Part 16: Chapter 16It's been a few days, so a quick recap: the Emperor just came back from Hell riding the giant ass demon castle Pandemonium. For reasons that are still fairly vague we can't actually enter the castle from the mortal world even though it's just sitting there, so we have to actually take the scenic route through Hell. There is a legendary pathway to Hell through the Sea of Jade, which Hilda had advised us the mages in Mysidia might know about.
Surprise! They are useless and Hilda's advice is useless too.
Thankfully there's actually someone who can point you in the right direction for once. Wenches: the solution to all life's problems.
But first, a small detour!
I never came back here after Richard joined the party, so I missed a bit of dialogue here. But that doesn't stop the woman (who is apparently named Elena) from referencing a conversation that never happened! Apparently her husband was Richard's best friend, so like any self-respecting dragoon he immediately starts macking on her (as you might remember from FFIV's Kain/Rosa/Cecil love triangle, this is one of the defining traits of dragoons along with mad ups and dorky helmets.)
Her kid is adaptable enough to spontaneously bond with Richard as a new father figure after a 60-second conversation that occurred in an alternate timeline. In the remakes the kid's named Kain, which led to a lot of sad sperging about how GUYS GUYS IT'S KAIN FROM FFIV!!! FFII AND FFIV TAKE PLACE IN THE SAAAAME WOOOOORLD!!! Which is a completely logical conclusion, given that it's not like the Final Fantasy series is noteworthy for its habit of reusing the same names for completely unrelated characters in different worlds.
Anyhow, the real reason to bother coming here after Richard's death is this:
The second most powerful weapon in the game (it should come as no surprise whatsoever that the most powerful weapon is also a sword.) Not only does it have very high attack power, it also scores critical hits against a ton of different enemy types; oddly, it also has only about half the spellcasting penalty most swords have, so if you want a "magic knight" type character they're finally viable.
With that taken care of, it's time to take care of our final preparations, which mostly consist of buying as many Elixirs as possible. Note that of the 32 inventory spaces, 11 are now permanently taken up by useless plot items. If you look carefully, though, you may notice one is missing: the Hiryuu is gone from the inventory! Richard had it equipped when he left the party, so it's gone permanently (good riddance.) As mentioned, you can also fight your way onto the Warship to eliminate the need for the Pass, so it's possible to have as many as 22 item slots open. Oh joy!
Thankfully most of this stuff isn't really needed. Both my casters have Aspil, so I have little fear of running out of MP (and by extension, HP), they have more or less maxed Int/Soul so the Heart and ElderIQ won't do much, and the White Robe gives Fry resistance to most sources of instant death/status effects, so the status-restoring items probably won't be necessary.
Here's the strait Layla was talking about. Least impressive gateway to Hell ever. It's basically a puddle.
Welcome to Jade. The difficulty curve really spikes here; not only are there a number of new enemies with some nasty tricks, it's a really really long dungeon so it's one hell of an endurance slog. Even if you haven't been abusing the game with high-level Toad spells and tanks with untouchable evasion, it's fairly easy to breeze through the last half of the game up until Jade. Then the real test begins.
First, let's meet one of the most common encounters in Jade. Almost every other fight you run into here will look like this. You'll notice that I'm leaving Lenny in the front row here in order to help illustrate what happens if you haven't built up evasion by giving your tank considerable solo front row experience:
However, even if you do have the level 8+ evasion required to dodge all their attacks, they like to spam the hell out of Tornado for 100+ non-elemental damage to everyone. Considering they appear in groups of 2-6 the damage ramps up really damn quickly.
You'll also run into lots of these guys. You can see the genesis of the much-hated Bad Breath attack, even though it's just a plain physical attack here. This is where low evasion really fucks you over; you can survive things like the Abyss Worms just by building up mountains of HP (easy to grind in this game) but no amount of HP will stop your catatonic midgets from being tentacle raped by carnivorous plants.
