I had an idea when I was playing out Blak's quest. There was a period of time when Blak wasn't equipped with any weapon so that he could carry more items that serve as spells when used in battles. Anyway, I accidently had him attack and was treated to the amusing sight of watching my black mage shake his fists at the enemies. This led me to a thought: what if I played out a party who did nothing but attack with their fists, ever? In other words, what would it be like to play out Solo's quest - but with classes other than black belts? That could prove to be both challenging and entertaining, watching fighters venture forth to shake their fists at the enemies and do extremely low damage. And thus the idea for the Iron Fists was born, characters who idolize their great hero Solo by refusing to equip weapons but, erm, didn't quite make it as Black Belts.
There were two basic rules that I tried to follow when playing this variant:
1) No character can ever equip a weapon.
2) No magic spell (or item used as spell) can ever be used that targets an enemy.
This means basically that all attacks must be carried out with fists only, and no spells can be used to do damage, only the aforementioned fists. All healing and defensive magic would therefore remain in play - and would certainly be needed! Similarly, while Solo had the variant rule of not equipping any armor, relying on his natural absorb, that simply wouldn't be an option with this group. The Iron Fists are going to be involved in a lot of drawn-out defensive struggles, so they're going to need to have some armor on to survive!
Now the question remained as to what characters to use for this venture. Black Belts are simply out, as that would defeat the entire purpose of this game. Black Mages are similarly out for all intents and purposes, as almost every black magic spell targets the enemies (and I certainly wouldn't take a Black Mage along for his physical strength!) Choosing therefore from the remaining four classes, I needed to grab whichever one would do the most damage when fighting without weapons. Since the Damage stat in Final Fantasy equals Strength/2, I naturally needed the class that had the highest Strength stat. Can you guess which one that might be?
OK, so we need at least one Fighter. The Fighter class starts with 20 Strength (10 damage with no weapons) and gains a point of Strength on every level up, maxing out at 69 at Level 50 (which would equal 34 damage). Now this is a far cry from a Black Belt's 100 damage at Level 50, but it still stands head and shoulders above the other classes. Fighters also increase their hit percentage quickly, getting more hits than any class aside from Black Belts, so that will also be useful. And let's also not forget that Fighters are the greatest meat shields in the world, taking a beating without complaint and coming back for more again and again. So I'll take not one but two Fighters, both to do damage and absorb incoming enemy damage. The only real question was whether to take three Fighters.
So what else will I need for this party? Defensive and healing magic, and I'm going to need both in pretty sizable amounts. Sounds like a White Mage to me, even though that class won't be able to do squat damage when attacking with fists. The one other component that the Iron Fists are going to need is someone who can cast the spell FAST, allowing the Fighters to do double damage against bosses. Going with a Thief would be a possibility, since the Ninja can cast low-level black magic, but that would only come into play late in the game and the Ninja will only have limited uses of 4th-level spells. I'm going to need FAST earlier than that, and I'm going to need 9 uses of it for the final dungeon. With the Black Mage essentially useless for this variant, that leaves the Red Mage, who will also be able to function as a poor man's Fighter and a poor man's healer. So there we have it, 2 Fighters, a Red Mage and a White Mage. I could also potentially have gone with 2 Fighters and 2 Red Mages, but that would have been a less interesting group to play as. A little diversity isn't the worst thing.
Here they are then, meet the Iron Fists:
Rock is our brick wall, the stone upon which the waves of enemies are dashed to pieces. Fist is a bruiser, smacking around the monsters with his meaty arms like some overgrown schoolyard bully. Fast exists for one purpose only, to cast the spell FAST, but he can also do minor damage when fighting and help support the White Mage on healing duty. Cure naturally does what White Mages do best, heal the others and use defensive magic. Let's get started!
