Part 48: Chapter 31 (part 1)
A peculiar title. Its not like were actually in a giant hurry in this chapter. In fact, theres almost no urgency at all. Nergal didnt take Nils so he cant open the gate and the party decides to just rest and recuperate a bit in Ostia.
Perhaps it refers to how Athos will be telling us the story of how he met Nergal 500 years ago. While that meeting did occur in a sandy place, it still doesnt really make sense. The phrase sands of time afterall refers to hourglasses timing things.
But its a pretty cool chapter actually, much more challenging and interesting than it was on ENM. There it was pretty much just a horde of archers, nothing else mixed in, which mostly served as a place to level Eliwood with his new javelins. He could solo the level with ease.
Now its actually a hard fight as the enemy uses combined arms with a bunch of strong unit types like generals- and there arent any really good points to hold the enemy off at. Meanwhile, one small contingent of the heroes is trapped and in a really, really bad spot. And the vast horde of enemies stands between the group and some extremely valuable treasure.
If there was a little more to do- one or two chests or stealable items in a remote corner of the map or something- this chapter might rank with the big three. Without that extra bit of objective juggling its just a little too straightforward for my taste. Still, an excellent chapter. And Eliwood and company finally learn Nergals past while Hector reaches the climax of his personal story arc.
Exhausted, confused, and with Ninian dead, the group stops to rest and mourn in nearby Ostia. They then ask Athos to explain what Nergal meant about the two having once been friends but are interrupted when Nergals morphs somehow launch an attack on the castle. Realizing that nowhere is safe from a man whose minions can teleport, they resolve to just make their final preparations and set out to catch him at the Dragons Gate. Meanwhile, Hector finally learns what Oswin has been keeping secret from him.
And killed by Eliwood no less. I doubt if anyone saw that coming.
To begin with, Nergal was just a personal enemy of Eliwoods. Nergal was the man whod abducted his father. Then at the Dragons Gate it was suddenly revealed that he was no mere nobleman trying to control a gang of assassins but the sorcerous commander of an inhuman army bent on bringing dragons back into the world to obtain unlimited power. That changed things. Now, as the story draws to a close, he again becomes a personal enemy of Eliwoods as well with his role in Ninians death and especially the cruelty he showed as she was dying. And after the lengthy Bern arc, this was also a good way to remind the player why they should want to kill Nergal other than for the XP- its been a fairly long time since Elbert died afterall.
So they head for nearby Ostia, where the story began.
They already did earlier in this very game. And on this chapter now. And then like twice in 6. Ostia has a horrible track record actually. Its probably because they employ nothing but knights and soldiers and those are terrible classes.
One of my favorite tracks from the game is heard for the first time now. The similarity to some of the other themes- like the Fire Emblem main theme among others- is cool and it just seems to capture the exhausted, grief-stricken, but determined mood of Hector and the others very well.
Hector has been asking where his brother is more and more frequently and getting evasive answers from just about everyone.
This means Hector is in charge and we see that hes become a much more organized and capable leader over the course of his journey.
And he questions Oswin once the soldier is on his way.
The man is not a good liar and hes not fooling Hector.
But there are things to do, so the leaders- minus the grief and guilt-stricken Eliwood- meet up in this conference room.
And they finally broach the subject of what Athos knows about Nergal and how he knows it.
Appropriately, The Archsage Athos sounds quite similar to History Unveiled, the prelude theme. The legend begins recounting how he met Nergal.
And the two became friends. But its clear to a player whos done A Glimpse In Time of course that Athos doesnt have the full story here. He has no idea that Nergal is already at least 500 years old- same as him- or that Nergal has lost his memories and his old identity to the ravages of dark magic already.
Still, it seems clear Nergal wasnt just completely inhuman and overcome with his hunger for power yet. Athos doesnt know the story, so he doesnt understand where his own time with Nergal fits in the bigger context.
Traveling together, they found a secret village in the desert where humans and dragons lived together: Arcadia.
Lyn and Hector are amazed and incredulous. Its not clear just why at first glance- but the reason for that is that the player has seen the History Unveiled prelude where its stated humans and dragons once lived peacefully. Apparently, that isnt common knowledge. All they know is that the war that came was bitter and bloody and all dragons had to be driven out of killed because no peace could be made with them.
Eliwood slowly comes in and asks Athos not to stop the story.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zYoXfcLr7YQ now plays as he describes the village of Arcadia.
