The Urge to Climb

Ascending towards the surface and the sun.

Mary Skelter: Nightmares is an absolutely bizarre but enjoyable JRPG featuring satisfying dungeon crawling mechanics. It functions similarly to other dungeon crawlers and features a party of up to five characters, but allows you to develop those characters to conform to whichever party composition you have in mind. Presenting a typical JRPG party management system of being able to swap characters as and when you please. The development of the individual characters is tied to their classes, of which there are five unique classes and two characters embodying each class resulting in ten playable characters.

Of the ten one is a secret character unlocked near the end of the campaign.

Most character development is as expected with the acquisition of experience points leading to levelling up. However, there are the Blood Devolution mechanics (that allow you to reverse the levelling process) and the class change mechanics which both require increasing quantities of blood crystals. Blood crystals which are found at random in dungeons.

Changing classes requires a quantity of blood crystals and Job Rights, while Blood Devolution requires a (significantly greater) quantity of blood crystals and Devolution Rights. Every tenth character level you are awarded both a Job Right and Devolution Right. This is one of the earlier justifications for utilising the Blood Devolution mechanics, as you can easily devolve a low level character to acquire another Job Right with which you can unlock more classes. Unlocking a class makes every skill available to that class permanently available to the character even if they switch to something else. For instance, Alice will retain Cover or Intimidate (if invested in) even if she switches from Paladin to Destroyer. So unlocking each and every class is actually a viable strategy to maximise the number of skills you have available.

There are some unusual classes, too. The Item Meister is an exceptionally useful utility class that is second only to the Blood Hunter for making the most of each dungeon. Both classes increase the drop rate of items in combat while the Blood Hunter can also increase the amount of gold earned in combat, and utilising one of these classes will have you buried under mountains of loot. Loot, which, even if it isn’t immediately useful, can be sold. I had an Item Meister for the majority of the campaign and I reached the point where I had millions of gold that I couldn’t carry due to the gold cap being just shy of ten million.

The Paladin is quite a unique approach that really excels with higher level equipment, too.

My only minor criticism of the mechanics presented herein is that the acquisition of blood crystals can be quite unpredictable. Often only one or two creatures of a particular type (of a particular floor) will drop the crystals you need, but unless you’re planning to engage in Blood Devolution repeatedly you should have more than enough of even the rarer blood crystals to get by.

I bought Mary Skelter: Nightmares on a whim as it looked like a reasonably enjoyable JRPG dungeon crawler. Therefore, I was pleasantly surprised to experience something that’s genuinely enjoyable and engaging that doesn’t necessarily challenge you but remains fun to play throughout. The characters and their respective classes were quite interesting and varied, while the dungeons featured actual puzzles (albeit not complex ones) and particular mechanics that required you to use the unique abilities of each character. The main campaign was also quite a bit longer than expected. If you’re a fan of JRPGs or dungeon crawlers I highly recommend Mary Skelter: Nightmares!

Have a nice week, all!


Crawling Through Dungeons

Truly one of my favourite things to do.

My long history of playing through Diablo II can attest to that fact. Though, to be fair, Diablo had far more dungeon crawling than the sequel considering that you were descending beneath the cathedral. But there were numerous optional areas in Diablo II filled with loot, monsters, and unforgiving winding corridors. Curse those winding corridors! That said, it wasn’t until I first heard of Legend of Grimrock that I realised there is a whole genre built around the concept. Or, perhaps more accurately, that there was a whole genre built around the concept. It feels as though the genre has been forgotten by modern developers.

The concept of dungeon crawling is certainly prevalent in ARPGs.

There are also a few wonderfully enjoyable RPGs such as Darkest Dungeon that embrace the harsh, unflinching, puzzling nature of dungeons present in dungeon crawlers. However, in most modern RPGs there are few incentives to explore and fewer still to form a particular party to overcome various challenges. In fact, most of those mechanics are simply absent.

There are a few modern CRPGs such as Divinity: Original Sin and Pillars of Eternity that embrace complex character generation, numerous dialogue options, and party-based adventuring. But it does seem that complexity is slowly but surely disappearing from RPGs in general. In fact, that was one of the reasons that Fallout 4 felt so stale compared to either Fallout 3 or Fallout: New Vegas. There wasn’t really any incentive to explore besides collecting more crafting materials. Most weapons could be completely rebuilt and few unique variants actually performed differently from their base weapon class. There was something ever so slightly addictive about the exploration in both Fallout 3 and Fallout: New Vegas. That and your character could actually resolve problems in different ways due to their character builds.

I get the feeling that we’re being watched…

I’ll admit that this post might seem slightly random but I do have reasons for the things that I do. In this case, this post was conceived during the time I’ve spent with the bizarrely enjoyable JRPG dungeon crawler Mary Skelter: Nightmares. While it features much of the typical JRPG busywork it also executes the dungeon crawling concepts nicely. I wasn’t expecting to actually have to solve puzzles or utilise different character abilities to overcome the challenges presented therein. It’s certainly not as complex as Legend of Grimrock (in either the puzzle mechanics or dungeon design) but it’s really fun to play.

Even if it does feature endless winding corridors in some areas.

Hence the reason that I ended up spending several hours looking for other dungeon crawlers. Unearthing everything from the Eye of the Beholder series to The Bard’s Tale trilogy and many other classic dungeon crawling experiences. I’d even forgotten that I do own both The Elder Scrolls Arena and The Elder Scrolls II Daggerfall which fit into that genre.

While the search didn’t necessarily yield the results I was hoping for it did reignite my interest in the many video game adaptations of Dungeons & Dragons rules. Given that many of these earlier dungeon crawlers were either inspired by or developed with those rules. I’ve long been considering rekindling my nostalgic love for Neverwinter Nights, which was one of my first CRPG experiences over ten years ago. When arguing with video card drivers was the true final boss of any gaming experience. Not that I fully understood or appreciated the Dungeons & Dragons 3rd edition rules, and so didn’t actually get too far into the campaign. But those experiences did encourage me to get into the Baldur’s Gate and the Icewind Dale series. So it’s not the worst mistake I’ve ever made.

Have a nice weekend, all!