Part 20: UPDATE 15: The SteadfastI return, triumphant, exhausted, and crazy-eyed from a fast-paced weekend in which (among other things) I learned that I am no longer capable of competently playing the trumpet for more than five minutes total before the lower half of my face bursts into flames. But I'm home for good now, and I bought you guys an update from the duty free store!
Apologies in advance for some of the text in this post looking wonky; it was the best I could do on the road. Would have uploaded from there too, except I appeared to have problems with both the overpriced airplane internet (which I sure as hell wasn't gonna pay for twice) and my laptop's Rightload installation, so I had to wait until I got home to upload and edit everything. Sorry!
Right, so: the Highland of Soathon. We haven't heard anything about it other than an off-hand remark with no context from Hugo that there's some kind of castle there, in the middle of a lecture about something else. I guess that's as good a reason as any to go there now!
Update 15: The Steadfast
Since Glide64 runs at approximately half speed on my laptop for some reason, my first attempted playthrough of this mission used the default P64 plugin. For entertainment value, here's what it shows me for the mission title card.
A true marvel of technology.
As you may know, moral ambiguity triggers one thing and one thing only in JRPG protagonists: Angst.
: "Are we to be blamed?"
: "Are you worried about what Rhade said to you? Unfortunately... It's true that we contributed to bringing them into the war. But it was the Western Division... Palatinus that dragged them into this."
: "Nirdam was defeated by the Brigade of Radiant Cross... They've become slaves to their conquerors..."
The Brigade of Radiant Cross are kind of like a Crusader's Order. Think like the Knights Templar or the Hospitallers, only with more slave-trading.
: "...Okay, Freddie. Do you use your weapons to bring harm to people or protect them? It's all in what you use your weapon for... Don't you agree? ...That's the same thing. We may be the reason why they were dragged into war. Is that something we can allow? Who gave them the right to do that? Does anyone have that right? This is our status... Stay focused on your task. Let's get started..."
Even without a love interest, Freddie manages to find plenty of reasons to shoegaze and say "..." including anything a known asshole says to rattle him. Luckily Hugo's there to snap him out of it. Telling Freddie to stop whining and do his goddamn job is a much more important service than his mediocre analysis ever was.
: "For this operation, we will begin at Fort Celestus."
Ziggiveld is totally the best name ever for a castle.
: "And they have flying units. I'm not sure what they're planning, but be careful. ...There's an unconfirmed report that the enemy has done something to the bridge. Be careful when crossing it."
there are three bridges on this map, hugo
your laser pointer thing is broken or something
: "Push all of your worries out of your mind. Are you prepared?"
I GUESS SO
They sure have been taking their sweet time invading Alba, of course. Not that I'm complaining.
As you can see, we've got two bridges immediately in front of us. One of them has a bunch of bad terrain on the other side; the other leads to the midrange-Morale town of Shafferville and another bridge.
And it looks like our first attacking unit is... led by and entirely made up of Grapplers. That's... odd to say the least. Pretty sure these guys don't have much reason to be pissed off at me if an angry knight dude isn't whipping them. They're pretty firmly anti-Lodis, you'd think, right?
Oh, a dialogue scene. Yeah, I guess this is enough of an anomaly to warrant a little tete-a-tete.
: "Why do you follow Lodis' orders? They're using you!"
: "You will never understand us! Do you know what it feels like to have fellow countrymen held hostage, and be forced into battle? Of course not!! You're nothing more than bloodthirsty beasts who fight among yourselves!!"
The war from a Grappler's perspective: "The white people are fighting again because of some problems they have which I guess are pretty bad by white people standards. Anyway, it's your problem now! Put down your acid-mining tools, you're a warrior now. Snap to it or I'll kill everyone you've ever met."
yeah, it really DOES put things in a bit of a bleaker perspective, i suppose
In my defense, though, I really didn't want to kill Frederick.
look at this face
Doesn't it just melt your heart?
yeah this kind of does too
In the post-Grappler-battle chaos, this is the state of Soathon.
In the Southeast, Shafferville is guarded by
Rapidly advancing from the west are MacPherson, whose unit is actually kind of light on the human rights violations, and Nash, whose unit is not.
They don't last very long.
Standing in the middle of nowhere in front of a bridge is Malcolm and his oddly familiar-looking unit. Suspicious.
