Estimated reading time: 8 minutes
Mary Skelter: Nightmares, as a series, is easily in my top 3 dungeon crawlers, no questions asked. Starring a cast taken right from fairy tales that’ll you’ll probably know, the heroines of the tale attempt to escape the living flesh prison known as the Jail. With a revamped system from the first game, Mary Skelter 2 not only focuses on a different set of main characters (sort of), as you fight your way through body-horror invincible nightmares, you’re in for a treat.
Mary Skelter 2 takes a different take on the first game, where you will focus on the perspective of Otsuu, a Blood Maiden under the purview of the Dawn, an organization dedicated to escaping Jail. Blood Maidens are those humans(?) with enhanced strength and abilities, capable of fighting the monsters that are spawned from the Jail. As the story starts, Otsuu along with Little Mermaid and Red Riding Hood (notice a pattern here) are trying to find another Blood Maiden amongst the humans that the creatures the Jail spawned, the marchens, have captured. Unfortunately, things don’t go so well as an invincible monstrosity, a Nightmare, crashes the party. As a result, the party is separated, and so Otsuu and Little Mermaid must find more Blood Maidens to help them escape the Jail.
As a dungeon crawler, there are a few standards you should expect, sprinkled with a few unique aspects. As traditional dungeon crawlers go, you have the basics down: setting out from a home base to explore a map on a square-by-square basis, filling in the map as you go, and getting into random battles. Exploration of the field maps are peppered with items to recover, puzzles to solve, keys to find for locked doors, and areas to use abilities on. Part of what makes the Mary Skelter series one of my favourites is that each character is unique, and they come with a ability unique to them. For instance, Otsuu can create giant balls that can block certain traps, or fill in certain holes, and Little Mermaid can shoot an ice shot that freeze water or put out fires. Each character you collect as you progress through the story offers a different ability that helps improve your ability to explore.
As you explore around, you may come across these pink tiles. These are blood farming tiles, which is pretty much the most effective way of getting decent equipment. Through battles and completing job requests, you will build up blood crystals, which are used for a number of things, but certain types can be planted. You can then spray them with blood to improve their quality. You can plant these wherever you want, although the dedicated tiles will give you better results. You can also get items this way as well, although the equipment will probably be your main focus.
Combat is changed up a little from the first game, revamping some aspects while keeping others. Battles are turn-based, with a turn indicator on-screen, and turn is decided based on your agility stat. Unlike in the first title, you now have six potential in-battle units instead of five. You have the standard combat options, such as attack and skill, but Mary Skelter has a few more unique options, such as Lick. Basically, as battles happen, the heroines will get blood splattered on them, indicated by blood splotches under their character icon. Once this hits three splotches, you can have another unit lick the unit with the blood on them to gain the effect of the splattered maiden. Alternatively, once the splotches fill up, you can enter a Massacre mode, where you get increased stats, as well as access to some powerful skills. But be warned, because you also build up corruption, which risks entering the berserk “Skelter” mode, where the unit will just do whatever.
Now, in the first game, you had a human Jack shooting purifying blood at the maidens in order to purge corruption. This time, you’ve got nightmare Jack, who couples his turn with Otsuu, can ALSO go berserk, but has access to nightmare zone, which prevents a turn. It’s different, and you can substitute Otsuu or Jack, meaning you actually can take two turns at once, but it can be a little more awkward. To add to this, I found corruption increased SIGNIFICANTLY faster in MS2 than MS1, meaning for me, I much preferred just licking the blood off to stop the Skelter trigger instead of purifying. On the subject of corruption and purifying, at a certain point you unlock the ability to purge at your home base, instead of in battle. This used to be a minigame, but has been removed for…censorship reasons, I believe? It’s not like the minigame particularly has any plot bearing though, so it isn’t a huge deal.
Now, as is typical in these sorts of things, you earn exp from fights and level up. Well, in addition to this, every so many levels you get job rights, which allow you to unlock a new job class that you can freely swap between at your base camp. Job classes have different stat distributions, but the most important aspect is that they allow you access to any skills in the class as long as you have unlocked it. These skills can be learned by using CP, which is earned from leveling, or as a bonus from blood devolution. Classes require certain blood crystals to learn in addition to job rights. Blood devolution also requires blood crystals, and will reduce your character level in exchange for a permanent base stat increase as well as some bonus extra CP. Once you have enough CP to learn or upgrade a skill, you can then learn it and assign it to a slot. If you run out of slots you may expend more blood crystals to increase the number of skill slots.
Another rather unique aspect of Mary Skelter 2 is the ability to alter the Jail. After a certain point, you can put up restrictions for the areas you enter, which will give you bonuses, such as increased critical rate or earned experience. There is also a roulette wheel that will activate in and out of battle by performing certain actions and building up a gauge. This roulette can be adjusted if you have certain “pieces” which you can slot in.
Now, you may be wondering about the invincible Nightmares I mentioned earlier. Well, when they appear, they produce a white mist. Get too far into the mist, and they start chasing you. On normal or higher, this gets rid of your minimap, and you have to run far enough away that the Nightmare stops chasing you. Alternatively, Nightmares are made of parts. Destroying a part will stun the Nightmare while it regenerates, allowing you to run away.
MS2 actually comes coupled with MS1, which has been retconned with both the system and a new ending, which is unlockable after clearing MS2, so you can catch up on the first game if you haven’t played it. Also, I should mention that early game is pretty hard. Seriously, I died 6 times in the tutorial area because I kept getting bad luck on enemy spawns and frequency. It does get easier when you progress and work out a system that functions for you.
Now, as someone who picked this up on Switch initially and did the whole one hundred percent completion, there are a few things to note about the PC port. First up, there are the occasional lag spikes. Sometimes this happens when opening a door, sometimes it happens when there’s a lot going on on-screen, but it can and does happen. Additionally, sometimes I had locked doors visually not render. The game treated it as a locked door, but it was invisible. I only had this happen when planting in front of a door though, so maybe avoid that. Also a bit of an issue is that you can really tell the game is ported, because a lot of the character portraits when in a dialogue scene look a little stretched. It’s not enough to be a super big issue, but I did notice it. The last point I’d like to point out is that occasionally while opening a chest, the volume would get super loud for a second, then go back down to normal. On the plus side, as of writing this, patches are still being released, so hopefully some of this gets rectified.
Overall, I absolutely love Mary Skelter as a series, and the second game, while a bit different in nature, doesn’t dissuade me from the franchise at all. The characters are interesting and unique, the battle system and exploration are well mapped out, the variety of job classes make any character viable to use. While the port loses a point here or there, it’s all for fairly minor concerns, or temporary issues that soon resolved themselves. If you weren’t able to pick Mary Skelter 2 up on Switch, or you’re looking for some good dungeon crawling fun, make sure to check this out!Score: 9 / 10