelter Nightmares Review: an innovative dungeon-crawler where fairytales are drenched in blood

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.