The Let's Play Archive

Rondo of Swords

by Einander

Part 15: The Ark Magicians

Chapter 12: The Ark Magicians
(Or, "Information Warfare")

troops find themselves under attack...

Something I didn't mention before -- this is the fade effect when the dialogue is changing viewpoints.

All set, Elmer?

Sorry about that, Elmer.

I would like to take this moment to remind you that Ernest is 28. Elmer is 13.

...Hmph. Yeah, I'm ready. We can attack anytime.

Then the time is now.


Team configuration time! Kay out, Selmer in. It's not hard to figure out that Elmer is recruitable. More importantly, Alhambra out, Ansom in.

Ansom's skills are a little sparse. He starts with nothing learned and only Charisma and Invoke Life available. I would say that Invoke Life and Sharpshot (+HP / +accuracy, respectively) are the only good skills in his first class. His second class gets Invoke Might, which is a hell of a lot better on Ansom than other characters, and learns Vital Strike midway and Sprint at level 30. His third class learns True Arrows at level 36 (+range), which is essentially the entire argument for promoting him. Daredevil is nice too. Really, the problem with Archers is that there's just not too much you can give them skill-wise; they shouldn't be tanking, they can't hit multiple targets, facing is irrelevant to them... And with Ansom, there's no real point to the "+status on hit" skills he can learn, because he kills most enemies in one hit anyway.

His relative scarcity of skills doesn't matter too much, though, because he has his 6 Card Skill, and that's all he needs. You see, his card skill is a doubling of his attack stat in the physical attack damage formula. The damage formula is (2*Attack - Defense), with modifiers multipled against the result. After getting Ansom's Card skill, it's (4*Attack - Defense). Against enemies with high defense, this means his attack more than doubles, and Ansom has one of the highest attack bases and attack growths. This, combined with his ability to move and attack on the same turn, makes Ansom a potent force for pointing and deleting a single enemy every turn. And this is before he gets Sprint and True Arrows, which combined bring him up to 10 Move and 8 attack range.

That attack doubling is the same skill Alhambra has for her 6 Card, by the way. And she has 11 Move with Sprint after level 15 promoted. And a lot of attack. And Lateral Blow. And she can tank. Alhambra is... yeah.

Alhambra returns her Amulets. Serdic gets the Coral, Jade and Ebon Amulets (+25 defense), Margus gets the Black Ring, Jade and Moon Amulets (+16 defense) and Angel Medal (+5% regen), Ansom gets the Hawkeye Medal and Copper Ring (+5% Accuracy / +2 attack).

I don't teach Ansom anything; his points are best left for Sharpshot, which he'll learn at level 6, and Invoke Might, which he'll learn immediately after promotion. Cotton learns Invoke Mind 2 and Invoke Mana 4, bringing her up to 289 MP. More MP = stronger OB effect, so it's very important for her. She did learn her second spell, Thunder, but I'll pass on that for now.

To briefly mention a weird detail: The effect of any +magic skill is actually applied twice. The spell damage formula is (Pow*3/2-t_eqdef) * (1+3/2*(c_mag - t_mag) /100). Power is strength of the spell used to attack, equipment defense is +defense from amulets, c_mag is caster's magic stat, t_mag is target's magic. +magic skills apply their bonus to both caster Magic and Power. Why? I have no idea. But since +magic skills also boost magic defense, you should make maxing Invoke Mind a priority.

Alhambra Card Quests: 1

The only other available Quest is a Continuous Quest with a bad reward, so I pass. I don't want to accidentally trigger the Atelier Quests, and I'm not going to use Sasha, so I don't send her on a Smith Quest either. Instead, I send Kay off for Training.

He's not going to see long-term use, but he's useful now. May as well get our use out of him while he's here.

Well, that's that. Now it's time for a clusterfuck.

It's just ahead!

If Selmer is absent, Serdic instead says this:

It looks like it's just ahead.

Then this line is the same either way:

This map is a pain in the ass.

