In the last section, I had taken Blak up through the Earth Cave, despite many serious difficulties and a boatload of deaths. The next task was to run the Ice Cave and get the Floater, not something I was looking forward to since it's always one of - no, pretty much THE - hardest dungeon this game, except for the final one. With that in mind, I put the unfortunate task on hold briefly and sent Blak up to the Castle of Ordeal instead. Not to get the TAIL, because he wouldn't be class-changing, but in order to loot some of the better treasures from the castle.
The first desired item would of course be the Zeus Gauntlet, which casts LIT2 when used as an item in battle. Unlike Solo, Blak is not under any variant restrictions on using items as spells (this character is hard enough!) Getting the Zeus Gauntlet would help to free Blak somewhat from the "Tyranny of the Inns"; that is, his need to run back to the inn constantly to replenish his spell charges. The only problem with this little plan, as I found out, is that the chest holding the Gauntlet is trapped with a programmed battle against a MudGol. These enemies are strong against Fire, Ice, and Lightning - which means all my spells do diddly squat damage against them. Therefore Blak died a horrible death the first time he fought the battle. Hmmm, what to do... I solved the problem be having Blak cast FAST on himself and take out the MudGol with his dagger. Would you believe that it worked?
Stabbity-stab-stab-stab! That's the sound of Blak getting four hits with his menacing Silver Dagger. But he did in fact manage to get the Zeus Gauntlet, and that's what matters. Now infinite free uses of LIT2 was certainly very good, and Blak would be making a ton of use of the Gauntlet throughout the game, but there was actually an even better treasure in the Castle of Ordeal for him. Something that would help him upgrade his pitiful armor just a little bit more:
Ahh yes, the Gold Bracelet, the logical upgrade from the Silver one Blak was wearing. Gold Bracelets can be bought as well as found, but not until getting the airship, so this was going to be a big help for Blak in running through the Ice Cave. The Gold Bracelet increased his absorb from 17 to 26, cutting a further 9 points of damage off of every single attack that hit Blak. This armor increase brought Blak up to roughly the level of armor that Solo had been using when he ran the Ice Cave - weak, but not quite pathetically so. Blak got out of the castle and leveled up some more, before finally venturing into the Ice Cave around level 28.
How to describe this next quest? Brutal is probably the best word. It was just brutal for Blak getting through this cave. No individual battle was that bad, but virtually every one had the chance to be lethal. Pick your poison: would you rather be one-hit killed by sorcerors and their instant death attack or one-spell rubbed out of existance by mages? Or how about being paralyzed by any of the legions of undead who could do that and then slowly whittled down to death? Don't forget that there's cockatrices as well to turn you to stone for one-hit kills too! And the Eye, the boss guarding the Floater, has a ton of instant death spells as well like RUB, BRAK, and XXXX which made short work of Blak most of the times that I actually managed to reach him. I died an astronomically high amount of times in the Ice Cave, so often that I didn't take any pictures of the dungeon out of frustration. BUT, eventually, I had a run through the cave where I wasn't one-hit killed, wasn't paralyzed or turned to stone, and managed to kill the Eye with LIT3 before he could kill me. All I can say is that I don't recommend anyone try this particular variant unless they are prepared to spend a lot of time running dungeons over and over again hoping to avoid cheap deaths. It's an exercise in patience, to be sure.
Well, with the Floater in hand finally, Blak could raise the airship and start touring the rest of the world. The first destination was the town of Gaia, where Blak picked up another key piece of armor, the ProRing. This replaced his old Gloves and brought his defense up to 33 (almost respectable now!), but more importantly the ProRing has a secondary function of making the wearer immune to instant death spells like RUB and BANE. This would have been a welcome addition to Blak's armor setup against the Eye, I can assure you! But at least now he would be protected for the future. There was also another spell to be bought in Gaia, the last one that Blak would ever pick up:
ICE3 is the most powerful spell that a Black Mage can learn; it does 70-280 damage on all targets. Unfortunately, as only a Black Mage, Blak cannot learn the ultimate spell NUKE (which would have made his life a lot easier). But this spell was still a welcome addition to round out his arsenel of weapons.
