Part 6: Semester 6 - Exothermic Macrobiology
Last time on Shining Force Bare Minimum, we made it to the far continent and only crashed our boat twice doing it. Now, before we go knocking on Runefaust's front door and head for the Gate of the Ancients, we've got some mystical artifacts to secure.
Jeffrey, being an RPG hero who doesn't know the difference between a bed and a hospital, awakes from nearly drowning with no permanent damage.
Rudo's gimmick is that the entire town is populated by children, with the exception of a single old person and the shopkeepers. The most important villagers are two sisters named Krin and Karin with identical sprites who sit in opposite ends of the same building, reachable through different doors. Whenever we have to advance the plot in this chapter, it always involves running back and forth between the two of them until one of them says we're free to leave town.
There's also a centaur in one of the towers to avoid, and a Healing Seed and a Holy Staff to loot. Shirley gets the Holy Staff, but she can't use it yet. The game is getting increasingly impatient with us to promote our characters and will be throwing high-level weapons at us until we get the hint.
So, once we get permission to continue the game, we'll start working on getting our next Level 20.
The last battle of the previous chapter was the last appearance of enemies that can poison us, and I took the opportunity to let Britta get poisoned. The beginning of this next battle is a nice, controlled environment, and none of the enemies will attack until we provoke them, so, assuming I don't, Britta will take a predictable two damage every turn until I decide to cure her.
(Shirley gains 3 SPD, 4 MP, and HEAL 3)
Healing always earns at least 10 experience, no matter how little you heal, so controlled poison makes a good renewable resource for aspiring healers.
(Shirley gains 4 levels, 2 ATK, 1 DEF, 3 SPD, 6 HP, 7 MP, and AURA 1)
Welcome to my second chosen grind point. Shirley's got about enough MP to gain one level every time I reset the battle, so getting her the rest of the way to 20 doesn't take too long. On her last level, Shirley learns Aura, a mass healing spell that will see a lot of use.
(Troy gains 2 DEF)
Meanwhile, I have the birdmen fly around and scout. The closest enemies are three Artillery, and, while they don't slow down in rough terrain like most units, they also can't keep up with flying units.
However, when I get too close, three Worms and three Master Mages pop out of hiding places in the forest. This is a nasty ambush, as the Mages appear right in your face, and any land unit will have trouble getting out of spell range. The birdmen, though, can fly away without incident, and, next time I reset the battle, the hidden enemies are still visible.
Next time, I have the birdmen fly south around the enemy and discover a second ambush, five Golems in the mountains. These enemies are strong, have high Defense, and also aren't slowed by rough terrain, so getting surrounded by them is a distinct likelihood.
That's all there is to find. We head back to town, Shirley gets promoted to a Vicar and equipped with the Holy Staff, Britta gets cured of poison, and we're ready to fight the battle properly.
We've already seen the gimmick of this battle -- rough terrain combined with tricky ambushes. I can't overemphasize how much safer the battle is after having tripped everything in advance.
(Annie gains 1 DEF, 5 HP)
Most of the enemies on this map advance based on proximity. By standing just outside of their movement plus attack range, as we did in the desert in Chapter 2, we can draw the enemy out of position and eliminate them before they attack.
(Fat Neil gains 1 ATK, 3 DEF, 1 HP)
(Abed gains 2 HP)
The Artillery don't get off a single shot.
Worms, like elves, can move at full speed through forests, and thus get drawn out a little before the Mages do. When I move up to take out the Worms, one of the Mages starts advancing, and when I move up to take out the Mage, a Golem charges too. The only way to avoid this is to retreat every time an enemy attacks and kite them away from the group, but I'm confident that the Force is strong enough to take out one wave before the next arrives.
I don't know if this was intentional, but all the Master Mages in the game seem to have the regenerating health boss flag turned on, even the ones that show up as regular enemies.
That one Golem reaches us and demonstrates why getting ambushed by five of them would have been a bad time. Golems are strong and their Defense is only made worse by the 30% Land Effect throughout this map.
Here's Aura in action, and you can see what makes it so great. Aura 1 only costs 7 MP, but can heal up to 5 targets at once. If we take the time to clump the Force in a neat little cross, it's like five casts of Heal 1 at less than half the MP cost, which is great both for efficient healing and efficient leveling.
(Jeffrey gains 1 DEF)
We go back and forth with the Golem for a while, but Jeffrey finally finishes it off. It's times like these I wish I had spellcasters.
(Annie gains 1 DEF, 3 SPD)
The remaining Mages aren't difficult to out-maneuver, but the remaining four Golems notice us from very far away.