This isn't to say it's hard. There's a lot of mages, but they're fragile and not nearly so densely-clustered as Pirate Island. So long as you're not dumb about things and you have Ansom (see previous clause in sentence), you'll be fine. The layout is winding, and the enemies can hit you through walls, but they're not very long-range, so it's mostly okay.

It is, however, irritating. You see, up until now, enemies have been relatively homogenous, and the player has had all of the information needed to plan a strategy (once you figured out Archer and Sniper ranges, anyway).

This map puts a very abrupt end to that. This map introduces, for the first time, enemy mages. (First map doesn't count.)

The mages have a very diverse array of spell loadouts, and all of them have the same sprite. There is some level variation, but this means absolutely nothing! There are level 11 Mages with Fire Raid and there are level 10 Mages with Fire Raid. If you can't remember who has what spell, then you're going to have to open up the info screen, tab over, and look it up. (Even if you are sure, you should probably still check.) Every time and every turn.

This is, obviously, rather sub-optimal for LPing. I'm going to constantly talk about which enemies have what and why I'm doing what I'm doing (this is an update I had to write up as I was playing it -- it'd be incredibly difficult to document this well enough to assemble it from screenshots. SSLP Live Commentary!), but if you want the full experience, right-click on those mage images above, View Image in New Tab (or middle click on View Image), and tab over to one or two of them before viewing any movement screenshot.

And remember how I said you don't get to see enemy skill levels? Spells change in range and AOE as they level up. That White Dust spell could range from 6, 7 or 8 and I have no idea which of those it is. It's probably 7, because all of the skills I've seen have been level 3... But I'm not sure, and that means I'm playing guessing games against an enemy with a range advantage. And I only know that much for sure because there's a Skills guide on GameFAQs!

(For more LP authenticity (TM), open up that guide, look up the five spells in the screenshots above, and memorize their level 3 skill ranges. Don't actually do that, there's character spoilers. White Dust is range 7, Spark Edge and Fire Raid are range 5, Ignite Lore is an AOE diamond of 3 centered on the caster, and Ice Spear is 5 linear. All of these are "probably," mind. If they're level 4, add one range to everything except White Dust; if they're level 5, add two range to Spark Edge and Ice Spear and 1 range to everything else.)

Luckily, four of the five spells have crappy range, especially Ignite Lore. We're going to have to abuse that. There's enemies with White Dust, of course, but that's what Ansom is for.

At the top, you'll see Ernest, Elmer, and Ernest's squad of War Mages, all camped in front of the map objective. The War Mages and Ernest will leave long before you get there; don't bother working them into your plans.

I'll talk about Elmer when we recruit him.

There are two conversations to start on this map.

It was built around an enormous oasis in the Ismael Desert. Its population is said to be higher than Egvard's.

Higher than Egvard's?

Yeah, since there are fewer inhabitable areas in the desert. When people find a place where they6 can live, everyone clusters in that one spot. That's why the Ark is here in Almeria City as well.

That's the magician's academy that Selmer belongs to, right?

Exactly. The magicians of the Ark research magic that'll make people's lives easier. I hear that's why Almeria is so comfortable, even out here in the middle of the desert.

And those are the magicians we'll be up against... Great to know.

Yeah, no kidding.

That's because the soil here has a completely different makeup than other parts of the world. And, er... you have to take into account the sand that inevitably gets into the meal. But... you seem awfully relaxed, considering everything that's going on.

Hey, this is tasty! *munch munch*

Quick, finish your plate.

Th-Thanks you...

This feels just like when I feed Master Arios...

...You feed your teacher?

The first White Dust Mage is here, in this corner near the start. Ansom has just enough range to reach and kill him.

It's worth noting that, due to the usual "run past enemies to attack" system, Archers are working with FFT restrictions on movement -- namely, if you move and Ansom is out of range, then you don't get to cancel the move and move him somewhere else. Make sure you count out his attack range before you move or you'll regret it!

