Part 9: Castle in the SkyCastle in the Sky
All right, time for mission 9! We're nearly done with the first part of the campaign and we can now use Dual Strike ourselves thanks to Lash and Jugger giving us all that observational data to use last time. Now it's time to use Black Hole's tactics against them, so let's see what Koal and Lash have cooked up for us. Best part is since we're going to use Sasha for our third time, Jake is going to lose his #1 spot on the CO list.
If they've made it this far, they're a threat we can no longer ignore.
Black crystal perimeter bases... Operational. Deployment of Black Arc flying fortress initiated.
Ooh, are we going to finally see what this Black Crystal Initiative is all about? Not to mention another one of Lash's toys?
Very well, Jugger. Report our preparations to that...Hawke. Lash and I will team up and attack. We will divide the earth and sky between us, and our guns will sound a requiem for the allied troops. Spare no cost in defending the black crystal. Our foes will fall like leaves.
Tee hee hee! I can do death--no problem! Dibs on the Black Arc! Oooh! This is going to be so much fun!
That girl worries me...
And yet none of us care because she's the best character we've seen so far.
What's up with this place? It's all dry and hot and...dry.
My poor Omega Land... I can't believe how far the desolation has spread. And those nasty sandstorms... I've got a bad feeling about this.
Oh joy, sandstorms. If any of you have played an IntSys game than you probably know all Sandstorms and how they reduce your ranged units reach by 1. That means everyone's Artillery is on the same level as Max, 2~2 (if only because Max's Artillery can't get worse), and Rockets are 3~4 (or 3~3 with Max).
An Advance Wars game, maybe. All sandstorms do in Fire Emblem is magically make desert maps fog of war maps.
Umm, what's that tall tower? It looks like a Black Hole base, but...
Tell me, Allied halfwits, how are you feeling today?
We were doing OK until we saw you, you pasty freak!
Your name is Rachel, is it not? You have an abrasive personality.
And you're an arrogant twit! If you think we're not more than your match, you're in for a nasty surprise.
Learning to tag battle does not make us equals, you silly cheerleader. Look at your precious homeland. It's like an old woman--wrinkled and wilting.
Secretly, I actually love all the new Black Hole COs, except for the one boring guy.
So you Black Hole vampires sucked this land dry?
Who else, young lion? Allow me to share with you the secret of the black crystal. In short, it bleeds a planet's life force and uses it to make physical materials. It is the source of Black Hole's regenerative powers. If the crystal is used too much, the earth suffers and becomes, well... Like this. I'd tell you that we cared, but I'd be lying. And that would be wrong.
Let no one say that Koal is an amoral, soulless bastard. He may be willing to sit there and ruin the planet, but lying? Well that's a line he's just not willing to cross.
Normally this is where I'd groan painfully as it's yet another "OMG, THEY'RE SUCKING UP THE EARTH MOTHER'S VAGUELY DEFINED SPIRIT FORCE!" plot that I, as a man of science, find trite and tiring. I don't mind stuff like psychic powers in sci-fi as long as they're handled consistently and with limits, but planets are just lumps of rock floating through a vast void with what effectively amounts to a fungal infection on the surface. It doesn't help that these "life-force" based stories tend to be all namby-pamby "Oh the industrialists are evil and wrong because they're greedy bastards!" environmentalist mush. Don't get me wrong, as the son of two hippies I'm rather liberal myself but that strawman feelgood "We're right and they're wrong, blah-blah-blah Earthmother Gaia" just annoys me.
But this game? Nope, none of that. Here's how it boils down:
This crystal gives us near infinite resources by draining your world dry. We're tired of your shit and want to conquer this world once and for all. Why? Because FUCK YOU that's why.
Yay! Free toys to blow up!
Of course there's plenty of bullshit and plot stupidity surrounding the black crystals, but there's no preaching or trying to impart any morals beyond The Power of Friendship that Japanese games always seem to have, and even then that's rather light. AW:DS has no need for that, it can create it's own stupidity. Here's a hint: the limitless resources the black crystals get are merely a secondary benefit of their otherwise absurd real purpose.
Dual Strike is so unabashedly, persistently silly. I love it. Black Hole is killing the world via what's basically Final Fantasy IV's crystals, but with an extra dose of . In what was a modern/mild sci-fi setting up until now. And everyone treats this as credible.
That's horrible! No... You're horrible!
What?! This is my homeland. These are my people. You can't... Ooooh... Don't think I'm gonna squeeze out a tear after I bury you!
