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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.