Overview – developed by Compile Heart and published by Idea Factory International, Mary Skelter 2 is a dungeon crawling JRPG that takes inspiration from classic fairy tales with horrific nightmare monsters. Take on the depths of the living prison and uncover the secrets that are hidden within. This title is available exclusively on Nintendo Switch, along with the first title, Mary Skelter Nightmares being included in this package. Links to the game will be at the bottom of this review.
Disclaimer: before I get into the review, this article is a rewrite of previous coverage that has since been lost. The software was originally provided by Idea Factory International, however I have chosen to revisit this title to celebrate my 100th published post and promote the upcoming release of Mary Skelter Finale, coming this October.
Mature Content Warning: this game is intended for mature audiences with suggestive/sexualized content, graphic depictions of violence and images of body horror. If you are under the recommended age listed or find any of the content listed in this piece disturbing, please proceed at your own discretion if you wish to continue.
Now with the introductions out of the way, let’s get into the review, starting with the story.
Story – 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.
Gameplay – Mary Skelter 2 is a dungeon crawling JRPG with a heavy focus on exploration and puzzle solving, taking place through several vivid and twisted environments. The narrative plays out over several story focused chapters, taking place across the labyrinthine dungeons of The Jail tower. I will be approaching the breakdown for this review in a more in-depth way, discussing each aspect of the game in detailed segments.
Dungeon Exploration: the vast majority of gameplay takes place in the dungeon. Using a first person perspective the player party traverses the floors of each area, solving puzzles and encountering NPCS and enemies called Marchens, and avoiding the pursuit of horrific monsters called Nightmares. In order to solve the puzzles and travel deeper into each area, characters that are with the player have special skills they can use such as bamboo spheres to fill pitfalls, ice shots to extinguish fires and points for quick escape from the dungeon or saving progress.
Alongside the encounters, nightmare chases and puzzle solving aspects of the dungeons, there are also special conditions that need to be monitored. These are called the Jail Desires and Jail Mood. The Desires are three special meters that fill when their conditions are met, Libido, Hunger and Sleep are the Desires and provide bonuses when filled. The Jail Mood fills up over time and can be decreased by filling up the Desires, but the fuller it gets the stronger the enemies become.
Inside the dungeons themselves, the player can plant blood flowers which can be harvested at a later time (this will be discussed further down), as well as find treasures in the many areas explored. To safely navigate these zones, a map will be filled with each step that the player makes or each time a special skill is used. Effective use of the map and its auto travel mechanics can be very useful, especially if the player takes note of coordinates for key points.
Combat Encounters: at designated points or by pure chance, the player can be attacked by Marchens, initiating challenging turn based combat. When combat begins, the order that each character takes their turn is determined by current agility scores, with the higher the score meaning a faster turn. However, some enemies and even characters can attack more than once depending on some specific requirements.
When a character gets their turn they can all use the same basic actions, but the party leaders Otsuu and Jack can use some exclusive mechanics (explained further below). The combat mechanics are as follows;
- Attack – the active character uses their weapon to attack targets, dealing damage based on the characters current stats and weapon type depending on their position.
- Skill – use a special skill to deal damage to a range of enemies with varying degrees of effectiveness, based on the element or type of special. There are also support skills that can buff and heal the player both in and out of combat. All skills use SP which can be replenished when leaving the dungeon or using restorative items.
- Lick – use up the splatter meter for a Blood Maiden (explained below), activating Maiden specific skills depending on the target.
- Defend – simply guard against an incoming attack, reducing the damage and potentially avoiding damage all together.
- Escape – attempt to escape battle, with failure skipping that characters turn entirely.
- Item – Otsuu can use items during her turn, providing healing, support and several other potential effects. Items can also be used be used outside of battle to prepare for scripted battles.
The last element of combat to discuss is the splatter meter and the effects that can occur due to this. Each active Blood Maiden has their own splatter meter, being filled up when dealing heavy damage to enemies in battle and activating Massacre mode when the meter is full at the start of the designated characters turn. Massacre mode strengthens that character and opens up special attacks that deal massive damage to enemies, this state varies so make the most of it.
