The gray machinery of the Inquisition behind the cute facade of Minoria [Review and Analysis]

When you check images of the new game from the creators of Momodora, Minoria, you see an interesting aesthetic full of cute characters, like a modern fairytale. But behind this delicate facade, Minoria touches really dark and delicate topics, from religion, to dogmas, the oppression of the weak ones and the violence against nature. The colorful aesthetic is hiding the gray moral patterns of Minoria’s plot and setting.

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From the gameplay point of view, Minoria is a classic Metroidvania with a good RPG component. There are secrets to discover, different equipment and magics (called incenses), and also a bonus boss fight. The game is short for the genre (around 5 hours), but with 2 endings and also secret equipment unlocked when defeating a boss without getting damaged.

But the plot, the lore and the hidden layers built of small details are the most interesting side of Minoria. In the world of Minoria, an unforgiving Catholic Church is using the Inquisition to hunt for witches, powerful beings in contact with nature. If this is not dark enough, behind the fairytale facade of the art-style, the dark core of Minoria will slowly and subtly appear. First, it will be the dead bodies lying in the background, then it is the turn of lore books with really disturbing details.

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It will soon be clear through notes and books that the silent protagonist was brainwashed to become an inquisitor. A weapon without a morality ready to kill whoever is judged by the Church. The Church is also a rotten and corrupted organization. For example, the Saints in this world are members of the clergy who now live isolated from the world, surrounded by extreme wealth and pleasures. If games like Blasphemous use the horror of religions and Inquisition in a very direct way, in Minoria everything is more subtle, the grayness is hidden in few lines of dialogue, or in the backgrounds. But the player will feel this sense of uneasiness. The lack of free will, and the absence of morality, are also translated into the gameplay. Somehow, the linearity of the game is the main responsible of creating those chains. While killing witches, you will soon realize that they are not that evil, but, anyway, you cannot do nothing other than killing them.

This is really evident while fighting a couple of specific bosses. When they will be at low health, they will stop fighting, dragging around the arena while cursing you. They are already defeated and deadly wounded, but you have no alternative than keep on fighting. There is no way to have pity for the boss. The main character cannot fight the orders of the Church, as well as the player cannot break the linearity of the game. But you would like to do that, to find a way to avoid these murders. The linearity of the game is making you question your morality. Why cannot stop? Why cannot avoid to kill this character? But you character is only a brainwashed gear of a bloodthirsty machinery, so you just keep on fighting. Only at the very end of the game, the player will have a real decision to do. But, even in this case, the choice is reverted, and a promised happy ending will bring to even more death; and also to a final boss fight against a hopeless and powerless character.

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Under the main cathedral of the Order, a dark dungeon will reveal all the hidden torments caused by the Church. While fighting your way through the dungeon, you will meet skinny and traumatized prisoners who will only ask to kill them, such big is their pain. There is no reward for sparing or killing them, so also in this case the weight of your choices is meaningless, like if for the main character the life or death of another human being is totally irrelevant. This will cause a huge sense of uneasiness for the player, in a gorgeous and colorful world with fairytale-like characters, death will powerfully emerge from the background.

Also the concept of fighting against the nature will make you question your action. Some of the boss Battles are against primordial forces of nature, called Witch Deities, but is it truly necessary to destroy something so ancient? Also the main purpose of the game is to burn down a magic forest, which of course can open so many parallelism with the problems of our real world. But this is another story.

Behind all the colorful and the beauty of Minoria, a dark truth lies, a gray story where the linearity of the game will make you feel a brainwashed and blood-thirsty machine, without second thoughts for questions or pity. A deep story where nature and free will collide against dogmas and impositions.

Demoniaca Everlasting Night Review: a dark and mature beat ’em up metroidvania

Castlevania Symphony of the Night (SOTN) is probably the best Castlevania ever created, so no wondering that future metroidvania often used it as main inspiration. Sadly, right now the series is practically dead, and between the many indie metroidvania, very few of them have a comparable dark and gothic atmosphere. Demoniaca is the project of an Italian team, inspired by SOTN but bringing its own identity into a really dark and grim world, with a small amount of violence and nudity. Other than a mature and violent world, Demoniaca is also offering a deep and innovative combat system for the genre, and a beautiful pixel art. But I will talk about that shortly.