Just as Athos said before, when he was evidently talking about his time there: Solve one mystery and along comes another. Before I knew it, Id become distant from my fellow man. He just disappeared into the libraries of Arcadia with his friend and everyone must have eventually assumed he died.
But centuries after arriving, Nergal and Athoss goals gradually diverged.
And it was here in Arcadia where Nergal learned about stealing quintessence- and presumably making morphs and the like as well. Which is probably why Athos knows so much about those magics: he likely read the same books. One has to wonder whose books the Archsage studies magic from. Are there even greater heroes further back in Elibes past? Were morphs once created by other dark sorcerers? And then destroyed and written about by someone else who described them as an abomination?
It sure looks like it was. I wonder what were to make of those eyes in his cape. As far as Athos mentions, he didnt create his first morphs till later. Are they purely symbolic of his evil? Or are they, perhaps, spirits or creatures of the darkness that consumed Nergals old identity centuries before?
Peace talks broke down.
I wonder what were to make of that pause before defeated him. That could mean all kinds of things.
Further evidence that he actually does have a secret base there. Perhaps he built it after losing his family but before meeting Athos?
It seems to have been around this point that Nergal really took a turn for the worse. Having his former friend Athos try to kill him really hurt him, as hell reveal later.
Athos explains that he began building up his power at this point and then started making morphs. And by the time they realized that, hed become too strong to stop. My best guess is that to survive- or become strong enough that Athos couldnt just kill him- Nergal made further reparations to the dark as Teodor called them at this point. Athos didnt know that or that he had ever done so to begin with.
Possibly he did this in this period but just AFTER creating his first group of morphs including Kishuna. That would explain why he seems interested in Kishuna as a person after first creating him but then soon thereafter changes completely and sees him as nothing but a useless tool to be thrown away (as will be seen later).
An unexpected caller! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1cH2X0g1L-Q
Advance Wars: Days of Ruin has some tracks that can rival this one, but I cant think of any game with a better theme for suddenly finding yourself under attack.
Its pretty understandable that hes angry. This is an epic fail on the part of the entire garrison any way you look at it. And not the first one either. In fact, they never do anything but fail to defend Ostia in either game.
Thats a good one. Enemies already breached it once this story and nearly killed him on his way out, completely undetected.
Why? The whole throne thing just gets sillier and sillier. On this chapter WE lose if someone gets to the throne. Even though theres nothing else in the room, so its of no importance.
Theres a blink and youll miss it bit here of Athos watching Eliwood pick himself up and get ready to fight, just like he did in New Resolve.
Well Hectors in luck; Market has a good one in mind.
Battle Preparations & the Map:
Its another big one. And much like Whereabouts Unknown, it relies on sheer size rather than difficult terrain to keep you away from your goal. There are some serious staff druids on this map again, but unlike Cog of Destiny and Night of Farewells, they arent the main challenge of the mission and dont have absolutely overwhelming numbers. No, theyre a difficult secondary obstacle but thats all. The particular trouble is that the split-off group is in range of three of them and its impossible to get out or kill them all on the first time. The second group is in serious trouble in general since theyre surrounded. And since theyre surrounded by people with ranged weapons, those walls are as much a hindrance as protection. The only escape is that narrow passage to the southwest but thats currently guarded by 5 knights and generals, and almost every other enemy on the level is about to come running in that direction
The most critical choice to make is who to put there and what direction to have them go. The four main choices for the latter are 1) turtle up in that semi-enclosed room and hold out 2) break out the nearby door and head north to meet up with the main army fast 3) break out the nearby door and charge the main enemy force without waiting for reinforcements and 4) Break out the far, currently locked, door and attack the main enemy force from behind after a delay
1) Definitely works but is not good enough. My goal isnt just to survive, its to kill absolutely everything. Just being defensive doesnt drop the enemy fast enough, and serious speed is called for.
2) Doesnt look like a good idea. No one can beat 3 of these generals easily except Canas because their Res is great, and youll have to deal with 6-9 of them plus some knights. With 4 guys. In the open. This will either ignominiously turn into 1) or result in a restart
3) Cant even be attempted without putting your 4 best units in that squad and just going all out. Could work. The problem with 2 and 3 though is that they leave a lot of enemies on the right part of the map unlikely to ever be killed in time
4) I went with this because the odds of success were better than 2 or 3 without committing absolute maximum resources and because it also gave me my best shot at exterminating every enemy by turn 11
So with that decided, I had to pick who to put there. There must be 2 restore staff users in the group, minimum. And at least two very strong fighters. The best way to bring that about is to have Pent and Canas or the like on that team. That frees up some slots for other people. Theres really tough fighting on that front but with the likes of Pent and Canas around, you can even train someone pretty weak.
