Part 147: Alchemist
Alchemists, much like most of the class roster, were introduced in EO1, and formed the basis for the spellcaster classes in the rest of the series. They deal elemental damage, and aside from one or two weird exceptions in seemingly every game, that's pretty much all that they do. In EO1, Alchemists boasted damage way ahead of most classes in the early game (at the cost of needing to expend TP to do anything useful), and also had access to Poison, for some bizarre reason. Due to EO1's disable infliction formula, where it was literally just (BaseChance * EnemyResistance), Poison's whopping 255% base infliction chance at max level, the fact that Poison damage can't be resisted at all, and the fact that most FOEs only had 25% resistance or so to status ailments, Alchemists could be used to cheese most FOEs extremely early and put your party conisderably ahead of the EXP/level curve. Their elemental damage was also useful, obviously, since it'd chew through bosses' HP much quicker than pretty much any class. Around the 4th Stratum or so, however, Alchemists started falling off, due to EO1's incredibly strange TEC damage formula--basically, putting a level in an Alchemist's Formula skills there was more akin to equipping a higher-damage weapon, and the level 10 tier 2 Formulas had damage comparable to a 4th Stratum weapon. By the lategame/postgame, most people ended up chucking their Alchemists aside for a Troubadour.
Now, what was Atlus's reaction to a class that could cheese the earlygame really easily but ended up falling off very sharply in the lategame/postgame? If you're thinking "severely nerf Alchemists," then congratulations! In EO2, Alchemists saw their TP costs get massively increased--I'm talking tier 2 Formulas (single-target, higher-damage) going from costing 14 TP at levels 5-10 to 18 at level 1 and 36 at level 10, and tier 3 Formulas (all-target) going from 20 TP at levels 5-10 to 20 at level 1 and 52 at level 10. They also gained probably the most pointless addition a class could possibly get: physical damage Formulas. Not only did these have less passive damage increases than the normal elemental Formulas, but EO2's really awful physical damage resistance distribution (most bosses resist physical damage, there's a single-digit number of monsters weak to Cut, and no monsters weak to Bash) made them even worse. The only good change that Alchemists got in EO2 was the addition of Analysis, a passive that greatly boosts their damage when hitting an enemy's weakness. While Analysis itself has been changed multiple times, it's become a part of every spellcaster class in EO since EO2.
Zodiacs were EO3's spellcaster class, and despite a massively revamped TEC damage formula that made more sense than having skills be like weapons, they still had the same problems that Alchemists in EO1 did: they cheese the early game super-easily (arguably even more than EO1 Alchemists did), but fall off once the late and postgame come around. Runemasters in EO4 were where Atlus finally learned how to make a spellcaster class that's relevant throughout the entire game, mostly through making the top-tier Rune skills be actually comparable to other classes' damage skills in the later stages of the game, and through the resistance-changing Runes, which allow them to screw with the party and all enemies' resistances to certain elements.
Alchemists returned in EOU with some pretty heavy reworks compared to their last appearance in EO2. Probably the most noticeable of said changes was that Formulas were no longer separated into Fire, Ice, and Volt Masteries, each of which needed to be individually invested in to learn different elements, but instead all grouped under one generic Formula Mastery. The whole "massive TP cost" thing also got toned down from EO2, mostly through skill costs being slightly lowered and Alchemists having much bigger TP pools relative to before. Sadly, it wasn't all sunshine for Alchemists in EOU--Analysis ate a pretty big nerf through being turned into a buff skill that Alchemists have to re-cast every few turns, instead of being a passive.
And now, onto EO2U. Alchemists have had their skillset shuffled around quite a lot here, and have a number of weird and interesting new skills. Most noticeable are the Palm skills: melee-range purely elemental attacks that add elements to whatever action is performed next. They're not the most optimal solution for damage--they deal far less burst damage than Formulas do, and even if they're far more TP-efficient, they still lose out on damage in the long run--but hell if they aren't fun to mess with. They also form the backbone of several cheese strategies for postgame bosses. On the Formula side of things, the order in which Alchemists learn skills got shuffled around, but that's not the major change--that would be the addition of Riot Formula and Compression. Riot Formula is an interesting skill and, I assume, was intended to be the primary Alchemist skill in the lategame, but it loses out big-time compared to Compression, which we'll get to later.