This is the first time I've used a party of four characters in a while, so it was a bit of a novelty to have to prioritize the starting money. Well, the Iron Fists don't have to worry about weapons, so that's some money saved. The most important thing to buy would of course be armor, since with high absorb the enemies would be unable to threaten this group in any way. Both Rock and Fist got Chain Armors, and I was pleasantly surprised to find that Red Mages can also equip this armor (didn't remember that). Cure had to make do with a Cloth (this definitely brought back memories of Blak). The Chain Armor has an amazingly high absorb of 15 - remember, Blak didn't get to 17 until he reached Melmond! - so with three characters wearing this armor, the Iron Fists would be essentially impervious to damage throughout the early part of the game. That knocked out 250g, so there was just enough left to buy Cure the spell of (you guessed it) CURE. Now suitably equipped, it was time to break some heads.
Shake those fists baby! Try unequipping your characters of weapons sometime, it's very amusing to watch. The Black Belt has a special fist animation for fighting unequipped, but the other characters don't. The game plays the same animation sequence that it would for a normal attack with a weapon - only there's no weapon in the character's hands. So the result is this goofy thing where it looks kinds of like the character shakes his shoulders at the monsters, followed by the damage printout as usual. Very strange and very amusing.
So at first level, my Fighters were still more than a match for mere Imps. The way that damage is calculated in Final Fantasy again is rand(Damage - Damage*2) - Absorb. This Damage stat is the same one that appears on the character screen, by the way. So, to provide an example, at Level 1, my unequipped Fighters had a Damage stat of 10, and Imps have an Absorb of 4. When Rock or Fist attacked, they would do rand(10-20) - 4 = 6-16 damage to the Imps, usually killing them outright. Every two levels their Damage stat would go up by 1 point, so their damage certainly didn't increase at a rapid pace! It would take a while to start doing more significant damage to the enemies.
Conversely, however, the monsters couldn't hurt the Iron Fists at all. Imps only do 4-8 damage per attack, which Rock's 15 Absorb laughed off with ease. The only character who could be hurt at all was Cure, but she was hiding way back in the last row and could heal herself if things got too bad. As a result, battles tended to be slow and somewhat tedious, but the Iron Fists were never in any danger whatsoever. That would be the general pattern for this group; they don't kill anything fast, but they don't take any damage themselves. Can you say "Stalemate"? One other thing you notice after playing solo characters for a while - it takes forever to level up once you go back to four! Rock and the others spent a long time fighting around Corneria, leveling up and buying the rest of the 1st-level spells for Fast and Cure.
Usually, I have parties of four fight Garland at Level 3. Since the Iron Fists were a bit underpowered, I waited for another level and took him on at Level 4. Garland wasn't the easiest battle in the world for this group, mostly because his Absorb was 10. That meant that Rock and Fist could only do 1-12 damage against him, and Fast and Cure couldn't do more than 1 damage per attack. Garland also had a fairly sizeable attack of 15-30, which could actually punch through those Chain Armors. But it was four against one, so Garland's damage spread out across four characters while Rock and Fist pummelled Garland repeatedly. The Iron Fists won on the fist try without any serious danger.
The group of course headed east to Pravoka next, but I did not have them immediately fight the pirates. The more important thing was to buy the next armor available for sale, the Iron Armor and its even more gigantic 23 Absorb. Combined with the Wooden Shield and Gloves that were also on sale there, Rock's total Absorb was now up to 26 (Garland could have only done 1-4 damage against that!) I had the group fight around Pravoka until they had enough money to buy Fist a full armor set as well, which pushed them up to Level 5. Then it was time to take on the pirates in what was a decidedly unequal fight:
Compare one character by himself with 3 Absorb versus four characters (the first two spotting a combined 52 Absorb) fighting in tandem. Yeah - that's what I thought. Three rounds of combat saw all the pirates hit the deck, and the Iron Fists were easily walking away with a new ship. After that it was down to Elfland and time to start fighting endless battles in search of gold and experience. Even without worrying about weapons, Elfland still had tons of goodies for the Iron Fists to buy. The other key goal for the group was to reach Level 9, at which point in time Rock and Fist would get 2 hits and vastly increase their damage output. At this point though, they were only Level 5, so... time to start fighting!
