Fanservice and faerie tales, all in one place.

Title: Mary Skelter: Nightmares
Platform: PS Vita, PC (reviewed)
Developer: Idea Factory
Publisher: Ghost Light Ltd
Release date: Out now
tl;dr: A dungeon crawling faerie tale for all JRPG fans
Price: £19.50/$25 (PC)
Family Focus: Click here for more information.

As the PS Vita desperately clings to life, one of its more interesting titles has emerged on to Steam: Mary Skelter Nightmares. After my last endeavor with a dungeon crawler, I wasn’t particularly expecting much, because first person dungeon crawlers, hiding out on the PS Vita, with cringey levels of fanservice and weird naming themes are a dime a dozen. Mary Skelter: Nightmares, on the other hand, has refreshingly deep combat, well thought out game mechanics with anti frustration features, and an interesting story. And yes, there’s the creepy fanservice, but we can work around that.

The story starts with our two protagonists, Jack and Alice, being tortured in a mysterious, quite possibly self aware building called “The Jail,” which sprang up and swallowed Tokyo several years ago. Demonic creatures called Marchens round up and abuse the populace for reasons unknown; Jack and Alice are some such citizens. Resigned to their fate, they struggle to stay alive, until a girl called Red Riding Hood, sporting a huge pair of pink and black scissors, shows up to break them out. Despite turning these myths into teenage girls, the characters are very well designed, blending their faerie tale aspects in with the anime art style; subtle enough to make a cute outfit, and enough modernisation to make them look like human girls.

She then goes on to explain that she, Alice, and a bunch of other girls (inexplicably named after Western faerie tale characters), are “Blood Maidens,” giving them the ability to use magic, and are the only ones able to successfully combat the Marchen threat. These pink-splattered beserkers are great (they have a Massacre Mode they can enter if they get covered in too much blood), but if they take too much damage, or Corruption, they go into the mostly naked Blood Skelter state, lashing out at everything, including teammates, and is irreversible, a foregone conclusion, and fatal. Until Jack shows up, who is able to transform the girls back using his blood, which either involves squirting them with his blood, or letting them lick him.

Yeah, it’s definitely a weird game, but to their credit, it actually makes some sense within the story, rather than it all being fanservice. It also gets refreshingly dark on occasion, veering away from cliche and into some genuinely good ideas, and that’s what’s pulled Mary Skelter out of the Vita, and on to PC.

As I mentioned above, the dungeons are uniquely designed, each with their own music tracks, themed assets, and gives you an anti-frustration feature right off the bat, with Alice’s Rabbit Hole ability. Each recruitable girl has these individual skills (for example, firing an arrow to hit a far off switch, or placing a bomb to knock a wall down), but Rabbit Hole lets you plonk down a save point anywhere you like. This, combined with an easily navigated minimap, the immediate introduction of auto move, and clear, well explained tutorials make this a great dungeon crawler for newbies to jump into.

The battle system is also pretty deep; each character has a handful of jobs you can customise and adapt, making you a team full of tanks or healers should you so wish. These, along with your weapons, can be adjusted and upgraded via dropped items called Blood Crystals, and give you a surprising amount of freedom with how you want to play. Though the combat itself is your fairly standard turn-based bread and butter, it does require a fair amount of forethought and planning to traverse the horribly long dungeons. This, I found, was the only weak point in the game; the lag for the PC port is horrendous. This only seems to happen in the dungeons, but sporadic slowdown appeared when in battles, in conversations, or even just moving around. It makes selecting things in the menus and navigating a nightmare, especially when trying to blunder away from one in a pitch dark room. 

The only other thing I really wanted to comment on, was the fanservice. While this is relatively tame for a Japanese title, it becomes kind of squicky pretty fast, when the Blood Maidens start transforming into their Blood Skelter mode. Apart from being unnecessary, there’s also the issue of some of the girls (like Thumbelina and Snow White), who look like children. Ultimately, I feel it drags the game down; it’s really not needed, and is pretty uncomfortable all round; there’s really no need for thinly veiled orgasm sounds every time the barely-legal looking girls go into Blood Skelter mode.

Overall? Mary Skelter: Nightmares is a solid dungeon crawler that has lots of content for you to sink your teeth into. For £19.50, it’s a pretty solid deal, if you’re willing to put up with the lag, or shell out £50 for the Vita version.

The Good

  • A solid dungeon crawler that’s easily accessible to newcomers
  • Great character and dungeon designs
  • Good voice acting

The Bad

  • Dungeons are slightly overlong
  • PC version has horrible lag
  • Creepy fanservice

Family Focus

Mary Skelter: Nightmares is rated PEGI 16 and M for Mature, due to “Blood, Partial Nudity, Sexual Themes, Violence,” and “occasional depictions of erotic or sexual nudity.”

Disclaimer: This review is based on a digital code of the game provided by the publishers for the purposes of this review.