We're not in the best position when they arrive. Still, the rest of the Force is taking much less damage than Jeffrey at this point. It's really past time to promote him.
(Fat Neil gains 2 DEF, 1 SPD, 4 HP)
Maps like these are also why it's a good idea to keep a spear on every centaur. With their movement so limited in rough terrain, they often won't be able to get around to the front lines if they're stuck behind a teammate.
(Shirley gains 1 ATK, 4 DEF, 2 SPD, 4 HP, and HEAL 4)
The game doesn't announce that Shirley has learned Heal 4; strictly speaking, she was supposed to have it last level, but there's no mechanism for gaining spells during promotion, so the game is playing catch-up.
(Britta gains 1 ATK, 3 DEF, 1 SPD, 2 HP)
(Troy gains 1 ATK, 1 DEF, 1 SPD)
Most of our attackers are doing between 1 and 4 damage, so staying in formation is less important than focusing all our fire on one target at a time. Eventually we chip the last Golem to death.
After healing, we use Annie's range to take out the last Mage from a safe distance, then gang up on the Artillery. Enemy physical attacks are starting to outpace magic, so soon Mages won't be quite the priority targets they once were.
The last enemies are a Durahan (a mistranslated Dullahan) and a High Priest, the next tier of healing enemy, bunched up in the corner of the map. The birdmen head around the edge to take out the healer, and I make use of the rarely-useful Select button, which hides the UI elements so I can see what the hell I'm doing.
See what I mean? I'd rather be hit with a Freeze right now.
The Durahan has about as much Defense as the Golems, but one round of attacks is still sufficient to bring down a single enemy.
And the way is clear. I could have left that last enemy behind, but we're beyond such crass tactics now.
After the fight, I head back to Rudo and buy a second Steel Sword, even though I still can't use it. I also remember that there's a new lance upgrade which would have been useful against those high-defense enemies, so I buy two of those. Pierce doesn't get one, because of reasons.
That done, we head back to lovely, desolate Dragonia, where the Manual of the Seal is hidden. Grabbing that before Kane will prevent Dark Dragon's resurrection, apparently. Too bad the place seems deserted.
The loot here is a Broad Sword, a Halberd, and a Shower of Cure. The Halberd is the strongest normal lance in the game, and casts Bolt 1 when used as an item for a little extra range and versatility; it goes to Pierce, whose lance I sold back in Rudo, almost like I knew this was coming. Jeffrey takes the Broad Sword, which he still can't use, and passes the two Steel Swords to the birdmen, who still can't use them.
In one of the buildings, we find a baby dragon, more afraid of us than we are of it. We chase it downstairs to find that a Runefaust Knight has kidnapped either Karin or Krin (it really doesn't matter). So the dragon breathes fire on it and kills it (you don't miss much, the animation is just the screen flashing red).
And, after a brief pep talk, our ninth member joins the Force!
Chang the Dragon is seriously one of the better units in the game. Strong Attack, enough Defense growth to compensate for no Land Effect, plus flight for superior maneuverability. Giving him a movement-boosting item like the Mobility Ring brings him from good to overwhelming and lets him keep up with the birdmen to form an unstoppable tactical squad. He starts only one level away from being eligible for promotion, which is a trap -- while the game has been encouraging us to get on with promotion for a while now, it's important to get Chang all the way to 20 first, and here's why.
Study Guide - Unarmed Characters
A handful of potential Force members in this game can never equip a weapon, even after promotion, and most of them, including Chang, are intended to be front-line fighters. These characters are compensated for the lack of equipment by enhanced stat growth, particularly in Attack. This can be a blessing and a curse. If you are diligent in keeping unarmed fighters current with the rest of the Force, their growth will be more consistent than fighters who have to wait for the next tier of equipment, and they will overperform when overleveled. However, if one falls behind, it's that much harder to catch them back up. Inventory management on an unarmed character is similarly double-edged; that's an extra space or two for a healing item, a ring, or an otherwise useless plot item, but unarmed characters don't get unique magic weapons like the Heat Axe or the Halberd.
The big issue with unarmed characters is that they suffer more from early promotion. Promoting Chang at Level 10 costs him 16 Attack in the long run, for example, compared to 8 Attack for Jeffrey or 2 for Fat Neil. That lost Attack means significantly lower damage output and slower leveling post-promotion, where the real gains are. It's not a problem for us in this challenge, but it can force some preferential treatment in a normal game. Fortunately, it's not like you'll ever be tempted to promote them early by a weapon you just found.
For now, we just load up Chang with the Power Ring and some other items we can't or don't want to use.