The other secondary challenge is dealing with the thieves. They begin spawning early and there are a lot of them. Its important to know that their first goal is to unlock the right door, then get the body ring, then head up to get the other chests. Notably even the guy who gets the body ring will stick around to try to get the other chests, giving you ample time to get it back.
The primary challenge is of course just fighting the giant army of promoted units and managing to kill every last one of them by the games end. 11 turns isnt much when most of your (admittedly giant) army starts so far from the front and the spawn points are so spread out and the reinforcements are still spawning on the last turn. There are basically 4 fronts to deal with: top and middle right, bottom right, middle left, and the center line of the map down to Denning. Success requires devoting just enough resources to each front to complete it. Its just like I talked about in the War Room part 14. You have to match units to goals and remember to consider the opportunity cost of sending great unit X to front Y.
And for me of course I was trying not to put my overleveled people like Canas in many more fights. I need to save them for Victory or Death and Light. And I also need to do what I can to gather any more scraps of XP possible for my few remaining unpromoted people who arent 20 yet.
Nils is despondent and withdrawn into himself after seeing Eliwood kill Ninian. He cant be used on this chapter or the next one.
Theres the top group of my formation, and heres the rest:
Objective: Protect the Throne (WHY?!) for 11 turns
Secondary Objective: Get the Dragon Shield from the top leftish chest
Secondary Objective: Get the White Gem from the other chest in that area
Secondary Objective: Get the Body Ring from the bottom left chest
Secondary Objective: Steal the Lockpick from the first thief
Secondary Objective: Steal the Lockpick from the second thief
Secondary Objective: Steal the Lockpick from the third thief
Secondary Objective: Steal the Lockpick from the fourth thief
Secondary Objective: Visit the Secret Shop
Secondary Objective: Kill Denning and every single enemy for honor and glory
Reinforcements: Agh, so many in so many places and almost all promoted. The important thing is that while loads of people spawn starting very early, most reinforcements stop with turn 8. So you can expect a turn or two to sweep up any remaining forces. However the ones in the bottom spawn points never stop and are mostly tough units like generals and wyvern lords, so you need serious firepower there. Thieves start spawning very early- on turn 2- but fortunately go for a door before the chests, giving you the time you need.
Turn Limit: 11. And its a survival chapter, so you lose 1 no matter what.
Units Allowed: 12 + Hector + Eliwood + Lyn. So many units! But you really do need most or all of them to kill every enemy on such a big level
1) Hector. Required and very good here, if a bit slow. Hes one of my best units once again and can crush any enemy on the level. But hes probably going to gain a TON of XP on The Value of Life, so I dont want him getting to more than level 10 or something at most here.
2) Eliwood. Required and suddenly my second-best unit after Canas. Hes got the mobility. Hes got the durability. Hes got the damage. Hes got the javelins. I didnt realize just how good he was going into this chapter but once I noticed he could solo the whole eastern front, strategizing for the rest of the level got a lot easier.
3) Lyn. Required and terrible. Shes been outclassed for 20 chapters now. But if I have to bring her, Im going to try to get her some XP. The trouble is most of the enemies on the chapter are knights which she cant even scratch.
4) Nino. Erk is overleveled (but has better stats than my wonderfully blessed CANAS), so I need another sage to train up. My Nino has been unlucky so far but should still turn out well. So Ill promote her this chapter.
5) Erk. Third best unit? Sain is up there somewhere, but Im saving him. Erk is the only one other than Canas who can one round kill absolutely anything on this level that isnt Denning, and he can dodge everything and isnt even that fragile anymore. Plus he can heal.
6) Florina. Fiora and Heath are going to be getting big levels on Victory or Death so I cant use them here, but Florina sucks so shes been left behind up till now. She wont be contributing much but shes better than most of the low level people at least and maybe shell gain some stats this time.
7) Kent. The only lower level guy now is Oswin and hes waaay too slow moving to be trainable here. Kent is decently effective against many of these enemies, so nows a good time to get him most of the rest of the way to 20.
8) Priscilla. The top group needs a restorer in case Erk gets silenced and shes it.