: "You know, I think I saw that on deviantart once."
: "Why were you... nevermind. Don't wanna know."
Rounding out the trifecta of asshole enemies are these guys, quite possibly the most dangerous enemies in the game (thankfully they're not nearly as common as the abyss worms or malboros.) Their physicals cause instant death, and they've got a nasty selection of level 10-16 spells. Worse, they're resistant to everything--in the remakes this is only a minor speedbump since it's easy to Dispel their resistance to toad/mini, but in this version all you can do is berserk up and hope they don't do anything too assholish.
If you have a decent level barrier spell it's a pretty useful precaution; although the game's text claims it's giving ice, poison, and "critical hit" defense (that's not even a real thing!) the first three levels of barrier are polymorph/fire/mental resistance, which covers most of the nastier spells for those party members that don't have the right immunities from armor. In most fights it's a better option to simply toss another Toad/Mini instead of putting up defenses, but that's not an option here, so...
Unfortunately, pretty much the very worst thing they do is cast high-level Aspil which can wipe out many hundreds of MP, and there's no resistance to it available--and once you're completely out of MP, you can't cast Aspil to get it back. That's why you pretty much need to carry a couple of elixirs.
The suckers/parasites also like to cast Aspel. The sphinx is basically a tougher version of the gorgimera, so watch out for petrifying breath.
As usual, there's a prodigious amount of completely worthless crap lying around here. The Diamond Mace is only marginally less worthless; it's the most powerful bludgeon in the game, but any fighter type should have better weapons to use (or at least will shortly) and any mage type has better things to do than to bonk things with sticks.
The most powerful dagger in the game. I'm not really sure it rates a monster-in-a-box since it's the weakest "ultimate" weapon and doesn't do anything particularly special, but it's not like dragons are a big deal.
A waterfall! If you guessed that there is a cave hidden behind the waterfall, then you are wrong. But there is something interesting back there a little later on.
The best axe, guarded by another soon-to-be-toad-in-a-box. The Rune Axe is almost as strong as Excalibur, deals critical hits against mage-type enemies, and can be used as an item to cast free Fog 6. Fog is very much not worth leveling up, considering the tiny list of enemies that 1) have spells it's worth wasting a turn to block and 2) aren't completely immune to most statuses, so if you want to use Fog at all here's your chance.
Actually that chest turns out to be a twofer, thanks to some luck with the gold behemoth's drop list. The Yoichi Bow is another final tier weapon, and it's a very badly needed upgrade for anyone using a bow--there's nothing better than the ice bow available until now, so if you went to Mysidia first thing and bought an ice bow you would have ended up using the same bow for essentially the entire game up until this point. It's on par with every final weapon that's not a sword or axe, and casts Berserk 3 when used as an item (a nice bonus, but it's spread out over the party so it doesn't add up to much.)
Here we are at the base of the waterfall. If you try to go behind it you'll get stuck on an obstruction of some kind. Press the A button to check it out, and...
It turns out some enterprising merchant has decided to set up shop underneath a waterfall in the middle of a path into Hell. Death is the most hilariously useless spell in the entire game (and I'm including the bugged ones that don't actually work), Berserk is a fairly common drop from a fairly common enemy about a quarter of the way through the game, and Flare is not especially useful even if you picked it up in the Tower of Mysidia and have been leveling it extensively since then. But Haste is a pretty useful buff--if you found it earlier (it can be dropped by sorcerers and gotusses) and have it leveled up it's awesome, but even at low levels it's a nice little bonus.
This is old hat since the behemoth dropped one, but since berserk spells are cumulative up to a point it doesn't hurt to have extras. Suffice to say the Red Dragon isn't any more of a challenge than the other three.