Now that I had the airship, I could run all over the world and pick up useful items that would aid Blak in his quest. The non-linear nature of the second half of this game is another one of its lasting strengths; try doing events out of order in most modern RPGs and you'll find that you can't - that would mess up the intricate cinematic sequences [rolls eyes]. Blak was skipping over Gurgu Volcano at the moment and instead went down into the Sea Shrine to grab some of the items that he wanted. And let me tell you, I had the most difficult time imaginable getting down to the floor with the mermaids and back. Four straight times I would go down and clear out the treasure, then get killed on the return trip by a battle with a series of Waters (who you cannot run from). I realized after the third time this happened that I was getting the same battles each time I ran the Sea Shrine, so apparently the "random" battles aren't entirely random. Hmmm...
OK, time to switch tactics a bit. If I'm having trouble with Waters because I can't run from them, I need to get Blak something to improve his defense. Like... the Defense! I went up to the Waterfall and ran that small dungeon, which proved to be quite easy and was completed the first time through. Blak took the Defense and a Ribbon out of there, then went back to the Sea Shrine. This time I didn't have any problem, and Blak was able to get the gear that he desired:
Now, a word about some of the things that I picked up. The above is of course a compilation picture of two different treasure chests. The Mage Staff is another item with a spell function when used in battle, giving infinite free casts of FIR2. Here in the Sea Shrine it was useless, but it would be effective in many other situations. The Opal Bracelet was the best armor in the game for Blak, a significant upgrade even over the Gold Bracelet. It cut another 10 damage off all attacks he took and increased his overall absorb to 43. The Ribbon that Blak picked up in the Waterfall was another crucial armor, serving as a replacement for his Cap. Now the Ribbon has the same absorb as the Cap (1), but it has an incredibly useful second feature of making the wearer strong against all elemental damage. As I've recently figured out, equipping a Ribbon does the same thing as the 8th-level White magic spell WALL; wearing a Ribbon means you have the spell WALL on at all times! (Conversely, casting WALL on a character wearing a Ribbon does nothing). In practical terms, this means that the Ribbon cuts all elemental damage by 3/4 and along with the ProRing grants complete immunity to elemental death attacks like QAKE (earth) and BANE (poison). Blak was very happy to get his hands on one.
The other items that must be mentioned here in a special section is the Defense, which is actually a sword (and a strong one too). When used in battle, the Defense casts the spell RUSE, which increases the evade of the caster. This appears to be a useless and silly ability, but RUSE stacks over multiple castings. Cast RUSE three times in a row on the same character and they can't be hit with anything other than a critical hit (which ignores evade and always hits). Let me state that again: use the Defense three times, and Blak CANNOT BE HIT. By anything, whether it be an Imp or Chaos himself. Hopefully you can see some of the possible implications and applications of this amazing item. The Defense allowed Blak to re-invent himself as a defensive character, allowing him to refill his hit points on the cheap with the Heal Staff or survive long, drawn out battles that would otherwise be impossible to win. With the Defense in hand, the only real danger would come from critical hits or spell/elemental damage.
I leveled up Blak some more in the Sea Shrine until he was Level 35, as seen above. The Sea Shrine was a great place to fight because everyone was weak against lightning, falling quickly to LIT3 or the Zeus Gauntlet's LIT2, and there was an inn extremely close by in Onrac. At this level, I believed Blak was strong enough to take on Gurgu Volcano so I went in search of the Fire Fiend. The dungeon itself was a joke. Knowing that you cannot fight battles when walking in lava, I simply had Blak walk constantly in the red stuff to avoid random encounters. The lava drains 1hp per step - a big deal for a party of four, but peanuts for a solo character and his 99 hit points. I was at the bottom and fighting Kary within 5 minutes.
Unlike Lich and his weakness to fire, Kary was a problem. Kary is strong against all of the elements, which means that even ICE3 could do at most 280/4 = 70 damage to her (and that was the MAX value). Kary has 600hp, by the way. The first time that I fought her, Blak was killed rather quickly without ever coming close to killing her. How should I do this, hmmm... I considered taking out the dagger and casting FAST, but that was unlikely to do much damage either. Finally it struck me like a bolt of lightning - use the Defense! Once Kary could not hit me, I could take my time pinpricking her for 40 and 50 damage each round. Her only special abilities are FIRE and FIR2, neither of which I was exactly afraid of (the Ribbon would cut the damage from FIR2 to 8-30). Blak walked back down to the bottom of the Volcano in short order, started out the battle by using the Defense on himself three times, and after a long series of rounds emerged victorious by wearing down the fiend. One fun thing about Blak has been devising different strategies for these different situations; he was so weak that a novel approach had to be used for each battle.
