Overview – developed by Compile Heart and published by Idea Factory International, Mary Skelter Finale is the last chapter in the epic story of trying to escape destiny in this dungeon crawling RPG. There are new systems and stories to experience, alongside new horrific monsters to battle and characters to discover. This title is available on the Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4 and PlayStation 5 via backwards compatibility, with links to each version of the game at the bottom of this review.
Disclaimer: before I get into the review, I would like to thank Idea Factory International for providing the copy of Mary Skelter Finale that was used for this piece. The provision of this software has not influenced the contents of this review, all thoughts and opinions contained within are my own.
Mature Content Disclaimer: this title is intended for mature audiences. Mary Skelter Finale features graphic depictions of violence, sexual content/themes, partial nudity and coarse language. If you are under the recommended age listed on the game store or find any of the content themes listed below disturbing, please proceed at your own discretion.
Now with the introductions out of the way, let’s get into the review, starting with the story (taken from the official website). Please note that I have already covered the previous title in the series, Mary Skelter 2, which you can find (HERE). I recommend reading my coverage of the previous entry alongside this title in order to get more details about the series as a whole.
Story – Jail, a living prison for humans, buried 666 meters underground. It appeared suddenly several decades ago giving birth to horrific monsters called Marchens and patrolled by madness-inducing Nightmares. A group of prisoners, Jack and the Blood Maidens, reincarnations of fairy tales who dared to escape climbed from the bottom of the tower up to the surface, filled with hope.
But outside were thousands of corpses soaking in a sea of blood. There stood beings known as massacre pink, smiling through the carnage. In that moment, hope was destroyed and the group was torn asunder, with Jack and the Blood Maidens scattered to their own paths. Separated they are each drawn to the devouring Jail that floats in the sky. This is the finale to the tale of the Blood Maidens.
Gameplay – Mary Skelter Finale follows the formula that was established in the previous titles, throwing the players into a variety of dungeons that they must explore to ensure their survival, discovering the secrets within each area. While traversing these twisted locations, the player must avoid hazardous traps, solve puzzles and battle horrific monsters while avoiding invincible nightmare creatures. Like the previous titles, the story plays out in chapters with the Jail as the backdrop to this tale.
What makes this entry in the series unique however is the new path system, where the player can switch between different groups, each led by a different character using a new feature called Zapping. When the player reaches a dead end, they can use the Zap to change to a different character, allowing locked doors to be opened, obstacles to be removed and unique objectives to be cleared that open the way for other characters to progress.
Now I’m going to break this title down in a way similar to the way that I did with Mary Skelter 2, providing details about the basic mechanics of the game, while highlighting features exclusive to this title. This will be done by giving each element of the game its own in-depth segment, providing an explanation of how it functions in game, starting with the dungeon exploration mechanic.
Dungeon Exploration: the dungeon exploration system makes up the majority of gameplay, with the player moving through corridors, open rooms and solving puzzles. While in the dungeon, the player will encounter deadly traps and monstrous Marchens, all while being stalked by the horrific Nightmares. In order to solve the puzzles of the Jail towers, the player must use special skills called Blood Abilities to aid them, including arrows to hit switches and the magnetic piccolo to pull objects.
As well as the battles with Marchens, stalking by Nightmare and puzzle solving mechanics, the Jail itself has special requirements that must be observed during the time in the jail. These requirements are called the Jail’s Desires, consisting of Libido, Hunger and Sleep, with the Jail Mood meter being affected as each of the Desires are satisfied. When each Desire is satiated, a special roulette will be activated providing a reward, however as the Mood meter is filled the risks increase for the party.
It is important to be careful of traps, Marchen attacks and Nightmares while exploring as there are creepy Insectmares that will swarm the player, obscuring the vision of the player and affect the player negatively. The pests can be used to the players advantage however as they can be used to gain special boosts, granting power to the party and strengthening them during battles. Effective manipulation of Insectmare swarms can become very useful in the heat of battle, so keep an eye on the Jail as the Roulette can be used to eliminate them as well as attacks.
