Part 2: Frozen Sky, Scorched Earth
Note: we'll be covering quite a bit of game mechanics in this update so I will devote more time to enemy fights than I normally would.
Last time, Escher and Musiea found themselves in a strange hall, alongside a bunch of other characters, 10 in total, all seemingly neatly divided into couples. Escher has apparently never met Musiea before, but she seems to have a grudge against him for some reason.
In any case, a strange being ordered us to go into a dungeon and look for some rings, so after entering through the door, we found ourselves here:
This first dungeon is called "Clashing Grounds" in English version. The Japanese title underneath is: "凍てつく天、灼炎の大地", meaning something like "Frozen Sky, Scorched Earth", in my opinion a considerably cooler name; incidentally also the name of the music that accompanies it.
Before we go on, let's have a quick look at our characters.
A character equipment consists of a weapon, armour and jewel (accessory; we'll cover this in next update). Escher's weapons of choice are various kinds of longswords. He does not already come with a jewel, but we'll buy one shortly from Piu-Piu. The bit at the bottom, where it says "Human Warrior" is a Gene. Genes are this game's version of Magic/Skills. Escher comes already with a "Human Warrior" gene. Each gene can contain a maximum of 6 skills on it which we can learn during the game. New skills and new genes are acquired in a way which I will explain in a bit. For now, he has the following skills (shown to the left):
Physical block gives him the ability to randomly block a physical attack (it is a passive skill, always active); Trompe l'il I will explain later. All gene skills consume MP when used.
Musiea uses rapiers to fight and is also designated as "Human Mage". This gene has the following two skills to start with:
So she already comes with a 1/2 MP skill which halves MP usage--this is obviously excellent to have as we'll definitely need to use MP against harder enemies. Her other skill is Mental Wall which reduces magic damage for the next five turns; this is not a passive skill, it must be cast in battle when needed.
Notice that we don't have any healing skills yet; this is less of an issue than it seems.
Finally, time to do some work.
♫ Music: Frozen Sky, Scorched Earth ♫
In the very first chest we already find an Emergency Exit, an item allowing us to exit a dungeon at any time and return to the big hall.
Soon, we come across a diamond shaped thing. This is simply a teleporter moving us to a different area of the dungeon. Speaking of which, have a look at that MAP button in the top corner! Looks like game is helpful enough to show us a map where we need to go... Let's see...
Aaaaa! Nope, this is really not a very helpful way of representing the dungeon at all; at least not until you have played the game for a while and understand how to map this against the real dungeon. Also worrying is the part that there are a few rooms designated with the "Puzzle" label. Well, nothing to do but move on.
Sometimes as we go, we'll come across a tiled area like this; it's just a connection between different parts of the dungeon proper and often contains chests with good items:
Keys are good to have; later in the game there will be locked chests. These are almost always worth opening as they may contain equipment better than anything we can buy!
Various kinds of Chocolate items are basically healing potions. Sometimes it's faster to use those rather than a healing skill.
Outside, we run into our first random battle against some mice.
I will explain briefly the battle mechanics. First and most important choice is whether we want each of our characters to act on their own, or in pair. Pair allows us some benefits, such as: higher damage; targeting a spell or item at both characters at once (and consuming only one) and so on. The drawback is that during this turn all enemy attacks will also hit both characters, so we need to balance it. Most of the time against trash mobs you want to use Pair to make things go faster, but it's definitely not a cure-all.
The action options should be self explanatory; "Genes" allows us to use MP-consuming skills, and the rest is standard.
Let's try a pair physical attack against the enemy. Mouse-type enemies all have names based on kinds of cheese, these low level ones are called Pecorinos. The turn based mechanic is very similar to Final Fantasy X, or more precisely Lost Odyssey in that you input everybody's choices first and then the game determines order of action based on stats. In this case, the mice are faster so before we can act, this happens:
As you can see, even these low-level enemies hit like trucks. However, revenge comes quickly:
Let's strike a victory pose:
As I mentioned, healing is not immediately essential to have. The reason is that we always get healed to full after every battle. However, our MP is NOT replenished until we return to the main hall, so we need to make sure for the time being to conserve it until we have enough to throw away. This is another reason why having MP 1/2 skill is good at this point. When characters use a spell in pair, this skill is applied to both of them, so they each use half normal MP.
As a result of this battle we got Mouse Genes. This is yet another of those genes that we can learn the abilities for. Right now it has no abilities, but we can learn them over time by fighting more enemies of this type. Other than their default set of genes, each character can equip three more. The default set is fixed, however and we cannot unequip it or swap the characters around or anything like that. Sorry.
Eventually we reach a teleporter that brings us to the...
...first puzzle room. Sigh. So, uh, if you played Final Fantasy X you probably remember those annoying temple puzzles with moving spheres around. This is not quite so annoying and there are a few different kinds, just to mix things up.
In this particular variant the idea is to collect all the gems and make way to the exit on the right side. We can touch on a blue block or a gem to swap our position with theirs (this does not pick up the gem, just swaps). The number of swaps we can use is show on top left ("Left:"). We start with zero, but every collected gem adds one. If this is confusing, I will be including short videos showing puzzle solutions for those who are interested.
Puzzle Solution Video
Solving the puzzle allows us to continue through the dungeon... straight into a random battle:
Unsurprisingly we earn Monkey Genes from this one.
Soon enough we encounter a Deer type enemy and of course get the Deer Genes, alongside our first ability:
Cocytus is a water-elemental magical attack; this should be somewhat obvious from its name as Cocytus is the so called "River of Tears" in the Greek mythology underworld.