If Blood Maidens take too much damage, their splatter meter will get increasingly darker in color and if the meter itself is full, Blood Skelter will activate. If this mode is activated the character will attack both enemy and allies, only stopping if the Blood Maiden is defeated/purged, the action embrace is used or battle ends. Blood Skelter can be prevented by using the purge mechanic, but excessive use of purging can cause Jack to become Nightmare Jack, causing him to lash out with the only ways to stop it are to use counseling or battle ending.
When all enemies are defeated, rewards are given out which include experience that levels up the Blood Maidens when they reach specific milestones, money and Blood Crystal/item rewards. The amount of rewards that are earned varies depend on the area and difficulty of each encounter, with bonuses provided for special encounters that can occur.
Nightmare Encounters: during dungeon exploration, either at preset points or by activating the white field that appears, a Nightmare will appear and chase the player down attempting to kill them. If the player can escape during the chase, an item will be rewarded to the party. If battle is initiated with the monster, it cannot be killed unless the core in the dungeon is destroyed. When the core is intact, dealing enough damage will stun the enemy allowing a chance to escape.
The strength and appearance of Nightmares will vary depending on the area that is being explored, for example, in the Alice in Wonderland themed zone, the monster will resemble a twisted version of the black queen. The appearance rate and power of the Nightmare can also be affected by the state of the Jail, with the Mood of the Jail increasing both of these factors. However, once the Nightmare for an area has been defeated, it will not spawn again.
Blood Flower Farming: both in and out of the dungeons, Blood Flowers can be planted in the different areas which bloom after several encounters with enemies. The flowers yield different items depending on the type of flower that has been planted, with the option to farm weapons, armor, accessories and pieces (used to manipulate the way the Jail works before setting out).
The flowers can be enhanced by spilling Marchen blood collected from battles, increasing the rarity of items collected. When the flowers are harvested there is the chance to upgrade items further by collecting several flowers at once, yielding greater rewards for players that want to spend the time farming equipment.
New Liberated District: when not exploring the dungeons, the player can interact with NPC characters, Blood Maidens and manage their resources/inventory at their own leisure (some management can also be done in dungeons). The NPC characters that can be interacted with offer a wide selection of services that the player can use to make exploration safer and rewarding. Here is a breakdown of some of the more important services available;
- Blood Laboratory – using the resources collected in the Jail, players can enhance the Blood Maidens with new skills, increased stats and even open up brand new classes. To alter the class of characters, the player can unlock jobs that will change that characters outfit, base stats, usable weapon types and opens up new skills to be unlocked and assigned.
- Rescue Center – here the Blood Maidens can be purged of corruption caused by the Jail, which is responsible for the Blood Skelter condition. The purge uses Jack’s blood to reduce the corruption, this is done by rubbing the blood into the maiden’s skin with the touchscreen or controller, but the blood that Jack can give is limited so use the service wisely.
- Blood Weapon Factory – use money earned and blood crystals to enhance weapons and gear to increase their strength, the higher the level of the enhancement means increased capabilities. There is a cap to the level that items can be strengthened up to, so keep that in mind when using resources to boost items.
While in the home base, the player can interact with the Blood Maidens and other NPC characters via optional side stories that flesh out the world more. The player as Otsuu can also go to the Living Quarters, connecting to the other party characters in visual novels style segments, giving them items and alter their room to increase the affection of that maiden. The items for the girls can be collected by completing missions from the work order center and from merchants.
As the player increases the affection meter for Blood Maidens, there is a chance that they will give special items each time a new item is provided. There is also an increased chance for special scenes to occur between Otsuu and the other girls, adding even more side story content to experience during the course of the game.
Finally, the player is able to modify the load out for each character and the formation of the party itself much easier here. The weapons, armor and accessories can be changed freely (both in and out of the dungeon), increasing and decreasing stats that modify things like attack, defense, health and SP points. Characters in the party can be switched out and partner characters can be added to active members, giving bonuses to the player during combat.
The party system, inventory management and equipment changes can be accessed in the dungeon. However, when the player is in the new liberated district all health and SP points are restored, reducing the amount of resources needed to use to recover from changes in the dungeon, making exploration a little easier.
