Part 4: The Crab StyleAs far as party sizes go, I'd like to throw out props here to Phantasy Star 4 (five characters - either all plot, or four plot + one selectable). Also one of my favorites.
Actually, the fight you're thinking of is some time later. You get the Core Key Sealed for beating the crap out of The Magi, in the Imperial Palace .
1) I didn't encounter the game-crashing bugs or use cheats, but I remember bypassing what was supposed to be a mandentory boss (an entire dungeon, in fact). You were supposed to go beat this thing that lives in lava in order to get one of the two key parts, but for some reason the game didn't make me do that to proceed.
I didn't find it so bad, personally. Not all of the characters act rationally, but they all act plausibly. As for the mysticism...well, I have some theories.
2) The storyline/dialogue irritated me later in the game. I realize almost every JRPG is going to have mysticism, irrational ethics and so forth to some degree - that stuff has just saturated pop culture, unfortunately - but after a point this game just starts shovelling it down your throat.
It's not frustrating, really, and some of the later bossfights are a blast - it's just very slow.
4) Oddly, I don't remember the combat being so frustrating. But maybe I've just blocked the memory.
4: The Crab Style
Last time on Septerra Core: Maya, framed for weapons smuggling by the urchin Tori, leaves Oasis to find him - both to clear her name, and bring Tori to justice before the somewhat overenthusiastic Wind City Guard does.
After spending probably longer than she should shopping, talking to people, and fomenting robotic uprisings, Maya heads to the pumping station...
That ramp is where we need to go, but first, a bit of rummaging around seems prudent.
And it is! We score some wire conduits, bound to come in handy.
After scrambling up the pipes, though, we arrive at an obstacle: a large fan blocks the path. This is in fact Septerra Core's first puzzle, although it's not much of one.
First, we look at that closed box next to the catwalk. Examining it with Maya isn't all that helpful; Grubb, however, can actually get it open.
It looks like a control panel.
Looks like it may control that fan. Let's see if it opens.
If we had something to generate some power, we could short it out.
One would think we could just start flipping switches on it until we find the "on/off" switch, but Grubb's mind doesn't really work that way and Maya is too laid-back to suggest it. Or possibly she just wants to see what he'll build.
I sometimes wonder if Runner originated when Grubb needed a bot to fetch tools for him or something, and things just got kind of out of hand.
How about your power generator?
Perhaps if we had something to connect it to the panel.
Something to connect it? Sounds like a job for those wires we just picked up.
With the control panel all wired up, we add the generator to the mix...
...causing the whole arrangement to explode and the fan to stop, allowing us to run through it and onto the world map.
This leaves us on the pipes, which connect two subcontinents of Shell Two. Running along them brings us to the Desert Pipes. (Below the clouds, you can catch a glimpse of Shell Three).
Here we are in the Desert Pipes. We could just charge ahead, but let's get our bearings and make some sort of plan, because it's the largest area we've yet been in.
Septerra Core has a map built in, although it's not very pretty (being generated automatically from the local collision detection information). It also only shows one level at a time - we can see the tops of the pipes, the ramps leading down from them, and another exit from the area to the south, but that's not enough to assemble a coherent picture of the area.
Running down the ramp and opening the map again fills it in for us, showing us that the Desert Pipes consists of three large areas seperated by the pipes themselves.
Heading north to investigate the cul-de-sac earns us nothing but a fight with two Spider Beetles, one of the new enemies inhabiting the Desert Pipes. They're basically a slightly improved wolf, posessing nothing but a basic claw/bite attack. This makes them good skeet to test our new party members on.
Grubb's casting of Hydro Strike hits a bit harder than Maya's, but is still nothing to write home about. It may be best to just shelve attack magic entirely for now.
His level 3 attack is a bit shinier, but doesn't do much damage - and while he's faster than Maya, he's not so much faster that his damage output becomes useful.
Grubb is, honestly, kind of useless at the moment. He makes a good item user, but he truly shines when using magic - of which we have a healing spell we can only afford to cast once, and the weakest attack spell in the game.
Runner, on the other hand - despite being so slow that the rest of the party has gotten three level-3 actions before he finishes charging - is awesome.
As the other spider beetle finds out to its sorrow.
Heading south gets into another battle with another new enemy. The Unicorn Beetle is even less a threat than the Spider Beetle
It has a spore cloud attack that does a negligible amount of damage, and goes down easily.
Grubb helps take out the unicorn beetle, and Runner one-shots the spider beetle.
You may have noticed that in neither of these battles were the enemies lined up for Runner's beam attack. This is one of the several annoying aspects of Septerra's combat system; when you get into a fight, everyone moves to predefined positions and then fights it out without moving. You have no control over the positioning of your party, so it's kind of a crapshoot as to whether the enemies will be well positioned, and if so, whether any of your characters will be in a position to take advantage of that.
Moving on, we encounter a Shell Crab. This is actually a pretty passive enemy; you can run around in front of it all day and it won't care. As soon as you try to walk past it, though, it's on.
It opens the fight by curling up. Maya and Grubb chill, while Runner charges up for the strike that will destroy it utterly.
Here we see the big strength of the Shell Crab: defence. It has ridiculously thick armour, reducing most attacks to 1 point of damage; Runner's fully charged BeamLance, at 2, is the sole exception. This isn't scripted, so with enough firepower you can kill it quickly, but for now our best bet is just to hammer on it with level-1 attacks.