The topmost Mage, the one in the narrow alley, has Ignite Lore. The other three have Fire Raid.

Serdic and Margus move up. Serdic should be able to survive 2 Fire Raid hits easily, and he's out of range of the third. After he takes the hits, Serdic will kill the lower-right Mage, thanks to Duelist, while Margus will kill the Ignite Lore Mage if he moves up. Ansom is going to kill the closest Mage next turn, en route to the western alley.

The aforementioned western alley. The closest Mage has Fire Raid, the one above him has Spark Edge, the one in the nook has Ignite Lore, the leftmost one has Ice Spear.

Cotton doesn't have quite enough movement to be in range for Fire Dragon. If the enemy has spell level 4, they'll be able to hit her. That'll be good to know, and I'm really not worried about her dying from one or two spells -- she has nearly double their magic.

Marie is going with the northern team. Cotton has Magic Time to restore her HP, and Ansom's headed that way. If she moved all the way up, she'd be in range of a level 3 Fire Raid, so I don't. Selmer is going to go with the western team, huddle behind them, and try not to die.

Amulets are a wonderful thing.

Serdic takes two Fire Raid spells. None of the other Mages move, which tells me they're using level 3 or lower spells.

Marie heals Serdic.

Ansom and Serdic kill the two Fire Raid Mages.

Margus moves up to kill the Ignite Lore and Fire Raid Mages on his next turn.

These two Mages have Fire Raid (lower) and Ice Spear (upper). Serdic's going to kill them one at a time. I already know he'll be fine taking a Fire Raid or two.

Cotton moves just outside of the range of the upper mage. Selmer moves into her position last turn, which I already know is a safe spot.

...and here's the first surprise of the map. Cotton is six tiles away, which means that the upper Mage in this alley has level 4 Storm Rave, not level 3. So the Fire Raid is level 3 and the Storm Rave is level 4.

Combined with the Fire Raid that follows it up, it's enough to kill. Do you see what I mean about not knowing enemy skill levels?

(And a little over-confidence too, in hindsight. Look up a few lines, two screenshots before the screenshot of Serdic taking a fireball to the face.)

+1 Reset.

This time, I move her forward one space less. She takes only one hit and survives the round.

Margus has fewer amulets and less Magic than Serdic, so he takes significantly more from the spells -- about 90 from the Fire Raid and the above from Ignite Lore.

(Visually, it's basically just Megido Nova with all of the flame effects stripped out. That makes it one of the very few fire-elemental spells I've seen in fiction where all of the damage is blast wave.)


This event always happens at the start of the third turn, and it results in him leaving the map.

If you were on New Game+ and had 4 +Move rings on Ansom, he still wouldn't be able to reach Ernest before he retreated. I'm pretty sure killing him is mathematically impossible, at least if you're being reasonable.

(You could do that and powerlevel Ansom all the way to Sprint with restarting maps, provided you're completely insane, and there's enough Proofs to promote him. Even if you do, you're still a little short. So you also carry over his Seal and a few more Proofs, powerlevel all the way to his second promotion and True Arrows, and then you'd be able to hit Ernest once. That one hit won't do enough damage without Card Quests. Even with Invoke Might and Daredevil maxed, Ansom doesn't have the approximately 130 Attack he needs to kill in one shot -- he only reaches about 115 on a growth of 7/10 a point per level, meaning you'd need about 15 more levels (because of the 50% Attack boost from skills). But second-promotion Ansom has a critical rate of 10% + whatever Vital Strike adds, so it's possible. Mind, this assumes that he can get there without dying -- the most direct route there, which you'd have to take to pull this off, moves directly through the mages, and Ansom's Magic is awful. I doubt one round of fire will kill him, especially since he could use Invoke Life, but...)

If there's special dialogue or a reward for killing him here, then I don't know what it is, and I am not that invested in finding out. One SSCC was enough.