with only two fiends to go, Blak went back to leveling up for a while. This usually is a slow and boring process, but was barely any trouble at all for Blak. He could get about 3000 experience per battle by fighting solo in the Sea Shrine, which meant level ups would come about every 15 minutes or so. While in the leveling process, I took Blak on a bit of a side quest all the way up into the Floating Castle to get his final piece of armor:
The ProCape further increased his absorb up to its max value of 51, and apparently the ProCape counts as a shield (don't ask). This meant forgoing any spell-casting items that were pieces of armor, but I had already replaced the Zeus Gauntlet with the Thor Hammer (it does the same thing and fills a weapon slot instead) and believed that the extra defense would be more useful than having the Black Shirt for uses of ICE2. Blak did have ICE3 on hand to deal with enemies weak against ice, after all. I believed that Blak was ready to go through the Sea Shrine again when he reached level 42; below is a picture of some of his stats at that point:
Here you can see a number of the weapons and armor that I've been mentioning throughout the report. This is most definitely a cut-and-paste picture, as you certainly can't look at weapons and armor at the same time normally! I think one of the more amusing things from this picture is that Blak actually has no weapon equipped at all; his spells and items are doing all of the damage at this point, so there was no reason to waste a weapons spot with a useless dagger. Note also that Blak is getting close to maxing out his spell charges; too bad he can never use the 8th-level ones.
Actually running the Sea Shrine turned out to be a breeze. Blak ran from most battles and used the Thor Hammer in situations where he had to or wanted to fight. Whenever hit points started to get low, Blak would use the Defense three times in a row and then heal himself back up to full with the Heal Staff. By doing this repeatedly, Blak made it down to the boss with close to full hit points; I used a total of 2 Heal Potions for the entire dungeon. Wow.
Kraken is weak against lightning. This meant that he was a sitting duck for Blak and his 8 charges of LIT3. Of course Kraken also hits quite hard (just ask Solo, who was killed by Kraken and his 8 hits!) Blak started out the battle by using the Defense three times; he was mauled for over 200 damage in the first round of combat before his defenses were raised, then was never touched again. Five or so casts of LIT3 later the battle was over and done with.
There was only one Fiend remaining to be killed at this point, but Tiamat was not going to be easy. Blak headed off to the Sky Castle and leveled up a bit more cleaning out all of the treasure that he hadn't already picked up on the first three dungeon levels. I'll mention again that it always seems strange to have to fight the Blue Dragon twice, once going up and once going down in the Mirage Tower, but for Blak that battle was not particularly difficult. When I actually got around to fighting Tiamat, however, I ran into a problem. Tiamat is like Kary in that he is strong against all of the fire/ice/lightning elements, meaning Blak's spells were all but useless. Unlike Kary though, Tiamat has a number of nasty elemental attacks like Thunder, Blizzard, and Blaze - which do the equivalent of LIT3, ICE3, and FIR3. In other words, while Tiamat might not be able to hit Blak, he could wear the mage down with his elemental skills faster than Blak could wear the dragon down with his own:
I tried fighting Tiamat several times, but he and his 1000 hit points just seemed to be out of reach for Blak. I even tried FASTing Blak and going after Tiamat with his dagger, but that was an exercise in hilarity more than anything else. So we have another perplexing situation on our hands here, with Blak stuck in another dilemma. Now the funny thing is that if Blak were a Black Wizard, he could either 1) take down Tiamat with NUKE, which does non-elemental damage and thus wouldn't be cut by 3/4 or 2) take down Tiamat with a FASTed Catclaw, which would do a pretty significant amount of damage. But Blak is not a Wizard, he's only a silly little mage, and he has more limited resources on hand.
Well finally I came up with a solution, though it was a cheeze one. Tiamat is strong against fire, ice, and lightning elements - but he is NOT strong against the poison element. This means that there is a good chance for the spell BANE to outright kill him, something like a 1/10 or even 1/5 chance for Tiamat to keel over and fall dead just like that. I've always known this, but it's such a weak way to win the battle that I usually avoid it. Blak... needs all the help he could get. So on attempt #5 or 6, Blak used the Defense three times to put up his magical shield and then started using the Bane Sword. After a half-dozen or so uses, Blak got lucky and Tiamat choked to death on the "poison smoke". A weak victory, but poison was the only element that Tiamat was weak against - so Blak had to exploit that weakness. It was the only way to win!
Blak was Level 45 or so by this point, so it was time just to grab the last couple of level ups before running the Temple of Fiends. While doing this in the Sea Shrine again, I naturally went back to the inn in Onrac frequently. One of the times I was doing this though, I noticed something strange: when I came out of the inn, one of the townspeople WALKED INTO ME:
What in the world is going on here? I managed to snap a picture as the woman was leaving the tile that she had been sharing with Blak. I have no idea what kind of snafu in the coding happened here; I've never seen a townsperson walk INTO me before! Even after all this time, the game can still surprise me, he he.
