Estimated reading time: 12 minutes
From the handheld touch screen of the PlayStation Vita and then the more versatile options of the Nintendo Switch, Compile Heart and Idea Factory’s Mary Skelter Finale is bringing this adventure to a close on both the Nintendo Switch and PlayStation 4. With Snark defeated and freedom in sight, the Blood Maidens aim for bluer skies only to find a hell worse than the one they just fought to leave.
Mary Skelter Finale starts on a potentially confusing note especially if you’ve only played them on their native systems. Thankfully, within the bonus option of the main menu there is the ability to re-watch every single cutscene of the first and second titles giving you the revamped ending of Mary Skelter: Nightmares which was packaged with the Nintendo Switch version of Mary Skelter 2. I would heavily suggest looking up that last chapter unless you’ve gone through the revamp of Mary Skelter: Nightmares.
Moving into the core game however, Mary Skelter Finale easily hits the bar previously set by its predecessors. Heading towards the surface, our Blood Maidens both returning and new for this adventure encounter a group known as Massacre Pink which start savagely and sadistically cutting down everyone that came with the Blood Maidens from underground. Far out of their depths, the now angelic Hikari uses her powers to send everyone to safety even if that means splitting them all up as it’s an alternative much better than dying.
This starts up the last chapter of the adventure where instead of only having one group dungeon crawl you’re going to start with six before eventually bringing it down to three. Being split between three different towers, each set of Blood Maidens will need to combat more Machens and Nightmares all while figuring out puzzles and avoiding traps and it works really well.
Already a complicated enough experience having to often leverage progress with playing it safe, now you have party make ups that are not of your own choosing and you often have to make due with what you have. Of the groups some work well while others you wish you could sub a member or two for someone else but unfortunately, you can’t. While this can make combat a bit tougher at times, it’s generally spot on for exploration as each dungeon segment is designed for the party that you have on hand and this is where the finale shines as long as you remember the following.
Each party can be swapped between at any point in time as long as they aren’t in battle. Whether in town or floors into the dungeon, you can “Zap” between the parties in order to figure your way forward. Sealed doors for one group could be controlled via a switch for another group. Locked doors follow the same concept however the groups will need to find containers that allow you to send items and can then be picked up to continue their exploration. So now not only do you need to worry about real-time traps in a turn- based exploration and nightmares that will chase you down, but you also have to keep track of what each team comes across and what they need in order to move forward.
While this may not be anything new in the grand scheme of things, how it’s presented against the backdrop of everything that has already been set up by the series makes it feel fresh as these dungeon crawling titles with visual novel grade dialog sessions can easily reach over forty hours. Where I found this to be a bit tougher compared to the previous versions however is that playing on a PS4 or a PS5 in my case, I couldn’t just take the console and move around or head out and continue somewhere else like I could with the Vita or the Nintendo Switch. So if there’s one advantage that the finale would have on the Switch over the PS4/5 is that you can pick up and go or just chill outside for a bit instead of being inside.
The only potential complaint gone however, and the rest unfolds in a manner that feels natural for the length of title that Mary Skelter Finale is. Only starting to really grant you additional home base features into chapter 2, everything that had started to become a chore is now a thing of the past. Once setting up real bases for the three groups that you’ll be dungeon crawling with, each group will be receiving the ability to take on Commissions for each resource while also being able to issue work orders. These work orders come in the manner of having your people back at base planting blood flowers for gear as well as picking them all up for a small fee once they are ready.
This one feature alone lets you move about in a much more freeing manner as you don’t need to ever worry about having to backtrack to a part of the dungeon(s) that will really help these grow, it’s taken care of. An added bonus to this feature is that this one feature crosses the three teams so if one team doesn’t have enough to plant for new weapons and defense gear, another team can take care of the bill which was really useful at times especially when you keep in mind the ability to send items between parties to make sure that each team has the best gear that they possibly can.
Other returning features to help in the dungeon crawl are the factory which allows for increasing the potency of gear by spending blood crystals. Visiting each Blood Maiden in their rooms for chats and presents whether for room decor or for other one time use items in order to raise their affections to make them stronger in battle is also back. Your own room, whether as the returning Jack, the new Toh or the returning Clara now having some of the same abilities as Jack after a blood transfusion, can be used to store gear that may not be immediately useful or just taking up space for when you’re looking to see which key(s) a party has on hand.
When not in base and exploring the far reaches of these new jails that the Blood Maidens find themselves in, you’ll be moving one square at a time in order to move forward and solve the puzzle of how to get through various doors or holes in the ground. This is really what you’ll be spending most of your time doing and it’s just brilliant and brutal. Enemies can range between reasonable to damned right “dirty” to quote Richard before we get to his thoughts about this finale. Every type of gaming experience has one set of “broken” enemy types and while for me that’s generally the range types basically being destruction cannons, for Mary Skelter Finale the magic types take this prize as if you don’t break their concentration quick, you could be seeing the game over screen more than a few times.