Of course anyone has a right to get angry when they find out an enemy army is destroying their homeland.
Heh heh! Such passion! Such bravado! We will twist it into abject despair.
Cool it, Jake. Biting at the enemy's taunts will only play into their hands. The black crystal has no attack power of its own. Let's rush it from the factory at the center of the map.
Big words from someone who is pretty much been driven into a swearing, frothing frenzy ever time she's seen Koal so far.
Yes, good idea Rachel. Let's rush the thing that gives them infinite resources and you know nothing about. Given Black Hole's previous style of "innovation," I wouldn't be surprised in the least to find that Lash attached a couple rocket launchers to the thing.
No. I'm afraid I can't allow that. Lash! Come out, wherever you are.
Oh, I'm gonna enjoy this!
Whoa! Look at the top screen!
Way to respect the fourth wall, Colin.
How'd that get there?
This is Lash! I'm calling you from the fabulous flying fortress, the Black Arc! I'm roughly 33,000 feet above the battlefield. And the view is spectacular!
5,280 feet is a mile, so apparently she's a bit over 6 miles into the sky. Hmm, what's the flight ceiling on most military aircraft?
Not enough to clear a pipeline.
Black Arc? Flying fortress? It's huge... How did you get that thing to fly?!
Honestly, I'm not sure if Black Hole's supposed to be some sort of alien invasion force, or just that Sturm (the villain of the first two games) is some megalomaniac who threw together some army of crazy as fuck COs and pod-people clone soldiers to conquer the world. Either idea has merit, especially when Lash throws a whole Black Hole fortress into near-Earth geosynchronous orbit.
Does it matter? If you're the former, it's kind of a given that you have the latter, and if you start with the latter, you're going to end up with something looking like the former by the time it's all said and done.
Tee hee hee! You're surprised! You're surprised! But wait! There's more! I'm even going to throw in a free bomb shower!
Umm... This isn't good.
Yea, you think?! We have got to do something about that thing!
Rachel, are you thinking what I'm thinking?
Yep. If they're going to tag battle, then we have to do the same! Let's chose two COs--one for the main front and one for the second front. The main front is on the surface and the second is up there with the Black Arc. I don't need to remind you that we can't afford to lose this fight!
All right, here's the field(s) of play. We either own or are near every factory or airfield on the map. However Black Hole has got the Black Arc and the black crystal to play with. The Arc is positioned directly over the single factory in the center of the map and will drop a bomb on it every turn. The bomb will do a whopping 5 damage to any of our units caught in it's massive blast. I think it hits a 5-range area from the factory, but I can't be sure. Like CO powers and other Black Hole emplacements, the Black Arc's bomb can only reduce a unit to 1 HP, not kill it. But then again, what are you going to do with a 1 HP anything? Also, notice how I specifically said "our" units? Black Hole's army is immune to the blast. Basically, that factory is pretty worthless, what with the nearby Artillery ready to pound whatever the Black Arc leaves over. Until we take out the fortress that factory's going to do nothing for us besides give us money every turn.
See? I told you Lash simply needed to do more research on armor. Ignoring that the writers also don't understand "explosions," that really seems like a waste of the Black Arc's bombing capabilities. You'd think it would be able to move, or at least start closer to your side. It's not like anything you produce is going to in great shape after the artilleries pound it.
This is a surprisingly linear map, really. There's only one real way to approach it; variations on the theme are fairly minimal. The base is even more useless than Alkydere suggests here.
Tapping X lets us hide the sky screen and lets me show off the info page for the Black Crystal. Basically the crystal will heal and resupply ALL of the AI's units for free within a diamond of 2 tiles from it as if it was on top of a city. This is on top of the repairs any owned property will do. This map also introduces us to destructible terrain features. The crystal and the cannons around the fortress both have 99 HP. Destroy the cannons to down the fortress, destroy the crystal to win. Heavy hitters such as indirect fire units, Neotanks or bombers are wonderful for tearing up Black Hole property.
Anyways, because the thread asked for it, I bring up Colin and Sasha. Colin is going to be our frontrunner since that means he gets the main front, the one with factories, and Sasha will bring up the second front, the one without. Since this is a dual-front battle our COs will be separated at the beginning, of course that means so will our enemy. In some ways it makes sense for Lash to be calling the shots for the Black Fortress that she managed to get airborne, but with a map that is entirely in the sky with no terrain to take advantage of her COP and SCOP are worthless. Well, it would, but no CO powers are used on the second front, the in game reason for this is "The action is too fast paced" despite the second front getting turns at the same speed.
