The latest instalment of the Mary Skelter series from idea factory/compile heart drops onto PlayStation 4 and Nintendo Switch this week, with the arrival of Mary Skelter finale making it the third instalment in the series.
Mary Skelter Finale is a dungeon crawling RPG that sees you follow the lives of Jack and his friends after their escape from the underground jail, a place of horror and death where dreams of seeing the sky are almost certain to go unfulfilled. The story this time starts as that seemingly impossible dream is about to be realised, but alas more horror awaits our young heroes as their journey from the underground jail comes to a end. Before they can even breathe a sigh of relief upon reaching outside for the first time they spot the sight of a new huge jail tower above ground, towering over mounds of corpses. To make matters worse before the tower escapees can begin to process the sight before them they find themselves set about by a group called massacre pink, and quickly find themselves outmatched despite the enemy’s fewer numbers. As a last ditch effort to save lives, one of the hero’s teleports the remaining escapees away granting them momentary safety at the cost of splitting them up.
With the games opening I was both intrigued by the set up for the blood maidens new adventure and a little confused thanks to callbacks from previous entries. As someone who hasn’t yet finished number one, and even started number two, my desire to jump in left me scratching my head for a hot second. Fortunately there’s a easy fix for those with a little bit more patience than me who decided to jump in head first thanks to the inclusion of the before story option on the title screen. This option contains key scenes and story points from the first two games that play out like a visual novel and do a good job of catching you up with the story.
Aside from the main game and the before story’s there is also an additional short story called Locked Up in Love that was previously only available in Japan. This short visual novel sees you following Jack in his school days as he confesses his feelings to one of the blood maidens. It’s nothing too fancy and is relatively short at about 10-15 minutes, but it was quite interesting seeing the cast living a relatively normal life.
As you may be able to tell from my above comments there is a lot of story for your buck with this game and newcomers to the series should be able to catch up and enjoy the new stories with relative ease. The visual novel art style storytelling is typical for the genre, utilising 2D artwork and backgrounds with dialog boxes and some voice acting, all of which is done to a high standard when compared to similar titles.
Graphically, as mentioned above the game uses 2D artwork for most of the story progression, the character designs and quality are quite good overall. The dungeon crawling element of the game also has some interesting visuals, be it the environments or traps and nightmares, however the quality in these seem a little dated in some areas due to the clarity of the imagery or just the overall look of some objects. That being said it’s not an affront to you senses, in fact I’d give it a passing grade compared to some dungeon crawlers out there.
Sound, much like the visuals, also gets a passing grade – but this is mostly down to the voice work. The main game doesn’t do a lot to stand out from the crowd and simply gets the job done, the voice work however brings the characters to life, or more accurately their personalities and mannerisms. It’s not 100% perfect and sometimes misses the mark in terms of intensity, but nine times out of ten it does a fine job
Gameplay is your typical dungeon crawling affair for the most part, however has one key difference in the form of “zapping” a feature that lets you freely switch between 6 groups of allies and their stories. Each group is sent to a different jail tower with two groups per tower for a total of three towers. You will progress through the game as you explore each of these jails with your teams, switching between the groups to trigger switches and gimmicks to allow the other groups to progress. If that sounds confusing at all to you it kind of is, at least at first and may require a little trial and error until you get into the groove of things
Honestly I was not a huge fan of this at the beginning of the game, but this was mostly due to the fact I saw the opening play out from 6 different perspectives and managed a few minutes of gameplay before having to switch and go through it again, only to hit a dead end and switch again to take 10 steps and do a fight or two and once more switch. It completely destroyed any momentum and desire to progress that I had, fortunately this eases off after a while and feels much better overall, but as a personal preference I prefer gameplay like this to be in small 5 minute bits rather than making it a key focus for a big portion of the game. That being said I can see how some players would like this, and appreciate that it tries to break from the cookie cutter mould by doing something a little different
Exploration as I mentioned relies on switching between your parties as you explore each labyrinth floor of the jails. For the most part this is your typical dungeon crawler traps, puzzles, dead ends and switches alongside occasionally being chased down by an immortal creature called a nightmare. The one thing that may take some getting used to is finding yourself with nowhere to go and being required to switch to another party to flick a switch, or something to that effect, in order to move forward. It slows progress to a crawl, or to be more accurate it feels that way, each bit and all progress you make does work towards progressing through the title.
Battles make up another good portion of the game with random battles occurring as you explore each map and avoid monsters called nightmares that will hunt you down while your outside and inside battles
The battles themselves are relatively straightforward as you attack and use skills to take down your foes, or heal your team. Once more the developers try to break out from the pack with some interesting mechanics such as blood splatter that sees the blood maidens covered in blood and triggering a state called blood massacre mode, giving them a temporary boost to there battle attributes as well as corrupting them with corruption build up. This causes them to enter another state known as blood Skelter mode that sees your party members stats skyrocket and attack friends and foes alike. Managing all this is done in a variety of ways, from the girls licking blood from each other to jacks ability to purify them using his own blood. As mentioned Jack is a member of only one of the six groups, and while there is another blood youth like him in another party, a majority of the groups have to rely on medicine and the like to do this making for a few different ways to approach battles and progression
Overall the game tries its best to make itself stand out from the crowd and honestly does a fairly good job, even if it wasn’t at a pace I liked myself. It’s easy to appreciate that the developers did their best to bring a new and interesting experience to the series, The artwork and the characters combined with the voice acting and general storyline make you feel for the characters and care about them to some extent too. My overall favourite part of the game however were the battles and utilising each of the mechanics to turn around even dire situations. In terms of quality I’d say that it’s in the top level of dungeon crawlers I’ve played myself, but somewhat less than I expected in some areas.
Adds some new & interesting ideas to the usual dungeon crawler formula