Demoniaca tells the tale of a girl abandoned half dead by a group of demons in a mass grave. Her blood got mixed with the one of demons, and she is able to heal and reborn as half’demon. She will follow her own revenge path while trying to stop a catastrophic ritual in a huge tower full of demons. Along her path she will face terrible monsters, huge bosses, and will also meet weird characters. The pixel art of the game is very gorgeous and complex, especially for characters, enemies and bosses. There are a lot of effects on the screen, sparkles, lightnings and also characters appearing during specific summons or attacks. Also in some cutscenes or after loading a new area, a zoom function will better highlight the characters, providing lot more details. The music is fitting with the general atmosphere, with rock tracks based on a strong guitar, which will accompany the player while exploring the dark depths of the tower.

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The combat style of the game is very peculiar for the genre, and it is also very deep. Basically it is based on fighting games such as King of Fighters or Street Fighter, with the four basic buttons connected to different kind of kicks and punches. While progressing through the game, the main character will unlock new moves, to be executed as combination of buttons. Some new attacks are also able to open hidden areas or to progress in the game. There is also a parry function, which allow to reduce or to completely waive the damage received by the enemies. The combat system is deep and appealing, but quite difficult to master and to practically apply, often reducing to spamming the most effective  single attack against a specific enemy.

The RPG side of Demoniaca is well developed and integrated. The main character is able to level up with experience, to collect souls as money to buy new items, and can equip several accessories. There is a huge quantity of items to collect, from rings or necklaces to boost the statistics, to more peculiar items which will expand for example the information on the mini-map, showing also the movement of the enemies. The items can be collected from hidden chests, but also the enemies will sometime drop special necklaces or rings. The emphasis is however not on obtaining new weapons, but on discovering new combos and attacks to practice and to perform them.

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Demoniaca is a really challenging and punishing game, with a huge step in the difficulty after the first boss. The enemies punch hard, with strong and fast attacks, usually lot faster than the main character. Also flying enemies are particularly nasty and difficult to fight or to simply avoid, since often they are almost immortal and with very narrow space between them. Demoniaca also feature an old-school save system, based on finding save points. So forget about autosaves or checkpoints and go to save often, because if you die then you will lost lot of progresses. Of course these are not negative side, but it worth to mention that people looking for an easy metroidvania will find in Demoniaca a real challenge. Instead, old-school players will probably love it.

The enemies are interesting in both design and attacks, with a lot of variety in each new area. The bosses are huge and challenging, usually providing long and strategic battles. Even regular enemies are quite hard to defeat, and it is very important to discover their weak points, even if sometimes this is not too obvious. For example, a huge robot fighting with a telekinetic knife will make the main character into pieces, especially because its attacks are unblockable, till the player will discover that the telekinetic knife can be punched-back to avoid any damage, if executed at the correct moment. Each enemy is really a unique surprise. A small and apparently useless enemy can inflict the status “Retro”, reverting the graphical style of Demoniaca into a retro gameboy-like aesthetic.

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The characters show also a peculiar design, going from aggressive demon-like human, to mysterious being such as the Boxman. I am particular fan of this character, a weird and mysterious being wearing a cardboard box over his head, teaching techniques and appearing in the most unexpected situations. For some reason he really hates crows, but this is another story.

The game is full of small secrets, and has a lot of back-tracking, in the good metroidvania formula. For example, some secret areas or events can be accessed only later by using a specific ability. There are also super strong unique mini-bosses, marked on the map with a star, which are usually too strong to fight when met for the first time, and they need to be revisited again later in the story. The game is full of references, especially of course to Castlevania, but also to King of Fighters, for example in the main character sprites. I was also surprised to see some enemies very inspired by Doom, especially by the Pain Elementals and the Cacodemons.

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Sadly there are some negative sides in Demoniaca’s experience. The background is a bit static and repetitive, compared to the level of details of characters and monsters. The game is also really challenging, but with the correct items and with practice, every challenge can be overcome. The controls sometimes are not so responsive, especially during the platform session, which can be a little clumsy. However the game was released only few days ago and the developers look really responsive, so the majority of these issues could be solved in future patches.

Demoniaca is an interesting dark metroidvania, with nice characters and enemies, together with a deep combat system inspired by fighting games. If you can overcome the challenge, Demoniaca can be a really rewarding experience.

The review was based on a free STEAM key provided by the developers.

