Mary Skelter Finale

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Of all the JRPG/visual novel hybrids I’ve had a chance to play, Mary Skelter Finale is by far the most memorable of the considerably homogenous bunch. Its aesthetically varied character designs, lewd but narratively significant fanservice (think DARLING in the FRANXX), and twistedly imaginative imagery are sure to sit with any player long after they’ve put it down. And while this game will certainly occupy a distinct corner of my mind for years to come, it’s important not to mistake that remarkability for quality. I’ve got quite a bit to unpack when it comes to Mary Skelter, so as usual, we’ll talk about what I found so charming about this title before I get into why I ultimately can’t give a universal recommendation for this game.

The premise of Mary Skelter Finale is more than serviceable enough. You play as Jack and his motley crew of “Blood Maidens” – women seemingly born from fairy tales – who he can embolden and empower with his titular “Mary Gun.” I cannot overstate how terrifically varied the designs and personalities of these blood maidens are. That being said, for any newcomer to the series, being slapped in the face with this gigantic cast of characters can be more than a bit overwhelming. Compile Heart seems to have thought of this though, since they’ve added a comprehensive viewer for every cutscene in the two prequels for this game with the added benefit of clearing of the massively convoluted plot for new players. The general aesthetic of these games is deliciously twisted and dystopian: The dungeon settings are imaginatively wicked and eerie, while enemy designs are unsettling and malicious.

The gameplay is somewhat commendable. It shares a lot of similarities with ATLUS-developed games Persona Q and Etrian Odyssey (who I must admit did it better) as a 3D dungeon crawler played out on a growing grid where scripted events and puzzles are scattered about the map. The most distinguishing aspect of Mary Skelter Finale is the implementation of a “Zap” system, which introduces some much-needed variety into Mary Skelter‘s gameplay. At any point in time, the massive group of the Blood Maidens might be split up into various parties, and the Zap feature allows the player to switch between them, playing through their individual trials and predicaments; as well, players are often required to make progress with one party in order to clear the way forward for another. While this mechanic can certainly be tedious at times, I felt that it really shook up the gameplay in a meaningful way. Thanks to the Zap system, I was constantly working with new characters in new environments, allowing this game to mitigate the burnout that usually comes with JRPGs of this sort.

Changing up the characters can only add so much nuance to the gameplay though. Thanks to the jobs system, which admittedly added a lot of visual variety to all of the characters (each blood maiden has a different costume for every job class they can take on), the maidens all wind up feeling similar from a combat perspective. Two maidens with the same job play exactly the same way, and there already wasn’t much variety in the combat to begin with. The only interesting aspect about the combat is the “Splatter/Lick” mechanic. As maidens damage and destroy more enemies, they are splattered in blood, making them more powerful and eventually unlocking a berserk mode; however, collecting too much blood can also damage the maidens. Licking is the counter to splatter. By having one maiden lick blood off another, they can heal themselves while removing splatter buildup from an ally. All in all, in terms of gameplay, Mary Skelter Finale makes for a turn-based JRPG with serviceable levels of depth. It’s enjoyable to learn how to best implement the different maidens’ stat layouts in different jobs and how to best use those jobs strategically in combat.

By far the weakest element of Mary Skelter Finale has to be its plot. In preparation for playing this game, I trudged through the entirety of the cutscenes for the first two games, which came included with my downloaded copy. And setting aside my feelings about the writing in the franchise as a whole – I found the story to be unnecessarily convoluted, and the dialogue mostly unnatural and forced – my biggest gripe is that this game feels wholly unnecessary. In comparison to where the previous title left off, Mary Skelter Finale feels like an unneeded extension to the plot with little to no real value.

Overall, Mary Skelter Finale presents a serviceable gaming experience for diehard fans of the series, and offers more than enough side content to defend the $50 price tag. I cannot, however, recommend it either to new players or to fans who are already happy and content with where the last game left off.

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