“With tired and weary legs we had at last escaped the prison. Every cold night has its sunrise. We had touched on the cusp of hope and the promise of sanctuary but not without sacrifice. Not without touching upon the jaws of death, the sting of sweat in the eyes and the letting of blood…oh so much blood!
It’s over and I yearn for nights of interrupted sleep and freedom from Nightmares and as we approach the end we seek solace and look up for the warming glowing rays of the sun…but wait!
What is this?
The sky is blood red casting an eerie unnatural glow over all of us and the crimson-looking floor. Why is the floor moving? Oh my god! There are bodies! Heaps and heaps of bodies and so much blood combined with the putrid smell of death and decay with some visibly still alive. Those deafening sounds of agony and pain with arms outstretched and pleading and begging for fate to spare their lives.
Who are those shadowy figures just standing watching?…STOP! don’t do that..that’s just sick!.. what’s wrong with you..?
Maidens we have no choice but to turn back now and leave before we are all killed…
NO…leave my maidens alone, you’re killing them!
YOU’RE NOT TAKING ALICE!
WHO ARE YOU?
WHY ARE YOU DOING THIS?”…. Jack
Mary Skelter Finale is the third and last instalment of the popular franchise that was released last year on the Nintendo Switch. Gaining a respectable 78% on Metacritic, a lot of opinions expressed a slight disappointment with the game and many felt underwhelmed in a lot of areas after its release.
HGC got curious and with the very kind help of the guys at Idea Factory we are finally here with a breakdown and frank review to see if Mary Skelter Finale goes out with a big bang or just a whimper and a fizzle!
Hey, we have missed the release party but with Halloween just around the corner this year, we are all up for a possible anniversary celebration at the very least.
Finales’ story continues from the very end of the first game Mary Skelter: Nightmares. Jack and his blood maidens have finally broken free from the jail and descending to the surface, are met with a terrible scene in front of them. Piles and piles of human corpses are littered on the ground as far as the eyes can see. Some are still alive and with arms outstretched, screaming and begging for help.
It’s soon cut short though with the sudden emergence of a group known as Guillotine Pink. A vicious and sadistic band of characters that torture, murder and mutilate their victims and drink their blood. Their intentions are suddenly made clear. They’ve been waiting for Jack and his team to emerge with a plan to kidnap one of the blood maidens and kill the rest of the team by orders of their master.
Outwitted and underpowered, Jack and the maidens are attacked but before serious damage is done they are saved by a sudden portal of light that splits and transports the team into unknown and unrecognisable surroundings. A set of towers consisting of multiple jail floors full of traps, monsters and more nightmares!
Jack has only one choice. Find the rest of the team and work together to defeat the creatures on each floor and escape back to the surface to confront and defeat Guillotine Pink once and for all.
It’s a story that gently melds into the background once the gameplay starts. Mary Skelter Finale once again follows down and across the familiar territory of first-person dungeon crawling with the formula of the first two games.
Players are required to explore dungeon environments and face puzzles and monsters with a team of maidens infused with blood states and blood abilities. Jack himself is known as a blood youth and this particular title contains several. Blood youths don’t fight but have the ability to control and contain the blood maidens from hitting skelter mode. A state where maidens become enraged and uncontrollable and exhibit enhanced powers to massacre enemies but can also turn on other maidens and the youth themselves.
Virtually everything from the first two games is included here. Blood abilities, blood states, blood farming and dungeon desires and the dungeon wheel for starters with treasures and items found used to equip the maidens and strengthen their abilities in combat.
This is why I’ve included my earlier review here Mary Skelter 2 Revisited
which goes into these areas in more detail and allows me to discuss further what extra and new is included in this particular game Finale.
On load up, it’s apparent that Finale isn’t short of the slick presentation, style and quality that’s reminiscent of the first two games. Maidens appear and cheekily pose in various camera shots with some divine upbeat pop tune accompaniment by earphones.
From the main menu, a couple of options worthy of note are the bonus content. A story so far montage of cutscenes from the previous two games allows newcomers to catch up with the story and jump straight into this game and also included, a set of romantic visual novels with some of the maiden characters from the main story. Idea Factory can never be accused of running shy of content outside or inside their main game.
This brings us to the main game itself and a rather long introduction with the story and character interactions and dialogue before we get the option to move and explore the new surroundings and get to the gameplay.
The biggest noticeable inclusion to note in the gameplay is party zapping. Groups of characters stranded in different areas of the dungeons will have to work as one team, requiring the player to explore and locate and activate switches or find keys that will only unlock doors specifically for the other team’s dungeon. This element of swapping between teams is instantly activated with a press of the ZR button at any point in time and gives a much deeper feel to the gameplay mechanic but as I’ll explain later, it comes with a bit of a downside.
