Part 44: Part H0-1
For our second playthrough, we're doing this Hard Mode style. It's not necessary to get the A Ending, but it also lets us show off the Hard Mode exclusive dungeons as well as a character that's only available through it.
Hard Mode isn't really any more difficult compared to Normal (in fact, it's actually easier). Enemies get no change in stats, and while characters start at level 1 instead of a defined level, it can mean better things because of the Emerald Necklace/Bracelet of Zoe, and the rewards are better, too.
Chapter 0 is exactly the same. We recruit Arngrim and Jelanda, go through the Mountain Ruins and beat up the boss, Freya warns us away from sending up Arngrim.
Chapter 1 isn't that much different, either. This is the only chapter that's shorter on Hard, because there are no Hard Mode exclusive dungeons and we lose one of the dungeons that's only present on Easy/Normal.
We also pick up Belenus and Llew.
They both actually have the same stats at level 1, with the exception that Belenus has 700 more DME. Belenus is actually a pretty good unit, as he functions similarly to Sword!Lenneth with the benefit of a much stronger PWS, with higher base DME. If it wasn't for Lucian he would arguably be the best Swordsman, and he has little competition for powerful longswords anyway.
Llewelyn is Llewelyn. He still struggles to make a name for himself in Hard Mode, being really only useful in Chapter 1 because of his unblockable Aiming Wisp. Layer Storm has some uses towards the end of the game when enemies start getting bigger, but you also have Archers who are generally all out better (Lenneth, Janus, Badrach).
The Forest of Woe isn't available on Hard Mode, so all that's left is the Solde Catacombs and the Cave of Oblivion.
Element Scepter Fire Storms still waste everything except for the boss, so there isn't much of a challenge.
The most important thing really is that the Emerald Necklace is still available on Chapter 1.
The Cave of Oblivion runs us straight into Monstrous Vermin. In case one forgets, they normally only show up on Chapter 7 of Hard Mode.
Luckily, I had one spare Element Scepter that I transmuted into a Tome of Alchemy.
That's a lot of crystals.
That's a lot of levels. My only lament is the potential 300 CP wasted from not having an Emerald Necklace on Lenneth and Arngrim (Jelanda was wearing it), which would have been nice early on.
I'm not even going to pretend it's worth the trouble fighting these without Tomes of Alchemy right now.
Sorry Llew, back to Valhalla you go.
I missed showing it off the first time, so here's his first unique scene in Asgard.
Caught by a wolf, were you? Don't worry, it's not too bad. With this you'll be better soon. Be more careful next time, okay?
A quick note on the recruitable Einherjar. Assuming you're playing on Normal or Hard, some Einherjar locations are fixed - Lawfer, Kashell, Aelia, Lawfer and Suo will always appear in their chapters 2, 3, 4, 5 and 7 respectively, for example. Most other Einherjar are semi-randomly split between chapters 2-4 or chapters 5-6. Jun, Janus, Yumei and Nanami can appear between chapters 2 and 4.
This time, not only do we recruit Lawfer and Jun, but Janus to boot.
Janus tends to be one of my favourite picks for the fourth party slot - with good power, meter gain, archery utility, poison and a solid PWS, his only real weakness is that bows get overshadowed by other weapon types towards the end of the game and Lenneth will likely be getting dibs on the good unique bows anyway. Still, he's a strong unit.
The Dragoncastle Caverns don't appear in Hard, but the Nethov Swamp is still around.
Element Scepter still puts the kibosh on most things.
Our first Hard mode exclusive dungeon is the Salerno Academy.
OST: Black Blinding Nightmare
Most Hard Mode dungeons have a puzzle gimmick to them. In the Academy's case, there are flower vines that correspond to red, blue and yellow flowers, with places in the dungeon that give a corresponding 'scent' that allows us to pass through vines of the same colour. There's a bit of a time limit here - pass through too many rooms, and the puzzle 'resets'.
There are also ordinary vines that have to be slashed through but pose otherwise no impediment.
The first smell can be collected in a pool near the entrance, and allows the passing through of red flower vines.
Further to the right is a capsule of acid. This is what we'll need to permanently destroy vines that we can pass through. We can't afford to pour acid on every vine however, as we need to revisit the capsule with each vine and passing through rooms too many times causes the vines to regrow.
Said red flower vine.
We'll then pour some acid to destroy it, then go back to the capsule to grab more acid.
There's a room that gives us a yellow scent right to the left.
We then walk through a yellow vine, not using the acid, and use inspect this dead body to give us a new scent that affects the blue vines.
The blue vine is in the top right, which we then destroy with the acid. We can then go back and grab the yellow scent again.
Hidden behind a yellow vine is another pool that gives us a red scent as well as a Flame Jewel. Flame Jewels are exclusive to Hard Mode dungeons and are for use in the postgame.
After we collect the red scent, we just head back one screen and climb up this vine.
While understated, the detail put into the Salerno Academy is pretty impressive in this outdoor area.
Finally, it's through a red vine and the save point before the boss.
Die, beast!! Abomination! You are an insult to all natural birds!
The Harpy appears as a regular enemy later on, but here she can be dangerous. While she's weak to Fire and Poison (though one can only exploit her Fire weakness at this point), she has a respectable 12,000 health and gets quite dangerous at low health when she starts spamming Thunder Strike on the whole party. She always casts Reflect Sorcery on herself the first turn, but it's easy to get around by hitting her with physical attacks before a spell lands.
However, if you're lucky enough to get Janus in Chapter 2, it also means you can get the Raven Slayer, which makes quick work of her.
Either way, it's very helpful to get a treasure drop from the Harpy.
Reason is that she drops a Bracelet of Zoe, which is a huge prize in Chapter 2.
The Faim Fenn is an okay sword upgrade for Belenus, with its hidden value being that it always inflicts its maximum damage (most weapons can fluctuate between normal damage and a slightly lower attack power). The Tiara of the Holy Empress can only be worn by Sorceresses and reduces Darkness damage by 50%. The Holy Grail is the best prize - while it can be converted into either 10,000 MP or transmuted into another Bracelet of Zoe, if kept in the inventory, it will produce a Holy Drop every chapter, which is an item that can be consumed by a fighter to increase STR, INT, AGL and DEX.
The Cave of Oblivion gives us these again, as well as a Dragon Zombie and a Harpy (good thing we still have the Dragon Slayer and the Raven Slayer!).
So much experience so early.
There are a few enemies unique to the Cave of Oblivion, one of them being the Two-Sword Fencer.
He hits pretty hard, but otherwise isn't overly special. Element Scepter spells can usually handle him in a round or two.
(He's also purple in this screenshot because Janus Poisoned him).
With the lack of anyone new to send up, I send Jun up this chapter.
If you don't fully max out a desired trait (in this case Leadership), you get a smaller bonus to the Hero Value ('Lead unit well' instead of 'Lead unit perfectly'). Not that it matters, since any Hero values gained in the Sacred Phase is purely cosmetic and doesn't get transferred over if you get the unit back in the endgame.
We'll do the Chapter 3 Hard Mode dungeon next time, as well as start doing some of the preparations needed for the A Ending.
In the meantime, have a viewing of the opening movie (no spoilers in the thread!):
Valkyrie Profile Opening Movie