The latest PlayStation Vita exclusive from Idea Factory, Mary Skelter: Nightmares is a first-person dungeon role-playing game (DRPG) with turn-based battles. With co-development from Compile Heart (known for many Japanese RPGs), the game finally heads to North America and Europe on September 19 and September 22 respectively, following an October 2016 release in Japan.

Get Out of Jail!

Japan’s busiest city (which isn’t named) has disappeared, leaving behind a crater of darkness. An unusual, terrifying tower stands in the center, transforming what remains into a cruel world now known as “Jail”. The people that once lived in the urban center have been captured and tortured every day by demon-like creatures called Marchen. This is where Alice and Jack come in, two of the main characters that hope to one day leave Jail together.

The day soon arrives as a mysterious young woman breaks in, destroying Marchens and abducting Alice. While havoc unfolded, Jack runs after the abductor, who reveals her name as “Red Riding Hood” and that Alice is a “Blood Maiden”. It turns out that Blood Maidens are humans who possess supernatural power and can power-up by using Marchen blood to defeat foes, but too much Marchen blood (also known as Corruption) can result in a destructive state known as “Blood Skelter State”. This makes the maiden go wild, attacking friend or foe until they die. Then the stage is set as the three set out to meet “Dawn”, an organization that fights against Jail and plan to escape the hellhole.

Not Just a Body Guard

The game is played from Jack’s perspective, though his main role to start with is merely guarding the maidens. Thankfully he later gets more to do, namely maintaining the Blood Maiden’s Machen blood from getting dirty. In combat he can feel a bit useless, as he’s not really a fighter and can be stunned easily. That said, he’s a pivotal character in the plot thanks to his curing blood and his connections with the Blood Maidens.

What a Nightmare!

While travelling through dungeons, you will encounter plenty of “Nightmares” – invisible creatures that cannot die and control the dungeon, functionally filling the “boss” role. Once the Nightmare appears, the surrounding areas grow dark and you begin a “Murder Hunt”, keeping an eye on a distance meter as you try to escape the creature. They’re relentless, following you throughout the dungeon. If caught you get a chance to battle them off, immobilizing it for a short while. When I first had to make my escape from a Nightmare it felt very unsettling, so it definitely puts you on edge once you see the dungeon begin to darken.

Nightmares are not very smart when it comes to maneuvering through the dungeon though, so escaping ends up being pretty easy, even if the mini-map disappears during the event. While Nightmares are invisible at first, they can be defeated, so long as you find the plant-like bulb called a “core” while exploring the dungeon. Defeat the Marchen guarding the core and the Nightmare can be defeated for good.

Wheel of Fortune!

During your dungeon crawling there are three icons that can filled, which are based on the Jail’s three desires: hunger, lust and sleep. Hunger is based off of hitting enemy’s weaknesses, lust requires finding items in the dungeon, and sleep is how long you can fight without being hit. Once you fill one of the desires, a roulette wheel appears on screen, giving you the chance to be rewarded items, recover health, or gain other stat enhancements.

This Isn’t Even My Final Form

Blood Maidens can also transform into a timed stronger form with higher stats and extra skills called “Massacre Mode”. To acquire this, you need to “overkill” (kill an opponent over its remaining health points) or land critical hits on enemies to fill the splatter gauge. Once filled, your Blood Maiden character will automatically transform.

You can also fill the splatter gauge faster by using the “lick” option for Blood Maidens. By using this option, you can choose between other Blood Maidens and take away some of their blood splatters for yourself. Doing so will also add effects to the two characters such as healing or increased status boosts, meaning its a tactical option if you need to heal and power-up characters to quickly defeat your opponent.

There’s also the aforementioned “Blood Skelter State” transformation. For this berserk mode to trigger, the blood splatter gauge will have to be filled with a dark-hued “dirty blood”. This is where Jack comes in, as he purifies the blood with his “Mary Gun”. Otherwise you have to endure the massacre till the enemies are defeat or Game Over.

Outside of dungeon crawling, you can increase Blood Maiden’s weapons and armor by using “Blood Crystals” that are obtained by defeating enemies and fulfilling side quests. Blood Crystals can be used also to change job classes for your maidens.