“Cthulhu Mythos RPG The Sleeping Girl of the Miasma Sea” review: fight or flight in a horror JRPG inspired by Sweet Home

Cthulhu Mythos RPG The Sleeping Girl of the Miasma Sea (or Cthulhu Mythos RPG to simplify) is not only one of the games with the longest name ever, but an unexpected call back to the first horror JRPG ever created: Sweet Home. For people that doesn’t know it, Sweet Home was a game created by Capcom in 1989 for NES. If the plot was merely about a TV crew trapped in a haunted mansion, the game has instead really unique gameplay elements, such for example the permanent death of the party characters. Thanks to strong horror elements and a punishing gameplay, Sweet Home is still remembered as the precursor of modern horror games.

Many years after, Cthulhu Mythos RPG could be intended as an indie spiritual sequel to Sweet Home. From the aesthetic, to the complex gameplay focused on the correct amount of horror elements, many things in Cthulhu Mythos RPG are a homage to Sweet Home. But there are also many new interesting and complex mechanics to provide to Cthulhu Mythos RPG its own identity. Cthulhu Mythos RPG is apparently part of a series of indie JRPG quite famous in Japan, but this one is the only one that got translated to English. However, the saga looks interesting, so I hope that also the next entries will be translated. Just by looking at the main art, I feel curious to check the other titles.

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As for Sweet Home, also in this case, the plot is really an accessory. Four teenagers decide to challenge their braveness by exploring a haunted house, and of course things will go wrong. The characters are not very deep in terms of personality, from the scared schoolkids to the mysterious policeman, but are instead very different and peculiar in terms of skills and utility in combat. A girl knowing karate could become lethal if equipped with a brass knuckles, while a bizarre nerd can easily learn new magic and possess an item that allows to save everywhere. There are lot of possibilities and combinations, and it is exactly in these role-playing elements that Cthulhu Mythos RPG really shines.

The skills are a deep and interesting feature, able to create a variegate and replayable experience. Not only different characters have different skills, but also at the very beginning of the game, the player can select between a huge lists of skills to create the main character. They are very variegated for utility and applicability, with some of them that are useful in combat, others to avoid enemies, to explore easily or to access to new areas or events. For example, Martial Arts allows the player to be deadly in combat, while Hide or Navigator are useful to escape from combats. But the most interesting skills are the one that allow specific access to otherwise hidden areas, such as Jump, Climb or Swim. These skills also improve the replayability in another run, since a different party could access to different areas in a new play.

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The game also features a sort of internal system of achievements. The interesting thing is that each achievement has points associated, based on the difficulty to obtain it, which will increase the starting points used to select skills. The more the achievements obtained, the more the points during the character creation.

Cthulhu Mythos RPG has even more features that improve the replayability. For example, during the dialogues, the player must often decide how to advance in the game. The choices are quite important and heavy, not only selecting the characters composing the party, but also to decide which area to explore. This means that, in a single play-through, the player could not explore all the areas or the events, since many decisions are mutually exclusive. The multiple branches also affect the ending and, according to the forums, the game features around 4 endings. Worth to specify that there is also a powerful secret boss that can be challenged only after obtaining all the endings.

The combat system is simple but anyway satisfying, and players with enough knowledge of old school JRPG will instantly feel at home, with turn-based combats and random encounters. If each character has his own core skills, it is also true that they could learn new spells by using books, or could be personalized by equipping new weapons. The monsters are very interesting, with a nice pixel art. If at the beginning they are more Gothic inspired, such as Zombies or ghosts, or grotesque things, such as a Mass of Cockroaches, later in the game they will evolve into more Lovecraftian creatures.

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The weapons are also interesting and quite deep. Handguns and bows uses ammo, while silver weapons are the only ones that can damage ghosts. In Cthulhu Mythos RPG the health is not the most vital parameter, but it is instead the Sanity. Facing a monster for the first time, or specific skills of the most creepy creatures, will damage the Sanity. When this will receive too many damages, the characters will go crazy. It is important to heal Sanity promptly with items, or it could be too late. The Sanity of the party could be also damaged while exploring, for example after finding something terrible and shocking.

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Cthulhu Mythos RPG could also be consider a survival horror, not only for the Sanity system, but also for the items management. Each character has only few spaces available to collect items. When burdened, old items could be left on the floor to be collected again lately.

In Cthulhu Mythos RPG, running away and escaping from the mansion are a real and often suggested possibility, especially in a game featuring the permanent death of the characters. By running away, the player can start again the game by keeping all the levels and the knowledge collected. This feature is very interesting and useful. Your party went half-crazy? Run away and try to face the mansion again. Normal difficulty is not so challenging, but in Hard Mode this feature could be very useful.