To the west of the Yoichi Bow chest is Jade's only treasure room, and it is awesome. These three chests contain a Holy Spear, Dragon Armor, and Aegis Shield. The Holy Spear casts Holy 8 when used, which is probably even less useful than the Bolt 16 from the bolt spear. The dragon armor is probably the only piece of heavy armor worth using in the entire game, as it has resistance to all sources of elemental damage. It has a huge evasion penalty, but that's easily offset by the aegis shield, which also happens to grant resistance to virtually all status spells--between the two you've got resistance to everything, and a fast character with good shield skill still gets 99% evasion.
Nearly at the end of the Jade passage.
A chest on the final stretch gives a Defense gauntlet, or maybe ring, I dunno. It's basically the equivalent of the ProRing from FFI: mage-friendly, a bit of defense, immunity to the Death spell. Not terribly exciting, but not bad.
The party steps on a completely nondescript spot on this elevated plateau, and...
Yeah, what he said.
So having just completed the Jade Passage, there's another, longer dungeon to go through before the final boss. Thankfully, the incessant abyss worm tornado spam is no longer present once you reach Pandemonium proper.
Instead you get assholes like these. The death riders are one of the game's most notorious enemies, since their physical attack has a lot of hits and they have the "drain 1/16 of your max HP per hit" property--if you decided to grind up several thousand HP for everyone but didn't bother or didn't know how to train evasion, then I hope you like healing several thousand HP every time they get an attack off. But if your front row has enough evasion they can't do anything to you at all.
The Mithril Golems are just a slightly tougher flavor of golem, except this time around their weak point is bolt. They're probably less annoying than the stone golems in Paramekia, since bolt is generally a lot more useful and more likely to be leveled than aero is.
Lastly there are the couerls. Like a lot of early RPGs FFI cribbed a lot of things straight from Dungeons & Dragons, but D&D was itself pretty plagiariffic, and the inclusion of couerls seems to be Square's way of winking at this fact (couerls being a fairly direct inspiration for D&D's displacer beasts.) They're real bastards here, having a special Blaster spell that inflicts non-elemental paralysis to the party. In the remakes they're neutered pretty badly by the accelerated magic defense leveling, but they're annoying as hell here.
There is one cool thing about these formations, though: Lamia Queens have Ribbons on their drop lists, which means you have a lot less to worry about from every other status spell in the game (at least if you're lucky.)
The design of Pandemonium is kind of neat, at least as far as 8-bit tile maps go I guess.
The treasure is less neat, although I guess the Ether could be handy if you had bad luck with the MP drainers that inhabit Jade. The piddly 30-60 or so MP you get from it isn't really all that useful except as a jump start for your Aspil spells, though.
A few other enemies. The Wolf Devils and Beast Demons both have a smattering of status spells that you should probably have resistance to by now, but mostly they spam level 10ish elemental spells (fire for the wolves, bolt for the beast demons) that seems really piddly after the tornado spam from the abyss worms.
A couple of these teleport tiles later, you come to a gallery area with four doors.
You might expect most of them to lead to dead-end rooms with ridiculous encounter rates, just like the excess doors in the rest of the game's dungeon, but actually for once they don't. Instead each they lead to different parts of these large, kinda mazelike crystalline chambers. Each segment has a treasure chest guarded by a different optional boss:
First up is this dork, now in zombie form. He only has standard undead resistances, so the toad spell could theoretically work on him... except he has ridiculous magic defense, so you need to have it at a very high level in order to affect him. The same is true of Life, unfortunately, which means you actually have to kill him with HP damage. He's not particularly dangerous, and a decent Fire spell can easily hit him for 1000+ damage.
Next up is Tiamat, demon goddess of dragons (and soon to be demon goddess of small helpless amphibians.) Even in a stand-up fight Tiamat's not amazingly dangerous; like lesser dragons she throws around elemental damage, but you should have plenty of resistances and HP by this point. Toad/mini works fine as long as it's decently leveled; Tiamat's magic defense is noticeably quite good, but nowhere near the level of Zombie Doofus.