To aid in exploring the labyrinths of the Jail, a mini map will be filled out as the player moves, showing traps, switches and treasure that can be collected, giving a guide on the layout of each area. The map will also allow the player to easily locate save points and even has auto-pilot to get to specific points. Effective use of the mini map can also prevent being trapped if a Nightmare appears and chases you down, since being caught in a corner or dead end can lead to ruin and the loss of progress for the player.
The last thing to discuss about dungeon exploration is Blood Farming, where flowers can be planted throughout the dungeons be using blood gems. When planting these gems they will be split into four types. The types of gem are weapons, armor, accessories and Jail pieces, which can be harvested when the flowers bloom after a time. If the flowers are doused with blood, they will change from red to gold, increasing the potential rarity of the item and strengthening it to give better stats.
Zapping: while inside a dungeon, there is the potential for a dead end to be reached or a locked door to be found without a way to open it. At these points during travel, the player will be prompted to Zap to another character, who will have their own party and objectives to complete. While another party is progressing through their chapter, they can activate switches, doors and even predetermined events that will assist another character. When an obstacle is cleared or door is opened, a pop-up of the character portrait will appear to show success.
When zapping between characters, there are some important things to be noted. On the path select screen there is a counter to show progress of that current character. There is a treasure and event counter, showing the current total of a preset amount on that path, alongside a location marker showing the co-ordinates and floor they are on. A good way of knowing what to do is to check the location marker for the characters, with a HELP marker meaning it is time to change path.
The Zapping system is a unique addition to this title as it allows players to explore stories the way that they want to, in whichever order they choose. This mechanic adds greater flexibility to the way that the narrative plays out in this title, allowing players to approach the story in a way that they want and focus on character plots that they become most engaged in.
Combat Encounters: throughout the dungeons of the Jail, the player will come across enemies that they must battle in order to proceed alongside random encounters with Marchens in turn based combat. When a battle starts the order that each combatant takes their turn is based on their agility score, with the higher the value, the higher their battle priority. However, depending on the character themselves or other factors, a character may attack more than once or gain a first attack bonus.
When a Blood Maiden has their turn, they can all use the same basic actions, but the party leader and some special characters have their own unique skills that only they may use. The combat mechanics are as follows;
- Attack – the active party member uses their weapon to attack a designated target, dealing damage based on that characters currents stats and weapon type depending on if they are in the front or back.
- Skill – use a special skill to damage enemies with varying degrees of effectiveness, based on the element, type of attack and area of effect. There are also support skills that can strengthen allies, weaken enemies and heal damage/status ailments, some skills can be used outside of battle to prepare for later battles. all skills use SP which can replenished by leaving the dungeon or using restorative effects.
- Lick – use up the splatter meter for a Blood Maiden (explained below), activating special Maiden specific skills in the heat of battle.
- Defend – guard against an incoming attack, reducing the damage that the character will take in combat with the potential to prevent all damage entirely.
- Escape – attempt to escape the encounter, failure will result in the character skipping their turn entirely.
- Item – some characters can use items during their turn, providing a variety of effects which include damaging enemies, providing support to other characters and other effects. Items can also be used outside of combat to prepare for scripted battles against Marchens and Nightmares.
- Mary Gun – a feature unique to the leader of each party. The Mary Gun allows the leader to shoot their own blood at Blood Maidens to provide special effects, including removing corruption and rescuing them from Blood Skelter (explained below). If the Mary Gun is used too much however the leader can become stunned, losing the ability to continue in the battle by getting knocked out if the gun is used too much.
The last aspect of combat to discuss is Corruption and the Splatter Meter. During the course of the game, a meter will show blood splatter levels for each of the Blood Maidens, which is filled from critical hit damage and overkilling enemies in battle. when the meter is maxed out, that party member will go into Massacre mode during their next turn, increasing their power for a few turns and granting access to special ultimate attacks.