If the game allowed CO Powers on the top screen here, the go-to guy would be Max. His direct damage boost includes aircraft and would be very helpful. That's probably why it's not allowed.
Are you ready to go, Colin?
Yes! The future of the allied forces rests on the outcome of this battle, doesn't it?
Yes it does. It's going to be a fierce fight, but we must not lose. It's time we showed them what it means to be a Blue Moon CO!
As we start I begin ignoring all of Rachel's tutorial advice in favor of writing my own. If you'll look at those pictures of our initial field you'll notice that Sasha only has her 3 Fighters against Lash's four cannons and 6 Fighters. Colin, however, has four more Fighters and two Bombers at his disposal, but the Black Crystal has heavy anti-air defenses, with two Missiles (albeit with weaker range from the sandstorm), three AAs and a Fighter around it. That's too much for us to realistically bum-rush so we're going to send all of that to the second front using the Send command. This will leave us relatively bare, but remember Colin's the CO with factories at his disposal, Sasha isn't.
This is basically the extent of alternate strategies. Some people would want to keep some of the starting aircraft for winning on the main front. I'd probably keep a Bomber and a Fighter.
Much better, Sasha stands a vastly improved chance against Lash. Normally Fighters can't attack cannons since they're on the ground, but since these cannons are 33,000 feet in the air our Fighters will have no problem gaining a firing solution. Anyways, now to explain the Dual-Screen battles. Basically, right now the main battle is a one-on-one of Colin vs Koal, but whichever side wins gets their second front CO back and it becomes a Tag-Team vs a single combatant. If we win, the Black Arc will also fall to the ground (offscreen) and we'll no longer have to deal with the bombs it drops. Lastly, the winning side on the second front will get all of their remaining units converted into CO meter. While losing the second front in such a battle won't make you lose the fight, you'll suddenly suddenly be facing a tag-team combo, often with the charge for a Dual Strike out of nowhere. In the war-room you can set up scenarios where you fight these types of battles, and you can control both fronts if you want to. However, in the campaign an AI does all the second-screen work for you. Under Intel in the options menu you can change your AI partner's priorities. Your options are General, Defense, Strike and Assault. The results are fairly obvious, though I'm not quite sure what the difference between Strike and Assault are. I set Sasha to Defense which means she'll advance cautiously, drawing out the first enemy Fighters AND avoiding getting into range of the Black cannons. These dual-front battles don't add much to the game in my opinion and I'm kind of glad they were dropped in Days of Ruin.
I sort of liked trying to guess how good the AI vs AI battles would go. But I'm the one weird guy who really liked Persona 3's partner AI, too.
Anyways, enough talking, there's capturing to be done!
All Black Hole units within two spaces of the black crystal will gain fuel, ammo, and two HP at the beginning of each day. If we can stay close to the crystal, the advantage is ours. If the black crystal is destroyed, all of our plans will be shattered with it. Indirect fire is a danger, but Omega Land itself is our unwitting ally in that regard. These sandstorms reduce the attack range of all distance weapons by one. The allies will believe they have been forsaken by heaven. The Black Arc's bombs will keep the allies from making use of the center factory.
I've designed the Black Arc's bombs so they don't damage our own units. I just love being deliciously evil AND brilliant! Tee hee hee!
You can all blame the bullshit of Black Hole being immune to their own weapons on Lash.
Bullshit? Or brilliance? Regardless, something tells me that this an ability we neglect to steal from Black Hole after this battle.
I... never really considered that, but... you're right, we never get it.
The turn order in the two-front battles is all turns on the main front taken, then turns in the second front. Koal starts capturing painfully slowly with his lone Infantry and rushes his southern Mech forward instead of moving it back to capture the factory behind it. That Infantry's gonna be busy for a long while with those cities around the Crystal, meaning Koal if it wasn't for that northern Mech inching his way to the center of the field he wouldn't have a Factory for a long time.
Meanwhile Sasha moves her planes up in formation, getting close to the Black cannons without getting within range of anything Lash has while using her Fighters to screen her valuable Bombers. I'd show you the range of the cannons, but I can't even bring up the second front to run my cursor over anything up there.
Now we'll have access to a factory and airfield next turn for Colin to work his magic with. That AA is probably going to eat our infantry alive, but he did his job and we'll soon be pouring out tanks for the Colin Zerg rush. We're also completely safe from that Black Hole Artillery due to the sandstorm.
