Recent Idea Factory/Compile Heart titles have explored some weird and interesting places. It’s the same dark corner that made Labyrinth of Refrain a masterpiece, or inspired many other fantastic experiences. Mary Skelter started sometime back with a horrific take on characters from Grimm stories, set in a bleak universe and bloody mechanics. The experience continued in Mary Skelter 2 and will conclude with Mary Skelter Finale. With so much going on, the franchise finally appearing on PlayStation in the West and more, is it time to experience it or is this one experience where no one lives happily ever after?
With the adventure taking place after the events of Mary Skelter 2, the prologue to Mary Skelter Finale is fairly inaccessible. Thankfully, these concerns are addressed in Before Story mode, which I am not sure if it’s a great inclusion or overwhelming addition.
Since narrative is fairly important in Mary Skelter, Before Story is essentially everything from the first two games with the gameplay cut out. There are CG pictures, seemingly every cutscene, openings, optional events and more. This means players can legitimately experience the trilogy in full, it’s just a fairly large investment.
Typically more involved titles, like the beloved The Legend of Heroes franchise, include some kind of summary. In the aforementioned case, there is a roughly 20 minute long video that explains the key talking points for the story thus far. It simply isn’t as good as all the dialogue, but it does mean newcomers are looking at a story that is extremely hard to follow without spending multiple hours reading previous adventures.
Regardless of which path someone decides to make, the opening segment is fairly rough. For a good hour or so, players touch in with the characters dealing with their new circumstances. Due to the events of Mary Skelter 2, the groups are separated, making these scenes feel disjointed and at times odd.
During this time players are also introduced to their oppressors, Massacre Pink, given some insight into what they want and overwhelmed by their power. So much so, in the scripted unwinnable fight against Iron Maiden my team fell before I even got a turn. What makes this section disjointed is due to it initially showing one group, before proceeding to go through the rest. Each have a similar loop, deal with the situation, encounter one of the foes, lose horribly, before finally leading to an actual gameplay section.
Before you can run around dungeons and fight monsters, Mary Skelter Finale throws another exposition dump in the form of tutorials. These are fairly handy, as gameplay can be rather tricky. Instead of just exploring a dungeon and progressing normally, players need to swap between multiple different parties to advance. Sometimes it will be a locked door that Clara’s group can’t open but Jack’s group can, meaning you need to progress in both to actually proceed. There are also mechanics to send items between groups, further walls between them and more to overcome.
It takes a while for these mechanics to come in full swing, with it often seeming rather superficial. Progress as far as you can in one area, before trying other areas. Eventually it will unlock everything or at least lead to the next problem.
Gameplay itself is essentially a traditional dungeon crawler. Outside of combat and dialogue, players explore a location moving from one square to another to reveal the map. There are traps, the aforementioned puzzles, hidden items and more to uncover. Occassionally enemies will attack and that too is a very traditional dungeon crawler experience.
Initially fights are your characters presented by a simple icon, fighting a 3D render of some creature. Much to Mary Skelter Finale’s credit, the character design might not be appealing, though it’s absolutely unique. As enemies die, your team will proceed to be covered by blood that opens all kinds of doors. Eventually it can lead to a berserker mode of sort or open the path to buffs/heals. There is also a negative mode, Blood Skelter, where characters go mad. These elements are implemented slowly enough where players get a good feel of how they work and what they should or should not do.
Mechanics also further by unlocking a critical hit mode, alternate jobs for certain characters, overwhelming forces you need to simply avoid and so much more. It’s an engaging exepreince, once it all comes together, it just can seem like a big ask.
Mary Skelter Finale Review Verdict
Overall, Mary Skelter Finale is in a rough place. It’s far from accessible to newcomers, the opening can be fairly intimidating and there is a lot of stuff thrown at you at once. This makes it hard to recommend to newcomers and have the potential to fail with returning fans. Those who enjoy dungeon crawlers and put in the time are greeted with a rather interesting experience that concludes the series nicely.
[Editor’s Note: Mary Skelter Finale was reviewed on PlayStation 5 and a copy was provided to us for review purposes.]