Part 75: Episode LXXV: Punching a CurseEpisode LXXV: Punching a Curse
Music: Atmosphere - Blow Up
We should probably get back to Rog and see if he's done... err...
...What were we waiting on again?
A teleporter to the Neameto Float.
Riiiiiiight! The final dungeon in space. It's a good thing Albert was way off on that seven days thing, huh?
Huh. I forgot all about that time limit.
Heck yeah. Same till just now.
He was way off base!
Tch. He was just doing a big baddie speech and pulled that timeframe out of his ass. They always do that. It's a rookie villain monologue mistake. You gotta throw out a vague declaration like "the end is nigh" or "your doom approaches" and leave it at that. Put a concrete date down and you look like an idiot when it's like... err... how long have we been off farting around?
Nearly two months...
Oh geez, really?! That was maybe a bit much... Whatever! The point is Simon was super wrong and there's no use sweating it! Now... we ready to go do this or are we forgettin' something?
I know I we should probably try to stop Albert Simon but... I am... a tiny bit concerned about the whole... curse thing...
Aww geez! I totally forgot about that!
...Curse? Am I missing something?
Long story. Alice might be... a little cursed.
I thought we took care of her curse back on the boat ride to Shanghai.
It is a different curse.
You got cursed AGAIN!?
Like I said, long story! But yeah! We should probably do something about that, huh?
I... would appreciate it...
Much like Koudelka, Shadow Hearts has two different endings. In Koudelka, the ending parameter was a simple matter of "Can you defeat the final boss? Yes or no?" The final boss, Elaine, was the strongest creature in the game outside an optional super boss. Playing the game normally, it's actually kind of unlikely you'd actually beat the thing. And thus, the "bad ending" where the party gets their ass kicked and James had to sacrifice himself to stop the rampaging monster was the canonical one. Shadow Heart's requirements for its ending rests on whether or not we break Alice's curse before heading off to the final dungeon. It is a wee bit more involved than just grinding to beat a tough boss.
Music: Castle of Silence
Since Calios Mental Hospital got the short end of the endgame sidequest draw by... you know, just having zero sidequests involved with it once the area was completed (outside the rogue Lottery Member) we'll be heading back here to go through the motions of breaking Alice's curse.
This location has nothing to do with breaking the curse. We just need an area with random battles we can curb stomp in short order. Here or the Blue Castle are the easiest areas to accomplish our goal.
Calios Mental Hospital is preferable because there is a bed we can instantly and freely fully heal and restore the MP of the entire party. This will come in handy for the next 90 minutes or so of grinding out random battles. We'll get to why we are doing that in a minute.
So how do we break Alice's curse? Well, do you remember way back when Joshua, the pickpocket kid from the London Rats who later started dabbling in soul trapping fellow orphans, just kind of handed us this mystical grail which he stole from... somewhere? Well, that is the initial prerequisite to getting the curse broken. Given the kind of lackluster rewards in the bonus dungeons, they would have stuck it in there. But no, some ten year old kid handed this plot-critical item to us with zero explanation of its origin.
This offers us a hint on how to defeat the Four Masks Curse. Also, I like the implication the only way this revelation came to light was that the entity Death got completely hammered on devouring a bunch of souls (maybe a nice stock of orphan souls from a good year just sailed through the afterlife) and drunkenly told some guy the deal with the masks. According to this the Grail mask weakens the Gold Mask, the Gold Mask weakens Staff, Staff debuffs Sword and Sword... well, I guess Death just passed out for the evening in a puddle of his own vomit at that point. Don't worry about it!
So with this information in mind, let's get the Four Masks out from Yuri's Mind Palace in the Graveyard and into the material realm. To do that, we must get our Malice meter to the maximum. That shouldn't take too long clowning on the jobbers roaming the halls of this dungeon. Remember, in order to raise Malice in the second half of the game we need Alice to be in the active party. Not that we've kicked her out ever, it is just worth noting.
Anyway, as soon as we hit maximum (red) Malice, then the next battle is...
Music: Thorn of Mind
Are we supposed to know who this... thing is?
It's an old pain in my ass.
That's not really an explanation, sonny boy.
Remember, the Oath Grail said we should go Grail > Gold > Staff > Sword in order of challenging the masks. The problem is that once Malice is maxed out any of the Four Masks can appear during random battles and there is zero way to force the desired Mask to show up. And as you can see, challenging the wrong Mask makes it cast a permanent (for that battle) Judgment Ring Abnormality which makes the fight a huge pain in the ass. So what do we do when the wrong mask appears?
Well, we run the hell away! It's technically possible to defeat the masks out of order. But on top of the permanent status ring fuckery, they get twice as many turns and will often just spam SP Lowering attacks on the entire party so you're forced to scrabble around with SP restoration every other turn on top of everything. It is not great...
Music: Castle of Silence
Then again, neither is the grind trying to get the desired Mask to appear. See the trouble with Maximum Malice the one time we actually WANT it is that only the first Red Malice indicated fight is a guaranteed Mask (or earlier in the game Fox Face) encounter.
After that, it is random when they will appear next during a random battle. It is usually 2-3 fights until the next appearance. I had one after another exactly once and had as much as five fights before a Mask bothered to clock in for work.
And again, there is only a one-in-four chance we'll get the Mask in question we're hunting for each time. It took me nearly forty minutes to get the Grail Mask to finally show up. So that was fun. Mind you, it would have taken longer if I didn't just start savestating on the emulator around when random battles would occur and trying to manipulate a different enemy spawn by running into load zones and what not. The first time I played through the game, doing this questline to get the Good Ending took me over two hours of rotten luck.
Music: Thorn of Mind
But finally, after many, many wasted battles finally the Grail Mask decided to grace us with its presence.
