Mary Skelter 2 Review (Switch)
For me, April was the official “chip away at the backlog” month, and part of that time was spent exploring Mary Skelter: Nightmares, one of two DRPGs in the Mary Skelter 2 package on Switch. I was pleasantly surprised at how well the game turned out to be, and after taking a quick diversion to cover Ambition Record, I returned for more dungeon crawling goodness in Mary Skelter 2. Although the game initially appears superior to its predecessor, a myriad of issues ultimately stop it from achieving the same magic as the original.
Mary Skelter 2 revolves around a once bustling Japanese city that is reduced to nothing but a crater. Within this chasm lies a living, breathing organism dubbed the “Jail,” where otherworldly beings known as the Marchens hunt and torture surviving humans day in and day out. While they stand very little chance against the Marchens, there are a select few – Blood Maidens – that have managed to push back enough to carve out a bastion of hope, Dawn, in eventually escaping the living prison.
One day, the Blood Maidens are on a routine mission (finding other Blood Maidens) when upon returning to Dawn HQ, they find it in ruin, with many of its inhabitants (including other Blood Maidens) unaccounted for. This destruction was wrought by a very unique Nightmare – horrifying, seemingly immortal creatures found throughout the depths of the Jail. Historically, Nightmares have stuck to very specific locations within the various dungeons without any overlap, but this instance shows a Nightmare not bound by any one location – a troubling prospect, indeed. With many questions and no answers, the surviving Blood Maidens make it their priority to rebuild Dawn once more, find their missing comrades, and hopefully continue in their quest to escape the Jail once and for all.
Mary Skelter 2 begins in an eerily similar manner to Mary Skelter: Nightmares, but whether that is intentional or not is for the player to discover on their own (no spoilers here). And though the latest canon by way of the Mary Skelter: Nightmares remake suggests playing Mary Skelter 2 beforehand, it actually seems like a bad idea considering everything that is assumed that the player already understands here. Important characters, terms, and factions are greatly fleshed out in the first game and simply aren’t in this second entry, which could lead some to struggle in caring about the party’s plight.
While both games share many things, there are a handful of new characters highlighted in this second adventure that weren’t around in the first one, including some brand new Blood Maidens that, like the originals, are themed around well known fairy tales and folklore. Rather than focusing on Alice and Jack this time, Mary Skelter 2 instead centers around newcomer Otsuu and Little Mermaid, who loosely play on the Japanese folktale known as Tsuru no Ongaeshi (or The Grateful Crane). Despite what is narratively new and fresh, Mary Skelter 2 just doesn’t do enough to keep the player invested in the long haul like its predecessor did, at least leading up to the closing events. There are certainly some reveals and events that are well done and thought provoking, but those morsels are spread across far too much space to really feel rewarding.
Mary Skelter 2 is a first-person dungeon crawler that has the player searching the Jail’s many dungeons in hopes of finding their comrades, and ultimately, a way to freedom. Each dungeon features a boss in the form of an immortal Nightmare, which patrols the dungeon until its core is destroyed and they are subsequently made vulnerable. The idea is for the player to avoid traps, solve puzzles, and outrun the occasional Nightmare encounter until they can finally lay it to rest. Should the player be unable to escape a Nightmare prior to its core being destroyed, they then must destroy one of their regenerative “parts,” which will temporarily stun them and allow a means to escape on foot.
The turn-based combat in Mary Skelter 2 has seen some enhancements compared to Mary Skelter: Nightmares. While the core idea is the same – agility-based turn order, keeping each Blood Maiden’s corruption (basically a “berserk” meter) in check via Jack’s purifying blood – there are a few additions that spice things up a bit. Some spells require a charge time rather than being instant cast, leading to some additional strategy when facing off against more powerful foes.