Ogres and Creeps were very much killable, but it took a lot of time to take them down. At Level 5, Rock and Fist were doing 12-24 damage, and when an Ogre's 10 Absorb is factored in, that got knocked down to 2-14. Since Ogres have 100 hit points, you can see that this would take a while. Of course the Ogres couldn't really hurt Rock or Fist either; with the addition of the Iron Shield and Wooden Helmet, their Absorb was now up to 31, and even Ogres could only do 1-5 damage against them. Of course, Fast took a lot more damage from attacks, and Cure took even more damage, but that's why they were in the back rows. Nothing like a Fighter meat shield, I tell you. And I'm not even going to mention the damage Fast and Cure were doing, since it was mighty small.
Lots of time spent leveling up around Elfland, but I'll skip the details of that. Most of that money went to buying 3rd and 4th-level spells for Fast and Cure. Take a look at what Fast had in his spellbook:
This is quite possibly the strangest group of spells any Red Mage has ever had. No FIRE or LIT, instead he has FOG? No ICE, but instead he has TMPR? AFIR and no FIR2 or LIT2? Later on, he would get FAST, PURE, and AICE as his 4th-level spells, which I wonder if anyone else has ever done before. If you ever encounter a Red Mage as hopelessly confused as this one, please point him back on the right track. Notice that I've picked up the spell of MUTE simply out of habit; since the Iron Fists can't use spells that target the enemies, it's completely useless for this venture! I also wondered if it was possible to buy spells that a character does not have spell charges for, and apparently yes it is. You could say that Fast was anxious to get his hands on the spell FAST here.
Eventually, the Iron Fists reached Level 9 after much tedium (I was using a turbo controller to power through the battles and avoid some of the boredom). As soon as Rock and Fist got their second hit, their damage shot up to the respectable range:
At Level 9, Rock and Fist were up to 14-28 damage, but more importantly that was doubled thanks to getting a second hit. Now the Iron Fists had a good chance to kill Ogres in 2 rounds of combat; previously it had take 4-5. The pace of battles sped up greatly, which was very good as my patience was running low. I had the Iron Fists continue to fight until they reached Level 11, mostly because this was when Fast would get two 4th-level spell charges (for FAST), but also to finish up buying all of the spells they needed and to pick up 99 heal potions. I also looted the Marsh Cave of all treasure except the Crown while doing this. When I ran the Marsh Cave for real, therefore, it was a breeze. Rock and Fist tore apart the Wizards after they had been FASTed.
On to Astos therefore, for a battle I didn't expect to be overly difficult. After all, Rock and Fist could get to 4 hits when FASTed, and I confidently expected them to rip the frail old elf to pieces. When I actually fought the battle, however, it turned out to be more difficult:
Umm, what's going on? Why can't my Rock and Fist do more than 4 damage? I wasn't sure what was happening, but this couldn't be a good sign. I closed Final Fantasy in confusion and went back to check on Astos' stats. Ah! The problem is that Astos has 40 Absorb, not enough for my Fighters (doing 15-30 damage per hit at Level 11) to punch through. But wait a minute, shouldn't they be able to get through that when FASTed; shouldn't they be doing (15-30)*4 damage, easily enough to punch through that defense? I mean, that's the entire assumption I based this variant on, I couldn't have the damage formula wrong, could I?
I have the damage formula wrong.
As it turns out, Absorb is subtracted out of EACH hit, not subtracted at the end of the calculation like I thought. So against Astos and his massively high defense, Rock was doing (rand(15-30) - 40) * 4 damage, which as you might guess was coming out as (1) * 4 damage. This was a very shocking development for me, as it threw the whole variant into question. Is it even possible to win under these variant rules? To be honest, against some bosses, NO it isn't. Chaos has 100 Absorb and can heal himself up to full with CUR4, so this meant that my variant would be impossible to complete the game with. Thoroughly depressed, I stopped play for the day and tried to think my way through this.