All antics aside, Blak was soon at Level 50 and virtually at the end of his quest. I'll post two pictures here showing what his final stats looked like.
The one comment I have to make here is to look at Blak's gold total. Even at Level 50, he still hasn't maxed out on gold! I tell you, he's the poorest character I've ever played!
That's a picture of his character screen after all those level-ups. Blak has certainly come a long way from Level 1, hasn't he? Now I was going to have to run the last dungeon, the Temple of Fiends Revisited. I wasn't worried about the random enemies in there; Blak could run from most battles and make ample use of the Defense for the ones he couldn't get out of (Earths and Waters come to mind). The biggest problem was going to be dealing with the Four Fiends all over again - no one of them would be a problem, but with no way to restore his spell charges, getting through all of them in one go was going to be dicey.
So Blak places the Orbs on the altar and heads 2000 years into the past for the final dungeon. The Phantom, the first boss, was pathetic - none of his instant death attacks could touch Blak, and he is apparantly programmed not to attack. Blak used the battle to restore his hit points with the Heal Staff (ouch - what an insult to the boss!) and then worked the Phantom down to death with the Mage Staff. Thanks for that 1 experience and 1 gold, by the way. Blak played the LUTE, went down the stairs and proceeded down to the Earth floor.
I tended to hit a lot of Earth enemies on that dungeon level, notable only because they are a battle that cannot be run from. Blak would have had to expend precious charges of FIR3 here, except the Defense saved his butt again. Defense three times, then heal back up to full with the Heal Staff, followed by finishing off the enemies with the Mage Staff. These battles were long, but not very dangerous, unless Blak was extremely unlucky and the Earths started critical hitting him. Lich was easily reached on most ventures through the dungeon. Now Lich always starts the battle by using NUKE, which can do anywhere from 100-400 damage on Blak. Since Lich can cast it a second time if he proceeds through his spells fast enough, my strategy for Lich was to ignore the Defense and blast him with FIR3 as many times as necessary to kill him. This usually did the trick without too much problem. I noticed though when playing the battle that Lich was not taking much damage from FIR3; he should have been taking 75-300 damage from each one, and yet I wasn't even getting 100 damage most of the time. I later found out that Lich is NOT weak against fire when you fight him the second time, which was news to me. If I had known that, I might have played things differently. Well, I'll store that away for future runs through this game.
I would usually use the first couple battles on the Fire floor to restore Blak's hit points from his mauling by Lich's NUKE attack. When it came time to fight Kary, I realized I had a problem. Kary was still resistant to all of the elements, and now defeating her would not lead to the end of the dungeon - it would just take me to the next floor. So Blak couldn't fire off all his spells or he would have nothing left for the rest of the Temple of Fiends. In the end, I couldn't see any other way to win the battle, however, so Blak would fight this one by using the Defense three times and then blasting Kary with ICE3, FIR3, and LIT3. This always used up most of my spell charges. I couldn't just sit back with the Mage Staff though because Kary could now use FIR3, which still did significant damage (13-50) even when quartered. So this battle was always a slog, and sometimes Kary would get a nasty critical hit and kill Blak. For that matter, Lich would occasionally get off two NUKEs and kill Blak that way too. The Temple of Fiends took multiple playings in order to complete. Quite a few, in fact.
So this would bring Blak to the Water floor. The enemies here were the same as in the Sea Shrine, although there seemed to be more enemies popping up in each battle than there. Blak would sometimes get swarmed by Waters on this floor too, who could kill him before he could get his Defense up properly. It was a nerve-wracking floor, to say the least. Kraken was another headache; I remember one battle where he did over 400 damage on the first round of fighting before Blak could use the Defense. That was an eye-opener (perhaps more accurately a coffin-opener for Blak). I noted here that LIT3 didn't do nearly as much damage as I was expecting; sure enough, I found out later that Kraken is NOT weak against Lightning the second time you fight him. This game doesn't cut solo black mages many breaks, does it? I always had to swap over to the Thor Hammer to finish off Kraken after running out of LIT3 charges - on the occasions I managed to get that far.