Dungeons themselves have a few new elements added. The addition of sensor beams. Sensors are positioned in certain areas and colour coded requiring different tactics to trigger certain doors opening. Some can be crossed and others require maiden abilities to pass without triggering the alarm and shutting the doors. It’s up to players to work out which is which.
Finally, one other element added is the addition of insectoid swarms during combat battles. Spontaneous and without warning, players can get hit by a debilitating infestation that can disable characters in such a way that abilities and actions can be hindered and once attached to a character, it remains for the duration of time in that dungeon or removed by several items or exiting back to base. So on top of all the dungeon exploring, battles, treasure collecting, switches and traps and party management we get to the main game in general and overall.
What’s immediately apparent is that Mary Skelter Finale has taken a bit of a graphical downgrade in a lot of parts. What’s first noticeable is that the dungeon areas have lost a lot of the animations and especially the crazy maniacal look of the first two games. Gone are the fairground madness-infused rooms that added a great degree of character to the environments and are now replaced by lots of rather sparse-looking walls containing constant repetition with the decoration making each room look the same throughout each floor.
On top of that, there’s a milky blurred look to the enemies and nightmare bosses and fire effects especially, lack clarity and appear rather fuzzy and unnatural.
The big downside that everyone seems to agree on more than anything here though is the pacing and progression.
This is a big game with a wealth of content and a 110+ hour completion rating but what’s soon apparent is just how slow everything functions. Your first hour is sifting through the story and the realms of dialogue between characters and it’s an hour before you even begin to touch the gameplay!
Another area is that even beginning to start exploring and juggling with 6 main characters in teams of 2 to 3 over 3 big floors in 3 towers. It’s a good 15+ hours before you even finish the first chapter.
Even after that, the second chapter opens gameplay options up with a bit more freedom with bases, factories, side missions and weapon upgrading and farming facilities but players are left with a sometimes overwhelming feeling with 3 teams of 5 characters on where to go and exactly what to do next. Which team gets the colour key that the other team needs and where?
It’s a prime example of where a system of party swapping can start from a fresh and engaging perspective angle of exploration but then suddenly start to shoot itself in the foot! and it’s not the only thing.
The appeal of a story to drive a player through questing and completing an objective is an important part of the process but what quickly materialises here, is a story that constantly gets swamped by the realms and realms of dialogue that constitutes very little in the way of contributing to the story and progressing it. It’s a sad state of affairs in that aspect because certain pieces work quite well and add interesting threads and routes away from the main quest.
Pyro is by far the most interesting starter character in the game. A member of the Guillotine Pink squad, she is accidentally transported with Jack and the maidens and left to fend for the other groups thus creating an interesting moral dilemma within Pyro’s thinking and psychology. Will she stay and fight for the good of the team and turn on her sisters? or wait for the right time to kill the other members like her team ordered?
There’s also a sub-segment involving three human characters that add a bit of a deviation and some would say respite from the huge amount of the main gameplay. Stranded in a dungeon tower, our young and helpless occupants have to escape by using no powers and just by scavenging the dungeon’s basic resources, initiate an escape from the vicious clutches of a member of the guillotine pink squad assigned to kill them.
It’s a short interlude but one that adds a bit of freshness to the proceedings that at least drives players to push on with the game and narrative.
So where do I stand on this game in general?
After many hours engaged with the gameplay and from the points I’ve made in this review. It’s apparent that to make a fair assessment we have to judge by splitting the game in two. On one hand, we have newcomers and fans of first-person dungeon crawlers and secondly, die-hard mary skelter fans and then ask yourself in what category do you fit in?
The criticism is mainly directed at the fact that this is not the big fitting title that everyone on the mary skelter fanbase expected. Whereas the first two titles strived away from traditional dungeon crawlers by creating something different and intuitive. Finale has leaned more towards newcomers and back to traditional values with, for example, the bland environments that are typical of the genre.
What’s also typical throughout though is that the deep game mechanics and essentially, engaging gameplay is still intact and thriving.
The audio is superb and of the highest quality and the big supports that keep this game above water are still the blood maidens. Their personalities, the screeches, screams, chuckles and expletives are still there and still a delight to keep constantly hearing.
For all the faults and slight disappointments, I’ve still found that my time playing has been rewarding, engaging and completely addictive.
Idea Factory / Compile Heart has wrapped up the franchise with the potential “ Icing on the cake!” and although we find that icing is not quite as tasty as we thought and expected. The sum of the ingredients of the cake put together as a whole is still something that’s still edible and more importantly, still enjoyable…
A special Thanks to Idea Factory / Compile Heart for the code.