Once we've recruited our dragon, Kane appears and offers us the chance to organize for battle. What a polite villain he is.
When we leave and return, the next battle begins, right in the middle of town.
We start near this group of three Gargoyles, which approach our starting position but hold fast rather than charging us. As we know, Gargolyes aren't as threatening as they should be, and, if we position Jeffrey correctly, we can help goad the Gargoyles into casting Muddle on him on their turns.
(Chang gains 3 DEF, 1 SPD)
Here's grinding spot three of four. Chang starts off with enough Attack to two-shot a Gargoyle, and they're worth enough experience that he can gain two levels every time the battle resets, up until about Level 16 or so. Quick helps take the danger out of the early levels, but he gains Defense fast enough that it's not necessary for long.
In fact, once Chang hits Level 16, it's worth his time to head west instead. This line of four Golems is interesting in that all four of them are programmed to try to hold position in front of the top-most Mage. If I destroy this one, one of the ones below it will walk up to take its place. The Mages and Priest won't move unless I try to sneak past the Golems, so Chang can sit here, out of spell range, and let the Golems come to him in relative safety.
The new tier of enemy Priest knows the maximum Level of Heal. Unfortunately for them, the enemy spellcaster AI will always cast the strongest level of spell that it can, so, even though the High Priest could cast Heal 1 eleven times, it will instead cast Heal 4 once, Heal 3 once, and Heal 1 once before becoming completely tapped out.
(Chang gains 10 levels, 22 ATK, 9 DEF, 6 SPD, 9 HP)
Despite what the cutscenes say, Chang's critical attack animation is breathing lightning, not fire. Unfortunately, this doesn't work the way enemy special attacks do, and Chang's breath doesn't ignore the enemy's Defense.
(Abed gains 2 levels, 2 ATK, 2 DEF, 4 SPD, 1 HP)
Meanwhile, with Chang having moved on to Golems, the Gargoyles are feeling neglected.
(Jeffrey gains 2 levels, 4 ATK, 5 DEF, 2 SPD, 5 HP, 3 MP)
(Troy gains 5 HP)
Might as well put them to good use, right? Quick even lets the birdmen take on a Golem if we're feeling cheeky.
And that's the rest of the Force at Level 20. Jeffrey gets promoted to Hero, Troy and Abed become Sky Warriors, and Chang grows up to become a Greater Dragon.
Note that Jeffrey's and Chang's character portraits change when they are promoted. Only one other character does this, and we'll be recruiting them as well. Chang gives the Power Ring back to Troy, and the three sword-users equip those swords they can now use. Now we're ready for a fight.
Having used them to grind, we already know how to deal with the first two groups of enemies, but don't think that makes this an easy fight. On the other side of the battlefield is Kane, a Mage, a Priest, and two Durahans, and they are what make the fight interesting.
Here's an example from one of my failed attempts. Kane will make a beeline for Jeffrey, and his normal attack deals more than Jeffrey's max HP in damage. As convenient as this battle is for my third grind point, it also means that half the Force is suffering from post-promotion stat depression.
Not that stats matter that much; Kane also has the Sword of Darkness, which casts Desoul when used. It's an instant-kill spell that never works when we use it on the enemy, but of course always hits us.
Anyway, Jeffrey and the birds head north to eliminate the Gargoyles first. As nonthreatening as they are, having them sneak up behind us could still be an annoyance.
(Annie gains 4 DEF, 1 SPD, 5 HP)
Meanwhile, Annie and Chang head west and start sniping at Golems. I hold back the centaurs so they don't get too far ahead of the pack level-wise.
Electricity breath is now Chang's normal attack, not his critical. It still doesn't bypass Defense.
(Jeffrey gains 4 ATK, 3 DEF, 5 SPD, 1 MP)
Jeffrey gets his first promotion level from finishing off the last Gargoyle. It's good, but not enough to survive going head-to-head with Kane.
(Chang gains 2 ATK, 2 DEF, 2 SPD, 5 HP)
(Annie gains 1 SPD, 1 HP)
Eventually, they run out of Golems.
(Shirley gains 1 ATK, 2 DEF, 2 SPD, 5 MP)
Going any further right than the Golems were is the trigger for the enemy spellcasters to move freely, so, if we want to surround them, we have to do it hard and fast. Again, Shirley probably should not be heading into melee, but she's got a boost from that Holy Staff (the strongest available weapon for Vicars) and the opportunity is there.
(Chang gains 3 DEF, 4 SPD, 2 HP)
Chang's new critical attack sends dragon spirits slicing across the screen.