Unfortunately, Mages have less HP, and that means Cotton gets less OB from killing them.

Ansom has exactly enough Move and exactly enough range to kill the level 4 Storm Rave Mage.

(I don't really like how archer sprites dim after moving but before attacking. It's just one more way that player archer mechanics feel kind of like an afterthought.)

Margus kills the two fire Mages near himself and moves down into this nook. Count it out and you'll see Cure Drop has exactly enough range to catch him and return him to full health.

Ice Spear can't hit Serdic if he's out of the enemy line of fire.

Selmer moves in front of Ansom, since Ice Spear and Ignite Lore are still out of range. Should have given him a healing item... Oh well.

Serdic takes 80 from the Mage he stopped in front of. Level 4 Fire Raid, probably.

(In hindsight, I'm realizing I could have checked enemy MP counts for this sort of thing. Oh well.)

Elmer moves after us. If he wasn't recruitable, he'd be a non-issue -- just have Ansom shoot him to death. (Admittedly, this is now true of most enemies.) For now, know that he has Storm Rave (X-shape from caster, 4-6 range) and Spark Edge.

Serdic has exactly enough Move to kill the Mage and prepare to kill the next while remaining out of Ice Spear range.

Marie heals Margus.

The closest Mage has Ice Spear. The two further away have Fire Raid. Elmer is three squares to the left of the upper Fire Raid Mage. Margus is going to get to play lightning rod.

Ice Spear and Ignite Lore can't reach Cotton if she moves two squares ahead of Selmer... But Fire Dragon has five range, so there's no need to move closer than this. The last bit of risk-taking this stage resulted in a reset.

Selmer moves up towards Elmer, Ansom moves to prepare for killing the lower Fire Raid Mage near Margus. (If he did that this turn, he'd move into Ice Spear range of the one just above Margus.)

Elmer moves to the right of the upper Fire Raid Mage.

Serdic kills his Ice Spear Mage, Cotton kills her Ignite Lore mage, Ansom kills his Fire Raid Mage.

Margus kills the Ice Spear Mage and moves to play lightning rod.

Selmer moves up to Ansom's right.

Spirits, gather before me!

This is a nice little difference from Selmer -- Selmer also calls on the spirits, but Selmer sounds like he's requesting and Elmer sounds like he's demanding. So far as I can tell, they have different voice actors too, or the VA is very good.

Margus takes a 140 damage hit from the Fire Raid mage and a much less impressive one from Elmer.

All of the Mages become aggressive now, moving towards the team.

Fortunately, that gives Ansom just enough range to move in and kill another -- it was 12 tiles away from his starting position (can't shoot through walls, remember).

The square Margus is occupying is both the very edge of Cure Drop's range and the very edge of Storm Rave, which radiates in an X around the caster.

And when Serdic kills the White Dust Mage directly in front of him, he'll be able to drop down and end turn inside of Cure Drop range...

...Assuming the Mage doesn't target and kill Marie instead. Which they... probably can. Wait, fuck.

On the plus side, Cure Drop heals based on percentages, and Hurt status doesn't affect HP or MP. If she's Hurt next map, it won't actually change anything; she'll die in one physical hit either way.

Cotton uses our final Willow to bring herself back up to full HP and MP. She's going to have to charge in and kill one of the two Fire Raid mages, and she only has level 1 OB. (Should have used a Moon Dew instead of a Willow last map. Very dumb of me.)

Selmer moves just below Margus. He won't be in range of anything that way.

Elmer hits Margus for 85 damage and runs out of MP. His positioning is actually problematic now... Margus can't kill the Mages behind him if I want to recruit him, because he'll kill Elmer first.

The White Dust Mage hits Serdic instead. Whew. I was kind of worried. (I did a quick numbercrunch afterward and realized that White Dust is actually weak enough, and Marie's Magic high enough, that it wouldn't have killed her.)

Serdic kills the Mage and Marie heals him.

Ansom kills the front Fire Raid Mage, Cotton moves in to Fire Dragon the second.

