Part 27: Chapter 20 (part 1) and The War Room Part 22 (Tactician Stars)
Here it is: the best chapter in the game!
All the action up till now has been building up to this level, when Elbert will finally be rescued and Nergal and his henchmen defeated. Its really looking a fair amount like the ending of Lyns story. Both Lyn and Eliwood set out from home to find a relative they discovered was in mortal peril, both unraveled an intrigue in Lycia along the way, and at the end of their long and difficult journeys, each faced off against the Marquess responsible in the most ferocious battle of their stories.
Its been a long, hard trip full of twists and turns, but Eliwood has made it at last and we, the players, know Elbert is indeed still alive. In fact, some of the conversations between Nergal and Elbert parallel the scene where Lundgren taunts Hausen rather neatly.
Its on this chapter that the writing staff really showed us what theyre capable of. Besides a great general script, they finally managed to do an action sequence using sprites on the map that doesnt look silly, the art team provided some of the games most fantastic paintings of important scenes, and their integration of the evocative soundtrack into the script is really masterfully done. This games power really comes from the ensemble of the script, paintings and art, music, and the actual experience of having played through all previous chapters rather than any of the elements individually.
Much like Whereabouts Unknown and Battle Before Dawn, this is my favorite style of map: a large and complicated dungeon full of difficult to reach chests and tricky to steal items and loads of optional things to do. Dragons Gate is probably the best of the three. Its harder than Whereabouts Unknown on non-HHM, has more than one good approach to it on HHM unlike Whereabouts Unknown, and doesnt rely on Fog or other such gimmicks for any of its difficulty as Battle Before Dawn does.
Interestingly, the locations and AI of Legault and the other thieves are quite different on the various difficulty modes and completely change the best approach to this chapter. Its almost like a completely different level every time.
Well Im finished gushing about it for now, so without further ado:
Hector, Eliwood, and the others have at last reached the Dragons Gate, where Eliwoods father is held captive. While Nergal makes preparations to begin his sinister ritual, they prepare to battle the remaining black fang in their path and deal with Darin, Marquess of Laus, once and for all.
The pre-chapter text along with the ominous Dragons Gate 1 theme really set the scene well for this climactic confrontation: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sw9_Tdpoz5U
What a long road its been.
Perhaps she can hear the music.
Theyve been trying to figure out whats wrong with Ninian throughout this whole trip through the Dread Isle, and shes been increasingly nervous but theyve had no idea why. Now, at the Dragons Gate, she has a breakdown and they prepare to take her back to safety.
Its hard to top black speech bubbles from nowhere for menacing. Theres no telling who that could be at this point. Maybe even Nergal himself.
Oh, its just Ephidel teleporting in. Do note that Ephidel can teleport by the way. In fact hes quite good at it and will be doing it a lot.
Up till now theyve only heard rumors of him as the mastermind behind Darin. And from their perspective, he probably looked fairly competent since they must have assumed there was a method to his madness.
Hector is never one for diplomatic pleasantries. You may recall hes so angry because the Black Fang killed Leila and apparently he knew her well, though we never find out just how other than her being one of his brothers spies.
Ephidel is late to figure things out as usual. Up till now hed had no idea who she was working for since he killed her instead of finding out.
Hector charges and Ephidel teleports away. Youll notice that this establishes clearly that Ephidel can teleport to escape danger at an instants notice.
And now hes next to Ninian, apparently relying on speed and surprise to prevent the 12 people nearby from killing him.
And Ninian has been abducted. Again.
So Darin is sent to lead the forces fighting Eliwood. Either Ephidel has finally realized that Darin without his lands and armies is not useful for anything but being a mediocre fighter and that therefore all the trouble he went to to bring Darin here alone was a complete waste, or hes stupidly throwing away someone he still thinks is useful.
And then he makes another one of his snide asides about how much better than Darin he is. Oh well, Ive got to give him some credit here, he DID just swipe Ninian successfully. That was the only non-dumb thing hes done in the whole story. Ill assume that theres some limit to his range so that he couldnt just do it earlier.
And he delivers Ninian to Nergal as Elbert looks on helplessly. The Dragons Gate is pretty epic looking.
Not quite helpless! Elbert has undone or broken his bonds and attacks Nergal barehanded.
But Jaffar gets him from behind.
And its the second of the paladin miniboss trio, Cameron! He rides up for the express purpose of taunting Hector and company.
And then he pulls Boiess trick of backwards laughing, but this time on a horse. And even faster. He really zooms off screen; its pretty great.
