Reviewed by Thomas
- Developer: Idea Factory, COMPILE HEART
- Publisher: Idea Factory
- Release Date: 22/10/2019
- Price: $39.99 / £35.99
- Review code provided by Idea Factory
I have long been a fan of first-person dungeon crawling role-playing games. Harkening back to the days of Wizardry, I would spend countless hours detailing my own maps. Though you can still pull out stacks of graph paper and unleash your inner cartographer, these games have evolved to match modern gaming. The ancient art of drawing your own path is all but lost.
Admittedly this style of RPG is very niche. Few titles have reached mainstream. Even that may be a stretch. I’m not sure that any have in all honesty. The most familiar series in the Nintendo realm would be Etrian Odyssey, which held to the practice of mapping each level on the second screen of the DS with a stylus. Outside of the sporadic release on consoles and PC, the PlayStation Vita helped keep this genre alive. It comes as no surprise that this style is migrating to the Nintendo Switch. Below is a look at the most recent, Mary Skelter 2, from Idea Factory.
The Grateful Crane
Mary Skelter 2 follows the heroine Otsuu as she desperately tries to keep her friends safe in The Prison, a living labyrinth where vile tormentors lurk around every corner. Beyond the evil Marchens who hunt and torture any human they can find, each level has a Nightmare. These guardians are unstoppable grotesqueries which will chase you throughout the bleak corridors until you’re dead. Escape is the only hope Otsuu and her companions grasp onto.
There is a large cast of playable characters who come from various fairy tales. Deemed Blood Maidens for the alteration they face when soaked in blood, these ladies possess greater power for dealing with the monsters ahead. Mary Skelter 2 is a unique adventure about survival and escape. The story is presented with traditional dialogue boxes with the occasional cutscene of a still image. Although the tale is far from groundbreaking, it was nice to see a JRPG deviate from the tried-and-true save the world narrative.
The Pied Piper of Hamelin
Mary Skelter 2 is viewed from first-person perspective. You navigate dangerous halls and rooms on a grid based map. Several tweaks were made to the gameplay to make the journey more convenient. Aside from the map updating based on where you’ve been, you can enable autopilot which will move the party for you. Exploration is one of the aspects I really enjoy about this genre and Mary Skelter 2 improved on the excursions every step of the way. The implementation of skills each maiden can use on the map made it more engaging. If you’re the type of person who loves challenging puzzles found in dungeon crawlers, you won’t find them here. Sure, there are puzzles on each level but none of them stumped me. Mary Skelter focuses more on progression and the story of the maidens.
Combat is turn-based but it’s anything but traditional. The Blood Maidens get their moniker from the fact that after each passing battle they get drenched in more and more blood from the Marchens. Once sufficiently blood soaked, the maidens enter Massacre mode. In this trance they become more powerful and have access to new skills. Be warned though, if they are under duress when this transformation happens they enter Blood Skelter mode where they attack friend or foe in berserk frenzy. A gauge for each maiden will clue you in to which mode they will enter and occasionally you’ll need to spend a precious turn “licking” another maiden. Yes, it is as bizarre as it sounds. One maiden can lick the blood off another maiden preventing this berserker mode and granting a small buff.
In addition, you can have a Nightmare on your side follow you during your journey. They don’t share the invincibility of their wild counterparts and they have their own set of moves and rules. Like the maidens, if your Nightmare becomes over stressed he will lose control and can dole out devastating attacks on your party. Careful management of these elements are crucial to surviving difficult fights. The combat system can seem daunting at times and took me a while to fully grasp. The complexity wasn’t all that welcome but I do tip my hat to the development team for coming up with something unique.
What Big Eyes You Have
The anime graphics for the maidens were beautifully drawn. There are a few instances when they transform into Blood Skelter mode where they are naked save for the bright pink blood splattered across their bodies. The most off-putting thing about this is the age of some of the maidens are depicted as. They have small frames and some even have childish mannerisms and speech patterns. Fortunately the Blood Skelters don’t happen too often and can be avoided if you pay attention to the gauges. There is a mode back at base that takes it a step further where you can rub each maiden to lower their corruption. This reveals more skin in a more intimate setting. It didn’t seem necessary to play the game and could be skipped altogether. In fact, I didn’t stumble on it until ten hours into the game.
Other noticeable parts about the art was the overall setting. Since you’re trapped inside a living prison with demonic entities swarming about, it makes sense that the background environments were just as unsettling. Mouths jut out of walls with gruesome limbs hanging about. Each level has various creepy vibes to tie in with the theme and the execution paid off. It’s clear to see why the maidens want to escape this hellish scene.
A Trail of Crumbs
The ambiance was further heightened by the music and sound effects. Groaning cries betray tortured souls within. Roaring growls warn of imminent threats from Nightmares. The fusion of bizarre and whimsical tunes play throughout the halls, matching the theme of the level you’re in. Once a nightmare engages in battle, the music takes on an infernal scratch that sounds like nails on a chalkboard. The first time it happened I seriously thought the audio on my Switch was going out. It sounds like a painful garbled mess and was all the excuse I needed to flee the invincible beasts.
Let Down Your Hair
From a technical point of view Mary Skelter 2 ran without any problems. Playing with my Switch Lite and headphones really ramped up the frightening atmosphere. Handheld was my preferred method to play. Docked on the television was just as entertaining. Seeing the details of the Marchens on the big screen was a great way to appreciate the level of effort put into the title.
Mary Skelter 2 takes a lot of risks with the combat system that pay off if you’re patient with the game. Charging into battle unprepared or inattentive to your maidens can have dire effects. Exploration was engaging and fresh. There are a few additions to the dungeon crawling genre that worked really well and were fun to experiment with. It was always nice to see what each board had to offer and how it changed from the last. The art is gorgeous but there’s a reason this game has a mature rating. Most of those scenes can be skipped but not in entirety. I lost a lot of time in “The Jail” and with the amount of content, it’s easy to recommend Mary Skelter 2 to anyone who enjoys darkly themed dungeon crawlers.
- Unique Combat
- Exciting Exploration
- Bizarre Story
- Minor Graphic Issues
Mary Skelter 2 takes risks by tweaking the tried-and-true formula of its genre and is rewarded with a bizarrely unique experience.