Mary Skelter: Nightmares marks the latest port to PC from Ghostlight Games following the recent work done to bring Sorcery Saga: Curse of the Great Curry God onto Steam. With the games much lauded release on the PSVita last year, the dungeon crawling Jrpg now finds itself breaking free from Sonys handheld too. Has the port been worthwhile? Lets find out.
Mary Skelter sees you take on the role of Jack and the blood maidens to escape the living prison known simply as Jail. As the first blood youth it will be your job to protect the maidens and help them overcome the obstacles before them as you battle you way through the prison of nightmares. The game opens with Jack and childhood friend Alice, prisoners of the Jail Tortured, beaten and forced to endure bizarre acts such as licking walls. Red Riding Hood eventually turns up to save Alice, taking along Jack for the ride, beginning an adventure of unknowns and secrets.
To be honest I was quite surprised by the story for this game as it unfolded. Sure, Jacks whining at the beginning grated, but that didn’t prevent my interest growing for the world & lore on offer as the story continued. It’s surprising in that I generally find Compile Hearts goofier franchises (Hyperdimension Netunia etc) to have the better stories due to the charismatic cast, but Mary Skelter bucks the trend and delivers an intriguing story with a great cast that shines throughout. Given the darker tone on offer, there’s not really any fan-service moments to speak of, and goofiness is kept to a minimum. One of Compile Hearts best efforts with regards to story and it should appeal to those that usually overlook the developers usual works.
With a game like this one must always bear in mind its roots, and Mary Skelter still carries the hallmarks of a PSVita port. That’s not to say that it looks bad though, I actually find it to look quite good, just that it still has the scale of a handheld Jrpg. As I noted is still looks good, the carnival haunted house style aesthetic allows for some fun looking environments in the Jail, and the soft ‘painted’ look to the sprites during dialogue sections manage to not look iffy when scaled up. On PC you can push this game all the way to up full 4K, which did surprise me as usually PSVita ports are locked to around 1080 or even lower, and the game does scale up well enough to that resolution even during the 3D dungeons. Performance was rock solid, regardless of the system I tried. My laptop (FX-9390/16GB/RX460) ended up being my preferred way to play as it kept portability whilst downsampling allowed the game to look it’s best. The audio for Mary Skelter is pretty good, most notably the eeriness added to certain areas like the graveyard, along with the monstrous moans & wails of the jail that really help to set the tone. There’s full Japanese & English voiceover audio, so you can choose the language you prefer.
Gameplay for Mary Skelter is for the most part very typical of the genre. Exploration sees you explore dungeons in a first person perspective, centered around a city hub, and taking down each areas boss. That said, the game seems to take these elements a little further, such as the dungeon maps being more than simple bland tiles and some intuitive mechanics. The few additions outside the crawler norm help to mix things up, such as the multiple gimmicks to exploration. While not entirely needed, Mary takes it past simple traps and pitfalls, having you traversing large gaps across chains for example while balancing yourself to ensure you do not fall. You can even bounce arrows around an area to clear obstacles, not to mention the secret passages and areas that require cutting or blowing up walls etc. All of this is only for starters, and makes exploration much more fun than simply strolling from A to B.
Mary’s gameplay flow is similar to other dungeon crawlers from Compile Heart like Moero Chronicles, with the blood maidens making up the battle party and Jack providing support from the sidelines. Jack’s skill set is possibly the most useful of any of the cast, adding a deeper layer to the combat as he is unable to use blood weapons and as such uses his powers manage the girls skelter state, essentially berserk mode, that sees a huge rise in power. Battles take place as random encounters as you explore the areas of the game, but not every encounter is such. There are Nightmares, an immortal creature unique to each floor that actively hunts down the party, with a distance counter raising the tension as you try to escape its chase. Things play out in turn based combat that will see you making use of multiple strategies the game has to offer in order to succeed, once more adding a deeper layer to the typical dungeon crawler staples. Going into detail about all the options available to you would take some time, though in practicality its drip fed to you bit by bit as you progress (in typical Compile Heart fashion) making it easy for players to grow accustomed to with little effort.
To be honest the dungeon crawling genre isn’t one of my preferred ways to enjoy a Jrpg, but Mary Skelter: Nightmares is an obvious exception to that. The story & characters are great, gameplay is tactical & intuitive, and the presentation for it has a fun carnival haunted house look to it that scales well on your PC of choice. Compile Heart fans should grab this if not already sampled on PSVita, with the game also making a fantastic entry point for those that usually skip said developers Jrpg’s. Highly recommended.
Mary Skelter: Nightmares (PC) - 9/10
- Great story & characters
- Intuitive & tactical dungeon crawling
- Fun visuals that set a perfect tone
- Scales well to 4K & runs great
- Jack is whiny af at the beginning
- Some assets from other Compile Heart games
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