Gear also plays an even more important role than before due to its direct manipulation of three components: Bloodshot, Slice, and Strike. Bloodshot increases the chance of Kagome-Kagome – a play on the Japanese children’s game that forces an enemy to temporarily turn around, increasing their damage received from all sources and potentially canceling their next turn. Slice affects how much enemies bleed in combat, directly affecting how often a Blood Maidens blood meter fills up. Finally, Strike improves the chances of landing critical hits. Performing Kagome-Kagome is particularly potent, and plays a major role in downing more difficult enemies easier.
Beyond that, Mary Skelter 2 functions similar to Mary Skelter: Nightmares. Blood Maidens will either go into Massacre mode (increased damage and special abilities) or Blood Skelter (uncontrollable rage) whenever their associated blood meter is filled up, and the idea is to keep their blood purified via Jack’s own blood. Jack oftentimes cannot do this alone, as his blood is finite and abusing it will actually lead to him becoming uncontrollable for a time as well. Luckily, Blood Maidens can opt to lick each other to not only invoke useful restorative bonuses, but also to deplete the blood reserves of that specific Blood Maiden.
Overall, when it comes to combat, Mary Skelter 2 feels like a strong improvement over its predecessor. The new mechanic additions help keep things more interesting and exciting, and where Mary Skelter: Nightmares had extreme highs and lows in terms of difficulty, this entry feels far more fluid in that regard (on normal at least).
Like Mary Skelter: Nightmares, Mary Skelter 2 has the team exploring various dungeons. Along the way, they may run into obstacles and traps that often require special Blood Maiden abilities to proceed or, at the very least, reduce or negate certain types of damage. For example, Hameln can pull open certain doors and loot far off chests with her magnetic piccolo, while Kaguya’s bamboo shield will block all sources of trap-based damage for a short time – even pitfalls. New dungeon “Blood Actions” are available in Mary Skelter 2 thanks to the expanded roster, but they all function in a similar manner.
Defeating enemies, looting items, and generally spending time in any dungeon will slowly fill up the three desires of the Jail itself: hunger, libido, and sleep. Upon filling one of them up, a Jail Roulette will begin that can either be fully automated or selected manually in order to reap a variety of rewards. Not much has changed here when compared to Mary Skelter: Nightmares, including the ability to manually adjust or automate a dungeon’s Jail Control (an influence on the Jail Roulette choices) as well as Jail Trials (various options to make dungeon diving more difficult for additional rewards). If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
One of the primary new features of Mary Skelter 2 is the Blood Farm, which allows the player to plant acquired blood crystals around each dungeon that can be harvested for items and equipment after a certain number of battles. Although one can do the bare minimum here and reap decent rewards, there is some nuance to it to maximize the farm’s potential. By planting on specific squares (denoted in pink) and dousing them in blood, there is a better chance of harvesting superior items and equipment. Moreover, using Hameln’s magnetic piccolo when harvesting will further increase the odds of better results.
If this all seems like too much work, one can also plant and harvest blood flowers directly from the new Dawn HQ, though this requires money and also reduces the quality of items found. While the Blood Farm undoubtedly makes acquiring solid gear and an assortment of items much easier than before, it also impacts the satisfaction of finding decent things in treasure chests, as the Blood Farm gear far outweighs anything one might find naturally in a dungeon (though admittedly, this was kind of the case in Nightmares but to a much lesser extent). That said, the Blood Farm is still an interesting addition to the game.
Both Mary Skelter: Nightmares and Mary Skelter 2 feature optional side quests in the form of work orders – various tasks that can be assigned to the party from Dawn HQ that are typically fulfilled through kill and/or collect tasks. These weren’t very exciting in the first game, and not much has changed in the second although certain work orders do come with very short (but ultimately irrelevant) story bits. The biggest difference between the two games is that Mary Skelter 2 only allows the player to pick up a single work order at a time, whereas multiple work orders could be worked on simultaneously in Mary Skelter: Nightmares.
While there aren’t nearly as many total work orders this time around, it is a bit of a drag having to focus on one at a time, especially when many could be completed in one fell swoop and the amount of RNG involved with others would work better with a more flexible system.