Wh-What is that cup?! M-My strength is...?!
Turns out the Oath Grail itself trumps the Grail Mask. Usually, the Grail Mask would cast a spell that would halve the Hit Area for everyone's Judgment Ring for the duration of the battle. But now that it is mad jacked by this sacred relic we got off a pickpocket orphan, everyone's Hit Area is doubled for the duration of the fight. What a blunder!
The Grail Mask isn't completely helpless. Just mostly helpless. It can still attack party members to lower their SP by 7 Points. Considering at full strength it would lower it by 75%, that's quite the downgrade.
It can also cast Dragon's Cry, which is just a renamed version of the highest level Water elemental spell. This only does around 100 HP of damage to the entire party. After the last few optional bosses, that barely registers.
Meanwhile, Grail Mask only has 1500 HP in its weakened state and the party can trounce within two turns of just purely physical attacks. We don't even need to waste any MP on this clown.
Despite being a total pushover now, Grail Mask counted as a boss enemy and gives appropriate levels of Experience and Cash.
Ah, the western canyon. I've heard much about its stocks of amber. Which western canyon? Don't worry about that.
Anyway, I'll just skip past the next twenty minutes trying to get the Gold Mask to show up again so we can cut to the chase.
Music: Thorn of Mind
You don't have to. We kicked its ass pretty easily.
Gahh! I meant the Oath Grail trinket. There are multiple things named Grail. I made an error.
Yeah, sure you did.
Bah! Face me fools!
The Gold Mask throws rocks at people. That's really all it's going on offensively outside mild SP Lowering. Sadly, we cannot counter-curse it like Grail Mask backfiring. I don't think a reduced sized Judgment Ring has an opposite that can be exploited for a gameplay buff.
Gold Mask does possess immunity to all physical attacks. That's fine.
Demonic laser beams and aerial bombing runs? Not so much.
That's two down and two to go. Who knew the answer to breaking a curse was just to punch the curse caster into submission. I mean, other than the fact that's how it worked with both Li Li's Ghost and Fox Face. Actually, I'm not sure why Yuri didn't start punching masks as soon as he heard Alice was cursed. Oh well, better late than never.
I had to look up what the hell carnelian was supposed to be. Apparently, it is "a brownish-red mineral commonly used as a semi-precious gemstone. Similar to carnelian is sard, which is generally harder and darker. Both carnelian and sard are varieties of the silica mineral chalcedony colored by impurities of iron oxide." Also, it is very fire resistant! If you're wondering, Mt. Jianghou is not a real place. I'll save you a curious Googling if the last twenty lore entries being jibberish hadn't dissuaded you yet.
Moving right along to...
Music: Thorn of Mind
You don't look gold to me. Brown and red, mostly.
I mean you will feel my wrath on behalf of the fallen Gold Mask.
Yeah, I've heard that one before. Bring it!
This guy just has Hellfire as its highest damage attack. It didn't even bother renaming it something spiffy. These masks are really slipping.
Staff Mask is the opposite of Golden Mask -- it is immune to all Special Attack damage.
That isn't much of a problem. Yuri? Still pretty good at punching things, as it turns out!
If you cannot recognize patterns, each of the Masks is dropping a ring that halves a certain element's damage, though not necessarily the element corresponding to the defeated Mask's element of choice. Also, they are making up area names to make them sound more exotic. There is no Ibara Desert either.
One Mask remains...
Music: Thorn of Mind
You OK over there, Staff Mask?
He punched a hole in my face. My eye is connecting to my mouth now...
Heh. Yeah, I did.
You fiend! You will pay for that!
You'd think the Sword Mask, being the final of the quartet, would pose the greatest challenge of the Four Masks. But no... He just does a middling Wind element attack and has no immunities to any manner of our party's attacks.
Needless to say, it doesn't go well for the final mask.
Now while I'm all in favor of bringing back the guillotine and getting down to business beheading some aristocrats, let's maybe not take the clearly haunted and/or cursed ring along with us here? I don't care if it halves Darkness damage. That just seems like a damn liability.
At this point, we've accomplished the first step of this quest to obtain the good ending and can now depart the Calios Mental Hospital forever. But... there is one thing worth showing now that the Four Masks have gotten their shit kicked in. We're still at Maximum Malice and that hasn't stopped the summoning of the Four Masks. Only now...
Music: Thorn of Mind
They're a broken shell of their former selves. Quite literally...
...they have exactly 1 HP. Any single attack will send them packing. If you're some obsessive completionist going for 100% Enemies filled out for the Library because you have to get that
What I didn't mention earlier is that the broken version of the masks immediately replaces the full strength ones in the maximum Malice pool. So there's still a one in four chance of the desired Mask showing up, you just wasted your time further by one-shotting the wrong one every subsequent time. But that's still a wasted random battle that only made the process longer. There are not best design decisions all around tying the Good Ending to copious amounts of RNG bullshit. It's kind of enough to make you want to just skip it.
Music: Graveyard Moon
We are NOT quite done locking in the Good Ending of the game. There's a very easy to miss step that had me very confused the first time I played through the game and attempted to get the good ending.
It is essential that we return to the Graveyard after we defeat all Four Masks. Remember that tiny gravestone that appeared around the time Alice got cursed? Well if we look at it now.
That's definitely what's carved on the tiny tombstone.
That's probably concerning... But now Yuri has knowledge that something is still up with Alice's curse. This might be important information in the very near future.
While we're here we can sort out Alice's Malice build-up for the last time just so we don't continuously get harassed by 1 HP clowns pissing away everyone's time for the final stretch of the game.
That's it for this step of breaking Alice's curse. Tune in next time as we finally return to Nemeton Monastery and see what Roger Bacon has been up to in the time we've been out sidequesting for the last twelve updates as Shadow Hearts continues!