Mary Skelter Finale is a bloody, in your face, dungeon-crawling RPG. The third entry in the series, the typical anime designs and fairytale inspired characters feel incongruous to the games, well, ‘adult’ tone.
Banned in Australia due to “implied seuxal violence and depictions”, I tried my best to go into this title – having not played the previous two games – with an open mind. Thankfully for new players the game does offer the chance to recap the story with the ‘Before story’ option in the main menu.
This section recaps – I kid you not – every dialogue scene from the first two titles. So there was no excuse for me to not understand the story (… I watched a shorter video on youtube, for what I hope are obvious reasons). Even still, this is an excellent option for a newcomer jumping into the game.
That being said, there is a lot to take in…
A unique party system:
After sitting through well over an hour of confusing cutscenes, the game opens up. Jack and the Blood Maidens, your playable characters, have been imprisoned due to the efforts of an antagonistic group known as “Massacre Pink” (great name for a progressive Metal Band). The protagonists are reincarnations of noteworthy fairytale characters like Red Riding Hood and Sleeping Beauty.
The group is split into different parties and you are presented with the choice of which party to start with.
Perhaps lazily named “The Jail”, your goal is to work your way back up through the “inescapable” prison. You do this by switching between parties with the game’s unique “zapping” feature. Effectively, when the group you’re controlling reaches a certain impasse in the dungeon, you can switch to another group to open up a pathway for them. A consequence of this system is that, at times, progression feels much slower as you’re regularly making small strides across the different groups.
Having said that, once I got accustomed to the system – and the massive cast of characters – I found this mechanic massively helped the games pacing (which is something we will get to later). There are a number of other mechanics that help this system shine. A connected item box enables your party to hand certain items such as keys over. Each dungeon also has a ‘Nightmare’ – aka boss, that will chase all of your parties, and it was cool to have the choice over which party finally takes on the boss.
Each character can also learn multiple jobs, and with 18 different characters, there is an impressive amount of options for builds and customisation. Certainly overwhelming at first, but if you just try and take each bit of information one step at a time, this is a very deep – and rewarding – party system. Just be warned: tutorials for the job system are light and youtube will be your best ally on this front.
Pacing, pacing pacing…
Mechanically Mary Skelter Finale has a lot of very cool and unique things to offer. The sizable offering, which includes an additional visual novel, means that fans of the series will certainly get their money’s worth.
However, given the sheer volume of content, the pacing needs to be carefully balanced. Spoiler alert: it isn’t.
The Maze-like dungeons quickly became tiresome for me to navigate through. As much as I enjoyed the zapping mechanic and unique party system, one of the pitfalls of it is that you’re essentially going through the same dungeon multiple times. The dungeons themselves aren’t all that visually engaging either, and with the sparsity of save points this can really make the game feel incredibly slow at times. You can, at times, go multiple hours between story developments.
When I did manage to get between gameplay sequences, I was met with some excruciatingly long cutscenes. Now, I’m no stranger to long cutscenes (having played through the Yakuza series), but even I felt that these were a bit too drawn-out. Also, whilst the 2D portraits of the characters are full of charm, the lack of more dynamic cutscenes also hampered my engagement. Dramatic moments in the story are just not captured as well as they could have been because of this design choice.
Jumping from long stretches of gameplay to long stretches of dialogue sadly made getting through the game feel like a bit of a chore. Even though the gameplay and dialogue was generally very good (with a solid dub), my enjoyment suffered because the game just doesn’t know how to properly balance the players’ experience.
Engaging and thoroughly creative combat:
For me, the absolute best aspect of Mary Skelter Finale is the combat system.
You control your party of six in what is a very involved “high-risk high reward” form of turn-based combat. Blood is the popular theme of this game and that unashamedly transfers to the combat system. This combat system, without having played the game yourself, is quite hard to convey.
Your party leader is a “Mary Gun user” who can use a special gun that uses their blood (of course) to purify corruption. Are you still with me here? This is important, as when you defeat enemies their blood will splatter across the screen and hit your party – which can cause their blood to be corrupted. If you fail to purify your party they can end up in a known as “Blood Skelter” and this leads to them attacking anyone – including your own party – without restraint. Now, you could luck out and use this state to wipe out the enemies in quick fashion. Alternatively, it could lead to a quick party wipe for your team. There is also the “Massacre” state which is again triggered by blood from battle, and offers the chance to deal ridiculous damage.
The stat boosts and other benefits from both states give engagements a real ‘risk / reward’ system, which makes the whole experience much more considered.
There is a lot more going on here, that I haven’t mentioned, that helps keep the experience engaging despite the pacing issues.
Worth it… with certain conditions:
Objectively, Mary Skelter Finale is a game that offers players an impressive amount of things to do. The combat and job systems are engaging and rewarding, and for fans of the series, there is a real dedication to developing the characters.
Despite some of my frustrations with this absolute unit of a game, it is clear that so much love and dedication has been put into just about every aspect of it.
For new players, there is a lot to take in and I’d strongly advise checking out the previous two games to see if this is for you. The pacing is a real issue and whether you can stomach it or not is going to depend on how much you’re invested in the characters and getting to that next story development. Also, be prepared for the narrative to be presented more akin to a visual novel, than conventional video game cutscenes.
Oh and… the soundtrack is a banger, by the way.