Mary Skelter Finale is the end of the trilogy of dark Japanese dungeon-crawlers. Following for the last time the fight of the Blood Maidens against the immortal Nightmares to escape the living Jail, Finale is a huge game dense in new mechanics. And this time, the escape to the surface will hide even more dangers.
While the immortal Nightmares are still there, ready to chase the party around the mazes till they can be finally defeated (and you can check more about previous Nightmares in this analysis The Nightmares of Mary Skelter: fairytale characters reborn as twisted immortal stalkers), there are far more dangers, including a deranged and sadistic group of bloodthirsty girls: the Massacre Pink (or Genocide Pink in Japan). However, there is also a smaller but even more peculiar enemy waiting to surprise the party while exploring the Jail: the Insectmares.
This new danger comes from swarming enemies that can surprise the party during any battle, literally enveloping and crawling not only on the character but on the screen itself. Like under a sort of living negative effect, when a character gets swarmed by Insectmares, they receive several maluses. These range from the obvious bothering of having the screen almost entirely occupied by crawling creatures, to the impossibility of using any skill, attacking, or even trying to escape. Moreover, Insectmares also work as general malus, lowering, for example, defence or accuracy. And, as an untreatable plague, it is also quite difficult to get rid of Insectmares, which will continue to crawl on the affected character even when the battle ends. In fact, the only way of removing the Insectmares is by using blood, and a huge amount of it, coming or from the enemies critically killed, or by throwing essential blood packs.
The Insectmares are a new level of immune defense of the living Jail. If Nightmares can be the equivalent of macrophages or lymphocytes, actually hunting down external pathogens, Insectmares are more similar to antibodies, enveloping the external elements thus facilitating their destruction. In fact, the Insectmares are linked to the “angry” level of the Jail. Because if you fight or escape too many battles, or are chased by a Nightmare, without satisfying the Jail needs, such as Sleep or Hunger (yes, the dungeons here have feelings, you can read more here: Mary Skelter Nightmares: When the dungeon is a colossal living creature with its own needs), then the Jail will get angry. The higher the fury of the Jail, the higher the probability of being swarmed by Insectmares. This can happen at any moment: when in battle, exploring, and even when running away from a Nightmare. And the fact that this living and permanent negative status can appear in any battle, even bosses, regardless of their specific skills and powers, adds an additional level of anxiety and complexity through the game.
An additional details about the Insectmares lies in their name. While the English translation relies on their general insect-like aesthetics, together with their swarming behaviour, the original Japanese name is Babymare. This creepy name opens a new world of interpretation, somehow implying that they are a juvenile or larva stage of a Nightmare, their “baby” form.
Talking about their appearance, Insectmares are in general colorful beings, usually animal-based, but sometimes they can be more humanoid. However, while advancing in the game, they tend to get more grotesque, resembling animal-carcasses or disgusting anthropomorphic mutations. And yes, the fact that these creatures are literally crawling on you is quite disturbing.
Let’s have now a more detailed look at some of the Insectmares ready to crawl on you in Mary Skelter Finale. Since they lack a name, I simply created an unofficial one based on their appearance.
The colorful cows cover the entire screen, appearing more like silly animations than disturbing beings. Worth to specify that these Insectmares are involved in the first tower of the game, associated with gold and judgment. As previously said, the Insectmares tend to get more and more disturbing in later towers, so, in the beginning, simply accept to be swarmed by silly and colorful cows. But wait, by closely looking, those cows have completely insane expressions, and their bodies look like stitched together. Well, maybe even in the beginning, Insectmares can be creepy.
From one of the first dungeons, these Insectmares really fit their name. In fact, they appear as humanoid bees, with big red lights behind, colorful wings, a dangerous sting, and a set of peculiar humanoid features. The face is completely human, with a dumb-looking expression, pale void eyes, and a disgusting long tongue. They are in general more silly-looking than other Insectmares, but since they are in one of the first colorful dungeons, they still fit in the overall atmosphere.