Selmer stays where he is. He's still out of range of the enemy, so he'll be fine.

Cotton takes 50 HP of damage from a Fire Raid, Margus takes about 140 from Fire Raid and about 80 from White Dust. Elmer is out of MP, so he very kindly moves out of the way.

The enemies left up there are a Fire Raid Mage (in front of Margus), and a White Dust and Spark Edge mage, plus Elmer. Fire Raid is the strongest of the three spells, so if he survived those two, he should be more than fine against the Mages (so long as he doesn't miss).

He doesn't miss.

Cotton kills the bottom Mage. Selmer moves two tiles forward, staying out of maximum White Dust range, while Serdic and Marie move as far forward as they can.

The enemies know they can't kill Margus, so the White Dust one hits Serdic instead. Margus kills both of them.

Time passes while Selmer moves to talk to Elmer. Marie does some healing.

You know how I mentioned that Brave Ray has friendly fire?

It really does. Yes, you can fire it off even if there's no enemies in the way.

Hey, Marie needs to heal for experience. You're serving the cause of Bretwalde, Margus.

Almost to level 18!

Ansom's OB also has friendly fire.

Sometimes, serving king and country means playing training dummy. Margus endures.

You'll notice that the 6 Card ability only applies to normal attacks -- Basara Flash's base strength is only a little less than Brave Ray, and Ansom is notably stronger than Serdic. Their damage numbers wouldn't be so close if the Card ability applied. So level 3 is only 150% of a normal attack now instead of 300% stronger. I'm not really complaining, though. Remember what I said about this multiplier happening before defense? Basara Flash might have one-shot Margus if the power was doubled.

(The fact Margus would only take about 145 HP of his 500 from an Ansom normal attack is a sign of just how tremendously badass he is. Margus is really, really good, guys.)

Elmer spends all of his time running away. They're playing tag!
Because his AI sees Selmer's White Dust range and is terrified. He can't attack physically either, by the way.

By the way: Kay's OB may adjust itself and only take what's needed, but Margus's doesn't. It'll take up to 60% HP, even if 10% would heal everyone in range. Useful for grinding experience on Marie, annoying otherwise.

Oh, hi, Selmer. I wondered where you disappeared to... and here you are, helping Bretwalde.

Why are you fighting with the Imperial Army?

Because I think that's what's best for Almeria.

Best for Almeria...?

That's right. It's a volatile age we're living in here... the maps are redrawn almost every day. Yet the Ark hasn't made its move. Are they stupid? If we don't do something, Almeria will be left in the dust. So I'm going to fight anyone I have to for Almeria's sake.

And that's why you're going against our master's teachings? Our master said that magic isn't meant to hurt people, but rather to make their lives better. That is what he taught us, no?

"Our master said, our master said." You act like a little kid. Your a magician of the Ark! How about making your own decisions for a change?

This is my decision. If you've chosen to fight, Elmer, then killing me will have to be part of that choice. But I won't fight you, Elmer. I don't want to hurt you.


Ernest pisses me off anyways...

This is a blatant lie. Elmer is perfectly willing to kill Selmer and vice versa. It's usually irrelevant, though, because of the Mages behind Elmer -- charging Selmer in to talk to them will get him killed regardless of what Elmer does, and by the time you kill them Elmer will be out of MP anyway.

Now that he's joined up, let's take a look at him.


Selmer's brother, and a master of Thunder magic. Unlike his brother, he is vulgar and short-tempered. However, he is always polite to his master, Arios.