However, the splatter meter is a double edged sword as it brings with it the danger of Corruption. If a Blood Maiden suffers damage from enemies, Nightmares and traps the Splatter meter will go darker as they become more corrupted. If the meter is filled up while heavily corrupted the character will enter Blood Skelter mode, attacking friends and foes alike. There are three ways out of this state, purging with the Mary Gun, being knocked out or ending the battle, so make sure to monitor corruption and purge regularly.
When the battle is completed, rewards are given out which include experience points that level up the character at specific milestones, money to be spent at shops, blood packs and crystal/item rewards. The amount of rewards that are earned scale with the area the party is in, the level of difficulty for the battle and bonuses for special encounters with rare Marchens.
Nightmare Encounters: during exploration of the Jail, horrific monsters called Nightmares can appear, either being triggered by scripted events or by the player activating a field of darkness that appears. When the Nightmare is initiated, they will chase the player down and attempt to kill them, only stopping when there is enough distance between the party and the monster providing a reward for escape. If the Nightmare is battled by the player, they will only be temporarily knocked down unless a condition is met.
Inside each dungeon are Jail Cores, unique objects that are protected by a guardian that must be killed to destroy the core. When the cores are destroyed, the Nightmare can be defeated by the player in battle, but these battles can be very tough so prepare before taking them on. The strength and appearance of the Nightmares will depend on the area that is being explored, with a Nightmare carrying a scale in the Judgment Tower, which has gold and treasures scattered throughout.
The Nightmares can also be affected by the current state of the Jail, with the mood meter affecting the strength and spawn rate of the beast, as a higher percentage on the meter increases both greatly. It is important to note one thing about Nightmares. If the Nightmare for a dungeon is defeated by the player, then they will not spawn again and the area can be explored freely without fear of being stalked by these abominations.
Home Camp: outside of the dungeons, each party leader has their own camp that allows them to interact with NPC characters and party members freely. There are also story segments and side plots that can be explored while in the Home Camp for each party, while also using a range of services that NPC characters offer to the player. Here are some details about services that can be used while in the camp;
- Laboratory – in the Laboratory the player can use blood packs that they have obtained to give party members new skills, use crystals to strengthen their characters and unlock new skills. To unlock new skills the player can change the class by unlocking jobs with blood crystals that alter the base stats of the character, their outfit and the weapon types that can be used.
- Factory – the weapon factory allows the player to strengthen weapons and other gear, increasing their effectiveness in combat by using blood crystals earned from dungeons and quests. There is a limit to how strong weapons and gear can be made, so it is important to keep that in mind when using resources.
- Commissions – while in the camps, side missions can be taken on to earn special rewards and items from the quest giver. The quests can be as simple as reaching a certain area to hunting down a specific number of enemies, increasing in challenge and complexity over time. Unlike the previous entry in the series, multiple side quests can be taken on at once without needing to do them individually.
- Shop – the store allows the player to buy and sell items with a merchant in the base camp, using money that has been earned during play. The items will increase in rarity and cost as the story progresses, offering more options to implement in strategies later in the game. Decorative items can also be purchased
While in the home base, the player is able to interact with the Blood Maidens and other NPC characters in the optional story events, fleshing out the world that little bit more. The different party leaders can enter the living quarters for each character, interacting with them, giving items to decorate their room and special gifts to increase their affection meter. When the affection meter for each character reaches a specific point, there is the chance for special scenes to occur and even change the ending of the game.
The home base is also the safest place to modify the party setup and formation in a safer way (since equipment can be changed in the dungeon). The weapons, armor and accessories can be changed freely, with changes to load outs having the capability to alter stats like attack, defense, HP and SP totals. If the equipment is changed in the camp, the HP and SP changes will be automatically healed, whereas the changes have the potential to weaken the party in the dungeon so it is preferable to do it in the camp.