Innate weapon choices: Staves
Innate armor choices: Clothes
Alchemists have the best TEC stat out of any class, and the second-highest TP pool--you'd hope so, given that they rely on their TEC stat to determine damage, and their skills cost way more TP than any other class. They also, bizarrely, have the second-highest LUC out of any class, even though they don't have any skills that use it--it does make them more resilient to disables than most classes, though. Aside from that, their AGI is sub-par, their STR is straight-up garbage, and their VIT is the lowest out of any class. If you're going to be running a front-row Alchemists for Palm skills, you REALLY need either a Protector or, ideally, a Beast.
The mastery skill for Formulas, as its name implies. Raises damage dealt by Formula skills.
Requirements: Formula Mastery level 1
Body parts used: Head
Deals ranged TEC-based Fire/Ice/Volt damage to one enemy. Has an 80% speed modifier and 150 base accuracy at all levels.
The most basic skills in the Formula tree, and probably what your Alchemist will be using for most of the early game. I wouldn't level these up past level 1 unless you REALLY want Riot Formula, though.
Requirements: Fire/Ice/Volt Formula level 5
Body parts used: Head
Flame Formula deals ranged TEC-based Fire damage with a splash effect, Freeze Formula deals ranged TEC-based Ice damage with a line-piercing effect, and Spark Formula deals ranged TEC-based Volt damage to the entire enemy front row. All of the skills have 70% speed modifiers and 150 base accuracy at all levels.
Boring middle-of-the-road Formulas. If you're going for Riot Formula, these are probably what you'll be using throughout the midgame.
Requirements: Flame Formula level 3, Freeze Formula level 3, Shock Formula level 3
Body parts used: Head
Deals 5 random-target instances of ranged TEC-based Fire, Ice, or Volt damage. TP cost is reduced based on 60% of the TP the Alchemist used from the start of the battle to casting Riot Formula. TP cost is reset upon casting Riot Formula. Has a 60% speed modifier and 150 base accuracy at all levels.
Riot Formula is a really, really weird skill. It's pretty obviously intended to be an option for late and postgame Alchemists, but it has two massive problems. The most obvious is the TP cost, which is extravagant at best and unsustainable at worst. The other issue, however, is that the element chosen for Riot Formula is completely random, which really sucks since you really want to be hitting enemy weaknesses and, unless you're going up against something weak to all elements, Riot Formula can't guarantee that. I honestly would not advise investing in Riot Formula.
Requirements: Formula Mastery level 5
Body parts used: Head
Deals Fire/Ice/Volt damage to all enemies. Has a 60% speed modifier and 150 base accuracy at all levels.
The all-target Formulas--if you're going for a Compression build, these are skills you really want to max out eventually. Outside of Compression, the all-target Formulas are one of the best options for clearing out random encounters, and they're more sustainable than their high TP costs would suggest, due to how high Alchemist TP pools are and the fact that the TP Up food exists.
Requirements: Inferno Formula level 3, Cocytus Formula level 3, Thor Formula level 3
Body parts used: Head
Gives the caster a 4-turn buff that makes all-target attacks single-target only, but gives them a damage buff to compensate. Has a 60% speed modifier at all levels.
The most important skill in the Formula tree, and the skill you'll probably be beelining for if you're going for a standard non-cheese Alchemist. A level 20 Compression + level 20 all-target Formula outdamages pretty much any other skill in the Alchemist skillset and requires less maintenance (or randomness, in the case of Riot Formula).