The War Room, part 22
So this chapter I finally hit 4 tactician stars, which means its about time to talk about what those do:
Those of you with long memories will recall I mentioned that the tactician has an affinity way back in the prologue and that you can change this by changing the tacticians birth month.
Although I havent shown it before, the tactician also has the above stats screen available starting on chapter 14 from the battle preparations menu. The only thing of note is the set of stars at the bottom. That started off as 1 star and will grow to 9 or 10 by the end of the game on this run. Essentially, you earn more stars by maintaining a very good ranking throughout the game.
What do these do? Well every character who shares the tacticians affinity (in this case thats Serra, Erk, Wallace, Bartre, Hector, Heath, and Geitz) gains a bonus to their hit, dodge, and enemy crit reduction chances equal to the number of stars. Small, but comparable to support bonuses. I picked Thunder for my tactician because Serra, Erk, Bartre, Hector, and Heath were all going to see use in this run (and all of those but Serra were likely to see heavy use) and several of them are the kind of people who benefit significantly from improved dodge chance or accuracy.
Contrary to popular belief at one point, tactician affinity does NOT grant a growth bonus to characters with the same affinity. Its only effect is this small increase in hit, dodge, and enemy crit reduction.
Battle Preparations & the Map
Ah, a fairly complicated map indeed. Ive never stopped loving it in 12 years of playing this game.
The first thing to note if youve played the Dragons Gate before is that in this mode Legault spawns in the bottom right, not the top left, and he starts off immediately. Furthermore, he doesnt have a lockpick anymore- just chest keys- so he wont slow down to open any doors and thereby give you a chance to talk to him easily.
The staircases all around the map hint that theres going to be a lot of reinforcements, and there are, but generally its the standing forces that are the biggest problem. Youll notice immediately that there are a huge number of cavalry of mixed types- even a troubadour- in the main area. These will put together a pretty effective combined arms assault, but the bigger problem is that theyll try to catch you before you can get to the door to the northwest treasure room. Cavaliers are very tough to kill because of their mix of good HP, solid defense, and enough speed that not just everyone can double them, so they can wall you out pretty well if youre not careful.
Outside the main area, there are quite a few knights- which are extremely vulnerable to some units and totally invincible against others- and a problematic cluster of shamans around Darin. Those shamans make the end of an era. Up till now, Hector was the go-to man for killing bosses. He had all the strength, he had the defense, and he had the awesome power of the Wolf Beil- which was super-effective a good 60% of the time. Hector can beat Darin pretty well, but those shamans are not something he can deal with. And Darin is the last of his kind really. From now on, more and more bosses are going to be of types Hector isnt that good against. Whats more, Hector is about to hit his level cap and stagnate for most of the rest of the game. Its time to pass the torch of the boss assassin to someone else. Not coincidentally, notice what tome of dark magic you get from a northwest chest this level.
Speaking of chests, theres a ton of treasure but its scattered. Obviously, theres no way whatsoever to stop Legault from getting those 2 chests near him. So you have to either recruit him or steal the ring from him and then kill him for the barrier. Obviously recruiting is better. Other thieves after Legault will follow the same path up and then left that he does, but will each have a single chest key for looting the northwest chests. Meanwhile, no one ever goes for the southwest chest and there have been 0 chest keys available to the player so far (except 1 on Teodors level if Matthew has 20 speed). So if you want the bottom chest, Matthew must get that. The other chests, you can probably allow the enemy to open for you if you want. Just kill them for the loot afterwards. Im going to try something trickier than that though as youll see.
Anyway, after looking around the map for a while, you should notice that you COULD ignore the central, enclosed area. However, going in there will give you an opportunity to split up the enemy cavalry forces and distract them from blocking the main group. The main group needs to be pushing through the narrow field up toward Cameron with all possible speed. It is imperative that they prevent the mass of enemy cavaliers from getting between them and the locked door to the treasure room. Going through the treasure room is the surefire way to catch Legault, and is also essential to making sure you get all the treasure obviously.
Objective: Seize throne
Secondary Objective: Get the Brave Bow from the bottom left chest.
Secondary Objective: Get the Blue Gem from the top left chest
Secondary Objective: Get the Luna from the top left chest.
Secondary Objective: Get the Guiding Right from the bottom right chest (from Legault)
Secondary Objective: Get the Barrier from the top right chest (from Legault).
Secondary Objective: Recruit Legault with Hector or Lyn.
Secondary Objective: Steal the Member Card from the first thief to spawn.
Secondary Objective: steal the Chest Key from the first thief to spawn.
