Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Review: Mary Skelter: Nightmares

Why can't Japanese developers put the basics in a manual? Why does the start of every RPG require half an hour of furiously tapping X for banal conversations with about 10 useful bits of information buried in the text, desperately wanting to just play the bloody game? (Yes, I know there's auto proceed and skip options, but they don't really solve the problem).

If you survive the mandatory preamble that litters the opening of Mary Skelter: Nightmares, then you have do indeed have a bloody (if pink) step-by-step role player to enjoy. Blood is at the heart of a collection of fairy tale characters dragged into a crazed sentient prison, with the surviving few trying to defeat the monsters that roam within. Blood powers their weapons, their transformations and you can lick your bleeding friends to gain health (yuk!)

The big eyes in the walls and giant clocks do sort of make sense for a nightmare prison, less so the comfy sofas. But, it soon becomes clear that the fairy tales are tied to the living prison, and as you clear Chapter 1, at least the pace picks up and the outbursts of chatter tail off.

In play, as in Compile Heart's Moero games, lone-boy Jack acts as a helper to the all-action girls. He feeds them supplies and health packs as they battle with swords, bows and playing cards, or use their range of elemental skill attacks against the demons. He must also keep them in check, as too much blood can trigger Hulk-like lady rampages that can rip your happy party to shreds.

Mixing saving the game using a Rabbit Hole pop-up tent with returns to base to stock up is always wise. That is, unless you find the wandering merchant, or benefit from one of the jail's regular bonus rounds. As you get going, there's a brisk pace with exploring, battling and scuttling away wounded.

As your party levels up, few beasts really pose a challenge until you get to the end of level Marchen guardian, when you suddenly find your health packs and attack skills are woefully inadequate. So, you'll need to grind, grind, grind a few levels to build up enough stamina. To make things worse, they can appear randomly and chase you to ensure you never really feel safe.

Jail House Rock

During this panicky run-around, you'll find the prison is also full of locked or sealed doors, gaps, holes you can't yet get over, cracks in the scenery and fences that you can tear through, or find a hidden switch to activate. Using the girls' blood abilities to overcome these obstacles, there's a fair bit of back and forth to explore all these nooks and crannies, but it adds to the fun and sense of completion.

At Dawn Base, a hero's retreat from the madness, you can go round the rooms and treat the girl's with gifts of interior decor pieces to boost your relationship with them. A laboratory allows party members to change jobs or boost the number of expansion slots, and muck around with their blood types. The Solar Order provide collecting missions, most of which you'll probably complete before you knew they existed, rendering these white-gowned loons rather pointless.
In Mary Skelter Nightmares, killer shoes are a feature
The Blood Weapon Factory can be used to modify blood attacks, all of which is just a complex way of upgrading weapons to take down the different types of demons that use the same old fire-water-earth-air weakness system. A store provides some basic essentials but is soon underpowered compared to what you need!

As a kind of mini-game, there's a rather tame touchscreen rub-the-lady feature to "purge" them of their impurities, likely an added extra inspired by Criminal Girls, but totally pointless and rather demeaning the game.

Deeper into jail

As you explore look out for Emotion Points, these help you get along with the prison, which has peculiar needs, but even this feature feels like a tacked on extra.

Getting deeper into the game and using the girl's job swap feature and their advanced skills, you can line up a formidable force to beat down the Marchens, but there's nowhere near enough coherent story or must-do-quests or side quests to really push you to the later stages beyond the Downtown and further.

While we await Demon Gaze II, Mark Skelter will do nicely, as its pretty much the same old experience. The enemy graphics have had a bit of a makeover, with 3D animations, but they still make little to no sense in the scheme of things. I suspect someone in Japan has a random-monster-create-o-meter for all these games!

The usual gripes also apply, why does every treasure chest hold some shitty bangle and not actual treasure, where's the variety of armour or special powers through unified kits? Can't the developers try anything in that direction?

Otherwise, the text UI takes too long, slows up play and is plain dumb. The game is also weighed down by too many systems, making it easy to miss something that could make your life a lot easier.

But, if you ignore the "Now that's what I call role playing 1997!" feel to it, Skelter a fun, slightly mad romp, that does little with the great history of the fairy tale characters it co-opts or goes far enough with the whole Nightmare motif!

Price: £39.99 Amazon UK, $39.99 Amazon US, PSN: TBC
More reviews
Score: 7/10
Dev: Idea Factory/Compile Heart
Size: 3GB
Progress: Westside/eastside all the bloody same!

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