The penguins are grotesque and disgusting Insectmares, with beaks full of pointed teeth and feral expressions. Their bodies are already decomposing, appearing as decaying carcasses, with the ribs gorily erupting from their chest. At first glimpse, they could look like crows, but at a closer look, they are in fact penguins. This is supported by their appearance in one of the first towers, a cold and frozen environment. The simple idea of being surrounded and swarmed by a flock of these repulsive creatures is sufficient to send a chill down the spine. These Insectmares really break the rule, appearing as terrifying and grotesque beings in one of the first towers.
The Eye Moths are the common Insectmares in a tower associated with blood and beauty, where gorgeous mirrors are scattered around, and blood is pumping from the ceiling. The moths are of a colorful ruby, to connect them with the blood-related topic of the tower, with a pair of gigantic eyes on their wings. They are quite graceful in appearance, and far less grotesque than the other Insectmares. However, when almost completely swarming the screen, having those giant eyes staring directly at the player creates a really uneasy feeling, almost breaking the fourth wall in a really unsettling way.
The creepy climax of a Saturday-morning cartoon that went terribly wrong, these three-headed horses are probably the most disturbing Insectmares. The horses appear in the circus/carnival tower, a place of deadly games and disturbing beings. And their are really fitting there. The frontal face has a disturbing and insane smile, while the skin of its cheeks grotesquely melt with the other heads. And if you closely look at, the right head has its eyes almost melted inside the other skin. There is not a detail that it is not truly disturbing in this design, including the exposed ribcage with the heart beating inside. One of these creatures is already disturbing enough, but these small guys attack in a swarming and grotesque pack. You cannot unsee those terrifying faces staring directly at you through the screen.
One of the last Insectmares, these dolls are truly disturbing beings with nothing remotely cute or animal-based in their design. They live in a tower that looks like an hospital, full of living flesh and hanging ropes, so it is not a surprise that their appearance is so grotesque. The face is the most grotesque detail, composed of hard skin stitched together with red strings, even going inside a porcine nose. The mouth and eyes are completely filled with nails, an extreme and disturbing correlation with straw dolls stabbed with nails in black magic rituals. The limbs and body are simply straw bands roped together. The Straw Dolls are pure nightmare fuel, and simply seeing their stitched faces full of nails staring at you so close on the screen is already a gigantic malus on its own.
Being chased by an enemy almost impossible to defeat, relying on hiding or running away as the only chance of surviving, is one of the most extreme feelings in survival-horror games. And if famous pursuers such as Nemesis or Mr. X from early Resident Evil games, or Pyramid Head from Silent Hill 2, are the most iconic examples, other games such as Clock Tower made escaping an immortal stalker the core element of their gameplay (and you can read more here: https://surrealandcreepy.wordpress.com/2021/04/10/best-indie-games-similar-to-clock-tower/). However, pure horror games are not the only example where immortal stalkers are present. And sometimes, you can even experience this anxiety in very unexpected genres.
It is the case of turn-based JRPG, a genre usually associated with slow and static games, which instead surprisingly show several examples of immortal pursuers. As expected, several of these creatures come from Atlus games, the developer of the most known horror-themed JRPGs such as Persona and Shin Megami Tensei. On the other side, it is also true that some similar enemies can also be found in less horror-themed JRPGs such as Final Fantasy. Because I think everybody remembers the robot spider from the beginning of FF8. Moreover, this is especially true for more recent horror JRPGs, especially Idea Factory games, and even more fitting for dungeon-crawlers. Probably because of the mazes to explore, or the first-person view, dungeon-crawlers have a huge selection of immortal stalkers, chasing you till an unexpected dead end. And if instant death once trapped is not that different from any survival-horror games, being stuck in an almost impossible-to-win turn-based battle has a completely different taste. And if you find difficult to imagine that, try to think about the pressure of selecting the best move hoping to survive, while the creature annihilates at each turn a different character, or about attempting to escape the battle but failing each time. Moreover, random battles and turns create a denser atmosphere, because you don’t know how many different attacks the creature could do, or when it could appear. Another very interesting concept is that, while in pure horror games there is always a scheduled encounter to kill the immortal stalkers, in JRPGs this could be instead level-based. So maybe 50 levels later, when you are strong enough, you can come back to the stalker that was terrifying you early on to finally kill it.