The game is not perfect, especially from the aesthetic point of view, which is very simple. The backgrounds and the rooms are sadly empty and void, making often very difficult to navigate the mansion, especially without a map. The music and the dialogues are also very minimalist. However, fans of old school horror RPGs will find in Cthulhu Mythos RPG an interesting indie title. The new mechanics, such as the legacy mode, the different endings and choices, are very interesting and will keep the game balanced and replayable.

The developers provided a free key for the review. I would like to remember that the English version of Cthulhu Mythos RPG The Sleeping Girl of the Miasma Sea is available on STEAM.

Tokyo Twilight Ghost Hunters Daybreak Review: fighting creepy ghosts at “hide and seek” using science and your senses

Tokyo Twilight Ghost Hunters could look like a visual novel with beautiful draws and interesting animations, but there is more than this. I have to say that Tokyo Twilight is a very pleasant surprise in these years, where Dark JRPGs are very rare. Behind the visual novel facade lies an interesting JRPG with a completely innovative system and a set of creepy and well designed enemies.

The plot of Tokyo Twilight is focused on modern day ghost hunters, who relay on technology and science to exorcise the spirits. The environment and the lore is very believable, trying to provide scientific explanations on what the ghosts are. For example, ghosts emit positive electrical charges, for this reason iron and salt are effective against them, or how the sewers are not only dumping away human wastes, but also their negative feeling, creating a sort of underground ghost highway. Everything helps to create a believable modern tale around ghosts.

The protagonist is a high-school student with the gift of seeing ghosts, who will become part of an independent and underground ghost hunting agency. The plot evolves along several chapters, each one with a different case to investigate and a main ghost to exorcise. The chapters are quiet independent between each other and are integrated like the episodes of a serie. Each chapter has also a specific theme and a name, usually associated to rock songs such as “Stairway to Heaven” or a classic “Highway to Hell”. There are also alternative routes and party characters that could be missed permanently, if the wrong choices are made in an episode.

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The game is a well balanced mix between visual novel and JRPG. The visual novel aspect is integrated in the daily tasks of the ghost hunting association Interacting with characters is due through an alternative visual novel mechanic and it is used to deliver the plot. The combat elements are instead based on an innovative and bizarre JRPG system, combining good planning, guessing, and skills.

The graphic of the game is really well done, with gorgeous hand-drawn characters and enemies. The backgrounds are instead made with blurred real pictures, which low down a bit the sense of immersion. The main hub of the game is the office of an occult journal, which is brilliant for details and care. New characters and items will become part of the environment, while progressing in the game, creating a vibrant and alive location.

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The creatures design is simply great. It was not an easy task to made a game based only on ghosts without going repetitive, but luckily Tokyo Twilight succeeded in creating a deep and variegated bestiary. The ghosts are very different, principally divided into dead humans and creatures, or object possessed by an entity. Each ghost is not a simple deceased version of what was in life, but something more twisted, eerie and bizarre. A doctor has his body composed by radiographs, while a truck has a huge scorpion-like tail that ends up in a creepy hand. The enemies are also very peculiar in battle, both for attacks and behaviours. Ghosts can travel through water or electrical plugs, giving an unexpected twist to each battle. Status effects are quiet common, many ghosts are able for example to poison the player or to totally terrify the characters, with terrible penalties. If you want to see more ghosts, you can check my previous article: The Creepy Ghosts of Tokyo Twilight — Surreal and Creepy.

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The battle system is really innovative and interesting, but it will need time to be truly mastered. Before trying to exorcise a ghost, a planning phase can be used to place different kinds of traps in the map. Salt can be used to block the way of a ghost trying to imprison it, while other traps will attract or inflict status to the enemies. After that, the action phase will play directly on a minimal tablet-like interface. The party members can attack, move or use special abilities by consuming AP points. The more the APs, the more the actions that a character can manage each turn. The most difficult task during the exorcism phase is to understand where the ghost could be, since they are invisible entities for most of the time. On the planning map, red “X” would mark the possible positions of the ghost, but it is not a guaranteed hit. It is up to the player to remember the places where the ghost could be, and to check them during the action phase. Even after being identified, a ghost will move each turn on a possible pattern, continuing the “guessing where the ghost is” game. Lot of time you will stare at your team missing all the planned attacks because the ghost moved exactly in the only possible square that was not covered by your planning. This could be frustrating also because each battle has a maximum number of turns (or minutes) to be completed, and usually the number is very tight. Wasting a complete turn for a random evasion could be tragic, since passing the deadline means game over.