There’s also a “level degeneration” mechanic, where your Blood Maiden’s level is reset. Doing so will help boost stats and skill acquisitions. If you have played games like Disgaea it is very similar to reincarnating your characters. There are also side quests that can be achieved while dungeon crawling, rewarding the player with items such as Blood Crystals and rare drops for completion.

Win Their Hearts

Jack and each Blood Maiden have their own room at the Dawn headquarters. Jack can build up relationships with each Blood Maiden by offering them gifts and interior items such as beds and desks. Increasing their affection will unlock special events and unique character endings when completing the game. Be prepared to spend lots of time and money to fill up those affections to its max.

There’s also a touchscreen mini game where you rub the screen repeatedly to purify the Blood Maiden but they lose more of their clothing the more you rub. Naturally this is more blatant fan service than anything else, so your mileage may vary. For those who are wondering if the game would be censored when brought over from Japan, the game has not altered.

Down the Rabbit Hole

One of the more enjoyable aspects of the game are the character designs, which are based off of fairy tale folklores – hence the names like Alice, Red Riding Hood, Sleeping Beauty, Snow White, Rapunzel, Gretel, Thumbelina and Jack. Parts of their design resemble their folklore counterparts, such as Red Riding Hood having the eponymous red hood or Sleeping Beauty’s rose headband. Even the Blood Maiden’s transformations have references as well, with Red Riding Hood gaining wolf-like claws and feet and Snow White’s apple-shape over her head. Even the word “Marchen” is reference to folkloric characters such as goblins and trolls.

Each character’s dungeon crawling skills, known as “Blood Abilities”, also use elements from their respective inspirations. For example, Alice’s “Rabbit Hole” ability creates a save point anywhere on the map and allows you to create an escape route from enemies.

Blood Abilities can help not only create save points and escape routes but also uncover secret areas and items. Red Riding Hood’s scissors can cut-through netted walls and Snow White’s ability can destroy cracked walls to help uncover hidden passages to help progress the story.

Aside from using fairytale references in the game, blood is another main theme in the game. Using Marchen blood to splatter dungeon areas for safety against Nightmares and Blood Maiden transformations makes the game feel dark and gruesome. Jack’s blood is an important piece of gameplay to tame Blood Maiden’s from going berserk and used to discover dungeon map secrets.

Dungeon designs use a lot of inspiration from folklores such as Alice in Wonderland. Dungeon levels are laid out as grids and also contain traps such as pits and sword-swinging statues. Each dungeon has a different style but are repetitive layouts through the dungeon. Enemies also begin to get repetitive designs such as changing their color palette.

Prepare for a Bloody Battle!

Just about every time I thought I was done learning the game’s mechanics, more and more were introduced, with the sheer amount of tutorials making it feel a bit overwhelming at first. Thankfully it’s easy to adapt, just be sure to stock up on recovering HP and SP items until you adjust to each character’s skillsets. You also have to be aware of your surroundings while adventuring through dungeons, but the game does a great job to make it fun and interesting.

Despite its flaws, Mary Skelter: Nightmares is a fun dungeon-crawling RPG that has a lot to offer with its soundtrack, gameplay mechanics, characters and customizing. If its stylized, fan-service fueled world works for you, it’s a well-deserved purchase for your PlayStation Vita or PlayStation TV.

Mary Skelter: Nightmares was reviewed by a PlayStation Vita code, provided by Idea Factory, International, Inc.

  • Fairytale inspirations cleverly utilized
  • Intriguing characters
  • Flexible gameplay mechanics
  • Well designed character transformations & classes
  • Stellar soundtrack
  • Overbearing tutorials
  • Vague enemy designs
  • Protagonist Jack seems useless at times

System: PlayStation Vita
Release Date: September 19, 2017
Categories: Dungeon RPG
Publisher: Idea Factory International
Developer: Compile Heart

Written by Seth Hay

Designer, developer and many other things, Seth not only enjoys video games but anime and sports. Making the choice between a Nintendo 64 and a PlayStation back in the '90s, Seth went with the PlayStation just so he could continue enjoying the Final Fantasy franchise along with many other JRPG titles.