Tongues-on with Mary Skelter: Nightmares at E3 2017

Imagine waking up in prison clueless. Worse yet, immortal beings fittingly referred to as Nightmares are out for your life. Meet Jack as he wakes up to the worst day of his life.

I met with Idea Factory International at E3 2017 and got a chance to play Mary Skelter: Nightmares for the PlayStation Vita. This upcoming dungeon crawler by Compile Heart and Idea Factory is packed full of intriguing systems that embraces the disturbing nature of its environment.

The first thing that caught my eye about Mary Skelter was its cast. Its entire character lineup is comprised of twisted takes on fairytale characters - Cinderella, Snow White, Alice, Little Red Riding Hood, and so on. These Blood Maidens are all trying to find a way out of this cruel jail trenched inside a massive tower. Leaning hard on its nursery allegory, Jack must climb this grim beanstalk with these girls to escape.

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The IFI representatives were quick to show off the battle system in Mary Skelter. Its interface resembles many other dungeon crawlers on the market, but it carries its own quirks that separate it from the rest. Up to 5 party members can participate in combat and Jack is always present, but does not actively occupy a party slot.

Instead, Jack takes up a more support-oriented role similar to Omega Quintet’s Takt. He can defend the girls from incoming attacks at the expense of being stunned temporarily. Luckily, he doesn’t have a HP bar so his survival is ensured.

As I scrolled through my combat options for the Blood Maidens, I noticed they could attack, use skills, and… lick? I eyed the IFI reps and dumbfoundedly found myself asking, “... Lick?” during my appointment with them. They smiled. I wasn’t sure if I was supposed to smile back.

Apparently licking is a vital mechanic in Mary Skelter. You see - these girls can get a bit crazy if you leave them be. Underneath their health bar, there’s a blood splatter gauge that accumulates as they dish out or take damage. If you let that fill up, they automatically enter Blood Skelter Mode.

Blood Skelter Mode causes the girls to go berserk; they attain massive power at the expense of control over them. This is ideal if they’re doing great on health to end fights faster, but can be extremely risky if things go south.

Avoiding Blood Skelter activation requires licking off blood splatters. This brings its own benefits though! For instance, Alice can heal the party if she so chooses to use her tongue instead of leaving her enemies wrung.

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Jack is also armed with a gun that consumes his blood to settle the girls down too. It can forcibly take them out of Blood Skelter Mode, but abusing his gun too much can make him faint.

Mary Skelter has a touch of horror as well. Nightmares take some cues from Resident Evil’s Nemesis and adamantly stalk your party throughout the tower in darkened areas. Getting rid of their immortal state is essential to ending their chase permanently.

Through locating and beating their cores, Jack and his merry crew can engage in a final showdown with them. Additionally, there are much larger Nightmares that will require more thorough planning by laying traps and firing weapons in the environment to weaken them.

Dungeons in Mary Skelter are their own being too. Jail Bonuses in combat grant random bonuses decided via roulette. From HP recovery, rare item drop chances increasing, and healing status ailments, these bonuses are handy to have in a pinch. The catch? Satisfy the dungeon’s desires.

Yes, you heard that right. Dungeons aren’t people, but they sure do have a sense of hunger, a drive for lust, and a desire to sleep in Mary Skelter. Critical hits to splatter more blood feeds them, licking off blood turns them on, and mitigating damage makes them sleepy. These three elements all feed into the Jail Bonus system.

Nearing the end of the Mary Skelter demo, I visited Dawn HQ where renegades inside the tower reconvened to plan out their escape attempts. You can engage with your lovely blood-licking party members by entering their rooms to give them gifts. Alice was particularly excited at receiving a water bottle from me. Life seems rough there.

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Dawn HQ is where you can also change the Job classes for your party. Up to 20 different jobs is available for each character that all specialize in different combat roles. As you progress through the game, you can start unlocking them with specific materials and start thinking about a party synergy that caters to your style.

New to the English version of Mary Skelter: Nightmares are collectible pages of the prequel light novel sold in Japan. Idea Factory International wanted to ensure that western fans didn’t miss out on some cool content that was sold separately in the Japanese release of the game. Fully translated pages of the prequel light novel can be found throughout the game and read directly inside!

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(Editor's Note: Idea Factory International has contacted us clarifying that different parts of the prequel light novel were distributed through its website, in-game, and a "Special Book" inside its Limited Edition in Japan. Kadokawa also released a physical light novel as well. All of these will not be included in the western release of the game. On the bright side, we were told that IFI does have plans to combine all of these parts (except Kadokawa's light novel) and release them through another unannounced outlet. We deeply apologize for the misinformation.)

Mary Skelter: Nightmares has a very peculiar vibe that works in its favor. Disturbingly cute and violently adorable, this dungeon crawler RPG has a stylistic identity that makes it stand out from other games in the genre. It’ll be coming out on the PlayStation Vita this summer.

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