Fun fact: Compression does not apply exclusively to Formulas. It applies to any skill or item that attacks all targets. There's two important things to note as a result of this: the first is that Compression works on the tier 2 Jar items. Why is this important, you might ask? Because a) the Jars don't cost TP to use, and b) there is a food you can cook from the 4th Stratum on that doubles damage dealt from attack items. At that point, Alchemists go from being pretty good damage dealers to absolute monsters, especially with Compression up. This is also key to getting around a really annoying counter skill for a lategame boss, so keep this in mind!
The other fun note about Compression is that the Ronin skill Frigid Slash, which deals Cut+Ice damage to all enemies, gets the bonus damage from Compression if the user has the buff on them...but doesn't actually become single-target. This is probably tied into the fact that Frigid Slash is the only all-target composite-damage-type skill in the game. It's a fun buggy interaction, but it's not particularly useful.
Requirements: Formula Mastery level 10
Body parts used: Head
Deals ranged TEC-based Almighty damage to one enemy. Has a 60% speed modifier and 150 base accuracy at all levels.
If, for whatever reason, you're not going for Compression on an Alchemist, you'll probably want Nuclear Formula. While the fact that it's untyped means it can't be used with Analysis at all, and doesn't benefit from physical/elemental damage buffs without the use of Palms, it's the most reliable high-damage Formula skill. Riot Formula can theoretically deal more damage, but you still have to put up with the random element thing. If you are going for Compression, ignore Nuclear Formula.
The mastery skill for Palm skills. Raises damage dealt by Palm skills.
Requirements: Palm Mastery level 1
Body parts used: Arms
Deals melee TEC-based Fire/Ice/Volt damage to one enemy. Only usable from the front row. Grants the next action performed by the Alchemist a damage buff and the element of the Palm skill used. Has no speed modifier and 99 base accuracy at all levels.
Palms are really strange yet interesting additions to the Alchemist skillset. They don't deal much damage on their own, but a) they increase the damage dealt by the user's next action, and b) they add the element of the Palm that was used to the user's next attack. Yes, this applies to everything, including stuff like Eschaton. You can get some pretty huge numbers by sticking a Palm Grimoire on a class that has high damage modifiers (Dark Hunters, for example) and having them use the Palm an enemy is weak to, followed by a very high-damage attack.
It's worth noting that if TP-to-damage ratio is something you consider important, the Palm skills are actually incredibly TP efficient at higher levels, especially when you factor Additional Palm into the mix.
Requirements: Palm Mastery level 5
When hitting an enemy's weakness with a Palm skill, may cause splash damage to enemies on either side of the struck target.
Basically a way for Palm Alchemists to be better at clearing out random encounters. It's not a terribly exciting passive, but if you're really sticking to Palm Alchemist, you'll probably want this maxed out eventually.
Requirements: Palm Mastery level 10
At the end of a turn a Palm skill was used, the user will hit the enemy damaged with a Palm skill with an additional melee TEC-based attack of the same element as the Palm skill. Does not check for accuracy.
Additional Palm is basically what propels Palm skills from being "pretty TP efficient" to "one of the most TP-efficient skills in the game." It's literally just free damage at no extra TP cost. Definitely something you want maxed out sooner rather than later.
Requirements: TP Up level 5
Shows the locations of shortcuts, stairs, FOEs, and materials gathering points on the map.
Do I really need to state my opinion on field skills again?
Type: Force Boost
Raises damage that hits an enemy's weakness by 165% for 3 turns.
Yes, Analysis ate another arguably-nerf after EOU. You don't have to spend a turn casting it this time around, but on the downside, it now has a double-digit turn cooldown if you don't have other ways of increasing Force. Even with that, Analysis is still as useful as ever, especially given that you're getting an additional damage bonus on top of hitting an enemy's weakness.
Body parts used: Head
Deals ranged TEC-based Almighty damage to all enemies. Damage scales linearly based on user level, from 600% to 2600%. Has a 50% speed modifier.
It's another multi-target Force Break with big damage. Analysis is useful enough, however, that you should probably seriously think about if the battle will be short enough that casting Eschaton will be more useful than getting another Analysis down the road.