Card Quest abilities: OB rate +25% (3x), Lightning Magic damage +25% (6x)

In theory, Elmer should be good. He comes at a time just before Marie can hit level 18 and make MP worries a thing of the past, and he specializes in thunder lightning magic. He's the only one to get Storm Shard and Arcane Storm (+damage / -mp cost for lightning, respectively), and the ultimate lightning spell, Magna Volt, has 10 range when maxed out -- tied for the longest-range spell in the game. It's quite powerful and quite useful, and Elmer makes it better. He doesn't learn much else in terms of spells, but he's the first to learn Wisdom Lock (+magic, -defense, stronger effect than Invoke Mind) and he also learns Magic Guard, Abyss Ward and Vital Power (4% HP regen per skill level). Elmer is a pretty good magic tank, given time! He also learns Sprint later, and Cotton certainly illustrates the value of high movement on a mage.

All of that, however, presumes you get him to high levels. And, well, there's an elephant in the room with Elmer. Say it with me now, one, two, three:


I've barely used Selmer at all and he's very nearly level 7. By this point in the game, promotion is very definitely on the table. Margus should be, and Kay and Sasha can be, if you're using them long-term. Probably not Ansom, since he levels more slowly, I still haven't found a second Thief Proof for Owl or Alhambra or Rukia (and the Robber Proof came from killing Clotho in stage 6, which most players probably won't do!), and promoting Selmer by this point would be difficult (and we don't have any Sage Proofs yet). Serdic's promotion is story-based, and Marie and Cotton don't promote. But for the others? Definitely possible.

The most damning part of this all, however, comes in chapters 13 and 14. Each of the next two maps will give you a level 15 Warlock, the second tier of elemental mage. Not only will they be higher level than Elmer, they won't need to be sent off for promotion until it's time for their final class. Both have a wider variety of spells, better gimmicks, and both get Magna Volt at the same time as Elmer -- earlier, actually, when you consider their level advantage and higher Seal Quest priority. (Elmer is fourth from the bottom.)

If Elmer came 2-3 maps earlier, he'd still suffer from Selmer's problems (low level, low MP, low killing power means difficulty getting experience), but the other Warlocks wouldn't render him quite so irrelevant. As it is, Elmer is like Rukia: Very hard to raise, and even if you do, you don't get much out of it. He's a Nino, not an Est.

Speaking of Rukia, there's one conversation that's only possible after you recruit Elmer. I'm working entirely off of a script for this one, because I'm not quite crazy enough to carry Rukia through this stage for seven text boxes.

So you're just a kid...

Who the hell are you?

I'm Rukia. I heard the guy leading the Ark magicians was someone Selmer knew... But I didn't think it'd be his twin brother. To think a kid could do something like that...!

So? Aren't you a kid, too? And what's with the tomboy outfit? You trying to act cute?

How rude! It's no act--I AM cute!

...Uh-huh. Whatever... just stop talking.

Like other stages, defeating all of the enemies will result in the stage ending even without clearing the stated objective.

The Flame Medal reduces Fire damage by 6%.

Resets So Far: 8 (+1)

Now that the map is done, I want to put something to the vote.

Ansom is powerful, but Ansom also isn't very interesting. You've seen just about everything he can do, and he's just going to get stronger/faster-moving/longer-ranged. This makes for an opportunity.

The final party is going to be Serdic, Margus, Alhambra, a healer, and two undecided slots. The next two levels each introduce an elemental mage who joins as a Warlock, the promoted elemental mage class. One is better at short-range magic, like Cotton, like the other is better at long-range and can fill a support role for other mages. They're both quite good, roughly equal to Cotton, and there's strong arguments for using either. Or both, should you not use Ansom!

So this is going to be open for a vote. Should I use:

1) Ansom and a Warlock, or
2) Two Warlocks?

If we go with option 2, I might swap Ansom in at a few points in the future, even after everyone I want is available -- as mentioned, he doesn't really need very much to be useful, and sometimes the "more OR attack" style of mages is a pain to work with. There's one map in particular in the near future that wants you to move very quickly, and Ansom is useful there. However, on most maps, I can work perfectly well with either style.

Please vote for either "1/2" or "Ansom/No Ansom," and bold your votes. You have a little less than 30 hours -- I'll stop the voting at midnight EST.

Next time: The Thunder Emperor