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The game is difficult and challenging, both for the complex mechanics and the strength of the bosses. However, with time, the game can be mastered, understanding how ghosts will move and unlocking new skills and APs to help in the battle. The ghosts can also drop new weapons and armours, which would change a lot the possibility of success in battle.

Between the visual novel phases and the exorcism of the main ghosts, the player can also access to secondary quests through the website of the agency. These secondary missions are battles against other ghosts, which can be variable for difficulty, time limit and location. More than quests, these are the equivalent of random encounters and are useful to level up and collect money and items. It is also fascinating to do secondary quests just to face and discover new ghosts, which will update the “Ghostpedia”. Honestly, I was so into facing new ghosts that for almost all the game I was over-levelled, without having to rely on traps to defeat the main bosses.

The plot is delivered instead through a classic visual novel system, but with a twist. The choice system is delivered in an innovating and peculiar way through the integration of emotion and senses. Basically, you have a first wheel to select an emotion, such sadness or friendship, using the corresponding icon. A second wheel will instead decide “how” the emotion would be expressed, with a touch or even licking, for example. This could be very cryptic, and sometimes could be very difficult to make a choice that would not end up in a very bizarre reaction. The system is however truly unique and it can be used to create funny or serious situations, since there are plenty of combination. Just imagine how the play-through could change by answering with “licking” to all the dialogues. Many important choices are also delivered through classic binary decisions.

Between a chapter and the next one, there are also many activities that could be explored in the office. Different websites can be visited to buy items or to understand more about the lore. Free time could be used to do shopping or to interact with the other characters, raising your affection meter with them. Training is also a very useful alternative and can be done by selecting a partner. This could help to build up skills necessary to plan the battles and to have more rewards, but could be also further exploited to learn the battle skills of other characters.  There is also a board card game that could be played in the office against the other characters, a funny and complex alternative for a mini-game.

The are really a lot of secondary characters, each very different and interesting in battle. However, I found the majority of the characters quiet flat and easy to dislike during the dialogues, usually embracing bad stereotypes, such as the gay character who loves to remove his shirt and try to kiss the main character.

I played the STEAM version of the game and I really enjoyed it. Many people complained for the controls, but playing with a pad I found it very easy to manage. The only negative things are the Achievements, which are very funny and interesting in the VITA version, but for some reason got cut-out from the STEAM release.

Tokyo Twilight Ghost Hunters is an innovative game that mix brilliantly visual novel and JRPGs. It is a difficult game but very rewarding after being mastered, with a really interesting enemies design and a gorgeous art-style. If you want to try a different and dark JRPG on STEAM, this is one of the best alternatives right now.

Hylics review: a surreal painting in claymation — Surreal and Creepy

The world of Hylics is the closest thing to an alive Dalì painting in a videogame. This game was an amazing surprise, an indie gem hidden behind thousands of games in STEAM. The main core of Hylics is an old school JRPG, with turn combats, a world map full of secrets and vehicles to explore […]

via Hylics review: a surreal painting in claymation — Surreal and Creepy

Fear & Hunger Review: a journey in a land without morality for the darkest RPG ever made

Fear & Hunger is for sure darkest JRPG I ever played, full of gore, sex and torture; surely for a mature audience. The game is the JRPG equivalent of the board game Kingdom Death, especially for the dark themes and the heavy atmosphere. The sense of dread is incredible, every corridor or choice could bring you to a terrible death, behind any path could be a treasure or a horrible creature. Should I enter in that well? What would happen if I join the orgy of people with bunny masks? Every choice could bring to a really horrible death. For example during my first hours I died of hunger in a s****y well (literally), and I was tortured to death by a mad doctor. In a land without morality everything is allowed, from sacrifices kids to murder your party, or cannibalism. But nothing here is gratuitous, everything is well integrated to build a believable dark environment where everything is allowed to survive.

The combat system is quick and brilliant, turn-based fights focused on dismembering the opponent. Dismember fast your enemies, understanding which limb is the most dangerous, and finish the fight with less damages possible is the best way to survive.  An enemy is wielding a threatening giant mace? Cut his arm and avoid heavy damages. This is implemented in a very clever way, for example zombies can fight till be dismembered, while a head-shot for humans is lethal.