Secondary Objective: steal the Chest Key from the second thief to spawn.
Secondary Objective: Kill the bottom right archer for his Killer Bow.
Reinforcements: In the very early turns, 2 fighters with handaxes spawn from the top left. On turn 2 a thief with a single chest key and a member card spawns from Legaults spot and starts going for the upper left chests. On turn 3 another thief with only a chest key does the same. From about turns 3 to 8, mercenaries and shamans will alternate spawning from the central stairs. A total of 5 mages will spawn from the mid-left stairs starting on about turn 4. Starting at the same time, there will be 3 archers from the bottom left stairs as well as 3 archers and 3 fighters spawning out of the bottom middle area stairs. Late in the map (starting on turn 8 or so) 2 pegasus knights will spawn each turn in the bottom left area. And then starting at turn 15 there will be absolutely huge numbers of mages and knights spawning in the top left area for many, many turns. Really the reinforcement situation is complicated and hard to remember. Whats important is that the major spawns begin on turn 4, pegasus knights dont appear till turn 8, and you should aim to win before anything much starts coming from the top left.
Turn limit: 16 (Quite generous really, plenty of time to farm some reinforcements)
Units Allowed: 12 (Fairly generous. 13 would be comfortable)
1. Hector. Required and still great. Killing cavaliers and knights and generals is something he still excels at, and I want to get him close to level 20 on this chapter.
2. Matthew. Theres no way to get the bottom left chest without him, or to get the member card or several other goodies.
3. Lyn. Required. Shes not good for much this level. Even if her Mani Katti is in good condition, she still doesnt like fighting more than 1 knight or cavalier at a time. Theres still a bit of training available for her at least.
4. Eliwood. Required. Hes slightly better off than Lyn due to his superior defenses, but hes still not going to accomplish much without his rapier.
5. Florina. Although there are a fair number of archers on this chapter, most of them are in positions where a pegasus knight can get first strike against them. Florina is also good against mages and there are quite a few of those. High movement is valuable on this map in general and I expect Ill want a fair amount of rescuing power by the end.
6. Fiora. Like Florina, but worse.
7. Canas. Rapidly becoming my MVP, Canas can butcher knights and mages and other shamans and is highly effective against archers and cavaliers. Theres also a Luna tome on this level which he can be quite helpful vs Darin with.
8. Raven. Raven isnt very good here due to the abundance of lance users and mages, but he can still hold his own in the central area especially. And he needs training.
9. Sain. Sain is much less necessary in this chapter than he has been before. Florina is coming into her own, as is Canas. Ill mostly be using him for support and to go backup anyone who runs into trouble. You can count on things going wrong on at least one front on a map like this.
10. Lowen. Lowen is actually fairly effective here. His high defenses and weapon versatility make him good against archers, nomads, and his fellow cavaliers.
11. Priscilla remains my best healer and Ill definitely want healing on this chapter. Shes also good for added rescue power.
12. Dorcas. Ugh. I hate using him. But he stands a good chance against the bottom right archers (except for the initial one with the killer bow) and hes great for the herds of pegasus knights on the bottom left.
Notable Units Rejected
1. Serra. If I had a 13th unit, she would definitely be it and would back up the central room people. But I was fairly confident they could push through with maybe one vulnerary used. Ultimately, everyone else looked indispensable in comparison. Even Dorcas has a job that cant really be done without well.
2. Guy. Cant kill anything, cant support anyone.
3. Dart. Again, I would love to use Dart over Dorcas but training Dorcas will get me Jermes chapter.
4. Lucius. No Canas, but hes good for maps like this. Hes just not quite good enough though and is too fragile given my dearth of healers. And I dont want him gaining too much XP yet.
5. Erk. Same boat as Lucius.
Remember how I mentioned that I always buy door keys before Whereabouts Unknown because theyre essential for beating that chapter fast outside of HHM? Well theyre just as useful- if not more so- here. I had 2 of them left, which is exactly the number Ill actually need. I plan on opening 2 doors with Matthew and 2 with keys. Just in case of an emergencies, Priscilla also has the unlock staff, but thats expensive.
The plan is that Matthew opens the bottom right door and Florina kills the archer. Next turn Matthew will take the chest and then Florina immediately hauls him out of there. I might do a full rescue chain with Priscilla or others, but I doubt that will be necessary. Mathew will follow behind the main group and open the top left treasure room as soon as theres a chance. From there he can be used to either take the treasure or steal from the thieves or both.
