Part 21: Voice of Darkness (Victory)The major vote of the thread opens up tomorrow. I'll keep it open until midnight EST three days after the post goes live -- that'll let me maintain my buffer more easily, since the strategy from stage 18 onward changes substantially depending on your route.
The details of the choice are very big spoilers, as are the consequences, so I'm going to get a little creative with what you're voting for. I think it'll be more interesting that way. Look forward to it! I certainly am.
Chapter 14.5: Voice of Darkness
(Or, "The Holy Sword Spanta")
For this exercise, we'll be swapping Kay out for Arios. Kay wouldn't do us much good here.
2 levels of Invoke Mind/Invoke Mana/Flame Shard and 2 more levels of Meteor Gate for Arios. Marie learns Martyr 2. In hindsight, I should have taught Margus Revitalize; even Revitalize 1 would have been very useful here.
MP items are distributed out to three mages, Margus gets an HP item for all four slots, Serdic gives Margus his +11 Defense amulet. Margus needs it more this stage.
You've already seen how easy this stage is; I'll skip right to the interesting bits.
This time around, I do kill the two Armors on each side of Igraine. I'd rather not have to deal with them attacking Serdic -- with the +11 Amulet off, they might actually kill him.
Arios one-shots one of the two Armors with Meteor Gate. Keep this in mind. For comparison, Ansom did about 80% of their health. Meteor Gate hits very hard right now.
I actually lost my first run of this stage to a sudden computer crash, so on the second run I knew a few more things and had Serdic kill three Mages to reach level 3 OB. (Count that as a reset if you want, but the counter is only for the main run.) Ansom killed most of the others and both Armors, while Arios and Cotton stayed at full MP.
This is a very carefully chosen formation. The enemy is directly above the last visible tile, letting Cotton cast first turn.
Normally, this would be incredibly easy. Let's compare the Armors that were on either side of Igraine to the eighteen Darkness Armors.
Oh, hey! Their stats are actually lower in every respect! Going by the others, Arios should one-shot them, Cotton should as well, and even if Ansom doesn't, he'll definitely kill them in two.
Nope! That's wrong. The first screenshot is the health of a Darkness Armor after Arios's Meteor Gate. (It's from the first run, if the discrepencies bother you.) The shot after that is the damage from Ansom, with its missing health being after both Arios and Ansom's attacks. The third attack is a level 3 Ansom OB.
Yes, a full round from our heavies would take one of these Darkness Armors down to about half health. And Cotton and Arios can still only cast three times before they're out. And since Cotton isn't doing much damage and she isn't getting kills, she's not going to get any OB at all -- even by the end of the stage, she's still not quite there.
If it wasn't for that invisible modifier on all incoming damage, this would be a much shorter stage. As it is, that modifier forces you to find a way to avoid taking incoming damage. Sure, Martyr + MP regen might make effectively infinite MP, but that doesn't matter if the enemies surround you and murder her.
And they'll do that eventually. The AI isn't stupid enough to simply press all of its units into the front of our group forever. That means some cleverness is called for.
There's no such modifier on their outgoing damage, thankfully. They hit decently hard, but Margus is Margus. Positioned as he is, he'll attract a large variety of the fire. And since he'll inflict Crazed on the enemies when he activates ZOC, they'll do less than this after the first round.
(For the curious, Marie is missing HP because of Martyr. It only drains as much HP/MP as it needs to restore (or to 1 HP and/or MP, if Marie doesn't have enough), but Cotton had a minor scratch... And a "minor scratch" on Cotton is half of Marie's HP. She's fragile.)
The enemies have five movement. If you count squares, you'll notice that they can't actually reach the space behind Ansom this turn, so only Margus is in any immediate danger.
"This turn" being the operative word. They're going to press right into that gap next turn, and once they do, we're boned. You've already seen that every bit of offensive might we have can only reduce a Darkness Armor to half-health. We don't have a second ZOC user. We're not in a position to abuse enemy blocking. Even if we were, observation suggests the enemies immediately to Serdic's left move before any others that might file down below the group. The moment they attack, Marie dies, and with her death goes any hope of winning the stage. This is a bad situation.
Well, normally that'd be true. But these aren't just abnormally tough enemies -- they're the souls of the dead, revived and given form again by the Darkness. And while normal weapons may have very little effect...
