The first Mary Skelter was a pleasant surprise, a really dark dungeon-crawler JRPGs, where fairytale-inspired characters are imprisoned in a living environment, forced to fight by using blood. And if this was not horror enough, the gameplay is also influenced by this gigantic living ecosystem (as you can read in a previous article here: Mary Skelter Nightmares: When the dungeon is a colossal living creature with its own needs), while immortal monsters stalk the group like a proper survival horror (and here an analysis about these Nightmares: The Nightmares of Mary Skelter: fairytale characters reborn as twisted immortal stalkers). However, the sequel was released in the west only on Nintendo Switch. Luckily, it recently became available also on STEAM, so more people can try it.
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.