Every day on Koal's turn this happens. EVERY Day. This is why we are not building anything at this factory. Also I have no idea why THIS effect works just fine when stuff like the Black Crystal healing doesn't work.
Sasha goes to town on Lash's units and...Sasha why do you do this? Those Bombers should have had more than enough range to attack the cannons from the side. Putting them directly in front means those cannons are going to whack both of them for 3 HP. Well, at least the Fighters can still attack the cannons, and 7 HP bombers hit pretty hard.
Hey, remember how we all said Colin's powers were hilariously powerful? Well here's the proof! He knocks a full fifth off of the price of EVERYTHING! This also includes repair costs. It's not a huge deal when buying Infantry or Mechs, but it adds up fast with the more expensive units. Those Neotanks and Bombers that cost 22K for everyone else? They don't even break the 18K mark for him. That means we can buy a Neotank right off the bat to deal with Koal.
So that's exactly what we do. We also buy a disposable Infantry on the base that's being shelled. Sure the sucker's going to die painfully, but if Koal doesn't use his B-Copters to smash the Infantry, than the Mech will have to, thereby expending his turn. Hopefully this means I'll be able to slow down Koal gaining the factory, and therefore a forward position.
Who is the real monster here, Alky? Is it really Black Hole, or is it you, who would send forth a squadron of infantry to their death every turn?
Um, you know how I said the Black Arc would only do 5 damage an attack? It seems I was wrong, it does a whopping 9 damage every time it drops a bomb.
Okay, yeah, it's Black Hole.
If it were just 5, I'd probably use it anyway. A nice little AA or something would do wonders for scaring off that mech.
Thankfully, Koal does exactly what I was hoping he would do: run his B-Copters forward (which sadly does a number on my city-capturing infantry) and leave his one Mech to fight my Infantry. By expending a cheap 800 G. Infantry every turn, I deny Koal the factory and I make a 200 G. profit on the factory due to Colin's price reduction.
On Sasha's turn she starts dismantling the Black Arc's forward cannons.
Hey! Take a look at the top screen! The units we sent there have destroyed one of the Black Arc's cannons!
Three more to go! Our bomb worries are over once you knock out the other ones! Keep sending units, and let's make the main front safer for our troops!
Once I knock them out? Me? Lady I am only incidental to knocking those things out.
And you do it again Sasha. Oh well, at least she can't really lose at this point.
I think the AI is just trying to save its fuel with its moves. It's the only logic I can even grasp here. It's either that or it's just plain ol' blind to the cannons' attacks.
Anyways, we smash Koal's AA and Recon and start building AA to fend off his B-Copters. Oh, and a fresh cock-block soldier of course.
As you can see, Neotanks and B-Copters are just about evenly matched against each other. Considering the price advantage of B-Copters against even Colin's cheap Neotanks, this is not a good thing for the Neotanks.
This is why I would've kept a fighter. All works out the same in the end, though.
Sasha finishes off the last canons and we no longer have to deal with the Black Hole Bullshit Bombs.
Noooooo! The flying fortress has been destroyed! Grr... Never mind that. There is no need for panic. As long as we win on the surface, victory will be ours.
The second front has been secured. The CO will now report back to the main front.
Yes! Now we'll be able to see the Tag Power in full effect! *snip!*
Right, cutting out more obvious tutorial stuff that I can show off better.
In the top right you'll see a beautiful picture: Both of our CO meters charged. Poor Koal's all alone now. However, I'm going to wait just a bit before activating our Dual Strike.
Basically, the loser CO doesn't come back. Only the secondary front's winner gets to show up and set up a tag power comeback. The primary front is where you win or lose the game; this mechanic is how the game encourages you to give it due attention.
That and the 9-damage area of effect bombs.
We clear out one of Koal's B-Copters before producing one of our own. Now that the Black Arc is gone, our forward factory produces a truly nasty surprise for Koal's little Mech.
Now that we have both of our COs we get a few new options in our menu. First of all, since both CO meters are charged we can chose the Tag option, but that will wait for next turn. Instead, we get chose Change, the other new option. Change is simply "End turn and swap CO".
You won't like...what I'm about to do.
