RPGs don't get much more old-school than first-person dungeon crawlers. Mary Skelter: Nightmares may seem like a creepy take on the genre but it contains one deeply satisfying campaign that's full of craziness so get ready to donate some blood.
Mary Skelter: Nightmares has you play as the generically named Jack who we see in a prison cell as the story begins. In fact, an entire city was enveloped by this dastardly living prison and its inhabitants refer to it simply as Jail. Within, the prisoners are forced to scream and lick the walls which is pretty ridiculous and somewhat funny to think about. Anyway, Jack seems to be able to communicate with this mysterious dungeon but that's only the beginning. Soon, he is freed from his cell by a woman who is known as a Blood Maiden. These ladies have the ability to use the monsters' blood in order to draw out their true power. However, if they get too much corrupt blood then they may go insane and start lashing out on both allies and enemies. Good thing Jack eventually gets his hands on a Mary Gun which has the power to keep these fairy tale princesses in line.
As you can plainly see, the world of Mary Skelter is incredibly unconventional even for an obscure JRPG. I've never played anything with such a crazy premise yet it all comes together to form an immersive world that's difficult to stop thinking about even after you put it down. The cast help with this immensely as each one is bursting with personality and they're all voiced suitably by a very talented cast of actors. Even leaving the game running when you're in a menu will make one of the maidens say something like "I'm bored..." It's this attention to detail that makes Mary Skelter: Nightmares come to life in an impressive way that's hard to come by in the genre.
Perhaps I should discuss the gameplay at some point. Well, the basic formula where you slowly navigate through dungeons while gradually uncovering their maps is intact although there are far more complexities than even dedicated genre enthusiasts (such as myself) will be used to. For starters, there are plenty of puzzles and secrets that you can discover by using the characters' field skills such as the ability to plant bombs or cut through certain materials. At one point, you have to set up pillars so you can shoot an arrow through a flame and it ricochets into a giant plant that's blocking your path. Cool stuff indeed. As you traverse the dungeons, the Jail itself becomes hungry, sleepy, and even... horny. So, you have to feed it blood, let it rest, and collect hearts to increase its libido and doing so will grant you bonuses. The most rewarding feature to unlock is the warp points which help you traverse the dungeons much more efficiently.
If that's not enough, there is a lot of work that must go in to setting up your party as well as strategizing in battle. At the hub area (Liberated District), you can give gifts to the girls to increase your relationship with them, store items, change jobs and even lower character levels for bonuses in the laboratory, enhance equipment in the blood weapon factory, lessen characters' corruption levels in the rescue center, buy and sell items at the shop, and take on loads of various quests for rewards at order HQ. On top of all this, you also have to create and assign both active and passive skills as well as optimize your equipment loadouts and party formation.
In battle, Jack can guard one party member per turn, shoot his Mary Gun to purge a member's corruption, or use items. Meanwhile, party members can attack or use a variety of skills to harm their enemies. They can also lick each other's blood buildup to use a Blood Soul Skill which provides restorative support. There are so many factors in play which is awesome but it can also be a bit too much to keep track of. Even after playing for hours and hours, I'd still neglect some mechanics simply by forgetting that they exist.
As I've touched upon, there are plenty of quests to take on and secrets to discover. Accomplishing these optional endeavors is extremely rewarding and adds a great deal of replay value. As if the core campaign wasn't already packed with oodles of intricacies and fun content, there are still tons of optional tasks to accomplish in order to make your maidens even more powerful.
There isn't much negative to say about Mary Skelter: Nightmares. However, two issues come to mind. First, there's a severe lack of enemy variety. After travelling through a dungeon for hours, you'll come across the same enemies although they might have different colour palettes. Needless to say, it gets rather repetitive. Secondly, there sure isn't much challenge when it comes to mastering these crazy dungeons. I only experienced one difficult part and that was when two of my party members temporarily left. Besides that, everything was smooth sailing. Even when a boss relentlessly chases you around the dungeon, it doesn't pose much of a threat.
In the end, Mary Skelter: Nightmares is one of the most delightful and impressive RPGs that I've played in a long time. Both old-school dungeon crawler fans and those curious about the genre definitely have a bloody enjoyable adventure ahead of them.
- + Satisfying dungeon crawling gameplay with loads of variety and nifty mechanics
- + Insane game world and fantastic cast
- + Tons of secrets and quests to master
- - Far too many intricacies to keep track of
- - Could use more enemy variety
- - General lack of challenge