Mary Skelter: Finale Review (PS4)
Our Score: 8.5/10
Our review of Mary Skelter Finale will contain no spoilers at all! We will only explain the basic premise of the story and show CG’s that happen within the first half hour of the game.
Mary Skelter: Finale is the third installment of the Mary Skelter series. The order that one would play the series in may be a little confusing for newcomers. Mary Skelter Nightmares was the first to come out, followed by Mary Skelter 2 and then Mary Skelter: Finale.
Mary Skelter 2 is a prequel to Mary Skelter Nightmares; however, when you purchase Mary Skelter 2 on the Nintendo Switch, it comes with a remastered version of Mary Skelter 1, which also has a new post-game ending that is canon to the story.
When you start up Mary Skelter 2 on the Nintendo Switch you are forced to play Mary Skelter 2 first. The first game would be locked and could not be played until the player completed the second game. The intention is that the developers wanted you to play the prequel first, and then play Mary Skelter 1 afterwards due to the way the narrative is structured.
Mary Skelter: Nightmares was originally released on the Playstation Vita and later ported to the PC. These versions of Mary Skelter: Nightmares don’t have the new post-game ending, that only comes with Mary Skelter 2.
Your best option to get into the franchise is to play Mary Skelter 2, which comes with the remaster of the original game.
You may notice something odd: What if you had originally bought Mary Skelter: Nightmares when it came out? If you bought Mary Skelter 2 after beating the original release of the game, you’d likely be afraid of having to restart the entire first game over again to get the new post-game content found in the first game. The developers were very clever about this though, and there is actually a trick to get to the ending of the first game within the first hour of gameplay, as well as get a boosted endgame party.
In the story of Mary Skelter: Nightmares, the protagonist, Jack, is asked several questions early on about the identity of a criminal. The answers are actually extremely obvious if you had already played through the first game already. On the other hand, if you don’t know who the final boss is and haven’t solved the mystery as a newcomer, it’s impossible for you to get them all correct, so one wouldn’t have to worry about accidentally skipping the entire game.
All you have to do is answer the questions correctly and you can access the post-game content of Mary Skelter: Nightmares, and it links the plot of Mary Skelter 2 into it quite seamlessly. But again, that’s only if you already played through the first game, if you didn’t then you can play through the game normally and get access to the post-game from there. If you do decide to check out Mary Skelter 1, make sure to read a guide to get the true ending because it is easily overlooked and you need to find optional items across several dungeons to get it!
With the other games in the series out of the way, let’s talk about Mary Skelter: Finale. A few lines of dialogue in Mary Skelter: Finale immediately spoils the old games, so we’d recommend you to make your choice beforehand if you want to play the old games and if you’re primarily driven by the story! It’s certainly possible to play Finale without playing the other games, but we’d still recommend you to play the first two games. There are many references to old plot events, almost all of the main characters return, and you’d enjoy the plot of Finale much more coming from the old games. You’d also get to have more gameplay quality of life improvements as you move forward onto each game in the franchise.
The premise of this game is that you have a cast of characters called the Blood Maidens. There are strange creatures called Marchen coming from living dungeons called jails, and the Blood Maidens need to use their powers to defeat the Nightmares in the jails. The Blood Maidens are stylized after real-life fairy-tale characters from Red Riding Hood to Little Mermaid. They’re extremely interesting new spins on these old beloved characters. In Finale, you’re introduced to a new set of enemies called Massacre Pink…
The gameplay, even though it may appear to be an old-school dungeon-crawler, is actually very forgiving, and you go through several dungeons before the difficulty or encounter rate go up.
Compared to contemporaries such as Labyrinth of Refrain: Coven of Dusk, Saviors of Sapphire Wings, or even Strange Journey Redux, we would say that Mary Skelter Finale is the easiest of the bunch.
The enemies in this game typically don’t have instant-kill attacks (in the original Japanese release they had a boss that did this by accident, but it was patched and fixed by having a longer casting time) and the dungeon traps don’t do significant damage to your party members. There are many shortcuts in the dungeons you can unlock, so you can exit to heal and return easily.