I can't beat the game with these rules. The math simply rules it out. But I didn't want to simply end the journey of the Iron Fists here, so I had two options. 1) Attack Astos with spells (not very viable, considering I've already filled up Fast's spell slots), or 2) Equip some weapons. I very much did not want to give Rock and Fist weapons, but I saw no other way to get past Astos. His RUB spell would cut down my warriors in a drawn-out battle, and his SLOW spell cut them down to one hit, making a long battle even more doubtful. So I put an asterisk by this battle and eqipped Rock and Fist with Iron Staffs, which have 14 Damage but don't increase hit percentage, then went after Astos again. With these staffs in tow, Rock and Fist could now do 29-58 damage, which was enough to cut through that 40 Absorb. Once they were FASTed up to 4 hits, Astos was quickly bludgeoned to death. So thus far, we've had one battle that could not be fought with bare fists. I'm going to stick to the ruleset as much as possible, but there will be some other battles that will not be possible to win with fists alone. Astos might be possible - at Level 30 or so. Get back to me if you're willing to spend that much time leveling up around Elfland.
So with that shameful episode behind them, the Iron Fists moved on and looted all the treasure they could with the Mystic Key. One thing I noticed from equipping those Iron Staffs: OK, the scratch marks/dust cloud graphic that pops up when you hit an enemy changes color to match the weapon you have equipped, right? If you've played this game a lot, you've probably noticed that. What I discovered was that the dust cloud thing stays that same color even after you unequip the weapon! Must be something in the way it's coded. So I had Rock and Fist go around equipping lots of different weapons to try out some different attack graphic colors. I finally settled on a greenish color for Rock (Power Staff), a dark red for Fist (Wooden Staff), and an indigo color for Fast (Rune Sword), while keeping the default white color for Cure. Later on, I would swap Fist over to the Flame Sword's bright red graphics, and keep all these weapons around just for the purpose of changing the attack graphic colors. Hey, this is all trivial, to be sure, but you've got to find ways to entertain yourself when endlessly building levels!
There were even more things to buy in Melmond than in Elfland, most notably those Steel Armors selling for a cool 45,000 gold. Well, time to build some more levels! I also wanted to get Rock and Fist to Level 19, where they would pick up a third hit and ramp up their damage again. There were also a lot of 5th-level spells for Fast and Cure to get, and I could pop over to Crescent Lake to get 6th-level spells too. So lots of leveling up was done, fighting enemies in the Earth Cave mostly.
At some point in time during this process, I went down and killed the Vampire, as you can see. This would have been about Level 15/16 or so. He didn't have particularly strong defense, but his attack packed a real punch. I'll skip the leveling that was very lengthy, but I should mention some of the things I was buying. Those Steel Armors were incredibly pricey, but well worth the cost for their 34 Absorb. When combined with a Silver Shield, Silver Helmet, and Silver Gauntlet, that gave Rock and Fist an Absorb of 54 (more than my two solo characters had at the end of the game). Meat shields, I tell you, meat shields. It took a long time to build up the money for those armors (105,000 gold to get them all for both Fighters), but once I had the armor equipped, the Iron Fists could take on Giants with relative impunity.
