I remember playing Mary Skelter: Nightmares on the Vita a few years back (and for a review, no less!). I remember thinking that it was pretty good—especially concept-wise—but I also recall feeling as though it got a little stale at times; like it could have been better if they just added a little bit of extra polish here and there, but also assuming that, like with most of Compile Heart’s other (Non-Neptunia) titles, that it was just going to be another one-off that wouldn’t ever get the chance to shine like I knew it could. Well, I was (quite obviously) wrong about that, because here we are two years later with Mary Skelter 2. And, thanks to said aforementioned metaphorical polish finally being applied, it truly stands out as one of Compile Heart’s finest titles to come out within the last few years. At least in my opinion, anyway (which I guess is what you’re here for).
A Fairy Tale Like No Other
Acting as less as a true sequel and more along the lines of an “if…” title, Mary Skelter 2 is a re-telling of the original Mary Skelter: Nightmares that takes its predecessor’s story and turns nearly everything on its head. Gone from the spotlight is the story of Jack and Alice—with Alice having gone crazy within the first 10 minutes of meeting her, and Jack (rather tragically) turning into a mentally unstable Nightmare—and in their place now stand protagonist and Blood Maiden Otsuu (an all-new character), and her princess, Little Mermaid (who was dead during the entirety of the original Mary Skelter). Of course, not everything is different. Despite the drastic shift in the cast, the core premise of the first game’s narrative—to escape from the all-devouring organism known as “Jail”—still largely remains intact. But, with Otsuu & co. quickly finding themselves unable to live within the Liberated District (the first game’s home base), and only a handful of survivors to look after, their journey through this living prison certainly doesn’t play out how it did before.
I’ll admit it; I was a little bit skeptical about this game’s story before I started playing the game. The whole “alternate universe” thing is a bit old now, and has almost reached the point where it feels like a cop-out for developers who don’t know how to write a proper story. Fortunately, there’s no need to worry about that here. Mary Skelter 2 is legitimately one of the best “what if” scenarios that I’ve seen in quite some time, and I would even go so far as to say that Nightmares was setting certain things up to benefit this game’s stories. Most notably is the fact that, as I already eluded to with Little Mermaid, the importance and mortality status of several key players gets swapped around. Remember Mamoru and Hikari from the first game? The characters that Nightmares placed a weirdly specific importance on—even going so far as to write an entire miniature novel for them—but who never really showed up after the beginning of the game? Well, not only are they back but they—alongside an entire cast of Dawn members who, like Little Mermaid, died off-screen, play an absolutely pivotal role within the narrative’s development this time around. And the list doesn’t stop there, either. It’s honestly astounding just how much work apparently went into setting up this sequel, and being able to see all of it unfold firsthand is incredibly rewarding.
These Unfamiliar Streets
Mary Skelter 2‘s story may be topsy-turvy, but there’s no need to worry about its gameplay doing the same. By and large, Mary Skelter 2 features more of the same dungeon-crawling goodness which the original game boasted, throwing in new dungeons for players to explore and entirely re-designing its old ones, with all of its changes being smaller in nature. New dungeon gimmicks—such as mechanically locked doors, and new Blood Maiden abilities, such as Little Mermaid’s icicle spear, allows the game to easily provide a new experience while simultaneously avoiding uprooting the foundation laid down by the original game. Additionally, Mary Skelter 2 throws in a few new, and very welcomed features such as Blood Farming—which allows players to literally grow items and equipment inside of dungeons—and Jail Control and Jail Trial—which allow players to partially customize the Jail roulette bonuses, and make the game harder in exchange for a slew of bonuses, respectively. I really was being serious earlier when I said that all this game needed was a little polish here and there, and its changes like these that best exemplify just how true of a statement that ended up being.