So what will be on this list? I selected examples of immortal stalkers from different JRPGs, especially if horror-themed, and all with turn-based battles. If not, there would not be much different from pure horror games. The selected creatures should be also almost impossible to defeat, especially when met for the first time, and able to quickly annihilate the party. They should also be active stalkers, or appearing only when connected to rare or unwanted events or mechanics, in fact acting as a negative reward.
Mary Skelter– The Nightmares
Mary Skekter is a trilogy of dark dungeon-crawlers where everything is horror-themed. Not only the games are set inside a colossal living being but also blood is a central element in the gameplay (more info here: Mary Skelter Nightmares: When the dungeon is a colossal living creature with its own needs). But what truly shines as pure horror gameplay are the Nightmares, the immortal stalkers at the core of the experience. Every dungeon has its Nightmare patrolling around, disturbing creatures that are, at the beginning, impossible to kill. They will randomly appear when the player explores the dungeon, accompanied by creepy sounds and a white aura. If they spot the party, the only chance of surviving is to run away as far as possible till the chase is over. The worst thing? The map will be disabled during the chase, so you can easily finish trapped in a dead end. In battle, each Nightmare has an external shell that can be destroyed to briefly stun them, facilitating the escape. However, if random battles happen during the chase, the nightmare will join the fight, creating a very challenging situation. A Nightmare can only be truly defeated after losing the immortality, which will happen by destroying a core at the end of its dungeon. Moreover, the Nightmares are also seriously creepy and disturbing in appearance, linked to the theme of each dungeon and the background of the main heroine there, thus incorporating twisted fairytale elements in their grotesque design. If you are curious about more details, I also wrote a long analysis about the Nightmares, which you can check here: The Nightmares of Mary Skelter: fairytale characters reborn as twisted immortal stalkers.
Undernauts Labyrinth of Yomi – Luci
Undernauts is another dungeon-crawler JRPG, set in 1979 Tokyo where a mysterious structure appeared in the middle of the city. Full of dangers but also resources, soon mining companies start to explore this huge dungeon to unveil its secrets. Developed by Experience Inc, Undernauts is somehow connected to their main series Stranger of the Sword City. However, Undernauts is much more horror, violent, and disturbing than their other RPGs. Let’s just say that the first scene inside the game sees you as the only survivor of your mining expedition, which was was devoured by a kid with a giant leech-like arm. And you survived, only because the child was too full to eat you. While wandering around the dungeons, you will soon meet again that “sweet” cannibal child that spared you. Her name is Luci, an immortal child with a giant leech-like arm, which follows the orders of a mysterious man from a radio around her neck. While exploring the dungeons, you could randomly hear a radio massage of the mysterious man sending the girl to devour the party. After the message, whichever random or stationary battle in the dungeon, will be instead against Luci. So the only way to surely avoid this fight is to quickly run back to the main camp before a battle starts… and this is pretty stressful while exploring. During the fight, the little girls seems so weak and yet so disturbing. But she has the bad habit of attacking the rear row, usually quickly killing your magician or healer, thus making your life pretty miserable even if you succeed in repelling her. Yes, I didn’t use the word “killing” because Luci is immortal and, after behind defeated, she will just stand up and run away, after saying some very sad lines about failure and loneliness. But she will surely come back another time, trying to devour you. Moreover, Luci will also appear in some mandatory boss battles, together with other minions and the ability of massively healing, making such fights even more difficult. Without doubts, Luci is one of the most scary and disturbing stalkers on this list.