Finally, down to the Air floor. Does anyone else think it's weird that the Air enemies hit for less damage and can be run away from, unlike the supposedly easier Water enemies? Seems strange. Anyway, the chief danger on this floor is usually the roving bands of Sorcerers and their one-hit kill attacks. Not for Blak though - the Sorcerers always RAN from Blak whenever they saw him (enemy retreats seem to be tied to level; they looked at his Level 50 and ran away scared!) The problem here was random encounters with Worms, an enemy that can't be run from. These stupid things are resistant to all elements, and while I could get the Defense going when I hit them, it would take so long to wear them down with just the Mage Staff that they would get in enough critical hits to kill Blak. Needless to say, it majorly sucks to fight through all the fiends only to be killed by a bunch of stinking WORMS! But finally, FINALLY, Blak made it through all these problems to get his hands on the most desired treasure of all:
My white mage party had desperately needed the Masmune to fight Chaos. Solo had ignored it. Blak was just as dependent on getting this weapon as the white mages were, since he wasn't about to kill Chaos by using the Mage Staff over and over again! Once Blak got the Masmune, I knew he was in good position to finish the game on that run through the dungeon. Blak ran into another party of Worms on the Air floor after getting the sword; I had him cast FAST on himself and he proceeded to slice them to bits. Haha, revenge! And what revenge too, as he did over 1000 damage on each FASTed attack. Wow, slow down there Blak - he was letting this "sword" thing go to his head. Too bad that Blak was only going to get to use this magnificent weapon for a total of maybe 5 minutes before the end of the game.
Naturally Blak was going to use the Masamune against Tiamat. He didn't really have any other choice, since by this point every charge of FIR3, LIT3, and ICE3 was gone and Tiamat was resistant to all those elements anyway. As I found out later, Tiamat is not weak against poison in this second fight either, so BANE wouldn't have worked either. But the Defense was used three times, followed by FAST, and then Blak went to town with his fancy sword. Four attacks later, Tiamat was breathing the poison smoke again. You can see the box about to open up and spell out "Terminated" in this picture.
Well, all this time passed and only one enemy left to fight. I had enough Heal Potions left to get Blak to Chaos with full hit points. The one question was how to fight the battle considering Chaos' CUR4 ability. I decided that I would see how fast Chaos was moving through his spell progression when I was using the Defense the standard three times and casting FAST. If he was going through the spells fast, I would wait to attack; if he was going slowly, I would try to down him before he could heal himself back to full. Here goes!
Chaos proved to move through his spells at record speed. He had already cast ICE3, LIT3, and SLO2 before I even finished using the Defense and FAST. Rather than do useless damage that would be healed shortly thereafter, I had Blak use the Heal Staff while waiting for Chaos to use CUR4. Yes, I had my solo character using the Heal Staff in the final boss battle! But it worked, as two rounds later Chaos used CUR4, which would have wiped out any damage I would have done. Then Blak went back over to the attack and started pounding on Chaos. Thanks to FAST, he's really doing some terrific damage, somewhere between 200-400 each round. Chaos is furthermore ignoring his elemental and magical skills to instead try to attack Blak, but whom he can't hit because Blak is hiding behind the magical evade shield of RUSE. This battle couldn't be going any better!
Sometimes, when you're trying to accomplish an extremely difficult task, you can just FEEL when everything falls into place and it's finally going to work out. This was one of those occasions. Blak threw himself into the teeth of the monster on his seventh attack and cut him down where he stood!
Victory! I'm also inordinately pleased with myself for hitting "PrintScreen" at just the right moment to get the "Terminated" message in the picture (it's harder to do that it sounds). This was the first time I fought Chaos with Blak, and I managed to plan out and execute the victory properly. That was a good thing, because I really did not want to have to run all the way through the Temple of Fiends Revisited once again.
Blak's adventure was a harsh one from start to finish. I knew it would be challenging, but this was leaps and bounds more difficult than anything I had tried before, and I've taken white mages through this game multiple times. The most difficult parts of the game included everything until getting the ship (and FIR2), the Ice Cave, and then the Temple of Fiends Revisited. The most entertaining part was problem-solving some of the dilemmas that this extraordinarily underpowered character kept finding himself in. It was fun - some of the time. It was grueling - almost all of the time. But Blak did defeat Chaos in the end without any kind of save state hacking or reloading or whatever. And that's an accomplishment I'll remember with pride for a long time.
I hope you enjoyed reading Blak's story. I have at least two more variant ideas in mind for future Final Fantasy games. One will be to try the game with a solo white mage - but that's in the future. The other... I may try in the near term. It will be lower on difficulty, but high on hilarity if I can pull it off. Wait and you'll see.