The dungeons, although they have puzzles, are not hard at all. You can certainly contrast this title with Strange Journey Redux, a very challenging dungeon crawler which has many dungeons with teleportation puzzles and pitfall puzzles.
Finale has three difficulty options to make it very approachable if you’re new to dungeon crawlers, from easy to hard. The dungeons in this title have puzzles where you can use your characters’ field abilities to get through dungeons in the game. Without spoiling any of the characters for newcomers, one character can make a save point anywhere for you to save and teleport out, another character lets you jump across gaps, one has a magnet ability that drags metal objects towards you, one can shoot an arrow to hit switches that are across a gap, etc.
This is just a small sample of all of their field abilities. You have a very wide cast of characters, and often the puzzles are not cryptic at all. You see a metal box in the distance that can cover a gap? Drag it towards you to create a bridge!
You need to consider all of your characters and use everything in your power to solve the dungeons, and you can even revisit earlier dungeons in the game to access new areas.
The gameplay takes elements from what you’d normally find in a JRPG. You can equip your Blood Maidens with a weapon, armor, and accessories. You can get equipment from purchase via regular shops in your base, from a wandering merchant, through opening treasure chests, or through farming blood flowers.
Blood flower farming is a game mechanic, which involves placing blood crystals (an enemy item drop) onto farming spots you randomly find in dungeon. You can return to these flowers and spray blood on them and eventually they will be ready to bloom, usually within travelling about 50 squares or so and fighting a few battles. You can plant these flowers to create any kind of item you need, from weapons, armors, to jail pieces. You don’t have to plant them on farming spots, but you’ll get better bonuses from doing so.
Harvesting blood flowers for equipment is not as game-breaking as it was in the previous game though. In the previous game you used to be able to farm a lot of equipment at once because there were huge patches of farmable area before, which would give you extra bonuses for harvesting many flowers at once using Hameln’s magnetic piccolo ability. In this title though, the farmable spaces are less in quantity and more spread out to help balance the game, but it’s still your go-to method of getting better equipment if you’re struggling.
We really liked farming blood flowers because it doesn’t require you to grind for item drops at all like other JRPGs. Instead, you plant your flowers and explore the rest of the dungeon as they grow. You can also pay one of the people in your base to plant and harvest flowers for you too, and money is actually not too hard to come by in this game.
You’re also upgrade equipment you prefer using blood crystals, but there will be an upper limit eventually. If there’s certain equipment that have great bonuses you like, you can certainly make it viable throughout the game through upgrades.
Your team is made up of physical attackers and magical attackers, who all have stats. ATK controls your physical attack and TEC controls your magical attack. DEF and MEN control your physical and magical defense, respectively. AGI is your agility, which determine how many quickly your characters or the enemies move as well as your hit rate. LUC is your luck, which determines how often you inflict status ailments on enemies and how often you land critical hits.
Certain enemies are weaker to magical attacks, while others are weaker to physical attacks. The same goes for your characters: some foes use physical attacks, while others use powerful area of effect magic attacks, so you need to prepare your offenses and defenses accordingly.
This is a big simplification because you have many classes and subclasses. You have physical classes, pure magic classes, scientist classes who can use items, and other classes that are combinations of the aforementioned classes. There are 5 categories of classes, each with 5 subcategories of classes that are returning from the previous game, as well as new classes with their own new subclasses. This is not even including DLC classes included in the Grand Finale DLC pack! There is an incredible amount of nuance to building your characters and you can really play in almost any way you like, even though the characters are fixed and non-generic.
There are a total of 15 characters you can use in battle, divided into 3 groups of 5. These parties of 5 are fixed and you cannot mix and match teams unfortunately. You’ll also have one support character with each group on the side, who is able to use a Mary Gun and use items. The Mary Gun is used to purify the Blood Maidens’ blood, which gets corrupted when they get damaged in the dungeons or in combat. You need to be careful though because the Mary Gun needs to be refilled with blood, if you don’t reload it enough the support character might be stunned or even knocked out for the duration of the battle.
Your characters are divided into a front row and a back row. At least one character must be assigned to the front row. If all characters in the front row have 0 HP, then the back row characters move to the front row. If all characters have 0 HP, it’s game over. It’s useful to put squishier characters into the back row because they will receive less damage. There’s a penalty for dealing damage in the back row, but this is exempt for certain classes, such as the archer class and other ranged classes that are pretty much expected to be placed in the back row.