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Here the injuries are deadly, and it is also possible to lost limbs or even eyes permanently. Without an arm the character cannot use heavy weapons or shield, while losing the legs will make the player dragging around his body through the dark corridors of the dungeon. It is obvious to say that these permanent debilitation will make the game almost impossible to complete, and loading a save would is the best option. With this in mind, the fighting in Fear & Hunger is far more stressful, brutal and dangerous than in any other RPGs, and should be avoided. There are no random encounters, experience and level up, for this reason fighting should be the last resource. It is true that if almost any enemy can be avoided, some of them are bringing very interesting weapons or tools. In this case, fighting them quickly could bring to interesting benefits.

The game is direct to a mature audience. Seriously! Game Over scenes could involve your character being raped to death, tortured or mutilated. In this dark world, sex, nudity and cannibalism are everywhere, together with madness and an uncomfortable touch of necrophilia. Worth to specify that nothing of these is gratuitous, light-hearted or integrated in a pleasant way, but it is focused on creating a dark and mature experience above the limits of morality. And it works, creating one of the darkest environment, which will scare, make you feel uneasy and questioning your own limits on how to survive.

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Since in the game there is not experience, to learn new skills it is necessary to find specific book, or to use the souls collected from dead enemies to unlock them. The skills are usually character-specific or related to an Old God. To learn the abilities associated to a God, it is necessary to improve the relationship with that related god by doing specific acts in its name. Of course since the universe of Fear & Hunger is a dark place, to worship the Old Gods you can make human sacrifices, have sex or eat another human. This is reflected also on the skills that could be learned, from Necromancy to something called Dark Seed, which is better to don’t describe.

Fear & Hunger is a difficult but rewarding experience. The feeling of finally advancing alive and healthy in the dungeon is really satisfying. There is always some trial and error, but build in a conscious way, where an extended knowledge in the dungeon and in its deadly surprises will allow to understand how to avoid unneeded dangers. Anyway, this is an unforgiving game, where every error will punish and the odds are against the player. The loot system and many drastic decisions are based on a coin flip. Can this be unfair? Surely yes, especially when the coin rule can give you 50% possibilities to save or die, or make you lost crucial loot. Also the game will hide many mechanics, allowing the player to discover everything, but implying lot of trial and error and some searching in the web. Luckily the community is very active, and there is also a well done official wiki of the game.

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During the tough descend in the belly of the dungeon, few characters can also be recruited in the party. But this is no an easy task, since the rules to recruit them are complex and the characters could be lost forever without knowing. For example, a dangerous wolf can be recruited by feeding it rotten meat, an immortal magician would speak with you only if a talisman is equipped, while another character can be saved only by reaching him quickly. Another topic is the use of spells, such as Necromancy, which are able to generate ghouls as allies from dead bodies. The secondary characters are interesting both for personal story and for use in combat. Some of them are impossible to control directly and will attack following their instinct. For example, I found very interesting how the wolf tend to focus its attacks on the legs of the enemies.

The atmosphere is pure nightmare inducing, full of disturbing creatures and evilness. A crow like entity will murder you if you sleep in his bed, while a giant ball made of heads will ask to sacrifice children to him. The monsters are original and creepy, from pregnant mannequins, to dismembering dancing wizards and old women fused with an ancient sewing machine.

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The game also embraces darkness with many choices. Will you sacrifice your team? Will you kill to please the old gods? The game is opened to replayability, with the possibility to select between 4 different characters with its own skills and abilities. Each character has also a prologue, with different paths, which will define the starting abilities and equipment for each class. Abandon your friends to certain death? Your mercenary will learn Backstab. Put the temple on fire? The dark priest will learn Pyrotrick.

The lore and the setting is really complex and interesting, with a believable and unique mythology, far from the usual “inspired by Lovecraft” so common to many horror indie RPGs. Every monster, character and location is clearly part of the same universe. Sylvian for example is the goddess of love, but her love become twisted and people having sex in her name… well will not spoil the surprise. A very bizarre merchant will offer the player very powerful equipment in exchange for… children. Dedicated players will be rewarded with a deep knowledge of the world by reading books, or typing questions directly to the New Gods.

The art-style is simple but gorgeous, especially the monsters and the environment. Also the sound effects add another level of deepness, with disturbing noises and atmospheric music. The dismembering and the animations during the fights are also very satisfying.

This is a demanding and challenging game, sometime unfair and not for everyone. But if you are searching a unique JRPG, really dark and horror, with a complex and rewarding system, you should really give it a try.

A free key of the game was provided by the developers. The game is available on STEAM (only for 18+): https://store.steampowered.com/app/1002300?snr=2_9_100000_

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.

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