Racial profiling? Perhaps. I just have trouble believing that a Black Knight loitering around a bridge minding his own business could POSSIBLY not be up to no good.
kill phalanxes erryday
Shafferville's mine. As soon as I knocked all the troops off of it, though, I got this
: "They're going to destroy it. Hurry!"
i GOT this
In fact, at this point, nothing out of the ordinary actually happens. There are two explanations for this: (a) Hugo is a scaredy little baby; (b) blowing up the bridge is Malcom's job, if he's still alive when you take Shafferville, and I made DAMN sure that wasn't true. You can also cut him off before he gets to the bridge, if you have a unit in the area, but it's MUCH easier to polish him off before he gets the chance to get over there. It's in your interest to keep this river passable.
Right, Hugo said something about flying units. Meet Graffenburg and Dietrich. They are notable for being a huge pain in the ass due to fighting you right around a bunch of rivers, and not much else.
Oh, also if they get tired on their way over they tend to try to stop and set a spell in this Neutral stronghold.
Away with you hooligans. Luckily it's possible to fight a unit sitting on a Stronghold without necessarily attempting to capture/liberate it, so I don't waste any more Chaos Frame on these stupid stubborn jerks than I already have.
The wild, overgrown, untamed land beyond the western bridge stretches out before me: savage, free, and a huge pain in the ass to march through. This is reason one why you want to keep the enemy from blowing up that bridge. Reason two we won't get to in THIS update.
One of these two strongholds, guarded by Veronica, is easy to walk to and leads absolutely nowhere. The other one, led by the Hulkster here, is a little bit more in my path but getting there is gonna be annoying no matter what. Yeesh.
My reward for finishing off Malcolm's unit rather than letting them blow the bridge and get away is a third Ansate Cross. Yeah. Hooray. Better than a Heal Leaf I guess.
No sooner does the smoldering, ashen corpse of that Doll Master hit the ground than Valerie, who'd been guarding this stronghold just across the river, makes her move. I'm not sure whether she ALSO wants to blow the bridge or if she just doesn't like me, but I'm not taking any chances.
Unfortunately, the people at her home base have been spending a little too long hanging out with Platinum Dragons and I won't be liberating it anytime soon. Yeesh.
In the meantime I took the opportunity to send Freddie shopping at Shafferville, where they offer a variety of items made from Baldr. Most of these we already have, but I haven't seen the Baldr Mace before. It's the next tier of Cleric weapon, and required for the advanced Cleric class, so I pick a few of them up.
See this? This. This right here. This is why I hate (enemy) flying units. Graffenburg managed to set up camp in the middle of a fucking river and Leia doesn't know how the fuck to get out there.
I guess Hawkmen are waterfowl of some sort? Can DUCKS even fall asleep while floating?
At any rate it takes (a) waiting until he wakes up, and (b) some teamwork between multiple units on multiple sides of this T-intersection of rivers to finally track the fucker down. FLYING UNITS AROUND RIVERS
Meanwhile Asnabel took out Veronica's entire unit in a couple battles, in spectacular fashion, and liberated this hick town in the ass end of nowhere that I couldn't possibly care any less about. GOOD USE OF TIME.
Huh. Pretty good find, Dio. The Robe of the Wise imparts a significant INT boost to the wearer and is also required equipment for the advanced Cleric class. Wonderful thing to find lying discarded in the woods.
This last stronghold I have about as much chance of liberating as I did Jiram earlier, but I kill Hogan anyway. I mean, I was in the neighborhood, I might as well.
While hiking down to give me boss backup, Asnabel kept finding crap. Dammit I just bought THREE of those maces! More Blessed Swords are always welcome, though.
Speaking of the boss, it's about time I did some reconnoitering, since I've got about nothing left but fighting him. Let's just take a little peekarooski~~~
Well I know who I'm sending in for THIS boss fight.
: "Who gave you these orders!? Answer me! Whose orders are you following!?"
: "...Sir Rhade... told us to use the Nirdamese troops..."
: "...I see. That is all. You are dismissed."
That explains why we've been seeing Grapplers used in this stage and the last one despite that scene between Ankiseth and Rhade earlier where he refused to use them: Ankiseth isn't actually in command here, he just dropped by and is currently in the process of chewing out this generic knight whose ass we've been whooping this whole time.
: "B, But, sir..."
Don't have to tell HIM twice. Dude is out of there in a HURRY.
oh hi dad
Guess what, I got a job!
: "...It's you......"
: "You became a minion of Lodis!?"