9) Matthew. Legault hit 20. Id bring Jaffar instead, but there are 4 lockpicks to steal so it has to be a thief. Hell do nothing of value other than maybe rescue drop people until its stealing time.
10) Guy. Useless except that with a healer and the Iron Rune hes juuuuuuust good enough to spend 11 turns slowly taking down those 2 myrmidons and swordmaster on the left part of the map. Oswin would be 1-round killed, Dorcas would be 1-round killed and have like a 0% chance to hit, so Guy is the only option.
11) Serra. Guy needs a healer and Serra is the only staff wielder bad enough not to have something more important to do.
12) Canas. Of course Canas. Hes there to heal, restore, physic, and kill anything that looks to be a serious problem.
13) Pent. Like Canas only worse, as Pent basically always is. But hes lower level, so Ill try to get him more kills.
14) Raven. Back in a snazzy tailed coat, Raven was promoted for Unfulfilled Heart, used in like 2 fights there, and then never seen again until now. Nows the time to break out the promoted units like him Ive been saving. Hes got the damage and speed to kill nearly anything with his iron axes and handaxes.
15) Dart. Because Dorcas sucks! Dart cant really handle this stuff either despite being a really good unit- its just a REALLY harsh fight on the 4 unit group front, but he can at least manage to stay barely alive with constant healing and maybe a barrier. And thats enough to finally get him the 250 XP he needs to hit 20. Most of my other people are higher level than that.
Notable Units Rejected:
1) Nils. Id love him here, but hes unavailable. So not really rejected, but I wanted to make sure that was clear.
2) Dorcas. I tried it every way I could think of. He was just baaaarely functional last level with Filas Might on him and Barrier. Here he gets killed by every single enemy and theres no way to protect him. I said on Cog of Destiny that it was probably my last chance to train him and it looks like Im right.
3) Fiora. Better than Florina, but after Cog of Destiny shes too high level. Shell do a lot of leveling on Victory or Death too and I dont want to have to kick her out for Light.
4) Heath. Like Fiora but better, so I REALLY dont want to have to kick him out for Light.
5) Sain. Similar to Fiora and Heath in this case really. Hed be amazingly useful, but hes going to do serious fighting in the next couple of chapters so I need to save him for now.
6) Lowen. Besides being higher level and weaker than Kent, this chapter really does NOT play to his strengths. Way too many magic attackers and he cant even double most of them.
7) Bartre. Hes bad. Hes always been bad. I hated using him. I hope to never use him after fighting Karla next chapter. He cant hack it here, even on a level filled with knights as a level 6 warrior with slightly above average stats.
8) Vaida. I usually bring her on normal and she has a fun beginning of level quote, but shes in a similar boat to the one the other flyers are. And she cant double things as well.
9) Most other people. Theyre probably level 20 unpromoted. Or so close to it that theyd hit it in 1 fight and then be unusable dead weight.
Guy and Serra will (barely) take the myrmidons and swordmaster. It will take most of the level depending on misses. Theyre juuuuuuust strong enough to do the job and worthless elsewhere, so theyre perfect for it. Its not clear who will get the top leftish chests, so these guys have some chest keys and a door key in case no one else can do it easily. I need to clear some Merlinus room, so I decided to give Guy a whole bunch of 1-3 use iron swords to fight with. The main thing I like to use 1 use swords for is feeding kills to low level people as I mentioned before and Im out of low level people who need the help, so I can use them up now. Guy also get the Iron Rune so those guys cant crit him.
Canas and Pent are my only people capable of both casting restore and fighting, so theyre no-brainers for the separate group. Each has heal, restore, physic, and Canas has luna and flux while Pent has a barrier to help Dart.
Dart is packing handaxes and vulneraries mostly but also a hammer in case he needs to fight some generals.
And Raven is the last pick for that group. It needed to be someone very strong but not yet very leveled who could use axes. He was the only one matching that description. He gets some handaxes, an iron axe, and an iron sword and also a vulnerary.
The plan is for that group to thin the enemy nearby and then break out through whichever door proves less guarded, pulling and trapping Denning before the main group has to worry about him. And 1-2 people will watch the general spawn point area.
1-2 people from the main group (just who would depend on how the level actually went) were to first hold the semi-chokepoint to the northeast area and then eventually charge through and crush the enemy there. The rest of that group would fight their way through the main body of the enemy and protect Matthew while he went about stealing lockpicks. Most other equipment is fairly standard fare.