Character Customization and Development
In terms of character customization, there have been new additions and enhancements to existing components in Mary Skelter 2 that unfortunately, due to their implementation, makes the systems at large not much better than before. There are three avenues that impact the development of each Blood Maiden: jobs, skills, and gearing, but only the former is noticeably better.
Every ten levels, each Blood Maiden can unlock (via Blood Crystals) an additional job (of which there are many) that they can freely swap between at any time. But Blood Maidens do not have to swap to a specific job to utilize their toolkit, both active and passive abilities of any job can be carried over to any other job, so long as the Blood Maiden has enough skill slots available. The only real advantage to swapping to a different job is when base stats need to be adjusted to best fit the situation at hand or simply the player’s own desires. And just like Mary Skelter: Nightmares, Blood Maidens here can also reduce their character levels periodically to reset CP (skill points), gain bonus base stats, and acquire even more CP for additional abilities.
While each Blood Maiden already has an absurd amount of skills available to them, they can also get Blood Transfusions (ie. new skills) via Blood Packs found in dungeons, opening up even more possibilities for diverse toolkits. Even though the idea here is interesting, it soon loses its luster as many of the Blood Pack abilities simply cannot keep up with potency requirements when content gets more challenging. But to play devil’s advocate, Blood Pack skills do not require any SP (basically MP) to use, which still makes many of them at least situationally useful.
One of the biggest challenges in Mary Skelter: Nightmares was having to sift through mountains of randomized, Diablo-esque loot constantly for the entire party. Unfortunately, this has only been made more difficult in Mary Skelter 2 with the introduction of the aforementioned tertiary stats that guide Bloodshot, Slice, and Strike. So not only does one have to find a piece of gear with satisfying base stats and useful secondary stats, but they now must weigh and consider these tertiary stats on top of that, and it’s all just a bit much when having to do this for multiple gear slots across multiple party members. An improved UI and equipment comparison system could have made this much, much better but alas, no such improvements exist. As it stands, a substantial time investment has to be made to properly compare all of the gear that is to be acquired, and that quickly wears thin.
Presentation, Performance, and Sound
By all accounts, Mary Skelter 2 is more or less identical to Mary Skelter: Nightmares (the remake, at least) in terms of the overall presentation, and that is both a good and bad thing. While the band of Blood Maidens will be able to retread many old stomping grounds in slightly modified aesthetics and adjusted layouts, it has a tendency to lean towards the “been there, done that” territory more than something genuinely interesting. The reused dungeons do have remixed tracks to go along with their fresh coats of paint, but many of these – to my ears anyway – fall short of the original compositions.
Most of the enemies and Nightmares are reused, making for brief moments of nostalgia that quickly devolve into a general feeling of “meh.” Worse yet, there are a few dungeons (including the very first one and especially the temple) that Mary Skelter 2 struggles with in terms of framerate – not to the point of being unplayable, but bringing up the “why” when considering it’s striking similarities to the first game that had no notable struggles. Some of this “sameness” is to be expected given the narrative, and perhaps there are more differences between Mary Skelter 2 and the original Mary Skelter: Nightmares on Vita. But regardless, the game does little to make the new adventure visually or tonally stimulating over its predecessor.
Sometimes more of the same is a good thing, but that’s not really the case with Mary Skelter 2. While the game as a whole is certainly functional, even enjoyable at times, it’s far too similar to that of Mary Skelter: Nightmares (the remake) to be considered an improvement, especially when considering that its many changes are, more often than not, detrimental to the game at large rather than being definitive improvements. Those that have played through and have enjoyed Mary Skelter: Nightmares may want to check this out for some more DRPG action, but it’s very much in the same vein and offers little in terms of noticeable improvements and engaging story content (save for a few twists). The end result here certainly makes me wonder whether Mary Skelter Finale will redeem its somewhat ill-fated predecessor.