Meanwhile, Fast and Cure were getting some more spells of their own. CUR3, HEL2, and LIFE were all 5th-level spells that Cure picked up, while Fast had to settle for just CUR3 (he couldn't learn the other two). HEL2 is supposed to give back 24-48 hit points to each warrior, and it does do this outside of battle, but there is a bug in the game that causes it to function like HEL3 in battle, giving back 48-96 hit points to each (!) character. You can be sure I made good use of this. Finally, Cure also popped over to Crescent Lake for the spell FOG2, which increases the Absorb of all characters by 12 when used in battle. And, even better, it's repeatable. The more I play this game, the more I'm convinced that Absorb is the single most important stat in Final Fantasy, so any spell that increases the Absorb of all chracters gets high priority on my list. For that matter, I had been making heavy use of FOG (+8 Absorb, one character) throughout much of the game, so FOG2 was just a strengthened version of that. Don't overlook FOG and FOG2, they can both be very useful.
There's a picture of one of the endless leveling up battles that the Iron Fists took part in. The Iron Fists were able to cross through the whole Hall of Giants without needing to use any healing potions, which is not bad for a group fighting with their fists! I also amused myself by cleaning out all of the treasure in the Earth Cave to pass the time. Finally, they hit Level 19 and the Fighters indeed began pounding enemies with three hits. It was time to take on Lich, who I was confident I could take out without resorting to weapons again.
Lich also has 40 Absorb, so even at Level 19 Rock and Fist wouldn't be able to get through his defenses (18-36 damage for each). But my plan didn't need them to get through his defense; they just needed to wear down the big guy over a very long period of time, doing 6 hits/6 damage over and over again. Since Lich has 400 hit points, this was clearly going to take a while, but I had been planning how to outlast Lich for the last eight levels, so the Iron Fists were well prepared. Let's rumble!
As expected, Rock is not getting through Lich's Absorb. But that's OK, because this battle was really all about the protective spells Cure and Fast were laying down. The first round starts, and Cure begins by casting AICE, followed by Fast doing what he does best and FASTing Rock. As expected, Lich casts ICE2, the spell he always casts first (I was lucky that Cure went before Lich in the turn order). But now protected against ice, the spell did only 10-40 damage to each Iron Fist (instead of 40-160). The second round, Fast FASTs Fist while Cure casts ALIT to defend against lightning. Third round, Fast casts AFIR (aha! there was a reason to buy it!) while Cure casts FOG2 and pumps up everyone's absorb. Two more rounds of FOG2 follow from Cure, at which point everyone's Absorb has been increased by 36 points, bringing Rock and Fist up to a stunning 90 (!!!) Absorb. Lich has already FASTed himself at this point, and his attacks do 40-80 damage per hit, but he can't touch Rock's now impregnable armor. Look:
It works both ways, I tell ya! Both ways! With all these preparations out of the way, the fight now stabilized into a practical stalemate. The Iron Fists were doing exactly 15 damage per round (6 hits each from Rock/Fist, 2 hits from Fast, 1 from Cure) and whittling away at Lich ever so slowly. Lich simply could not touch Rock when attacking, so that was a moot point, and the damage from his spells (FIR2, LIT2, ICE2) was easily healed with HEL2 (in reality, HEL3). The most dangerous spell Lich used was actually SLOW, which cut Rock and Fast down to 3 hits again. Fast cast FAST a second time on both, but Lich eventually went through all his spells again and dropped them back down to 3. Fast had only one charge of FAST left, so Rock went back up to 6 hits, but Lich eventually went all the way through his spells against and dropped him back to 3 hits with SLOW. Halfway through Lich's spell progress for a 4th time, he finally dropped dead. Lich cast a total of 27 spells, and he attacked a number of times too, so all told the battle lasted roughly 35 rounds of combat. Wow. That means the Iron Fists averaged about 11 damage each round. The job was slow, but they were never in any danger.
The battle with Lich was great fun; I had it completely planned out and the execution was superb. He was taken down with nothing but fists, pure and simple. Let this also be a lesson as to how strong spells like FOG2 and the AFIR family can be! If you can defend against all physical attacks and all elements, nothing can really touch you.
The Iron Fists head next to Gurgu Volcano to try and take Kary with their bare knuckles. Only one boss killed with weapons thus far, how many more can I do with just fists? Go on to the next page to find out.