Title: Mary Skelter Finale
Developer: Compile Heart
Release Date: September 30, 2021
Reviewed On: PS4
Publisher: Idea Factory International
Genre: Dungeon Crawler
Mary Skelter Nightmares and its sequel were unexpected sleeper hits from developer Compile Heart. These titles presented grave circumstances and disturbing subject matter that granted this new IP a distinct identity compared to the team’s other titles. Mary Skelter Finale finally comes west to round off this trilogy for invested fans.
Mary Skelter Finale follows Jack, the Blood Maidens, and the numerous supporting characters as they finally escape the underground and reach the surface. However, there’s nothing to celebrate as this new area is just as hellish as the underground. The environments are littered with mountains of human corpses and frightening threats, such as Massacre Pink. The Blood Maidens prove powerless against this new threat and find themselves in, of course, Jail Towers.
This is where one of the primary mechanics of Finale comes into play. Players will have to switch or Zap, as the game calls it, between different parties to progress the story. For example, some parties are in the same Jail Tower while others are entirely separate, traversing various dungeons. Then, of course, there are moments when the group reunites, but this general philosophy of Zapping mainly retains throughout the game.
I found this necessary due to the high number of characters in the cast. Having every playable character united from the beginning would’ve likely resulted in an unfathomable effort to create needed combat balance and characterization. Additionally, breaking the party up works thanks to how different each party’s personalities and interactions were.
As a partial consequence, though, the pacing of the core narrative itself is rough, though it’s not much different from the previous entries. The focal points of the story are occasionally forgettable with how distant these events seem to take place from one another, especially amid several character-centric dilemmas. This execution is far from a ruining factor because I find the cast endearing. However, the tension within the plot loses itself after a while, which is a shame because the opening hours set up an immensely grotesque, in-your-face image of the antagonists.
Switching between perspectives alleviates potential tedium that could have arisen for players from the previous games due to the variety of shining character moments. Though hours can pass without any notable events depending on how adamant the player is about exploring and level grinding within a dungeon, this just highlights how accessible this game is for different players.
The spaced-out story doesn’t hinder the experience because Mary Skelter has always been about dungeon crawling and battles, and Finale is no different. Dungeons are conceptually well-designed with many diverging pathways and thought-provoking lite puzzles. Progression in these labyrinths isn’t overwhelming or child’s play.
Further, the Blood Maidens have field actions with individual traits. For instance, Red Riding Hood can cut apart impeding wire, and Little Mermaid can douse flames. Gretel and Hameln possess more creative field abilities, with the former enabling a form of limited teleportation. At the same time, the latter provides a magnetic force to grab items from afar and push objects.
Unfortunately, I found the dungeons to rely on these gimmicks too heavily at times. Rather than utilizing these specified practical field actions in moderation, select actions were used to the point where they became almost humorous. In the second chapter, for example, an entire floor has tiles covered by flames, and though players aren’t expected to use Little Mermaid’s ability on every single tile, it is needed to an absurd degree.
Another system allows parties to place items in shareable storage boxes within dungeons. This mechanic is paramount to progression since a party can find a key that another party needs. Ultimately, dungeon design and narrative wield conceptually interesting ideas usually executed well but face needless roadblocks that could have been sidestepped or better addressed.
Battles in Mary Skelter Finale utilize a Job system, and it is damn addicting. However, delving into the specifics of the Job system and the various other battle mechanics would be a bit much. Generally speaking, there is a vast amount of player agency, and choice with character builds, but it isn’t in a toss you to the wolves sort of way.
Dungeons contain chests with valuable equipment that can subtly aid players in deciding which characters should pursue a battle. Additionally, the multiple parties make character customization more approachable because the playable cast is spread out in uncomplicated ways. There isn’t one massive conglomerate of characters from the get-go to decide on optimized set-ups and the like. I never found myself overwhelmed by the difficulty, at least on Normal mode, and the number of tools plus straightforward methods of grinding was too enjoyable to frustrate me.
Commissions, side quests essentially, are available for juicy rewards, and the Jail Trial system allows players to place restrictions on themselves to gain more potent perks while in the dungeons. One trick I love performing is stacking up multiple of these Trials at once and simply beginning a grinding session at the start of the first floor where I can quickly leave for a free full heal and come back. Unfortunately, this method usually restricts me to the easier enemies of the dungeons for safety’s sake. Still, it is an effective way to stock up on Blood Crystals and experience when first arriving at a new area.
Special events may occur at the parties’ respective base camps, aside from the expected areas like upgrade facilities and shops, as denoted with an exclamation point. These brief asides aid in growing attachment to the varied character relationships and inner conflicts while also occasionally granting new skills. An affinity system is present as well; affection for the love interests and trust for friends. As tedious as it can be to build these gauges to their maximum, I find the act akin to the joy of leveling the characters themselves. Dungeon crawlers are a grind by design, and these elements enforce the addictive aspects of the genre.
The soundtrack of Mary Skelter Finale truly astonished me, I must say, and it deserves acclaimed mention. Of course, the previous entries also had great soundtracks, but Finale blows them out of the water and delivers what is quite honestly one of the best JRPG soundtracks I have ever had the pleasure of listening to.
The field themes are melodic and enchanting, but the battle themes are genuinely exceptional. They are intensely climatic with stupendous violin usage and differ from party to party. Their brilliance caused me to stop in the middle of fights and just soak them in.
Mary Skelter Finale is a worthy conclusion to this turbulent saga of struggles against seemingly impossible to overcome odds. The cast is spread apart and segmented but undoubtedly bound together by the simultaneously cruel yet compassionate whims of fate. The gameplay is arguably at its height in this entry. The returning systems are satisfyingly addicting with the inclusion of the Zapping mechanic and standout character interactions. Even when accounting for the poorly paced main narrative and over-indulgent dungeon design, this is absolutely a finale worth experiencing in all of its unabashed, climatic glory.
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