The Let's Play Archive

Rondo of Swords

by Einander

Part 8: The Red Lion

Chapter 6: The Red Lion
(Or, "Now I Am Become ZOC, Destroyer Of Worlds")

No dialogue before the preparations screen this time.

We do the standard skill jiggering. Serdic gets a point in Stand Fast, bringing him up to 4.

Margus has learned two more activation skills. Mount and Melee Shield each decrease damage from the aforementioned groups for three turns. All activated abilities take up your turn and are strictly before-movement, which renders them rather useless. These two are irritating, even -- there are passive abilities named Mount Guard and Melee Guard, which decrease all damage from that enemy type all of the time. You've already seen Arrow Guard, and Magic Guard completes the set. Guard abilities are incredible, Shield abilities are awful. Don't mix them up.

More importantly, as mentioned at the end of the last update, Margus now has ZOC. You may ask why he has multiple levels of it. Don't worry, it doesn't have a percent activation or anything -- if it can work, it will always work. Against most enemies, level 1 ZOC is perfectly identical to level 5.

(For those who have forgotten, since it's been a while: ZOC is a skill utilized by defenders. When attacked, the defending unit immediately ends the attacker's turn, preventing them from initiating additional attacks or receiving additional Support benefits. They're then placed around the defender in a set order, starting at the unoccupied spaces closest to the attacker and going top-to-bottom, left-to-right. If that's too complicated, remember this order: top, left, right, bottom. If you're being attacked by more than four enemies at once, you're probably doing something wrong.)

You need higher levels of ZOC to counter its opposing skill, Null ZOC. If a unit with Null ZOC attacks a unit with ZOC, then the Null ZOC unit ignores ZOC unless the ZOC skill is at a higher level. This does mean that a maxed level Null ZOC cannot be stopped, but I'm not sure that any enemies actually have that.

(It does make Null ZOC an incredible pain in the ass to use, though. How much is enough? Well, you can't see enemy skill levels...)

Margus has one level of ZOC for now; it'll be a while before we have to worry about Null ZOC with any frequency, so we can afford to wait.

He picks up a level of Stand Fast while we're here.

(Lion Rage is an activated ability that increases attack and decreases defense.)

Kay picks up a level of Frontal Blow because he has nothing else worth learning. That is, unfortunately, why he's not going to stay on the team. Look at his skill list.

Kay has good stats. Sure, his attack and defense are strictly average, but his movement is very high in a game where that matters, and his growths, while initially low, catch up when he promotes -- and his second Promotion has the best stat growths in the game. Next-to-best attack, the best defense (equal to Margus), nearly mage-level magic. His OB is bad, but most OBs are bad, and there's the potential for situational utility. What he does not have is good skills, and skills are what really matter.

Do you see the three skills he has now? These are the only worthwhile ones in his first class. The two he has yet to learn Adamancy, which reduces penalties when Hurt if it's equipped when the Unit is killed (and you know a character is good when their death is a factor you plan and prepare for), and Eternal Rage, which has a "could have mattered" counter going now.

His next promotion has three: Invoke Life, Frontal Fury (reduces counters when attacking from the front), and Duelist. None of those are exceptional. Duelist is good, yes -- but when I say Duelist is good, I say it's good for people that are not Kay. If a character is distinguished by their very large move score, they are not very well-suited for an ability that activates when they hit one and only one target.

His final promotion has three: Null ZOC, Stand Fast, and Magic Guard. Now, admittedly, the first and last are very good, but Stand Fast is notable for being something that Serdic and Margus started the game with. It's a very basic skill. Getting it at level 36 in a third class is a joke.

Kay can't even fill all 12 slots with worthwhile options, and the eight to nine I'd recommend aren't even very good. Serdic or Margus, meanwhile, will be struggling to pick only twelve. And, again, Seals. Promoting him means waiting longer to promote a better character.

Selmer can now learn the basic Fire spell Fire Raid, which is White Dust but short-ranged and therefore useless, and Ignite Lore, which attacks in a diamond-shape around the caster that goes 2-4 tiles out in all directions, including diagonally. It has friendly fire and it is very awful.