Before we can do that, though, it charges up...
...and unleashes an attack on Grubb.
In the demo, this would be seriously bad news. The demo version of this attack inflicted Berserk, giving the victim boosted Speed and Power, but causing them to wildly attack everyone, not just the enemy - and at this point in the game, you have no effective counters to it. Furthermore, if it chooses Runner as the target, your party is ideally positioned for him to take out both Grubb and Maya in one shot.
Fortunately, in the full version they toned it down and it merely stuns Grubb, taking him out of the fight for a few turns.
Maya and Runner keep pounding on it, and it goes down in short order.
On top of the pipe, heading left will take us towards the exit. However, heading right takes us to a dead end area, and as we all know, dead end areas in CRPGs have a better than even chance of containing loot.
Upon entering the area, however, we're jumped by these. The green one in the middle is the last enemy type native to the pipes; the Arachnid. It's a bit tougher and a bit sharper than the Spider Beetle, and like the Shell Crab it has a charge attack.
I have Grubb do some magic in a desperate attempt to drop it before it releases the attack, but to no avail.
...and it bitchslaps my entire party. Unlike the Shell Crab's stun attack, this attack is a credible threat and goes off much faster, too.
Between all the bread I've amassed (I swear every single battle in the pipes drops a loaf) and Runner's annihilation cannon, though, the battle ends with no further mishaps.
Exploring further gets us a chest. The Potion is a 200 point heal for the entire party; the Smelling Salts will revive an unconscious character with a small amount of health. The Heartstone is an accessory that protects against poison, which I promptly forget to equip.
All this violence has resulted in Runner gaining a level and learning a new level-2 skill, Fetch. It allows him to steal from one enemy, although it's not all that great - theft in this game only steals gold, and Runner isn't very good at it.
Having done everything worth doing in this area, we backtrack to the ramp and take the left path this time, bulldozing our way through two fights atop the pipe.
If we hand't already explored the middle area, seeing the chest from up here would likely have prompted us to do so.
Checking the map reveals lots of tempting cul-de-sacs, but there's nothing there but more enemies. After clearing them out, we head for the ramp out of here and the last battle of the pipes: an Arachnid and a Shell Crab.
Runner takes a few more hits and isn't looking too healthy, so we toss him some bread.
Hey...doesn't it say "heals 50 HP"? What's going on here?
What's going on is, in fact, Runner being a robot. Most Septerran technology of significant complexity contains biological components, so healing items are not completely useless on them, but Runner (and other robots) will only get half the normal benefit from healing items.
In the future, I'll likely be using Grubb's Repair skill exclusively to keep Runner healthy, at least when they're both in the party.
The crab goes down, and we move to the world map.
Outlaw Canyon is conveniently close by, but the party is looking a big ragged around the edges, so a trip south to the town of Galdon seems prudent.
Galdon is a pretty ass-end-of-nowhere place; the whole town consists of one road and four buildings. The floating animal with the tusks is a Helgak, the standard Septerran beast of burden; more on them later. For now we're only interested in going through the saddlebags for roots (a stronger healing item than bread, restoring 250HP).
Where are we?
This town is cut off from the rest of the Shell...where do you get your supplies from?
You don't wanna know, kid...
Where's Outlaw Canyon?
It's to the east, but law abidin' folk don't go there; and don't say I didn't warn you...
That's all the information we'll get from him, so let's check out the Galdon Saloon.
Inside, a barmaid wanders around, the portly bartender ignores us, and three dudes with pickaxes are absolutely fascinated by the animatronic Helgak ride.
Ok then, we will.
How rude! Well, we'll deal with him later. For now, let's ask the bar's only customers if they know anything about Tori.
Talking to him with Maya again just results in a reiteration of this exchange. Runner barks a bit and shows off his beam cannon, but they are unimpressed. Grubb, however, knows just how to move matters along.
Forget it, Grubb. They aren't worth the effort.
Maya's voice here: weary boredom coupled with pity. At this, Zeke looks at the script file and decides that since both he and Jed have actual names, they're too important to be killed off after only one line each.
Unfortunately for them, Septerra Core just doesn't roll that way. The serving girl runs for cover as the guns come out.
The best part of this fight is that throughout the entire thing, the animatronic helgak ride next to the piano (with automatic Olde Timetm piano riffs) is still running.
The Ruffians - although they have names in dialogue, that's what the battle identifies them as - actually make for a fairly annoying fight. They'll usually open up the battle by casting Barrier, pictured above, which lasts for quite some time and cuts all incoming damage by around half.
They can also stab you in the face with pickaxes...
Steal your hard-earned lucre...
And even inflict poison.
Fortunately, even with the barriers they aren't particularly durable, and it's not hard to keep your healing ahead of their damage. Even if you somehow managed to run out of bread, the roots
Now that we've killed three people in the middle of his bar, let's see if the bartender is more cooperative.
Do you know a kid named Tori?
Sure...he sells stuff in Outlaw Canyon.
Do you have a room for the night?
It's been a long day, and our heroes could use some rest. We can see what the bartender has for sale tomorrow before we set off for Outlaw Canyon.
Next time: ill-advised attempts at toll collection, vigilante justice, and murder.