Persona – The Reapers
Persona started as a spin-off of Shin Megami Tensei, and now is more famous than the original series. Mixing real life and dark supernatural events, since Persona 3, the saga allows the exploration of huge dungeons while investing in your daily life. And also starting with Persona 3, the Reaper appeared to torment the main party. Especially in Persona 3, the Reaper is a pure horror stalker, integrated since the beginning of the game into the mechanics. If you explore for too long in a dungeon, depending on its size, the Reaper could appear on the floor to hunt you down. Since characters with levels below 70 have practically zero chances of defeating it, finding the exit as fast as possible is the only way to avoid death. Meeting the Reaper means starting an impossible battle, where the party will be annihilated in a couple of turns. The good side is that an end-game party can instead defeat the Reaper, unlocking very rare rewards. The Reaper is also present in Persona 4, but this time it acts only as a secret super boss, which can be faced only during a second playthrough after opening a mysterious chest. In Persona 5 the Reaper is back to stalk the party inside the dungeons, very similarly to Persona 3. When the Reaper appears, accompanied by the sound of rattling chains, the other party members will try to warn you about its danger, and how running away is the only option. Again, the battle is almost impossible to win due to the Reaper’s high defence and instant killing spells.
Etrian Odyssey – FOEs
A JRPG saga that truly integrated challenging battles against almost impossible foes is the dungeon-crawler Etrian Odyssey, published by Atlus. In almost every game of the saga, strong enemies called by the acronym FOE wander around the dungeons. They are always challenging enemies, usually very difficult to beat during the first visit, so it is always a recommended strategy to avoid these fights. However, Etrian Odyssey also integrated very interesting and variegated behaviours for the FOEs. In general, red FOEs work as relentless stalkers, charging at the player if in their sight. For example, the Freed Savage (Etrian Odyssey III) is a grotesque being caged behind gates but, once freed, the creature will quickly run toward the player to attack it. Other similar examples involved FOEs acting in pairs. For example, the Cruel Slayer (Etrian Odyssey IV) is a relentless robot hound almost impossible to outrun, but it will only start to track the players if they are spotted before by a wandering sentinel called the Cold Watchman. However, FOEs also exhibit more complex, hunting, and disturbing behaviours, creating challenging predators to avoid. A deadly example is the Vampire Tree (Etrian Odyssey III), an invisible FOE with a very horror-predatory behaviour. The tough monster will get visible only if close to you while you are in battle, slowly advancing at each turn of the fight. If you are too slow in the random fight, the FOE will join the battle. And having a tough boss with high defence, and a lethal poison that will both damage the characters and cure the monster, is not an easy challenge. Talking about erratic patterns, the disturbing Taurus Demon (Etrian Odyssey V) doesn’t directly charge the player, but once they line up with the monster, the FOE will start to mirror their movements, even if they are very far away. And since the creature is a deadly physical attacker, avoiding it is a necessity. Another deadly and peculiar FOE from Etrian Odyssey V is the Mounting Horror. The monster doesn’t move from its position, but will instead generate clones as strong as it to hunt the player, and the only way to survive is to find and kill the real monster. But the top spot for the scariest and most peculiar FOE from Etrian Odyssey goes to the Death Wall (Etrian Odyssey 2 Untold). Imagine being trapped in a twisted labyrinth typical of dungeon-crawler games, trying to find your way out. At some point, maybe you start to see that a wall was never there. What is happening? This is simply Death Wall, a FOE that mimics a normal dungeon wall… which will move only if you are not watching it. And once you are trapped in a dead-end hallway, you are forced to face it. And this is a battle where you cannot escape, and the Death Wall will literally try to crush all the party with strong physical AOE attacks.
