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.
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.
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.
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.