Mary Skelter: Nightmares was perhaps, or is still perhaps, one of my favorite Dungeon Crawlers of all time. Hosting a cast of Princesses thrown into the roles of Blood Maidens with the ability to combat nightmares, and perhaps find a way out of living dungeon known as The Jail, there was blood, gore, new features to revamp the entire style and a hell of a storyline to boot. Taking things back from the top, forget everything you know about Mary Skelter: Nightmares except for the fact that Mary Skelter 2 is going to be its own wild ride with new twists from the very beginning.
Starting off at about the same point of Little Red Riding Hood busting Jack and Alice out of their cell, things don’t go quite as planned this time around. Switching protagonists for Otsuu and The Little Mermaid, Alice goes into skelter mode and things just go to hell right then and there. Injured beyond actual healing, Jack basically dies in Little Mermaids arms but instead of letting go, he becomes a nightmare himself intent from finding Alice and protecting any of the other Maidens that they come across.
For those not acquainted with the original, Mary Skelter is a party based first person dungeon crawler that uses real time elements in the dungeons to step up the gameplay from simply being puzzle based. Using a party of up to five, each Blood Maiden brings a unique skill that can affect the environment such as cutting down side fences to blowing up cracked walls. Adding one last layer above the rest, Jack acted as a support for the Blood Maidens both in and out of combat.
Having Jack change from being a human to a nightmare makes for quite a few changes in both the gaming mechanics and storytelling. Story wise, Nightmare Jack is a massive hulk of power muscle that unlike the rest of the Jail’s nightmares, has mostly retained who he is and will put himself in harm’s warm for any Blood Maiden. Being a nightmare now though he can no longer really speak “English” so he instead speaks through Otsuu who seems to have a knack for Nightmare speak.
This change, other than being a big one, works because of how Otsuu decides to comport herself. Acting as Little Mermaid’s Prince Charming, and dressing the part, Otsuu acts as the party leader for everyone and the glue that keeps them all together as Jack once did. Working as the Central point however, Otsuu still takes the stage as she also guides Nightmare Jack in combat instead of “you” controlling his supportive actions.
Mechanically, other than being smoother as this is the second time around, the changes in story that I’ll only glimpse at will change how your party approaches dungeon crawling in the beginning hours. Not wanting to spoil it as it makes a significant difference, shops and all of your blood modifications will not come in early and it’ll make sense as you start to explore The Jail. These options are back however as you can buy decorations for each Maiden’s rooms which affects their affection, you can buy healing items, upgrade your gear and unlock skill slots to be used as each maiden learns new abilities as they level up.
Leveling your maidens still grants them class points (CP) which is used to learn and upgrade abilities within their certain class which can be changed sometime down the road after the first major boss fight. Healing abilities, attack spells, and passive buffs can all be learned as well as mixed and matched to give you the edge on your does that only get stronger as you move through the Jail’s floors.
One thing that became quite clear very early is that because of the change in story and the time that it takes to unlock all of your facilities, is that Mary Skelter 2 is much harder than Mary Skelter. Well it is unless you utilize all of the new systems to their fullest. Alongside Jack’s newest set of abilities in combat, you now have the ability to plant flowers in the dungeon that can blossom into gear. Spraying them with blood will increase the chance of something good but putting them onto fertile tiles will make them even better.
Having this new avenue to obtain gear, and good gear early on, helps level off the sheer power that enemies seem to obtain between floors. Enemies were hard to the point that one or two fights was enough to make me head back and heal once it was an option. Finally getting better gear meant that I could stick around longer but when enemies hit the entire party front or back row for a third of each Maiden’s health? Oh boy it’s not pretty. So with good gear equipped, here is where you really have to start learning to use the new Jack’s abilities.
Nightmare Jack, unlike the original who eventually got a gun to make sharing his blood with the maiden’s easier (yes it does make a return), has the ability to potentially stop enemies in their tracks at the potential cost of losing his mind and becoming Ripper Jack. Jack the Ripper you say? Ripper Jack will tear enemies apart in a berserker rage just as easily as he would to one of your Maidens on the field. So using abilities like the nightmare zone on one or more enemies can affect his state of mind in which you need to make sure that he tries to take a deep breath in order to not outright lose control. Before even using these abilities though, you have another choice to make. Does Otsuu fight or does Jack perform nightmarish abilities?
The battle system is still in place with your party facing off against enemies in a turn based format based off of initiative and speeds. Each character can use their melee weapon, defend, or use special abilities to attack the enemies in front of them. Where things changed is that Jack used to be a supplementary character with the ability to use items, take a hit and possibly get concussed, or use his blood to reduce the chance of a Maiden going into Skelter mode.
Now, with Nightmare Jack, he gets to go at the same time at Otsuu, but only if you want to. This choice allows you to either make two actions with Otsuu, two actions with Nightmare Jack, or one action a piece. The only issue that I have with this new setup is that I feel like the combination of the two, and the power it presents, are slower because of it often allowing other party members, and enemies, the chance to go up twice before their turn wraps back around and then becomes more normally paced. Otherwise? The power behind the Switch, and the size of the screen both handheld and in the cradle made for quite a difference.
Finally there’s the dungeon crawling itself. The real time elements are back. Statues waiting to cleave you in half, tight rope chain link wires to walk across, and I think they are new, it has been a while, swinging ropes to hold onto and jump off of. Amplify this with the constant threat of a Nightmare chasing you down? And it can be stressful as you map your way forward through a maze of locked doors, pitfalls and enemy infested corridors. And it works so damned well. Your map is automatically updated, if you’ve opened a locked door it’ll let you know that you have and the auto-travelling allows you to plot paths through the various floors. The only issue that I don’t think existed in the first, I could be wrong, again it’s been a while, is that if there’s something that could harm your party it’ll flat out stop the movement forward.
As I’ve said up top, I won’t get into the story because right there, more than what the “back of the case says”, it’ll spoil things and that should really be experienced on your own. What I will say though, is that the writing and the voice acting is just as great as the first and the characters and how they interact with one another is simply amazing. This is a Compile Heart and Idea Factory title. There’s dialog, and more than that, there’s a lot of dialog at times making you wonder a bit when the last time you actually moved around was. Is it an issue? No. You’ll be spending so much time searching for ways forward through The Jail that the reprieve of it is always welcomed.