The Lost Child–Nyarlathotep
Another dungeon-crawler to add to the many on the list, Lost Child is a spin-off of El Shaddai, an action game involving Catholic mythology and angelic wars. Sharing many similarities with Shin Megami Tensei, in The Lost Child, the main character can trap demons and fallen angels to fight in the party. And the design of the enemies is very original and interesting, as you can see here for some demons: The most unusual Demons from the Japanese dungeon-crawler The Lost Child. However, angels and demons are not the only enemies, since the main bosses are Lovecraftian creatures, including Cthulhu. And Nyarlathotep from the bonus dungeon R’lyeh Road is an immortal stalker that deserves to be in this article. R’lyeh Road is a gigantic bonus dungeon of 100 floors, which can be faced at any point during the game. Each floor has only one exit, and a switch to open it. And the big twist is the presence of Nyarlathotep, which will manifest on every floor once the door is open. Nyarlathotep does not physically face the party but, as a sort of alien parasite, will take control of normal enemies, appearing behind them like a sort of puppeteer, enhancing them to a boss-level threat. The other unique feature is that Nyarlathotep will physically appear on the map, charging toward the player, one step at a time. By planning your moves and using big rooms to your advantage, it is fact possible to avoid Nyarlathotep and escape to the next floor. So how it is possible to truly defeat Nyarlathotep? You can discover the answer only on the 100th floor of R’lyeh Road, making Nyarlathotep one of the most relentless stalkers on the list.
Mother 3 – Ultimate Chimera
Earthbound saga is a cult game not only in Japan, but also worldwide, one of the weirdest RPG ever developed that influenced recent RPGs such as Undertale or Omori. Between funny and disturbing moments, the party will face different creatures, each requiring very peculiar strategies to be defeated. And in Mother 3, there is also an immortal stalker: the Ultimate Chimera. This creature, created inside a lab, looks like a fluffy pink monster with a pair of small wings. But behind this innocent-looking monster lies a deadly enemy. Once it sets free, the monster will roam the lab attacking NPCs and chasing the player. The terrible surprise is that, instead of starting a normal battle, meeting the Chimera means an instant Game Over. There is no hope in fighting the creature, so running away is the only alternative. Luckily, the ultimate Chimera can be deactivated by a button on its back… but only temporary since the party will meet the monster again during the game.
Death end re;Quest 2 – Dark Shadow
The sequel of one of the most horror and disturbing JRPG from recent years is even more insane and terrifying. Hopping between a cursed virtual reality and a town hiding a cult, Death end re;Quest 2 shows a set of really grotesque enemies (that you can check here: The most creepy and disturbing enemies and bosses of Death end re;Quest 2). But random enemies are not the only threat, since another entity could appear anywhere to hunt the party: the Dark Shadow. This cryptic creature appears together with some distortions in any point inside a dungeon. The towering shadow creature advances slowly toward the player, but a mere wrong turn inside a dead-end hallway… and it is Game Over. Because as with the Ultimate Chimera in Mother 3, simply touching the Dark Shadow means a sudden death. Moreover, sometimes the game will position the Dark Shadow in impossible points, where gimmicks like finding hidden suspended paths are the the only way to avoid the creature.
Shadow Hearts – Fox Face
Shadow Hearts is the first (or the second, if we consider Koudelka) entry of a dark saga of JRPGs released for PS2. Mixing European history with demons and eldritch abomination, the game knew how to assemble RPG mechanics with horror elements. And an immortal stalker could not miss this setting. Shadow Hearts involved a very peculiar mechanic around the Malice, a dark and malevolent energy released from death. The more the main character kills enemies in battle, the more Malice is accumulated. Till the breaking point, where the UI becomes red and the Graveyard opens its door. At this point, the Fox Face can appear instead of any random encountered. At first, the creature is not very intimidating, merely a human with a fox mask. However, this adversary represents the protagonist’s fears, and can be challenged only in a 1-on-1 combat, where death is the most possible outcome since the enemy has many dirty moves. The player can lower Malice and avoid Fox Face by going to the Graveyard, to then speak to mysterious floating masks demons and participate in their fighting arena. This is a perfect example of a terrifying stalker very well integrated into the game, so deadly and scary because the main character must face it alone.
