(Note: Nintendo Switch Review code provided by Idea Factory International)
I posted a tweet about how cool it was discovering and playing several video games of a specific genre starring lesbians or featuring important lesbian characters. That being the “first-person dungeon crawler” RPG subgenre. So far the ones I discovered include Sakura Dungeon, Labyrinth of Refrain: Coven of Dusk, the Lightning Warrior Raidy series, Serment – Contract With a Devil and the game we are about to discuss today, Mary Skelter 2. Let us find out whether it is worth readers’ time.
Note 1: This review is written by someone who has not played the first game, Mary Skelter or its enhanced re-release, Mary Skelter Nightmares.
Note 2: Mary Skelter 2 for the Nintendo Switch includes Mary Skelter Nightmares, essentially 2 games in 1.
Platforms: Nintendo Switch (2 and Nightmares), PC (Nightmares is also available on Steam and GOG. No word on 2 yet though it may be ported in the future.)
Developer: Idea Factory, Compile Heart, Denpile
Genres: Comedy, Dark, Dungeon Crawler, Horror, JRPG/RPG, Post-Apocalyptic, Supernatural, Yuri
Length: 35-50 hours (First Playthrough)
Difficulty: Medium-Hard (Depends on players’ understanding of the in-game mechanics)
G-Rating: Great (Depends on whether the reader likes Dungeon Crawlers)
The Jail – a living prison that feeds on the humans trapped within its confines.
The Jail appeared a number of years ago with the caving of the city around it.
Now twisted creatures known as Marchens and treacherous Nightmares roam its halls.
Otsuu and Little Mermaid are a part of a group of humans known as “Dawn” attempting to survive these horrors.
They succeed in saving Alice and a young man named Jack on one mission.
However, on their return back to base, Alice goes mad and begins attacking those around her.
Alice strikes Jack, who was trying to protect Otsuu and Little Mermaid, knocking them down a chasm.
Later, Otsuu and Little Mermaid awaken from the fall only to find Jack on the verge of death…
And so begins the tale of escaping from fate,
led by a group of girls seeking sanctuary in this mad world,
and of the young man who would transform into madness itself – a Nightmare.
The first question new readers most likely will ask is whether it is required to play MS Nightmares before 2. No because the story of MS2 is set in an alternate universe from MSN though there is some connection between both universes. Players will have to see for themselves. Having played a little bit of MSN I personally recommend playing 2 first because it introduces the world at a better place instead info dumping everything early on. Put simply I felt MS2 introduced everything better than MSN. That is all I can say about MSN as I have not delved deeply into it yet. What I can say is because both stories are set in the same world but separated by different timelines ala a Multiverse seen in Superhero comics or Akanesasu Shoujo for regulars of this blog, they share similar locales and dungeons (Jails) though the layouts are different.
As for the story it is full of horror, suspense and dark themes yet still has the token cute, sexy and fluffy goodness found in other Idea Factory and Compile Heart titles, specifically female centered titles. Several of the monsters, called Marchen, are grotesque abominations (especially the Nightmares) or weird creatures out for our heroines’ heads. Each heroine and a group of survivors who escaped the Jail each have their stories to tell making for a large and wonderful cast of characters. Usually in RPGs I consider it more important for the cast of characters to be interesting in case the world is not. Fortunately this is a game where both cast and setting are equally intriguing as players join the heroes in their quest to find their missing friends and potentially recruit more allies, specifically Blood Maidens, in hopes of finding a way of surviving a literally living Hell that used to be Earth.
Note: The English dub, while good, is partially dubbed whereas the Japanese one is fully dubbed.
The presentation is excellent. The character art, locations and world all look great despite the grim setting. The soundtrack is equally excellent with some fitting tunes that I listen to when not playing, including remixes of Jail themes from MSN. Makes sense as most of the Jails are from the first game but as mentioned above the layouts are different. Initially The theme of the first MS2 Jail visited is a remix of the first MSN Jail for example. Funny enough said remix gave me Nippon Ichi Studios Originals vibes, which is a good thing.
Now for the gameplay. Hoo boy. Where do I start? If Sakura Dungeon and the Raidy series are basic dungeon crawlers and Labyrinth of Refrain is meatier than the two, then the Mary Skelter series goes all out with gameplay mechanics. I do not know if there is as much as the lauded Etrian Odyssey series but there is A LOT to keep track of playing MS2 from exploring the numerous and its traps and puzzles to the combat. I will summarize as best as I can what to expect and the interested will hopefully become accustomed to it all while playing. There is a lot to take in at first but it EVENTUALLY becomes second nature. Just expect to experiment a lot as the game progresses.
First of all is dungeon exploration. As previously mentioned the Jails are alive. Each one having its fair share of tricks and traps, such as bottomless pits, spikes, rooms full of spikes, regular locked doors, timed locks, locks that require specific keys, levers to open doors, trick levers that activate traps and much more. As players progress more features are gradually introduced in the Jails’ Hunger, Libido and Sleep. Players will either have to kill enough Marchen, collect enough items and chests or not battle for a small amount of time to get Jail bonuses to make progression slightly easier. However, being in the Jail for too long will gradually upset it leading to several negative effects like enemy stat boosts and the Nightmares appearing more frequently (More on them in a bit). Later players gain the ability to alter Jail bonuses before entering. Naturally each bonus has its drawback but with great risks come great rewards as they say. The Blood Maidens (About 12 in total) each have a unique Skill to traverse Jails and knowing which ones to use at which time becomes slightly hectic as more join the party.