So while in combat, there’s an order of initiative that is present at all times letting you plan out some of your moves as long as you’re not worrying about some of the real time elements that these death traps have to throw at you. Blood Maidens can attack, defend, use skills or lick one of their fellow sisters for a bonus ranging from extra critical chances to short duration shields or party wide healing. Side to the Blood Maidens, each party has a Blood Youth (Jack, Toh, Clara) who can remove the blood corruption, restore skill points (SP) or use items or take a hit for a Blood Maiden in the most supportive action that they could do as they try to keep the whole party alive from both the monsters and themselves.
Still finding a way to make things interesting, the Blood Youth’s abilities can easily be a game changer. Items are useful for sure especially if a Blood Maiden falls in battle, but being able to restore a good portion of one Maiden’s SP or a little bit of all Maiden’s SP while also reducing their corruption can really help keep everyone alive as things get tougher and tougher the further you move through the dungeons. Making two returns are both a Blood Maiden’s Massacre Mode which temporarily grants them a variety of power skills and more power once their blood meters are filled up. Letting these meters fill up is a choice as sometimes it could be more beneficial for one Maiden to lick the blood off depending on the party benefit. The other returning feature is the ultimate of double edged swords, Skelter Mode.
There are only two elements in this dungeon crawler that scare me, Nightmares, beings of immense power showing up at the worst damned times, and Skelter Mode. Skelter mode is a Blood Maiden’s blood corruption reaching its boiling point and them losing absolute control hitting everything for colossal amounts of damage whether it be the enemy, their sisters, or themselves. I’ve easily game overed a few times due to this just because magic based attacks sent a few into Skelter Modes before I could get the corruptions all cured. It’s powerful and it’s scary because you really don’t know which way the table will turn when it happens, adding yet another terrifying element to constantly have to watch out for.
Finally, before handing this off to Richard for his thoughts on the finale as he’s playing more of this series that I have having gone the extra miles for the true ends every time, the last double edged feature I want to touch on can either make or break you as you figure out just how far to push it. On top of raising your Blood Maiden’s levels, their affections, their gear, changing their jobs and learning new skills, you can control the Jail in order to bring about some rather nice bonuses but at a variety of costs.
Increasing experience gained in battle can be done by disabling the ability to save at the in dungeon save points or making the mini-map disappear. Extra attack can be gained by trading off against a percentage of your stats. There’s a long list of these items and they are very much worth exploring as you’ll often want to level up faster just to be able to take a better hit as you move through the dungeons.
While P.Y. has done a wonderful job covering the basis for Mary Skelter Finale, I’d like to offer a few comments from having gone through the 100% from the original Mary Skelter and Mary Skelter 2, although admittedly I didn’t realize that the original Skelter title that came coupled with 2 had an extended bonus ending. There’s a lot that has changed over the course of the games, such as introducing chant times, kagome-kagome attacks, and Jail function modifications, and a lot that returns, as the combat remains largely the same, and the exploration also keeps the same basis.
Mary Skelter Finale is a well refined culmination to the series, and while I’m sad to see some of my broken set-ups no longer feasible, it is nice to see that there is a development progression. Finale is in an interesting position, as it’s fit for both new and veteran players, although for entirely different reasons. Veterans will enjoying the challenge of having more restricted teams, as members cannot be swapped out at will, while new players aren’t overloaded by having too much choice. Coming from the past titles, it is a little aggravating to have all the characters split, although I do have to admit I agree 100% with this design choice.
Those coming from past titles will notice a few things. First of all, the MEN stat is a thing now. It always used to be Magic defense, and still is, but while the previous two titles you could largely ignore it, it becomes a serious issue pretty fast in Finale. No longer are the corruption and skelter rates from 2 basically forcing you to use the blood soul skill (licking), but you can actually manage the corruption and choose fairly well now. Certain broken aspects in previous titles, such as mortal force exploitation in 1, or Jail Roulette pandering from 2, have been all but quashed, the first being removed in the second game, and party split resulting in the second getting nerfed for Finale.
Granted, leaving one group back in base camp allows you to basically save anywhere by zapping now, even if the Jail trial has turned off saving, but that’s rather minor in comparison. Blood farming for gear has become a lot harder due to the nature of split party only having one demon king, and farm zones being generally really stupid as well. As a last side note, the free DLC outfits are really useful for making builds, although predominantly for their skills, not stats.
As a final statement, I have to say I’m incredibly pleased with the progress that has been made on the Skelter gameplay since I first picked the first title up on Vita and binged it for 3 days straight. Many a function have been refined, the combat feels smooth, if not a bit unfair at times, the tower exploration is fun, and the characters are all unique and interesting. There’s a reason the Mary Skelter series has cemented its place as my favorite dungeon crawler, and you really don’t want to miss it.– Richard
On a final note from me, if you have yet to explore this dungeon crawler, I would highly recommend picking up Mary Skelter 2 on the Nintendo Switch that comes with Mary Skelter: Nightmares. Both titles are brilliant and have given a refresh to the Dungeon Crawling style that Fatbot Game’s Vaporum and Vaporum: Lockdown have continued in the real time vein. That said, if you’re more interested in the story then this finale will also have you covered with all of the cutscenes both core and bonus that its predecessors had to offer.
So overall, between all of the elements new and old, the dungeon crawling between various parties and having to think in more than just what’s in front of you alongside the amazing massive amounts of dialog to tell the story, Mary Skelter Finale closes the book on this amazingly and macabre fairytale series.Score: 9 / 10