Sadly, there's really not much we'll be able to hit with Sasha and Colin as Koal's been cockblocked out of factories. Not to mention the fact that repairing our equipment, especially the Neo Tank that Koal's B-Copter put a dent in, took a nasty hole out of our funds. However, that's why we switched to Sasha. Her SCOP gives us money for the damage we do, and if we're going to tag her with Colin it makes sense to use her first because Colin's power only gets stronger when he has more money. Sadly, as I said, there won't be much to hit,but we'll do what we can.
I won't go easy on you!
Look at that beautiful 130% meter, a thing of beauty.
This is an extra power up for our attack on top of moving twice and using two SCOPs. Even with no funds at all, this is a sizeable increase.
Let me do the buying!
A brother-sister tag later and not only have we cleared our side of the mountain range of ALL Black Hole forces, leaving us free to capture those cities at our leisure, but we still have our central factory. That factory is going to start hemorrhaging heavy armor ALL over Koal's force. Sure, he can repair like no other with that crystal, but he can't do jack shit about actually replacing his forces since he's failed to capture a single factory. Like Lash and Jugger last map, our Tag is kind of lackluster due to a lack of units and a lack of targets.
Heh heh heh... I'll not surrender! Bend your knee and beg for mercy!
Koal uses his own SCOP but all he can do is bring up his AAs. He isn't even trying to use his Artillery against me.
Yea, it's Day 8 and Koal only has 3 cities. No factories, no airfields, just 3 cities and a crystal. Fat lot of good that's gonna do him.
All Koal has left that can really threaten me, especially with that heavy armor coming through, is his sandstorm-nerfed Artillery, which don't move so they can be avoided and his AAs. AAs aren't going to do anything against Md and Neotanks.
Day 9, more death coming through, and Koal has lost his infantry, so no getting that 4th city, or running off for a too little too late factory.
It's only Day 10 and I've won since both my Neotank and Md Tank can reach the crystal. This is how hard Neotanks hit, even with Colin's 90% attack, the Md Tank doesn't hit quite as hard, but it's more than enough to finish off what the Neotank left.
Installations work roughly like units when taking damage. They seem to fall somewhere between a tank and a medium tank on damage numbers, more or less. Don't bother plinking with light units.
Yeah, you like the taste of that? Savor the flavor, Black Hole!
"Savor the flavor?" I refuse to believe that anyone thought Jake was funny/well written. Not even IntSys.
The shame... The black crystal has been shattered.
Ha ha! You losers got shut down! You picked the wrong place to invade. As long as we're around, you'll get nothing!
Boooo! We got beat. C'mon, Koal, let's bounce out of here. We've still got you know what--one black crystal is not that big a deal.
It's the principle, Lash. The principle. Let us withdraw for now. Enjoy this victory feast, fools, for you shall starve tomorrow.
Haha! I get it! Because you killed all the crops with your black crystal!
They never change, to they? They say what they want, and then vanish.
Max! We served Black Hole a hot bowl of smack down soup! WOOOOO!
And then Jake was hospitalized in a self-inflicted injury when he tried to chest-bump against Max's steroid-abs.
And there was much rejoicing.
I know, I know. Now get offa me...
Ha ha ha... Jake is happy, isn't he?
Both of us have a lot of memories from this place... I'm thrilled, too. I've got to let everyone at home know what's happened.
Lash's last words have me worried, though. What do you think "you know what" is?
Hmm... It sounds like they've got a secret weapon up their sleeve, doesn't it?
I don't know why she'd think this. Black Hole has never attempted any innovation to date. No new tactical doctrines, units, or fixed installations.
Where are we rolling to next, Rachel? I've already got my battle mix picked out!
Hah! Just because you picked your music doesn't mean we're ready to fight. We need more intel, the troops need rest and I want a nice, long bath.
Oh, that sounds heavenly. A bath followed by a good book and some caviar.
Well, she is the CO.
Sweet! Let's get going.. I've got all kinds of stories to tell my crew back home.
Not only do we get a perfect 300 point S-Rank, we also get a bonus 20 points for destroying a Black Crystal. This is added both to our point total for buying stuff from Hachi and to our experience. Since both Sasha and Colin fought, they both get experience, and Sasha is only one battle from leveling up.
And Sasha is...an absolute bitch to her brother. No wonder Colin has no spine.
This here marks our escape from tutorial land! The fights from now on will actually pose some challenge, some might even be difficult!
Of course, the next one won't be one of those challenging missions. We'll be introduced to a new CO, who will challenge us all by her lonesome.
And my favorite of the new Black Hole enemies, mechanically. Naturally she won't get to show that off well here.