Now with all of the gameplay elements covered, I want to move onto the other aspects of the game, starting with the controls.
Controls – the control scheme for this release is simple yet effective. The directional buttons and shoulders are used for movement, the left thumbstick for camera control and the face buttons/triggers for key functions. The button inputs are intuitive and consistent, with zero lag throughout the experience. All the controls are comfortable no matter what controller is used, be it the pro controller or the Joy-Cons in either docked or handheld mode.
Difficulty – Mary Skelter 2 has a flexible difficulty curve, with three selectable options including easy, normal and fear which modify the strength of enemies in battle. The challenge of the game can be modified by using Jail parts to reduce enemy encounters and other effects, as well as spending time in lower level areas grind experience. Be careful however, as death in the dungeons can lead to a significant loss of progress so be sure to save often using Jack’s Rabbit Hole skill.
Presentation – the visual style of the characters and the designs of the monsters that must be fought contrasts very well, with beautiful anime style art for the humans and horrific body horror for the Nightmares. The story is told through visual novel style segments, effectively pushing the narrative forwards. The twisted fairy tale aesthetic is featured throughout, with allusions to the classic stories visible throughout the presentation of the game world.
These references are not just tied to the characters and monsters, like the Blood Maidens Little Mermaid and Red Riding hood, but environments like the city streets that have an Alice in Wonderland look. The game performs well from a graphical standpoint, with no issues regarding framerate and while there is a slightly short rendering distance due the graphical requirements of the game, it adds to the tension of dungeon exploration.
The music and sound design in general has a very unsettling feel to it, going from an intense rock theme during the opening video to a soft and gentle title theme that can mislead new players from the horrors they will encounter. The rest of the soundtrack is fantastic, with music that has a circus-esque sound to it in the city and compositions that have an oppressive tone to them, where the sound design for each area fits thematically.
The New Liberated District theme is by far the best piece of music, composed as a classical style piece that utilizes electro sounds, creating a song that has a sense of grandeur in the chaos. Throughout the game, there is a vocal track available in both English and Japanese, used in key parts of the story to add weight to the plot. The English cast for this release features the vocal talents of Laura Stahl (Guilty Gear Strive), Christine Marie Cabanos (Kill La Kill) and Reba Buhr (Dorohedoro) which enhances the experience further.
Final Thoughts – I covered Mary Skelter 2 all the way back in 2019 and sadly that content has been lost since publishing, but I have wanted to rewrite this work since I launched my own website. I enjoyed the game so much during my time reviewing the game, I chose to spend money on the limited physical release and put significantly more time into the game after. I have nothing negative to say about the quality of this title and I can happily recommend it to every single JRPG/Dungeon Crawler fan.
The story is well written and has been one of the few experiences to genuinely get an emotional response from me, making the story that much more powerful since it resonated deeply with me. The characters, monsters and environments are fantastically designed, breathing life into the world or Mary Skelter 2 and adding further depth to the experience. Combat on all three difficulty settings is balanced superbly, giving players of all skill levels a chance to jump into the experience.
This is yet another fantastic release from Compile Heart and Idea Factory International, adding to their library of titles like Death end re;Quest (covered HERE) and Megadimension Neptunia VII (covered HERE). Recently, Idea Factory International announced that Mary Skelter Finale, the final chapter in the story will be coming to the Nintendo Switch and PlayStation 4 later this year, which has gotten me very excited and I will be covering it when it is released.
In the end, I give Mary Skelter 2 a final score of 5/5. This is a fantastic dungeon crawling JRPG, with a story that can engage the player and get them invested in the characters and world they live in, while providing a balanced experience both in combat and during exploration. The art style used for the humans is beautiful, the monster designs are horrific and the environments are absolutely twisted, with sound design that ties the whole experience together.
If you want to check out the game for yourself, you can find a link to the game on the Nintendo Switch below, with free DLC for character costumes, supply items and even to unlock a remaster of the first game (but it is strongly recommended to play Mary Skelter 2 to completion first). Unfortunately, the physical release of Mary Skelter 2 has been sold out for some time, so the only way to obtain a physical copy now will be via a reseller.
Link to Nintendo Switch version (HERE)
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