This is how things go in the Gallant household. If you've just been caught doing something bad, like breaking a pot or tracking dirt on the floor or inciting widespread and violent rebellion against the government your dad works for, the trick to avoid getting a whuppin' is to keep him on the defensive.
: "If so, then what? Or if I said no, could battle be avoided? ...This is a good opportunity."
Ankiseth isn't mad at Freddie. No, he's just disappointed.
Of course they ARE still fighting a war against each other. Ankiseth hits pretty fairly hard, but for some reason he's not actually as tough as Rhade was. Maybe it's just that I'm using Freddie's unit of supersoldiers.
I still wasn't QUITE able to finish him off in one. I considered using a Pedra here, but decided against it since I could pretty easily just send in another unit to finish him off.
Naturally he immediately used a healing item. I swear I'm good at this game.
Doesn't matter, Ivory still finished the job with luck and combo magic.
Huh. ANOTHER Blessed Sword. ...I guess this one has some history! Ankiseth the Steadfast has cloven many a noble crotch with this mighty blade.
Anyway let's have a post-battle talk with Dad. I think being on opposite sides of a civil war is reason enough to have a family meeting.
: "But you are still not strong enough to change this kingdom. I am not the only one standing in your way..."
: "...What do you mean?"
: "To rebel against Palatinus means that you make enemies with the Holy Lodis Empire. And the commander of the Western Division is... Prince Yumil. You knew that, did you not? ...You made your decision; you cannot back away from it."
Rather than scampering away like a worm like Rhade and that Knight dude from earlier did, Ankiseth calmly strides out of the castle. Apparently this works for him somehow and he gets away clean. Not a bad surrender deal considering what I did with all the troops around here. Ankiseth is a master negotiator.
At this point, Freddie must consult Hugo because it's ~*~*DECISION TIME*~*~
: "What should we do? Should we follow orders and free the Bolmaukans? So that we can use them to our benefit!? Is that the right thing to do!?"
: "You have three choices. They do include defying your orders..."
: "I don't care, just tell me!"
: "Alright, then. The first choice is to follow orders and liberate the mining facility in Audvera Heights. We will most likely encounter the enemy garrison. The problem is that we'd involve the people working there as well. I've no doubt that there will be a large number of casualties... The next is to ignore orders and head north to Mount Ithaca. This way, we can avoid making contact with the Bolmaukans. The drawback is that battle with the Western Division would take place sooner. And our last choice is... to head west toward the sea, and liberate the Sable Lowlands. The Bolmaukans have lived there for a long time. We may be able to find a good solution to our problem, and at the same time, the situation may improve... But you never know."
: "Are any of these choices going to work out for us...?"
: "That would be nice, but life's not that easy. ...What to choose, and what to sacrifice... It's all up to you, Freddie."
So yeah, the game has just given us a branching-plot decision with a fairly transparent good/neutral/evil choice. Where we go now and in what order will have later repercussions.
In order to give me as much stuff to do while traveling as possible, the game at this point switches over to Yumil's swanky office at Castle Talpaea. I mean I thought Godeslas's digs were pretty baller, but DAMN, Millie. Look at the size of that fancy rug.
: "Enough! ... I understand... I will talk with Ankiseth about the details when he returns. ...You are dismissed."
The nameless Knight leaves to reveal that Mari has risen enough in the prince's esteem to be allowed to hang around in his office while he's working. Oh hey there, YOKO.
Obviously, this one syllable is spoken in reference to Gordon Freeman, the popular folk hero currently gravity-gunning his way through Yumil's dystopian police-state army of cybernetically-modified shock troops.
All of a sudden, this creepy old lady just plain appears out of nowhere.
: "Who are you? How did you get in here!?"
: "Don't worry your pretty little head about that. ...Say, Mari? Do you want to help your prince?"
: "...What are you saying? Begone!! I'll call the guards!!"
The creepy old lady gets all up in Mari's personal space bubble and for some reason Mari completely fails to call any guards.
: "You can help him! What more do you want?"
NO TRUSTING CRAZY TELEPORTING WITCH PEOPLE
: "Yes! You can... You're the only one who can help him! That is your, and the prince's, destiny... The blood that courses through your veins... my lord's blood... will lend you strength."
Well THAT certainly wasn't creepy at all.
: "Now... let me awaken the sleeping power within you."
sure, sounds like fun times
: "De Bariln Xykrouss, Fynzala Renne Rashi..."
NEXT TIME ON OGRE BATTLE: We quickly and decisively learn exactly what the hell that was just now and everything completely makes sense in short order. yeah right