In dungeons you will encounter random battles every few steps, and you may be ambushed or you may ambush your enemies. The combat is turn-based and agility is important for turn-order.
The key to winning battles is to make good synergies between your party members. For example, Otsuu has an ability where if she uses a single-target attack on an enemy’s weakness, another character from your team randomly use their normal physical attack. This is just one simple example of how you can chain effects, but it can get a lot more complicated and you can break the game if you play intelligently.
In this game, jails are the dungeons in the game. You can modify effects in the jail through a gameplay mechanic called jail trials. They’re completely optional, but if you take a penalty, such as no saving in the dungeon allowed, then you can get an extra 30% of experience earned. This is just one of the many kinds of trials the game has just to provide an example. It’s great for grinding lower-level dungeons you already explored and know the layout of, but not good for unexplored current level areas. Using jail trials is a great way to alleviate grinding because you can add bonuses to get more Blood Crystal or Gold drops from enemies.
Although it sounds odd, the jail itself is a living creature. Your actions in the jail affect its mood, causing a jail roulette wheel to appear, which can give you bonuses. The jail has 3 moods: hunger, libido, and drowsiness. Your actions in the jail such as taking treasure chests or encountering enemies will increases one of these moods. When the mood bar fills up, the roulette wheel will appear and grant you a bonus.
You can find jail pieces from enemy drops or from farming them using blood flowers. When entering a jail dungeon you can set jail pieces into the jail. At first you can only insert a small amount of jail pieces into a jail, but it increases as you progress through the game. These jail pieces have great properties for you, such as increasing your stats, or inflicting an ailment onto all your enemies, and when you set them they will have a chance to appear on the jail roulette.
It essentially means you can change the roulette to what you’d like to have on it. One technique we enjoy is setting Attack Up, and then using a Scientist – Logic class, which has skills that amplify and spread out the jail roulette bonuses. This is another example of using synergy between different gameplay mechanics.
Your 3 groups will not have a shared inventory, but you can transfer items between groups through Dust Boxes you find in dungeons. Although having three groups explore the dungeons led to great dungeon designs and puzzles, we did wish the inventory management was simpler because now you’ll be spending time trading across your parties. Each of your group has bosses and unique enemies they must face, so you don’t slack off on one of your teams.
The game has an affection system. You can think of the support character as the leader of the 5 Blood Maidens for each group of the three teams. You can give gifts to the Blood Maidens to increase their affinity with the support character and unlock extra cutscenes as well as extra Massacre skills. When the Blood Maidens get too much blood in battle, they’ll either go into a frenzy if you didn’t purify their blood with your Mary Gun, or they’ll go into Massacre mode where they can use these powerful Massacre skills.
In general, the gameplay is still very similar to the older Mary Skelter titles, but the developers have rightfully reduced the ways you can really break the game. The leveling scale has been changed as well. In the first two games, you’d probably finish the game at about level 70 or 80, but in this game you’ll finish it at about level 40 or 50. Compared to the older Mary Skelter titles, we’d say that the bosses are much more reasonable than the older titles, but the enemies late-game are tougher than old games and you should watch out for ambushes in late-game dungeons.
The SP costs for skills have generally remained the same throughout the series, but now your characters have less SP in the endgame. This means SP management is more important than ever since a good skill can drain your character’s SP completely in one-shot. You can also upgrade skills for your character class to make them stronger, but this generally increases the SP cost as well so you do need to be careful. To mitigate this, it’s important to upgrade your equipment to give your characters more SP or look for classes that have passive skills you can obtain that increase your character’s SP.
Like earlier titles, the game has many tutorials to slowly ease you into the game and you unlock more characters as you progress through the narrative of the game, so don’t be put off if we’re explaining too much at once. The first three dungeons in this game are tutorials where the enemies barely give any experience and barely hit you for any damage.
The battles are fast and it’s extremely convenient for the player because you can set up autobattle and you can even tweak it to repeat old actions. This makes grinding for experience and levels easier.