There is another skill, however, that requires mention: Defender. Support skills only last until the end of the unit's turn. This, in effect, means that it only lasts for one one movement string and all attacks during that string; there are no ways to get two turns.

Defender is a Support skill that raises your defense. Think about that.

Yeah. The less said about Defender the better. It is the only skill I would consider actively detrimental for a character to possess, because it's utterly useless but it sounds useful.

Selmer won't be coming along this time. We can do Errands now and he's not very useful, so he's best applied to Questing and to shopping. This leaves an empty formation slot, but we'll survive.

Sasha has learned Adamancy, which I ignore, and picks up a level in Daredevil, a new skill that decreases defense in exchange for increasing attack. I don't intend to let her get hit, and Margus's shiny new ZOC makes that fairly easy.

Marie has the +magic and +MP skills, White Light, and two holy spells. Testament is not good, and you probably won't use it. Marie can barely fill her skill slots, though, so you may get it anyway. Next!

(The difference between Marie and Kay is that while she may not have a lot of choice, she does have several impressive tricks in those few slots, plus her innate 10% MP regeneration. You don't need variety or choice if you're good enough at what you do.)

As mentioned, Ansom is out doing Card Quests, and we'll send him out for another one during each of the next five maps. The first map where you can use him with his six Card skill is perfect for it. I'll talk about his skills once he's ready.

If nothing else, it's a good handicap for now. Look at everything I'm doing until Ansom rejoins us and think, "and by all rights, it should be easier than this." It'll be very firmly pointed in the other way once he does rejoin, though.

Item-wise, Serdic gets the +9 amulet from the last map's rewards and Margus gets the +11 amulet. Not much happens otherwise.

We're off!

The stage immediately begins with dialogue.

Well, it can still be salvaged. The assault on our allies, the Ga tribe, by their allied forces is excuse enough to take Serdic! Kill anyone who resists!

What about the civilians?

Everyone here is under suspicion of assisting the Bretwalde army. Do whatever you want with them!

Aye aye, Boss!

In the parts that follow, Ansom, Kay, and Margus only say their lines if they're present. You need both Margus and Kay for that conversation to fire.

Jaglat apparently got a messenger out. What a pain... even in death, he's a thorn in our side.

Their standard is the red lion... Could this army be...?

Do you know something, Margus?

That's the Third Division! It's Clotho the Red Lion's troop. She's one of the Empire's four Grands. They're a ruthless bunch that shows no mercy to anyone, not even civilians.

I wish they put a bit more effort into explaining why these random civilians are here. It's pretty transparently an excuse for a "protect these random civilians" mission.

This isn't the last one, unfortunately, but this one isn't too bad. The reward is difficult to get and incredibly minor -- if you miss it, don't worry about it. I normally wouldn't bother, but what sort of LP doesn't show this sort of thing off? We're going to do this right.

This objective lies; you don't need to protect them. You don't need to do anything at all, really. Out of curiosity, I tried putting all of my units on the bottom row and just sitting there. About half of the civilians were brutally murdered, but then we just left. No one really commented on the murder either. Then, later, when getting the Ansom conversations, I decided to try to get all of the civilians killed. You can totally do it! Just block the entire bottom of the level. Every single one of them died and no one so much as blinked an eye.

(The map gave me an Overwhelming Victory both times. Yep. Serdic wins by doing absolutely nothing! )

If you don't want the prize, then ignore them; there's no reward for partial success. For all intents and purposes, you can only lose this map if you're charging Serdic deep into enemy lines, which is "trying to lose" territory.

You might recognize this map: It's the map where Marie was kidnapped (minus the broken carriage). The northern-most group will not move until a triggered map event, while the rest will move from the very start.

Note the MC. And the Move. And the HP. And the straight ones for stats.

They will die in one hit, and you're not going to convince the enemies to attack anyone else. They also move at a snail's pace.

For civilians to escape, they need to reach the bottom row of the map. Any tile will work. The civilians are apparently humanoid trains, grafted to a linear track. They will always go around the trees to the right and down, regardless of their initial position. If you blocked all of the tiles on the most direct path, they would stand there and wait for the enemy to murder them. They are morons.

