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 […]

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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.