The first “real” dungeon of this game is really Eiserne Tower, and it’s a really amazing dungeon with great design that promotes teamwork between your three groups. If you’re coming straight from Mary Skelter 2 and were disappointed with smaller dungeons, don’t worry at all because Finale has enormous dungeons with multiple party member groups.
These dungeons aren’t just giant barren wastelands either, they all feel like buildings with corridors and shortcuts. The best feeling is when you go through a dungeon and unlock a shortcut, then you’ll be able to refresh your characters at your base, spend some time allotting skills and changing out your equipment. There are four big dungeons after the first three tutorial dungeons, and they each take about 5-10 hours.
As with other games from this publisher, the cutscenes are presented in a visual novel format similar to the Neptunia series. If you’re not familiar, the cutscenes have a lot of dialogue with animated characters on the screen, which breath as their idle animations. If this is not what you like, this game may not be right for you.
If you play with Japanese voices and English text, nearly every scene of dialogue is voiced. Otherwise, for the English dub option the most important story scenes are voiced, but there’s less voice acting overall unfortunately. The English dub has many of the same voice actors from the Neptunia series and do a great job of conveying emotions. The developers included an option to change the voice language at any time you can access the menu. We would recommend using English voice acting for the main story cutscenes, and change the voice acting to Japanese for optional scenes such as the affection cutscenes that are completely unvoiced in English.
The game does have a very slow start because you’re piled with exposition, but it gets good after a few hours. Our only criticism is that you have to watch a similar scene in the beginning multiple times because you see it from multiple points of views, but once you get into the gameplay the game becomes very addicting.
This game really is amazing because it brings the entire cast from Mary Skelter 1 and 2 together along with several new characters, and you have many teams of Blood Maidens you can use in combat. In a lot of other sequels they reduce the scope of the story and reduce the size of the cast, but in this game we’ve seen a lot of characters, even minor NPC’s such as The Merchant return and have a significant place in the story.
Because there are so many characters with so many lines of dialogue, the story and pacing can get slow at times, but we enjoyed the visual novel cutscenes as a break between dungeon crawling.
We would estimate it would take a new player over 50 hours to get through the main story of the game, with many hours added if they choose to pursue optional content such as relationship cutscenes.
There are actually two novels, which were originally written in Japanese but now translated in English, that explain more about the lore of the world and the characters if you’re craving more of the game and they’re completely free to read. They’re also in Mary Skelter: Finale’s menus, but the interface is a bit awkward to use. We ended up printing it out from the website before reading it.
It really does add a lot of extra details to the world and you can see that the writers didn’t want to make the game too bloated with all this extra dialogue. It’s completely optional but I recommend giving them a read through. They’re prequels to the story, so you can read them before playing the games. You can find the official PDF’s on the Idea Factory International website here and here.
Mary Skelter: Finale also comes with two romantic visual novels: Mary Skelter: Locked Up in Love: Blood High and Mary Skelter: Locked Up in Love: True End. This was originally a preorder bonus when the game was released in Japan, but comes for free in the base game’s Western release. This game only has voice acting in Japanese, but all the text has now been translated into English for us to read. They’re really great additions to the story, but they’re actually epilogues to the story and we would recommend you to play them after viewing the endings of Mary Skelter: Finale.
Mary Skelter: Finale isn’t the most impressive game and it definitely has a small budget, but the series is really oozing with charm and passion. We played through the original Mary Skelter: Nightmares in 2017 on the PC, and Mary Skelter 2 in 2019 on the Nintendo Switch, and these games keep getting better and better.
If you like other dungeon crawlers or JRPGs, you should definitely take the time to try them out, you’ll likely enjoy them. Finale is more beginner-friendly than other similar dungeon crawlers on the market, and you get non-generic characters and a comprehensive narrative.
Sure, sometimes the narrative can be a bit excessive, such as the beginning of this game taking us almost 4 hours of cutscenes to get to the first dungeon crawl, but once the game gets going it really gets going. It’s very fun going through giant dungeons with three teams that synergize with each other. The gameplay is very addicting and you’re always rewarded if you play the game intelligently. Both the dungeon designs and enemies/bosses are very fair on the normal difficulty.