Then there's Beelzebub, who is pretty obviously supposed to be named Beelzebub and not Satan. This guy could actually potentially be kind of dangerous as he has some level 16 status spells, but if you've equipped your party with an eye towards status resistances--and there's very little reason to use any other armor setup--he's a piece of cake. Also he has no real defense against toadification.
Last is Astaroth, Demon Prince of Being Turned Into A Toad. He's got a handful of spells, but generally none quite as bad as Beelzebub; I think his most dangerous spell is Death 16, which is actually dangerous if you don't have equipment that resists it (at a minimum you should have at least 3--defense gauntlet, white robe, aegis shield.) His main threat is that his physicals drain HP, which means he will murderize anyone with low evasion and he can also refill his own HP at a good rate.
The Ribbon that Astaroth guards is basically the only worthwhile piece of equipment of the bunch, though (since it's a lot easier than farming Lamia Queens for it.) The genji armors all have very high defense, but absolutely obscene evasion penalties. They do each have one status resistance, so together you get a pretty decent set of immunities--but the aegis shield alone covers all their resistances and more. And if you were using all this super heavy crap you'd definitely want the aegis shield anyhow to have any hope of maintaining your evasion rate.
As amusing as toadifying the lords of hell is, that's not the real treasure in this area, though.
Back in Zombie Doofus's section of the blue crystal room, a pathway leads to this odd pillar sitting in the northeast corner. I WONDER WHAT THIS ODDLY OUT OF PLACE LANDMARK COULD POSSIBLY SIGNIFY.
The Masamune is a hilariously overpowered weapon. It's got 1.5x the strength of Excalibur, which, again, is itself the most powerful weapon besides the Masamune. When used in battle, it casts Haste 11 (!) on the party, which is awesome except that it still uses the wielder's Intelligence stat, modified by equipment penalties like any regular spell. And speaking of equipment penalties, the Masamune itself has none--following the FFI tradition, mages can wield it without any problems. Also, it has twice the evasion bonus of most weapons (but still far less than any shield, or even the main gauche/defense sword.)
The secret room with the Masamune is kind of interesting too. It has a very high encounter rate, and the random battles in here are basically a Who's Who of shitty minibosses. You can get all kinds of neat loot fighting in here, which would be really impressive if it weren't for the fact that you just found the freaking Masamune.
There's another interesting random encounter that appears outside the secret chamber, too, but only rarely:
The Iron Giant is by most measures the strongest random encounter monster in the game, having crazy high defense, lots of hard-hitting attacks (it's probably worth it to bring out Blink spells even if you have level 8+ evasion), lots of HP, and resistance to status spells. It's vulnerable to lightning, though, and as always berserk-enhanced attacks will tear it a new one (especially with the masamune.)
The signifance of these guys (other than being the closest thing to a WarMech-style random superboss) can get extra genji armor to drop from them, although I don't know why you'd even want it. More importantly they can also drop Aegis Shields as well as Excaliburs (but Excalibur is pretty passe now.) But they're a rather rare encounter, so farming is not especially practical; usually you can go through this area, loot it completely, get lost and wander around a bit, and still never run into one. I managed to run into two of them on this playthrough.
When you're done, a teleport tile in Astaroth's section takes you back to a higher part of the main room, and then on to the rest of the dungeon.
A few more floors with new and varied color schemes. Unfortunately we're pretty much done with all the cool loot, so we're back to pure trash now.
The penultimate teleport tile takes us to a broad, flat plain filled with headless large-busted statues...
...and then, to OUTER SPACE!
The random encounters in this area include a lot of the same enemies from the Masamune secret area, which is kind of odd since they're generally much less threatening than the enemies in the rest of Pandemonium and Jade.
: "What do you think the odds are of someone being turned into a toad, being sent to Hell, overthrowing the Devil, returning to Earth, and being turned into a toad again?"
: "Right now? I'd say they're looking pretty damn good."
Epic final boss fight time... next update.