Or they're just mortally afraid of grass, which raises questions about their initial position. NPCs are weird.

Four conversations on this map. One of the nice things for you, the reader, is that there's a good number of conversations every map, even after characters have been in-party for a while. It helps keep the game from experiencing what I think of as "The FFT Problem": When a game isn't sure whether you have a character, or whether you've kept them alive, then it becomes very reluctant to involve them in the plot. Rondo of Swords still tends to stick to mandatory characters in story sequences, but take Sasha, for example. She's a relatively minor character, but she still has about fifteen map conversations, which serve to develop her, develop her relationships with others, or show her reaction to the plot. We've seen about half of them by this point, but she'll still be having occasional conversations here and then.

(Okay, it's nice for me too, but you get to read it without having to type it out afterward.)

They're the Third Imperial Army Division. Their leader's a woman called Clotho, the Red Lion herself. She used to be a bandit. She's the only one who can keep the savages under her command in line.

The Empire's using such people as regular troops?

Kay almost certainly means "regular" in the military sense.

Remember, they weren't always this powerful. They'd accept any warm body to increase their ranks. Yet somehow, they managed to defeat us...

Hmph. We wouldn't have lost if they hadn't used such cowardly tactics!

Their lust for conquest frightens me, I admit. I wonder how far they'll take it...

It doesn't matter what they do. The Empire is no threat to us!

...I think you're repeating youself, my friend.

I think Kay knows he's under player control now. Margus, however, continues to observe the fourth wall.

It's not your fault, Marie. I no doubt overstayed my welcome... Let's both leave here as soon as we can.

Yes, elder brother.

This is possibly the most pointless conversation in the game.

These conversations involve Ansom, so they took place in an
alternate reality! (For a moment, I was afraid I'd have to do chapter 5 again to check for these conversations -- if a character goes out on Errands, that's it, you can't change your mind and recall them. It's much faster when you're not screenshotting and transcribing it, but regardless...)

Those bastards... How dare they attack Shalem?

Please calm down, Young Master.

If I give myself up, the Empire should be satisfied. You should escape with

I suppose widespread education in history requires substantial technological and societal advancement, but... How many countries does an Empire need to conquer before you decide that maybe they really like the conquering thing? Because Grand Meir has probably conquered that many. Some people build model trains, Emperor Gauss conquers nations.

I can't do that!

Are you saying that I should stand by as the Empire stamps its boots across the land my father loved!?

As long as the people of the Na tribe remain, the wounds can someday heal. But the only one left to lead those people is you, Young Master. It's the same with Bretwalde. So long as Prince Serdic survives, they will be able to rebuild. Giving yourself up is the surest way to see Emir Darsin's land destroyed, Young Master.


Besides... I never want to feel that way, ever again. Please let me stay by your side...

...You're right. It would be irresponsible of me to die here. Given the choice, I'd rather live and be miserable. Right, Sasha?

Now you're sounding more like the Young Master I know.

I like pretty much all of the retainer characters in this game. They're just so competent, and secondary traits never overwhelm that -- no matter how she feels about Ansom, Sasha ran and got the word out when he ordered her to back in chapter 4.

Next conversation.

I can't believe the Red Lions would come here.

I'm sorry, Ansom. Because of me...

Don't apologize so much, Serdic. It doesn't improve our situation. Our chief concern right now is the villagers. I need you to help me save as many of them as I can.

Of course.

The order for map movement is Ally, Other (yellow), Visitor (green), Enemy. This map probably wouldn't be possible if enemies moved before visitors.

All in all, this map took me three tries. The first reset was spent discovering whether I could just kill everyone. Answer: Mostly, except for one heavy infrantry (guy with the hat). I just didn't have enough people. I expected it'd take me a bit of experimenting to figure out a way around him.

Then the heavy infantry moved to a spot where he was no longer a threat in later runs.

The second reset (bringing the total to three) was due to an inopportunely timed counter. It happens.