Fear & Hunger – Crow Mauler and Greater Blight
Fear & Hunger is probably the darkest RPG ever made, set in a world so grim and sick that will make you often chill. Featuring a combat based on mutilations, where several negative effects are permanent, including death, and lacking any experience coming from combat, avoiding enemies is the standard in this game (and for more you can check the different articles I wrote here: https://darkrpgs.home.blog/category/videogames/fear-hunger/). But some enemies are even more specifically design to act as terrifying Stalkers. The most fitting example is the Greater Blight, a gigantic creature roaming the empty wasteland of the Void, a secret end-game area. While wandering around, sometime a message saying that something is following you will appear. Ignore the message, and soon enough more intimidating ones will appear. If you find a hole in the ground on time, you can hide there till the creature loses your scent. Otherwise, be ready for a tough battle. The Greater Blight looks like a gigantic T-rex missing the eyes, a deadly foe that can slaughter the entire party in a couple of turns. However, a strong and lucky party can still defeat the creature, which will only escape to prepare for another chase. And the player will gain nothing from this deadly battles, except probably for dead characters and mortal wounds. Another infamous enemy is the Crow Mauler, probably the most hated boss in the entire game. In the beginning, Fear & Hunger has only one save point, an old and forgotten bed inside a jail. However, saving in the game is also dangerous, since you have a 50% chances of facing the Crow Mauler. And an underprepared party will also surely die there, because the tough creature has even one-shot attacks. But if you want to freely save the game, soon or later you must defeat this creature. And if this was not enough, the end-game dungeon has trapdoors scattered around. If you fall inside them, you will finish in a basement… chased by a two-headed Crow Mauler, an enemy almost impossible to defeat. Anyway, if you are curious to know more about the Crow Mauler, I wrote an analysis here: When it is impossible to Save: surviving all the mutilations of the Crow Mauler in Fear & Hunger [Boss Battle].
Shin Megami Tensei – Jailer and Dante
Shin Megami Tensei saga doesn’t need introduction, since it is probably the most famous and longevous dark JRPG around. Moreover, the monsters based on mythologies around the world, created by Kazuma Kaneko, are still now an example in monster designing. And surprisingly, some of them also worked as immortal stalkers. An example is the Jailer from Digital Devil Saga (also known as the Buddhist demon Kumbhanda), a deviant creature in charge of a prison. The jail is also a factory where humans are converted into canned food, the Jailer’s favourite. And yes, if you didn’t know, cannibalism is a central theme in Digital Devil Saga (and you can read more about it here: Digital Devil saga: A cannibal JRPG — Surreal and Creepy). During the first battle against the Jailer, you will realise of a drastic anomaly: the boss has an attack able to paralyse everybody with a 100% success rate, quickly ending the battle. Later on, the prison becomes its hunting ground, where the main character should physically escape from the Jailer and its traps, while finding a way to trick it into losing its powers. If the Jailer is a pure horror stalker, another enemy is an even more emblematic hunter in Shin Megami Tensei. Just this time, it is an enemy that you would never expect. “Featuring Dante from the Devil May Cry Series” became quite a meme for SMT 3 Nocturne, and the legendary demon hunter from Capcom’s games truly appears in one of the bonus dungeons. Dante will literally stalk the player while exploring a complex maze, shooting them if they are far but still in his range, or starting a deadly battle when reaching them. In the last case, Dante will immediately kill the weaker demon in the party with his sword. And if the main character is the lowest-level one… well, time for an instant Game Over.
Persona Q – FOEs
Persona Q is a spin of the main series released for 3DS, with a gameplay more similar to Etrian Odyssey than the regular Persona. The similarities are so many that, even in this case, while exploring the dungeons, you can meet deadly FOEs. As well as for Etrian Odyssey, FOEs have different behaviours, and, in general, it is often recommended to avoid them. Moreover, due to the darkest nature of Persona setting, the FOEs are even more disturbing. For example, the Beast of Lust is a sort of small Cherub seated on top of a bondage horse, creating a very disturbing enemy that follows the player if they are directly watching the creature. So no eye contact, no pain. In the next dungeon, the Evil Spirit Club, the party must face creepy clusters of dolls, the Lovely Dolls, which share some similarity with Junji Ito’s Tomie. They are stationary, but tends to surprisingly teleport toward the player causing a jump-scare. Luckily, the light can repel those dolls granting safe passages. And if the Loving Dolls are not enough, the ancient version, the Old Doll, will actively chase the party and can even block some doors to create smaller hunting grounds. Other FOEs, such as the Festival Dudes, act as super tough side battles. They are a group of 4 monstrous and coloured muscled guys bringing around a shrine, which move in a fixed pattern around the dungeon. However, even if they are extremely strong, they can be defeated by selecting specific characters for a very unusual party. To conclude, the Reaper from previous Persona games is also there to hunt and terrify the party in the last dungeons.
