- Developer: Idea Factory/Compile Heart
- Publisher: Idea Factory International
- Release date: November 5th 2020(Japan), September 30th 2021(North America), October 1st 2021(Europe)
- Genre: 3D Dungeon RPG
- Platforms: Nintendo Switch, PS4
- Reviewed on: PS4
- Game Supplied by: Publisher
Mary Skelter Finale Review
Mary Skelter Finale is the third and presumably final instalment of the Mary Skelter series. It is set in a fantasy world overtaken by colossal towers called Jails. These towers provide energy harvested from the torture and suffering of the people locked in them. The main cast is a group of people who previously escaped their Jails. Armed with magical powers, these characters are referred to as Blood Maidens. These are reincarnations of fairy tales that have the power to harness the blood of Marchens and escape the Jails. The beginning shows the Maidens trying to escape to the surface, only to be greeted by massive piles of bodies and a group called Massacre Pink, who destroy any hope the group had of gaining freedom.
Thus starts the beginning of Mary Skelter Finale. Will Jack and Alice finally escape this hell or fall deeper into despair?
As someone who hasn’t yet played the first two games, the plot was a little confusing. Luckily the game provides you with summaries, in the form of chapters, that chronicle past events for anyone new to the game or in need of a refresher without having to play through the preceding 60+ hour games. I went in completely blind, having only played about an hour or two of the first game on Switch.
The opening couple of hours plays out mostly as a visual novel, of which roughly half is voice acted. You are thrown into the thick of things right away, with Jack and Alice trying to escape to the surface from the Jail of the previous game. To avoid spoilers, let’s say a few events occur, and they are sent to a new jail, where you get your first taste of a battle that you can’t win. It’s at this point that the story cuts back to the opening, allowing you to replay this period but from the perspective of a different character, and repeats until you have completed the opening with everyone in the group.
Guillotine, the General of Massacre Pink
After this initial ordeal, you are allowed to experience the true gameplay, a dungeon crawler RPG. This is where the game shines for me, as you explore dungeons mapping your way through them as you go. Every “square” you move over marks itself on the map and you can see where you have been, and where items and treasure chests were gathered.
Once I was able to do some actual combat and explore, the game became very enjoyable and the visual novel aspect of the game evened out to only story points. Overall my first impressions were good, and the art style is great, as is the case with most Compile Heart games. The dialogue was very heavy in the first two hours and there was little to no combat, But once I progressed past this the gameplay shone through and became very enjoyable. For any fans of the series, you know what you are getting into, and fans of the genre will know what to expect of the gameplay.
Dungeon crawling is the core of the game and where it really shines. You travel through “dungeons” where you have a grid system that is mapped out for you as you progress. Played out in first-person perspective, you move in increments of squares, not freely like in action RPGs. Save points are the little tent icons you’ll see on the map, and the game can only be saved from these points. Enemy encounters are typically random, with stronger monsters being visible on the field. In Mary Skelter’s case, they are called Nightmares. When encountered it’s prudent to run away from them until you are at a high enough level to take them on. You can fight them early on and stun them to help you run away but it is recommended to just run away instead, unless absolutely necessary.
There are puzzles and switches that must be flipped or solved to progress in the game, and sometimes it is required to switch characters to a different set in the same dungeon to unlock a door for the previous group. This is called “Zapping”, which lets you switch to any of the playable characters at will, not just those in the same dungeon.
The story is told from different perspectives. By progressing through the story with all the characters you learn different sides of the story and see different events happening in different areas. Different characters in the Zapping Screen will have a visual indicator of which tower they are in, so you can see which characters can help each other or not.
This is the majority of the main game besides the combat, but there are a few smaller aspects such as item/equipment/skill/party management, blood farming, and skill learning. Blood farming is a mechanic of the game where you plant different types of blood (A, B, O, AB) to get items you can use. These can be enhanced by spraying blood packets on them to change the item quality, which can be an effective way to get some weapons or armour to use on your characters. Skill learning uses CP to teach a new skill, whether passive or active, to enhance your characters’ This can be as simple as a passive health bar indicator for enemies to an active skill that does damage.
Combat in the game can be complex. It follows the typical turn-based combat of most JRPGs in that there is an indicator on the top of the screen that shows which character will move next. Unfortunately, I found combat to be boring at times as it seemed to be a bit easy on normal, and the random encounters can get annoying when trying to get from A to B when exploring or getting to a save point.