I’m also happy to report that this game’s dungeons feel like less of a slough to get through. As much as I liked Nightmares‘ dungeons, there were plenty of times where I would end up getting a little burnt out mid-dungeon simply due to the sheer size of each of them. Now, I’m not saying that Mary Skelter 2‘s dungeons are small, because they aren’t. But they are (for the most part, anyway) much more appropriately portioned. And thank goodness for that!
The Bold and the Bloody
Combat in receives the same treatment as the exploration mechanics, favoring small, yet still very important, changes. The most obvious change—and one which is clearly visible on the image above—is the paring up of Otsuu and Nightmare Jack. Those of you who played Nightmares probably remember that, in combat, Jack acted in a way that differed from the Blood Maidens, allowing players to only do things such as use items and remove corruption from the rest of the party with his Mary Gun. Technically speaking, he can still do all of that as Nightmare Jack. But it doesn’t stop there. Due to his Nightmare status, Mary Skelter 2‘s Jack is capable of creating a “Nightmare Zone” in combat, which completely nullifies an enemy’s action. Remember how I mentioned that he was unstable earlier on in this review? Well, that wasn’t just me blowing smoke. Working very similarly to the Blood Maiden’s Blood Gauges, Jack has a Mind Gauge which, when filled, turns him into Ripper Jack (who’s every bit as bad as a Blood Maiden in Blood Skelter). And, because performing actions such as purifying Blood Maidens and, you guessed it, using the Nightmare Zone harm his mind so much, Nightmare Jack’s cool new tricks went largely unused in my playthrough of the game.
I’m sure that you’ve also noticed that Jack seems to be paired up with Otsuu. But what you probably haven’t noticed (and, I mean, how could you?) is the fact that, because Otsu & Jack are two separate characters, their unit gets to move twice (so long as Otsuu isn’t dead). And, yes, that means what you think it means; Mary Skelter 2 provides you with a Blood Maiden who can perform two separate actions (if Jack isn’t needed), including using items, per turn. Does having the ability to use 6 Blood Maidens—one of whom can move twice—unbalance the game, though? Surprisingly enough, no, it doesn’t. Mary Skelter 2 is surprisingly hard. You also don’t get a full party until you’re about a third of the way through the game. Now, that could have been because I was playing it on Hard, but, even then, I didn’t remember the first game’s Hard Mode being quite as brutal as this one’s. You won’t get nearly as far in Mary Skelter 2 mindlessly mashing the attack button as you would in the original game. Paying attention to enemy weaknesses, making use of buffs, debuffs, and status ailments, and taking advantage of the newly implemented Kagome-Kagome effect, which, when pulled off, spins your enemy around thus rendering them vulnerable, go a long way this time around. Admittedly, Mary Skelter 2 isn’t perfect with its difficulty curves—there were a few dungeons that I waltzed effortlessly through, only to get pulverized by the Core guardian and/or final Nightmare fight at the end—but, so long as you play intelligently and don’t mind a bit of grinding from time to time, then there really isn’t much to complain about.
Second Time’s the Charm
Hopefully, by now I’ve convinced you just how much of a bang-up job that Mary Skelter 2, and that those of you who played Nightmares should definitely get in on this action. But what about those of you who haven’t played Nightmares, you asked? Well, there’s one more thing that I forgot to mention. This game? Mary Skelter 2? It comes packaged with the first one. No, it’s not through some marketplace or third-party deal; Mary Skelter: Nightmares—the entire first game—is literally thrown into Mary Skelter 2 as a “post-game bonus”. And, if that doesn’t suit your fancy, you can just go onto the eShop or PlayStation Store and download a piece of free “DLC” that unlocks it for you. There, now you have no reason not to play this game.
Final Verdict: 4/5
Available on: Switch (Reviewed), PlayStation 4 ; Publisher: Idea Factory International ; Developer: Compile Heart ; Players: 1 ; Released: October 22, 2019 ; ESRB: M for Mature ; MSRP: $49.99
Full disclosure: This review is based on a copy of Mary Skelter 2 given to Hey Poor Player by the publisher.