Now with all the gameplay elements covered, I want to move onto the other aspects of the game, starting with the controls.
Controls – the control system for Mary Skelter Finale is simple and effective in all play styles. The directional buttons and shoulders are used for movement, with the left stick controlling the camera and the face buttons/triggers are used for key function. The button inputs are intuitive and consistent, with zero lag throughout the experience. All controls for this title are comfortable when using a variety of controllers, especially when playing the game in handheld mode with Joy-Cons attached.
Difficulty – Mary Skelter Finale is flexible in terms of difficulty, with three options for the player to select from including an Easy, Normal and Fear which alter the strength of enemies in battle. The challenge of Mary Skelter Finale can also be modified with special Jail settings, which can alter spawn rates and other aspects of the environments. Make sure to use caution while traversing the dungeons of the Jail, since death can lead to a significant loss of progress so save often.
Presentation – the visual style of this release carries over from the previous releases, with a beautiful anime art style for the human characters and horrific designs for the Marchens/Nightmares. The story is told through visual novel segments using the 3D dungeons of the Jail as the backdrop, telling the narrative in a very effective way. The twisted and distorted aesthetic that the series is known for carries over into this title, with thematic and nightmarish locations to traverse.
Visually, the game performs very well given the technical limitations of the Nintendo Switch system. However, there are some minor flaws to this version of the game in the visual department, with reduced textures in some areas and occasional drops in frame rate due to the stress that the game puts on the system. The minor issues with the visual performance have zero impact on the gameplay experience, but I must admit that some areas can be a little too bright in handheld mode, so adjusting the brightness is required.
The sound design for this title is unsettling much like the previous titles, with an opening theme that has the intensity that sets up the game, which contrasts very well with the menu theme that hides the terror of the title. The composed music has the same high quality that Idea Factory titles possess, going from a calming piece that plays during the tutorial segments to intimidating orchestral and rock focused tracks. The stage and battle themes work together extremely well, creating a tense atmosphere during play.
The quality of the music shines throughout the experience, adding to the horror and suspense that can be felt when exploring the oppressive Jail towers. There is both an English and Japanese vocal track that can be selected, adding voiced dialogue to add additional weight to those story events that use it. The English cast features the vocal talents of Kayli Mills (Re:ZERO), Sarah Williams (Berserk 2016) and Cristina Valenzuela (Konosuba).
Final Thoughts – I will be clear that I have been excited for Mary Skelter Finale since it was announced and I am so glad that I have been able to cover it. I feel that this is on par if not better than Mary Skelter 2 in terms of Storytelling, world building and gameplay, with a fantastic soundtrack that is accompanied by a tremendous voice cast. There are some very minor issues with the frame rate as the game really pushes the system hard, along with the brightness of some areas in handheld play, but they do not impact the overall experience.
The story drew me in and elicited a strong emotional response from me, which I also experienced playing the previous entries and is very important with a series that has a narrative that is spread over several titles. The new characters, enemies and environments fit into the world seamlessly and their designs work well with established characters, giving further depth to the world that this title attempts to expand on. The gameplay is balanced well and allows all players to jump right into the game.
This is another excellent release for me from Idea Factory and Compile Heart, everything hits the right spots and the additional content included like free DLC, visual novels and the entire story, art and sound of the previous titles is the cherry on top. If you never had a chance to play the previous title, you can get caught up very quickly.
In the end, I give Mary Skelter Finale a final score of 5/5. The Final chapter of an excellent RPG franchise delivers in story, gameplay and world building. The soundtrack is amazing in this entry, the additional content as Free DLC and the inclusion of all story and extras from previous games is just a delightful bonus. If you want to check this title out for yourself, you can find links to the digital and physical releases below.
Link to Nintendo Switch version (HERE)
Link to PlayStation version (HERE)
Link to Physical version (HERE)
Link to Limited version (HERE)