Mary Skelter 2 is really difficult to describe without spoilers. Because for almost the entire game, the player who previously played the first game has no idea of what is happening. In fact, Mary Skelter 2 is altogether a prequel, a sequel, and a remake. And why some things are the same, some will drastically change. This is especially true for Jack, the only male protagonist.
In the first title, Jack was the classical “good boy who cares for a complicated girl” inside a harem of female characters. However, his function was unique and essential, since by managing the use of his blood, the player could avoid the girls to fall into a deadly frenzy. It was an interesting balance: shoot too much of Jack’s blood and he will go KO, but by being too strict you risk that your party will self-annihilate in a bloody frenzy.
Even in Mary Skelter 2, Jack is essentially the same… but very briefly. In fact, Jack will suddenly transform into a Nightmare, a gigantic, obtuse, and grotesque creature barely able to talk. This insane twist will not only affect the story, but will also reflect on the gameplay. Nightmare Jack can only communicate with Otsuu, the new protagonist princess, and will share two turns with her.
The monstrous new protagonist act quite differently from his previous self. But he can still shoot blood to momentarily reduce the frenzy of the party. However, this time instead of affecting his body, the action will have a toll on his mental health. This time, Nightmare Jack has a bar representing his mental health, which will deteriorate the more actions he will take. Of course, there are ways to regain sanity, for example by walking around the dungeons without using his powers. Moreover, Jack can also relax on his own by spending an action to take a Deep Breath, reducing in this way his level of stress. But what will happen when Jack’s mental health completely deteriorates? He will truly become a rage-full Nightmare, attacking indiscriminately both enemies and allies. And yes, he is far more dangerous than any other party member in frenzy.
Luckily, Otsuu has also ways of calming Ripper Jack (a familiar name for his nightmarish version), and can in fact talk to him by using “Counseling,” an action to calm him down. The other girls can also try to Embrace him, hoping to calm him as well. But often, only a single turn of Ripper Jack could wipe out your party. Moreover, if Jack loses control three times in the same battle, there is no way to turn back. It is Game Over.
While hopping between sanity and deadly frenzy, Jack has also other interesting actions. While outside battles, he can use a power that in the first game was of Alice, allowing the player to create a Save Point everywhere, at cost of Jack’s sanity. While in battle, Jack can use a very special power: Nightmare Zone. This attack can change the course of a battle by completely inhabiting the enemy for one turn. But of course, such power will have a drastic effect on Jack’s sanity.
The sudden change of the good-boy Jack into his nightmarish counterpart strongly marks what Mary Skelter 2 is trying to achieve: a huge change inside the comfort of your pre-built knowledge. Everything is similar to the previous game, but there are also huge differences in the plot. What is happening in Mary Skelter 2? This question will need a lot of time to receive an answer. Nightmare Jack is a really peculiar protagonist for a JRPG, not only for his grotesque appearance but especially for his intrinsic danger. Managing the mental health of this character to help the party survive, while avoiding the appearance of Ripper Jack, is an interesting and unique horror mechanic. This is also reflected in the exploration, because if Jack’s sanity is already low, creating a Save Point could lead to your annihilation in the next fight.
Like the previous entry, Mary Skelter 2 offers a unique combination of dungeon crawling and horror, plus some interesting new mechanics, and a twisted plot that is quite difficult to figure out till the very end.
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.