Lyn will be used against the local knights and then later against the bottom left reinforcements. Her main job is to help clear a path for Hector and Eliwood and the other main force to start charging immediately. They need to cover as much ground as possible and avoid getting boxed in or slowed.
Canas will be with that troup, as will Priscilla and Sain. Meanwhile, Dorcas will open the central chamber for Lowen to rush the longbow archer. Raven and Fiora will follow and the 3 of them will control the central reinforcements and try to aggro some of the cavalry horde to make progress faster on the main front.
Dorcas will either try to deal with the archer and fighter reinforcements in the bottom right, or just go and take care of the archers and pegasus knights in the bottom left if the numbers dont look good in the first case.
Depending on how fast Im going, I may send Hector through the treasure room to intercept Legault at the end of his path, or I might have Eliwood- with a door key- or Priscilla open the door to Darin for him directly. If Im quick enough, I can catch Legault right there, at which point things are in the bag.
One critical problem is that all my gear is breaking down. I had very limited funds and I havent bought anything in a long time- since Chapter 16 I believe. People are down to their last few hits of javelins and handaxes and theres even a shortage of iron weapons to go around. If I can just make it till next chapter though, I can use the stores and my silver card to buy everything I need.
Anyway, Eliwood gets the longsword rather than Raven because in the central area Raven will have fewer cavaliers and nomads to handle. Lowen will take the Horseslayer to the central area since only he has anything near the Con for it. Florina gets the heavy spear but probably wont use it. Most other gear is standard, but about 10 uses from breaking.
Legault immediately pops up as the map begins and talks to himself about his treasonous plans. Its a good thing no one overheard that.
No sense staying on a sinking ship. No sense at all. Legault, Chapter 20
One of the few Black Fang who sees the writing on the wall, Legault called the Hurricane- is getting the hell out of Dodge before either Eliwoods company or Nergals faction end up killing him. Hes been in the organization since the beginning and had the unpleasant job of killing Fangs who turned traitor- or later those who screwed up a mission or were badly injured and unable to continue in the group. How Ephidel lasted 5 minutes away from Nergal in a group that punishes the slightest mistakes so harshly is beyond me.
As youd expect, Legault was not popular since everyone he was killing had friends in the organization. And he has a rather fearsome reputation- allegedly second in ability to only the Four Fangs, though his stats dont bear that out. So in essence he was always something of an outsider within the group and its not surprising hed be one of the first to desert.
Hes one of many Fangs who wallows in false nostalgia for the good old days back when, you know, his job was killing his comrades- and propagates the myth that the Black Fang was good before Nergal got his hands on it a year ago. Really, the man displays a surprising amount of fondness for the organization in general considering how guilty he feels about a fair number of things he did while a member.
Ultimately, he stays something of an outsider and a loner and will ultimately distance himself from many of the people he can build supports with, though his supports are quite interesting.
Legault is lower level than my Matthew, but better in every single stat. Much better in many. On levels where I only need one thief, that is going to be Legault from now on, but many chapters require 2 so theyll both get a fair amount of time in the field. Neither is really a great combat character and for most of the game theres no choice to be made between them: you either need every thief you can field or you dont need any, so theres no particular reason to get into saying one is better or worse than the other. Getting a second thief is very nice and it would be very nice even if the order was reversed.
Ha ha ha ha ha! Cameron, Chapter 20
Like most of the other paladin minibosses, Cameron comes out of nowhere and his existence is never acknowledged by anyone else. He seems rather trollish and fond of gloating, but we learn little else about him.
Both his stats and his gear are well-balanced and he has no glaring weaknesses but no dangerous strengths either. He cant fight at range, but hes not so fragile that that matters much. Its not killing him thats the problem, its killing him quickly.
I am the ruler of the world Darin, Chapter 20
Here he is at last, the mad Marquess of Laus! Hes abandoned his son, his realm, and his army- and indeed he got the latter killed almost down to the last man. Darin is really quite insane and has no grasp of the position hes now in- alone at the Dragons Gate but for a group of assassins who hate noblemen who abuse their power and a dark wizard who was only using him for his prestige and social status back when he had any. His days were probably numbered at this point even if you didnt kill him.
His stats are mediocre. Better than the other knights and generals so far, but not by enough that it matters. He wields a Spear- one of the best weapons in the game- but thats not enough to make up for his weak speed and only fairly good defenses. Killing him is almost an afterthought- as he himself is since hes long since been pushed aside as the main antagonist by Nergal. Darin stopped being relevant before Whereabouts Unknown, when he abandoned the rest of his army and left Lycia forever.