...the holy blade Spanta, the sword that banished the Darkness, works just fine.
Yes, Serdic is able to completely bypass the protection of the Darkness, striking for full damage.
This is a throwaway battle you're meant to flee from, but they bothered to both a) program in a special defense (so they're actually as tough as Igraine said without being out-and-out invincible) and b) program in a special exception for Serdic (so as to preserve story consistency), allowing you to c) fight back (in a way that makes you feel completely awesome). You have no idea how satisfying it is to see numbers like that Brave Ray until you've slugged this battle out yourself.
Sometimes, I really, really love Rondo of Swords. Chapter 14 is an excellent example of why I'm LPing this game, both the story of the last update and the mechanics of this one. There's no such thing as an unwinnable battle in Rondo of Swords, only battles where you must be clever.
Strategic use of Brave Ray in this fashion can't quite kill the Armors in front of Serdic, but it's very close. So long as the enemy isn't directly adjacent to Serdic's current position, they can't actually attack. A level 3 Brave Ray will bring the enemies low enough that you can kill anyone that stops in a risky area, buying you time. After this, I kill the two enemies to Serdic's immediate left and move Ansom into the first empty space. There's still one more space to his left, so there's no danger to the party this turn. On their turn, the enemies press forward, creating...
If you reach this situation on the map, then congratulations! This is checkmate. The Armors adjacent to Arios and Ansom prevent each other from attacking, and a level 18 Marie with Martyr gives Cotton and Arios infinite MP, so we can attack them from complete safety. Even if you don't have Marie at level 18, Ansom can do the same thing alone, it just takes longer. So long as I heal Margus every other turn or so, it'll all work out.
Naturally, you'll want to actually kill enemies once in a while. When you do, just kill the enemies immediately adjacent to Ansom and Arios in the same turn. Afterward, the Armors behind them will crowd forward into the gap, returning you to a position of safety. So kill Armors from left and bottom until you're left with one on each side, then start to take out the ones on top, then kill the bottom, then kill the top.
Serdic will be doing most of the damage while Marie continually uses Holy Favor to bring him back to safety. Here, for example, he's doing 300 damage (provided no one counters) -- about 50% more than Cotton + Arios + Ansom combined. If they do counter, then he takes minimal damage and Marie gets a turn free from teleportation duties. This also lets him build OB and fire it off above/below him, killing the enemies located there a little faster.
Now, you might be saying, "shouldn't Ansom and Serdic have their positions switched?" If I used Brave Ray to Serdic's left, then he'd hit Ansom and kill him.
Well, that's true, but there's a reason for this placement.
Remember how I mentioned Holy Favor teleports allies to places based on ZOC order? Having Serdic next to Marie is insurance. Spots number one and two in ZOC priority order are "above user" and "to left of user"; since Cotton won't move, this ensures that Serdic will always return to the spot next to Marie after I use Holy Favor.
(By priority, Ansom's spot should still be higher than any other open space that might pop up... But there's no point in taking chances. This map takes long enough as it is. Also, as a note: Marie's MC is so high because Cure Drop adds around +8 MC every use. Keeping her safe is very important.)
Now that I've explained all of this, I could show you all of the moves that went into actually killing them, but you know exactly what would be happening; there's no point. Instead, have an OB!
Arios's level 1 OB is a 20% reduction to MP costs and affects every ally in a two-square diamond around him. Higher levels affect the same area but reduce MP cost further; I'm pretty sure level 3 is a 50% reduction. (Holy Favor would be 80 MP here, but she has level 1 Arcane Light - 6% MP reduction. They stack additively.) It only lasts the turn it's used, so it's worthless! At least it's better than Raine's, I guess?
Serdic finishes the stage in grand style.
(By the end of the stage, my party had attacked enough that Margus was the only one who didn't have 99 MC and Hero status.)
If you compare with the previous save screen, you'll see that doing the stage this way took 53 minutes. The Darkness Armors are very tough, even with Spanta.
We're now seven for seven on not running from running stages! (I'm counting the first stage, but you may not.) I think we're just about done with them, too, and this stage was a fine send-off.
Resets so far: 8 (+0)
Next time: Mountain Battle