(Pierce gains 1 ATK, 4 SPD)
The dangerous thing about enemy Priests is that they, too, can be equipped with Holy Staves. However, as long as we finish this leg of the battle without any losses, we're in a good position for Kane. There won't be much point in healing once we engage him.
(Pierce gains 4 ATK, 3 DEF, 2 SPD, 7 HP)
The final group won't move until we step on the stairs or damage Kane, so, while Shirley heals everyone back up to full, Pierce and Annie snipe away Kane's flank. We can take out one Durahan and the Mage this way.
Kane's Defense is very high, so there's not much chance of taking him out before he can move. I put Britta in his face because she's the most likely to survive a hit. It would probably have been smart to have Fat Neil take out the Durahan or spear the Priest instead of adding to the damage race; as bad as Kane is, he can only kill one of us per turn.
(Abed gains 3 ATK, 1 SPD)
Instead, Abed flies around and can't quite finish off the Priest.
I put Chang in Kane's face too, hoping he'll prioritize a flying unit over my heavier-hitting Paladins. Sadly, it doesn't work. Ladies and gentlemen, the first death of this challenge (not counting failed attempts). Still, this is a sign of how far we've come -- a couple of chapters ago, losing one character would mean having to restart the fight.
However, my strategy does pull the Durahan away from more useful targets, and the Priest heals itself rather than Kane.
The Priest keeps backing away as it heals itself, which gives Pierce the opening to bring that Halberd to bear against Kane. It's quite effective.
Kane goes for Chang this time, and Chang only barely survives. I don't want to try to take out the last Durahan if it means Kane can act again, so the birdmen manage to chip away his last few HP.
Dammit, isn't anybody on Runefaust's side actually evil?
Still got to find that manual, but first things first. Revival is fairly cheap in this game, at only 10 gold per effective Level (promoted characters count as ten higher than their current Level).
Now that he's not mind-controlled, Kane apparently counts as enough of a hero to help break the seal on the Manual. You know, I'm wandering around with a team of nine heroes that could have done the job, including a sacred Dragon. I guess Jeffery is the only human on the team, though. Maybe the Ancients are racists.
And, of course, it was all part of Darksol's plan to break the seal. I could say plenty about the cliché of the evil plan that only works when a bunch of other evil plans fail just right, but instead let me ask this; Darksol has managed, through might or manipulation, to neuter or dominate the government and military of basically every potential threat on the planet. What exactly does he need the power of Dark Dragon for, that he couldn't manage to do himself?
Anyway, there is an explosion, and Kane and Darksol are gone. Nothing to do but head back to Rudo.
And play Telephone between these two some more. We hear about a sword called the Chaos Breaker that sounds important, and get sent south to Prompt, where another Shining Path sits to replace the one we caved in last chapter.
Oh, would you look at that. Somebody actually evil to beat on. Not sure why we'd voluntarily go to a place called Demon Castle, but we're headed south anyway, so maybe we'll find a reason to swing by.
This fight takes place on that same wilderness map, with all the rough terrain fun it always had. Everything in this map attacks by proximity, and movement will be a major issue. Thankfully, we just recruited a flying tank, and this is a great opportunity to get him and our birdmen up to speed.
A couple of Gargoyles attack right off the bat, but they're not a concern any more. What are worth worrying about are their big brothers, the Belials. They're a little stronger and cast Bolt 1, which is undoubtedly more dangerous than Muddle.
(Abed gains 4 DEF, 3 SPD)
(Troy gains 1 ATK)
Our flying units work together to take down the Belials quickly. Two Bolt spells can kill our birdmen.
Meanwhile, the front lines have to deal with another Golem and a new kind of enemy archer, the Bowrider, who is slinging explosive shells.
(Britta gains 4 ATK, 3 SPD, 3 HP)
(Fat Neil gains 6 DEF, 5 SPD, 1 HP)
Thankfully, Bowriders are glass cannons (the first figuratively, the second literally).
(Jeffrey gains 7 SPD, 7 HP)
(Chang gains 2 ATK, 4 DEF)
The land-based units go so slow through this section. That narrow mountain pass is only two squares wide, and bottlenecks are guaranteed. With flying spellcasters around, that's bad news.
Off to the side of the map is this one Priest, and it's an oddity -- every turn, it moves one square to the right, no matter what's happening around it.
(Abed gains 3 SPD, 3 HP)
Chang can't quite kill the last Belial in one turn, and sticking around to finish the job would leave him in range of the Mage, so I pull him back and let the Belial go after Jeffrey. It's nice when I can count on the AI to do something stupid.