Characters have the choice to attack normally, use a skill, lick, defend, embrace, and they can escape. The protagonist can use reload, Mary gun, protect, items, and escape. Attacking is simply attacking with the current weapon they have equipped. Skills are skills that the character has learned that they can choose to use, consuming SP, that do various damage and effects.
Licking is one of the more unique battle mechanics. A blood maiden can use this to “lick” the blood spatter of another blood maiden, and it does various things such as heal the group, reduce physical damage, or revive the whole party. These can only be performed if another blood maiden has collected some blood splatters. These are acquired by dealing critical hits or overkills on an enemy, and once this gauge fills up the blood maiden enters a state called massacre mode. This mode increases their stats temporarily and gives them access to stronger massacre skills.
There is a drawback to the blood splatter mechanic, called Blood Skelter. This occurs when the blood that has been collected becomes “corrupt”. The protagonist can heal this by using the Mary Gun and using the skill to remove all the blood maiden’s corruption. If not healed and the maiden enters Blood Skelter they will become “confused” and attack themselves or others, wiping out the whole team in a worst-case scenario (this happened to me).
Defending will have the maiden not attack and instead defend themselves, reducing the damage they receive. Embrace is a mechanic that lets a maiden try to embrace another in Blood Skelter mode to either direct all the attacks on the enemy or themselves instead of the party itself. Escape is an option you can use to try and escape the battle and run away if you think it is too difficult or you are low on health.
The protagonist is different as they cannot use skills and attacks, instead, they wield a Mary gun that helps the blood maidens. They can choose to reload or use one of the mary gun skills to cure blood corruption, give sp or buff a blood maiden, or undo the blood skelter mode. You can also choose to protect a blood maiden, which nullifies any damage to that maiden in that turn but will knock out your protagonist. They are also the only ones that can use items to provide various effects for the group like healing, giving sp, reviving, status effect cures, or equipping items they can use to attack as well.
The graphics of the game are typical Compile Heart, with fan service style female characters and moody emo-looking boys. The dungeon backgrounds are not as sharp as the characters and feature weird, horror aesthetics. In contrast to your playable characters, the enemies are grotesque and weird looking, many resembling yokai or monsters. Running on the PS4 I did not notice any frame drops or out of place aspects of the game and it ran very smoothly. Overall, this is another Compile Heart game where you will have all of your fan service and gore; If you are into that, then this game is for you, along with most of Compile Hearts catalogue.
Character designs really shine through and are the obvious focus of the game, with a cute/gothic look to them and anime-like aesthetic beauty. The monsters themselves are less impressive., though They are made to be grotesque and less sharp to portray the difference between the main characters and these monsters in the Jail but would have benefitted from the same attention to detail as the main characters. The nightmare that was just a bunch of anime girl eyes on a potato looking body with syringes for hands is a good example of the difference between the two.
There are two choices for narrative audio in Mary Skelter Finale; the classic Japanese or English audio. I played the game in English to see how the voice acting was compared to the native Japanese voice acting. In English, only half of the script was vocalised, whereas the Japanese audio is fully voiced. This is normal for Compile Heart games, but it does mean you’ll be doing quite a lot of reading. The Japanese voice acting sounded much more natural than the English. In English, the voice acting sounded ok for some characters while others seemed very unnatural or fake compared to their Japanese counterparts. This by no means says that the English is bad, it’s just less immersive and seems to break the tension with a silly “NOOOOOOO DON’T DIE” acting, compared to the Japanese version that sounds far more sincere.
The music of the game is not bad and does not take precedence over the voice acting or exploring. I barely heard the fight music, as fights usually did not last long enough to actually hear most of the music, especially as it was hard to hear over the sound effects and dialogue of the characters. It was mainly simple tones that sounded like light elevator music, but this was enhanced by the ambient and incidental sound effects while exploring. During cut scenes, however, the music shines, setting the mood with sombre tones that help convey the dark theme of suffering.
Mary Skelter finale is a great dungeon crawler that fits the genre very well. For any fans of dungeon crawling, you will enjoy this game, and the darker thematic approach is a welcome break from the typical light-hearted anime-like games most people associate with the art style. The themes of suffering, death, and hopelessness are portrayed very well in the game and the sense of dread is heavy when being chased by a nightmare. While it might not appeal to the broader audience being a text-heavy dungeon crawler, it is worth a playthrough and is accessible to newcomers to the series thanks to the previous games’ summaries being included.