Next up are the Nightmares. When players hear a strange roar or cry different from the usual jail wailing that means a Nightmare is near. These are invincible abominations that, if players step into the light will notice and give come after you. They hit hard and cannot be killed…at first. While invincible players must run as far they can staying away from dead ends. At first chases can end in seconds but of course Nightmares become more difficult to escape as the game progresses. During the “Chase Mode” the map disappears so players cannot keep track of where dead ends are to avoid. When there is no other choice but to fight the only way out is inflicting enough damage to stun the Nightmare and run away.
Oh right. Battle encounters are random (Thankfully the encounter rate is not as bad as old-school JRPGs) so entering a battle while on a Trap Space or while being chased by a Nightmare expect both the enemy or the Blood Maidens to randomly take damage from the trap or Nightmare.
Lastly players acquire Blood Crystals to either use to power up them Maidens or plant Blood Flowers anywhere in the Jail (though it is recommended to plant them at specific spaces). These can later be harvested for special items (usually 5-7 minutes unless they got some blood sprayed on them to speed up the process).
Now for the battles. They are turn-based. This too has a lot to keep track of. First of all Otsuu and Jack work together and can take action twice, meaning Otsuu or Jack can act twice or one turn for Otsuu and the other Jack. Next, they are the only ones who can use Items. Third, Otsuu is the only one who calm down Jack when he is at risk of going Berserk due to stress from using his own abilities or the Blood Maidens’ suffering among other things. Jack cannot fight (for reasons explained early on) so his role is mainly to keep himself and his friends sane…while not going insane himself. He can inflict status ailments on enemies as well but like his calming abilities these increase his stress too. At least Jack has Deep Breath, which he can use to calm himself down.
As for the other Maidens they do their thing like in every other JRPG with attack and/or support abilities facing elemental strengths, weaknesses and overcoming potential status ailments in the front line or the rear depending on which position suits them best. As more Maidens join the party (7 and higher) they can pair up with other Maidens to provide extra bonuses or additional attacks. As their name implies Blood Maidens gain power from absorbing Marchen blood. Get enough and they temporarily transform into Massacre Mode, the vintage “Compile Heart Sexy Super Mode”. Here they temporarily gain stats boosts for a few turns and access to slightly stronger Skills.
Important note about Skills: Both combat and dungeon exploring Skills use up Skill Points.
Remember what I said about Jack’s stress? Otsuu, her fiancee and fellow Maidens can go Berserk too. The same blood meter for Massacre Mode can gradually become corrupted, indicated by blood color, and if they transform while the blood is too dark they enter Blood Skelter Mode. In this state their stats greatly increase (except defense) but they attack indiscriminately and cannot be controlled until they are either calmed down or KO’ed. Calming is done with Jack’s help (which as mentioned can be risky) or…having one of the other Maidens sacrifice themselves by luring the Berserk Maiden to them.
I will not go into much detail about the “home base” and its features. It is what one would expect from a JRPG: Shops, Equipment power ups, quests, the Rescue Room (which is quite lovely once you figure out how to play the mini game), Otsuu bonding with the other Maidens, etc. The one we will talk a bit more about is the Laboratory and its Jobs feature. Using the required items Maidens have access to several Jobs (and costumes), each with their own stats and Skills. Said Skills require points of their own to unlock and boost. Then other points are needed to increase to slots to equip the Skills in the Menu. The last interesting feature to talk about is Blood Devolution. Put simply players can choose to Level Down Maidens so when they Level Up again they gain stat bonuses.
Again this is already a lot to take in at first but give it time and it will all become somewhat clearer.
Now we come to the main event. While there is some other yuri vibes here and there from the other Blood Maidens, the main yuri goodness comes from the lead duo Otsuu and her “Princess” Little Mermaid. Without giving anything away they are what many would call an “engagement at first sight” couple. After getting engaged the girls spent their lives growing closer together, Otsuu falling deeper in love with Princess and Mermaid gently loving her Otsuu-chan right back. They get all lovey-dovey every chance they get to the point of intriguing a certain “researcher”. Their love is taken very seriously and is an important part of the story. It is also a sweet and pure romance. As characters Otsuu is like the father figure of the party who fights for justice and does all she can to defend the vulnerable and more importantly protect her fiancee. “Princess”, being the mother of the group, is no slouch herself. Although she much prefers peaceful solutions unless there is no other choice but to fight she does not back down, at times showing greater strength and courage than even Otsuu. Of course her strength comes from being Otsuu’s bride to be. They are a lean, mean gay team.
As for Jack (one of the main protagonists of MSN), things went in a different for him in this timeline. No worries. He is more of a “supportive friend”. Plus he has his own mission. He is a cool dood dealing with circumstances beyond his control.
Overall Mary Skelter 2 is an initially intimidating but overall awesome package. It delivers in story, cast, setting and challenge. Recommended to fans of dungeon crawlers and yuri fans who enjoyed any of the above mentioned dungeon crawlers.