(Annie gains 5 ATK, 4 DEF, 5 SPD, 3 HP)
Annie suffers the same movement penalties as everyone else, but her range still sometimes lets her contribute.
(Shirley gains 11 DEF, 2 SPD, 3 MP)
Post-promotion gains, everyone.
(Troy gains 2 levels, 3 ATK, 5 DEF, 6 SPD, 7 HP)
Working our way down the coast takes more turns than you think it does. Everyone but Jeffrey and the fliers are still running behind, so it's like fighting with a Force of three again.
I don't care any more. I've been hit harder, and I just want to end this slog already.
(Chang gains 4 ATK, 2 SPD, 6 HP)
Finally, the road is clear.
(Abed gains 2 ATK, 1 DEF)
There's a Golem, a Priest, and a Bowrider left.
They're pretty easy to defeat by drawing them away from each other.
A Sword of Light? Sure, that's a good reason to go to a Demon Castle. Why didn't you say so earlier? The bad guys have been stealing powerful artifacts out from under us this whole time, it'll be nice to turn the tables on them.
We could run back to town, but there's nothing there besides more talking from the Wonder Twins, so we press directly on into...
Mishaela is potentially pretty dangerous, as you would expect any respectable boss attached to a plot item would be. This particular plot item fight has a twist to it, although it's not one we'll actually make use of.
The first enemies that reach us are a wave of three Gargoyles. There's as dangerous as Gargoyles ever are.
(Shirley gains 2 SPD, 4 HP, 1 MP)
I keep making that joke about Shirley in melee range and she keeps throwing it back in my face. After gaining 11 Defense with a single level last fight, she's taking less damage than Jeffrey, and she one-shots two of the Gargoyles with her shiny top-tier weapon.
The next wave is three Bowriders, and I let Annie and the air brigade ambush them. Notice that there's a dark square missing from Annie's targeting radius here; some indoor maps have tiles that represent the very tops of walls, and no ranged attack or flying unit can bypass them. Keep that in mind for later in the game.
(Troy gains 2 ATK, 1 DEF, 1 SPD)
(Chang gains 6 DEF, 1 HP)
It's best to pick off the Bowriders this way, or they'll charge around the corner once you pass the stairs.
The rest of the fight is as shown. The twist that I mentioned earlier is that the Sword of Light is in that chest behind the Durahan, meaning we can actually pick it up before killing Mishaela if we want. However, getting the Sword triggers the end of the chapter immediately after the fight, and there's a bunch of other chests around the battlefield we wouldn't be able to loot.
(Abed gains 2 DEF, 3 SPD, 3 HP)
There's only one strategy for this clump of Mages; whatever the fuck you do, do not stand next to other people.
This is the point at which the circling Belials attack. The nearest two typically won't make it into range on their turns.
The straggler sometimes will.
(Pierce gains 4 DEF, 1 SPD)
Oh well, more experience for Shirley.
(Britta gains 4 DEF, 1 SPD, 1 HP)
We can lure the Durahans out by flying across the gap and using the ladder as a bottleneck. I probably should have had Britta one square further back, but it worked out okay.
(Jeffrey gains 8 DEF, 3 SPD)
(Abed gains 3 DEF, 2 SPD)
Jeffrey is finally catching up with the Defense he needs to be a front-line fighter.
(Shirley gains 2 DEF, 4 SPD, 4 HP, 2 MP)
I think Shirley took that as a challenge.
Pierce is the one with the really powerful weapon, but Britta is the one most likely to survive to make a second attack. Sometimes it's a tough call who gets Boost.
There will be a few boss fights set up like this, and it's always worth putting a bird behind the boss for a few extra points of damage.
Here's what makes Mishaela dangerous; Bolt 2. It's a stronger spell than we've seen yet, and it could hit the whole Force if we were polite enough to line up just right for it.
She also regenerates health, but, as long as she's alone, the Force can overwhelm her.
And after the victory comes...
Spoils! In addition to the Sword, we get three new Rings, a Healing Seed, a Shower of Cure, and a Power Potion. Again, remember to take the Sword last.
Unfortunately, playing with our new toys will have to wait for next chapter.
You know what's ridiculous? Shirley's Defense there is actually underperforming. That aside, Jeffrey is finally starting to come into his own, and, while he's a couple levels behind the pack, our new toy will turn that around right quick. The raw stats of unarmed characters is on display in Chang, and he'll be joining Britta on my list of go-to tanks as well as being a top offensive contributor. We won't have an entirely promoted team again in a bit, but it's nice for the moment to feel like we've mastered the game.
See you next time in Semester 7: Varsity Robotics!