What happens when confinement, torture, blood and pain become all people know? Do they lose all sense of hope and withdraw? If Mary Skelter: Nightmares is any indication, they will do their best to overcome a dark and dismal situation. Thus, players are placed in a position where they will attempt to save people from this living Jail. It is an apparently sentient prison calling out for blood and filled with monsters called Marchens. Naturally, this means it attempts to infusing horrific and unsettling elements into the formula.
Mary Skelter: Nightmares is a first-person dungeon-crawler with turn-based battles. The only people capable of fighting Marchens are Blood Maidens, who are doing so for the sake of an organization called Dawn and group of freed people attempting to reach a tower in the center of the Jail and escape. Compile Heart has worked to make satisfying the Jail, managing characters’ Corruption and staying aware of Nightmares feel somewhat desperate and thrilling, in an attempt to create a sense of danger and urgency.
Jack, our protagonist, is capable of “hearing” the Jail. He can understand this sentient prison’s desires. Doing what it wants will trigger a Jail Bonus roulette in battle, which can give you things like increased enemy damage, ally recovery and bonus drops. In exchange, you have to perform certain actions. If the Jail is hungry, you need to be ruthless in battle. Only Marchen blood will satisfying it; meeting it will cause more blood to flow. Should it be lusty, you need to be willing to let Blood Maidens lick blood off of each other during battle or find Emotion Points and treasure while exploring. If it falls asleep, you have to try not to get into battles, as taking a lot of damage will anger the prison and alter it. It is basically implied fanservice, glorifying violence and suggestive acts when the Jail is hungry or its libido is high. There are no negative consequences for not feeding or satisfying its lust, but I was genuinely concerned about waking the prison up.
The idea of allowing one of the Blood Maidens to become Corrupt is horrifying. It brings them closer to Blood Skelter, a mode in which they are faster, stronger and completely uncontrollable. It is very easy for them to possibly wipe out the party, should you allow it to happen. But, preventing it carries an element of risk. You do want them to enter Massacre Mode, the stage before it that makes to enter a controlled variation of that madness. But Jack needs to sacrifice his own blood to restrain Blood Maidens when situations get too dire. If he expends too much, he will be temporarily knocked out and unable to deal with other situations. Purge has about a 20% chance of knocking him out and removes all Corruption before Blood Skelter occurs, but you need to use a Life Purge that 100% knocks him out to undo Blood Skelter after it happens. This level of management puts pressure on the player. I felt like I always needed to be on top of things, watching to make sure my own allies wouldn’t be my downfall.
But the real pressure in Mary Skelter: Nightmares comes from the Nightmares. These are unbeatable monsters that act as a boss in an area of a Jail. They move in real time, with an on-screen indicator showing how many meters away from you the creature is. The dungeon will get darker and, depending on your difficulty level, the mini-map will disappear. They will grow even closer, should you enter a Marchen battle, though surviving the fight and escaping will scatter Marchen blood on the walls, making it possible to temporarily see where you are going. You can temporarily destroy parts of a Nightmare to slow it down, but never actually defeat it. It is effective at creating a sense of panic, due to the limited amount of information you are presented and the constant knowledge that an unbeatable foe is drawing every closer.
I haven’t come across a moment where Mary Skelter: Nightmares has felt truly scary. But when I have noticed is the game does a good job of unsettling me. I feel the pressure when a Blood Maiden is being Corrupted, the Jail is asleep or a Nightmare is near. These thrilling experiences can definitely leave me worried. You’ll be able to see what kind of effect these influences have on you when the PlayStation 4 game comes to North America on September 19, 2017 and Europe on September 22, 2017.