Anyway. The top-left scout in these shots will attack Serdic and then run north, since he can't reach civilians. Margus can't really attack anyone, and he's overleveled anyway, so he just moves to prepare for later events. Marie can't do much yet if there's no one to heal.

The Heavy Infrantry tries to hit Sasha. She is having none of that.

(It wouldn't have been a problem if she was hit -- it'd do 70 damage, but she would live. It does continue her "undamaged" strreak, though, which is kind of neat.)

Sasha hits the Heavy Infantry (who is at full health) and runs south. He has five move, so she's safe, and he can't hit any of the civilians.

Kay and Serdic don't chase the Scout that ran north -- Clotho's group moves once either 1) a certain number of turns pass or 2) you kill all of the Scouts. If we did that, the person who chased would die messily.

Serdic kills the Scout the next turn. His OB is stronger than a normal attack, and we'll be in close quarters; odds are that he can hit something with it. Giving him the kill gives him the meter.

Now that the Scouts are dead, we get an event.

I-I'm sorry, Boss.

Looks like it's up to me, then.

Bring forth Lady Clotho's sword!

Isn't the cliche that the former ruffian disdains all of the trappings of nobility? She's pretty clearly happy with it now.

Anyway, let's look at her troops.

Despite apparently being important enough for a portrait, the Heavy Infantry is the same as any other. Ignore him.

So if he has an axe, he's a Swordsman, but if he has a Sword, he's a Linesman? What are your electricians called, then? Axemen? Imperial occupations are a strange and baffling thing.

Anyway, the majority of the men "who install and maintain electrical power, telephone, or telegraph lines" are level 9 and lack skills. The ones to Clotho's left and right are special. Sprint increases movement by one to three tiles, depending on your skill level, and Foresight increases evasion. It's definitely enough to make a difference.

None of them are very scary, honestly. The main danger lies in their number and their high movement.

Clotho is more impressive. She's picked up a few amulets, her movement is high, and her attack is servicable. The real danger here is Vital Strike, which increases the rate of critical hits, on top of her base critical of 10% and the Red Ring's additional 10% -- remember, critical hits do 1.25x damage and ignore defense. We're going to be hurting if that happens.

When the last of the civilians escapes, Serdic speaks up.

It's dangerous to remain here any longer! We've got to escape this battlefield!

At this point, the objective screen pops up again with "escape," a yellow objective marker appears at the bottom, and anyone who touches the bottom line of the map will escape, just like the civilians.

If you do:

And then the map ends.

We won't be doing that, obviously. That's boring.

My. That's... rather a lot of enemies. At least Rondo of Swords makes that less of a problem than usual.

Really, winning this fight comes down to two things: Levels and ZOC. If everyone is of an appropriate level, especially Margus, then you just need to avoid screwing up on placement. Their numbers aren't especially big, despite their advantage in number of units. Just play it cool and you'll be fine.

Serdic attacks. His first two targets dodge -- they're the nine-move level 12 Linesmen. That Foresight ability is being a pain in my hide...

Kay's turn is more problematic. Notice the bit of health vanishing between the screenshots? Kay was supposed to finish his turn off on the upper right. You'll notice that, in the next screenshot, I've killed everyone to Margus's right. Because of ZOC, and for reasons I'll soon explain, that allows me to protect the rest of my team. Kay getting countered (again; he was the "got countered" reset earlier) fucks up that plan. He dies at the end of this turn, because he's an easy target.

(voice only, no text) I'm sorry.

Now, I could reset, but the next map is not especially difficult, and that makes it a good opportunity to show off Hurt. I'll regret it soon enough, I'm sure.

Sasha's positioning means that none of the enemies to her right can attack her at the same time as anyone else -- they can't backtrack, so that one-tile space is effectively impassible. Clotho can only hit Sasha if she sacrifices her ability to hit Margus, and he has a higher MC.

(Incidentally, I could have moved Kay over that way as well, but that'd put two people in Clotho's path, and that would have changed her priorities. Can't afford that, and it's safer behind Margus anyway. ...Would have been safer. Stupid Kay.)