There are three elements in this game and they follow the Rock-Paper-Scissors scheme that the game helpfully shows us during one of the tutorials:
There is one more detail which I will explain when we encounter an example of it.
Soon after, we reach another puzzle room:
This is just a tiny bit more difficult than the first one, and solution is in the video.
Puzzle Solution Video
However, after exiting the puzzle room...
Kill me...? I see, you are still as evil as ever.
Do I know you?
Don't give me that! I know you are the one who attacked my monastery three years ago!
...You killed the priest and all the sisters. They were like family to me...
Oh, yeah, I did, didn't I.
No, wait, I let all the children get away. How are they doing these days?
...I've been taking care of them!
I see. That's good to hear.
A few more random battles and...
And a bit later...
Beast Wavelength skill is a passive skill that raises the success rate of the Escape command to 100%.
After turning a corner, we run into this handsome fellow blocking the way:
Approaching him starts our first boss battle; each dungeon contains one at mid-point.
He IS handsome!
I don't have anything to analyse his possible elemental weakness with, so we just go with a pair physical attack...
...which doesn't do too badly.
I decide to try the water spell...
But he is clearly not weak to it.
It is enough however, to turn the morale gauge into our direction. The morale gauge is the circle in the top left and it shows who has initiative in the battle. Doing damage turns it towards your direction. Whoever has the initiative does more and takes less damage so in harder battles managing this properly is essential. The skill that Escher has, Trompe l'il helps here: it is a physical attack that turns the initiative gauge faster than normal, plus it has a very small chance of completely cancelling the enemy's next turn!
Getting back to the fight... we just cast a water spell (Cocytus). However, in this game, using an elemental spell makes this the caster's characteristic, and therefore him/her/it weak to the opposing spell in subsequent turns! Which the enemy exploits:
Luckily, Musiea's magical power allows us to heal in full with just one cast:
We continue in a similar way for just a bit longer (this guy is mostly a chump), and finally, result:
He gives us enough EXP to gain two levels each and also Dragon Genes!
This allows us to proceed into the second part of dungeon, but before we do that, I make a quick trip out to replenish MP and take the opportunity to buy those better weapons from Piu-Piu that I mentioned previously:
Huh?! You say the dungeon monsters are too strong?! Fool! Don't give me that claptrap!
Just buy some weapons and armor from me and teach 'em a lesson!
A bastard sword for Escher...
...and an Épée for Musiea.
Finally we head on to the second part of dungeon...
..which is definitely a bit scorchy looking, but I'm more curious about those bits of electronics that seem to be showing through in a couple of places?
We run into Mana and Ayuta here.
We are having trouble taking all this in... We wanted to know how you two were handling it...
I just can't go along with this after listening to that.
You're right. I agree completely.
For one thing, why do we have to fight each other in the first place?
And not only that, he said we have to go find some rings first...
And I don't know if I believe our reward is immortality. I mean, how could they do that?
You're right... The whole thing is suspicious.
Oh, would you shut up already? Who cares about any of that?
All I care about is getting eternal life and youth. If they're serious about giving it to us, then I'll do whatever I have to to get it.
Again, we are interrupted by the Agent:
Damn. Where the hell is he watching from?
I truly wish to avoid battle if at all possible... But if you ever try to lay a hand on Princess Mana, I will cut you without a moment's hesitation.
It won't do us any good to argue now!
I get the feeling that the more we fight... the more we will be unable to turn back.
If we try going a bit forward, we run into this impassable path:
And soon enough, our first random battle here:
Needless to say, this nets us Slug genes and Bird genes.
Slugs can be a bit dangerous in large groups when you are low level...
...because they have the ability to poison you. Poison hits for normal damage plus 10% of your max health every turn for the duration of five turns.
I'm trying to conserve MP, so Escher is soon KOd, and then in the next turn this happens:
Luckily Musiea still manages to finish the last enemy in the nick of time (check her remaining HP):
But this nets us the Encounter skill. Now we can turn random battles on or off whenever we want like so:
The button now shows them turned off. In any case, after a bit of wandering around, our characters come across the next puzzle:
Puzzle Solution Video
Solving this puzzle removes half the obstacle on the path:
And then we reach the second puzzle:
Puzzle Solution Video
...which finally makes the whole path passable. So obviously that's where we need to go.
There we find Olgar who apparently just finished fighting Alto for some reason.
Ah, ever so practical.
You are leaving this place, one way or another.
Looks like that's it for her...
How come that Olgar guy didn't get punished?
Maybe after Garrick was killed, Alto was no longer required to follow the rules...
...they must not have any use for those without a partner.
Well, aren't you calm and collected.
I do my best.
(No use for those without a partner... If that's true, why would that be the case?)
(I get the feeling there is still something we don't know about the rules...)
With that, he leaves...
...and we have a boss to fight!
A two headed tiger in fact!
As usual we open with a normal pair attack.
The boss responds by casting a fire spell on us...
...but that's a really bad idea because we have an aqua spell that he's now definitely weak to.
Repeat this one more time and...
...we obtain tiger genes. Still not too many abilities for any of those, however.
After the battle, Musiea seems not too well.
Clumsy girl. Here, let me see it.
Don't touch me!
Hey, don't get the wrong idea. I just want my immortality, and I need to keep you around for that.
Me, help you? Go to hell!
Who cares about eternal life and youth anyway? I can't believe we are fighting to the death for something so stupid.
You really don't get it, do you? There's only one reason why eternal youth works as a reward.
Because everyone participating in this ridiculous competition wants to live forever.
...That's absurd. I do not want to live forever.
If you say so.
In any case, this nets us...
...and it's for Escher:
And on that high note, we exit the dungeon and return to the main hall.