Oh and getting to the secret store costs 1500 for Warp and it sells nothing worthwhile, so Im not doing that.
Look back 10 levels or so to the Ostian knights in Kinships Bond. Now look at these guys. These guys arent better. And those guys sucked against the much, much weaker enemies back then. These guys just explode the moment an enemy looks at them. They do serve 1 valuable function though.
Alright everyone, on three: Its a message from Lord Nergal: Meet me on the Dread Isle. Denning, Chapter 31
Although the fact that he has a name whereas Nergal implies he gave his original, truly emotionless morphs only numbers- suggests hes not entirely mindless, Denning is a morph only capable of or perhaps willing to endlessly repeat the phrase Its a message from lord Nergal: Meet me on the Dread Isle. Indeed, it seems the whole point of this battle was to deliver that message.
The implications are fairly interesting. Basically it looks like Nergal is being pretty clever- more than people think- he manipulates them into doing exactly what he wants. Why does he just pop up and mock the group after the last chapter but not take Nils when he totally could have? Why does he send this force out on a suicide mission now? It looks stupid at first glance, the kind of thing Ephidel would do. But actually, if you think about it it looks like hes being rather clever.
Consider: he knows Ninian could not open the Dragons Gate for him. But he doesnt know why. He doesnt know Ninian and Nils can give each other their power so he didnt realize that was going on after Cog of Destiny. And he probably cannot even imagine that someone would voluntarily give their power to someone else. As far as he knows, Nils would also be unable to open the gate because something is happening with them that he doesnt understand. Plus, unlike Ninian, Nils had the will to actually defy him anyway as we saw before. So if he took Nils, Nils still couldnt open the gate for him most likely as far as hes aware.
But as is revealed, he does have a backup plan using Ninians dragon stone and her quintessence- and all he needs for it to work is a giant source of new quintessence. And as he himself states, Eliwoods group will provide that source. So why didnt he attack them outside the cave where Durandal was? Why just taunt them instead?
Because hes not an idiot. If he attacked them head on, alone, hed surely kill someone of them, but hed definitely die in the process. No doubt about it, your group can smash him if they get him alone and on their terms. He needs to get them to fight where hes strong and theyre weak: in his stronghold surrounded by his morphs. Thats why he has not one but two ambushes at which hes really concentrated massive forces on the dread isle. And thats the point of all the taunts and provocations and trying to make Eliwood angry. He wants the group angry enough and panicked enough that they do something stupid like run to his lair and try to attack him head on.
And the last thing he wants is for them to get the other legendary weapons. Hence his whole spiel about being impervious to them- even though its totally not true and we just saw 5 seconds ago that it wasnt true when Forblaze damaged him. Thats why he doesnt counterattack Athos. He just wants to pretend he was totally not hurt at all, whereas counterattacking would make it look like the legendary weapon was enough of a threat that he cant just take hits from it indefinitely. And similarly he claims that the other divine weapons cant harm him, but thats also completely not true.
So his goal was to trick the group into abandoning their best chance at defeating him: taking time to heal their wounds, rest, recover, and think about what theyre going to do as they gather all 8 legendary weapons and maybe enlist Bramimond too. If that happens, Nergal is done for.
And when he sees the group is actually doing that by stopping to rest at Ostia, he immediately commits a force to attacking them there to make them think they arent safe anywhere and should just attack him now and get it over with. He doesnt have infinite morphs, so this is a decent loss to him, but by throwing his morphs away so casually he makes it seem like he DOES have an unlimited supply ready to teleport out at any time. And the group does EXACTLY what he wants and think theyre smart for doing it. The one critical thing he did not predict is that they would bravely go on without Athos. Even Athos is amazed by that. And Athos does what Nergal most feared on his own while the rest of the group charges right into Nergals trap, so when Athos returns heavily armed and with contingency plans in place, Nergals fate is sealed.
Are you taking notes, Ephidel?
Well Denning has good stats and good gear for an archer. His res in particular means mages cant really beat him. But hes still just an archer, so the best plan is probably to lure him somewhere and box him in for the rest of the map and then kill him on the last turn. I tried various fancy tricks to trap him with the minimum number of units (2 usually) but couldnt get my people into position for it because of his minions. So eventually I just went with the straightforward but costly 4 man trap and then gradually squeezed him back into a 2-man trap.