(ZOC actually has its own animation -- normally, when hit, Margus simply staggers back. With ZOC, he takes the blow on his buckler and stands his ground. The blocking animation is probably reused for nomral non-ZOC counter-attacking.)

There's an important thing to note about ZOC and positioning: Enemies do not consider ZOC when drawing attack trajectories.

This means that the best way to use ZOC is to position the ZOC-user in such a way as to allow enemies to easily include them in large attack patterns, preferably as first or second. They'll run right into the user and end their turn early.

Look back at the left side of the last set of images. See how Margus is between Serdic and every enemy? They want to attack Serdic by going through Margus, so they hit Margus and bounce off.

The other benefits of ZOC? Well, since they bounce off of the user, generally arranging themselves in a circle, it makes it easy to attack in large groups. And sometimes, when they bounce off of ZOC, there's a nasty side-effect:

Crazed status infliction. 70% to stats.
(Man, now I feel really silly about not remembering this was a thing in the first chapter)

These two effects synergize incredibly well -- not only are enemies clustered together, Crazed can weaken their defenses, making it easy to tear large groups in two. That's without even considering the defensive ability, especially around any type of chokepoint. Even without them, careful manipulation of team placement will allow you to effectively create chokepoints, even in wide-open areas.

This is why you will never, ever drop Margus. Doing so is an incredibly massive blow to your tactical options. Even ignoring his impressive defensive abilities and fantastic set of skills, ZOC is the game's most powerful skill. There's a reason the developers were so very careful about handing it out. When you take all of that into consideration, Margus is probably the game's second-most powerful character, and his early availability and ridiculously quick learning of ZOC makes him easily the most useful.

Right now, we need that incredible power. I don't think you can do this stage like this without it.

(Two interesting facts: 1) You can counter as normal after ZOC. 2) ZOC works even if the enemy misses you. Somehow. I might endeavor to see what that looks like with the second ZOC-user, provided we get him during this run.)

Margus is just about dead after taking all of those attacks, but that's what Marie is here for. Her healing isn't very powerful right now, though; going to have to get level 2 Cure Drop after this map. (Compare a few screenshots down and you'll see it's about 70 HP. We probably need to get Cure Drop 3 soon, but 2 should be servicable. Shame that it's 10 MP more every level.)

Clotho managed to inflict Leak on Margus, thanks to the Stigma skill. It's basically poison, but I'm not sure of the exact percentages involved.

Sasha attacks Clotho, triggering this line. There aren't many "boss conversations" in the game, and fewer still are character-specific. The ones that are tend to be obvious.

Serdic follows it up with a level 1 Brave Ray.

Margus finishes the job.

Sadly, she no longer drops her Red Ring. The Robber Proof is the higher-tier thief/rogue type promotion item. If we find two Thief Proofs, we can promote a thief... As soon as we get one, anyway.

This is Margus's health after being healed. Should have given him another amulet (or leveled up Cure Drop instead of Invoke Mind, like an intelligent person). Good thing Clotho didn't crit.

The rest is clean-up, really.

Damn straight.

Bullion are vendor trash -- sell them for money. They come in multiple sizes with different worths, and they don't do anything else. (It's not much money, unfortunately -- around 600 gold for Bullion.) Odd Fruit reduce MC by 10 when used.

Best example of semi-randomized rewards: The "do nothing" completion of this stage gave me 3 bullion instead. The exact number of certain items is semi-random, at least so far as I can tell -- if I did the stage the same way multiple times, I'd get different results. I won't save-scum this, though. I get what I get.

Though I doubt I need to say that -- you already see that I'm accepting a certain threshold of stupid deaths.

If you save all the civilians, you get this. The Angel Medal restores 5% HP every turn. Margus has the most HP, at about 400, and that's still only 20 HP.

I'll probably put it on him, but that's because amulets are limited right now. When I get more Margus is going to be wearing them on every square inch of his body.

Amulets amulets amulets.

That's it for this map! No after-map dialogue either way.

Resets so far: 3 (+2)

Next time: The Wise Bandits