In the last section of this report, I had played the Iron Fists through the Earth Cave, with the only problematic battle coming against Astos. I wasn't sure at this point how many of the remaining bosses would be doable without weapons, but I resolved to see how far I could get without equipping anything again.
Ordinarily I would run the Castle of Ordeal next and then proceed on to the Ice Cave for the Floater. But the Iron Fists are somewhat of an unusual group, and considerably more sturdy than a lot of the other variants I've run. Therefore I thought it would be interesting to go through this part of the game in the order that you're supposed to do the dungeons, and clear out Gurgu Volcano next. There was also plenty of treasure in there that I could make good use of, most notably the Flame Armor and Flame Shield.
I spent a while cleaning out all of the treasure on the first couple dungeon floors of the volcano. The monsters in this area gave pretty good experience, so it was a good use of my time in that regard too. It took roughly 5-6 trips to clear out all the goodies on the two treasure levels of the volcano; nothing really noteworthy was found except for the Flame Shield, which bumped up Rock's Absorb another 4 points (to 58 total). A special trip was then planned to get the Flame Armor, which is down on the bottom level of the volcano (with Kary) and is guarded by the Red Dragon. How tough could the battle be?
Ouch, his Blaze attack really hits hard! It does 64-256 (!) damage to everyone in the party, which will really spoil your day. Now I had had Cure cast AFIR on the very first turn of the battle, which cut the damage down to 16-64 on each Iron Fist, but that was still very serious fire damage. The Red Dragon futhermore kept using Blaze every single turn, over and over again, giving me no time to heal my characters. This picture you see was taken at the very tail end of the battle; either Rock or Fist killed the dragon on this turn (although I didn't get a picture of it). Whew, no one else ever did this much damage to the Iron Fists before! I'm going to need to level them up some more to increase their damage output. The Flame Armor was the reward for winning, which had the same Absorb as the Steel Armor, but subtracted less Evade to wear it and also granted the wearer protection against ice (like having AICE on all the time). The Iron Fists limped out of the dungeon and tended to their wounds in Crescent Lake.
Before moving on though, it was time to deal with Kary:
As the picture shows, as with Lich, my Fighters couldn't get through Kary's Absorb. She had 50 Absorb, and their damage was only 20-40 at this point. So if offense couldn't win the day, defense would have to do it again. Kary only has two ways she can hurt you, either with her casts of FIR2 or with her physical attack. Cure easily defended against the FIR2 threat by casting AFIR on the first round of combat, while Fast was casting (you guessed it) FAST on the two Fighters. That left Kary's physical attack, which does 40-80 damage. Doesn't sound too bad? Well, Kary gets SIX hits. Even against Rock's 58 Absorb, that would leave a mark. Therefore, the next thing that Cure and Fast did was go overboard with castings of FOG2, the spell that increases everyone's Absorb by 12 points. Between the two of them, I had 5 charges of the spell, pumping up everyone's defense by 60 points and bringing Rock to a total of 118 Absorb! I'd like to see you get through that. Once their defenses were set, the battle became almost boring for the Iron Fists, attack attack attack and then occasionally heal the fire damage with HEL2. Eventually, Kary went down, after 32 rounds by my count. Another boss killed without any use of weapons or offensive magic!
The next area to do was the Ice Cave, probably my least-favorite area in the game. Fortunately, however, all of the cheap one-hit kills and paralyzation monsters are much easier to deal with when using four characters instead of one. Cure's LIFE spell was an insurance policy against any kind of death attack the Iron Fists might face. The random battles in the Ice Cave were not that difficult as a result. Tough battles they ran from, most of the enemies were beaten to a pulp with their fists. The Ice Dragons that guarded the Ice Armor packed a real punch with their Blizzard attack, but their Absorb didn't seem to be as high as the Flame Dragon (note: I checked this later and their Absorb is 8 compared to 30 for the FlameD; chalk one up for my observation skills!), and AICE carried the day. Fist got the Ice Armor, and the two Fighters split the Flame and Ice Shields, so that they were both protected against fire and ice elements. The one battle that would prove troublesome was against the Eye.
The Eye starts out with three instant-kill spells, XXXX/BRAK/RUB, so the first time I fought him I lost both Rock and Fist within the first couple rounds. Umm, oops. Fast and Cure survived for many rounds afterwards, but had no way to do any damage, and were eventually killed off. Aside from hitting reset against Astos earlier, this was the first time that the Iron Fists were wiped out completely. Not much I can do to prepare against the Eye's death attacks other than hope to get lucky, so let's run this again. The second time, I only lose Fist to the spell RUB, which leave Rock to bash the Eye after being FASTed. The Eye has 30 Absorb (which is a lot for my characters), but Rock was doing enough damage to punch through that somewhat, especially when he was getting six hits. Since the Eye also only has 167 hit points, the battle was over in about 10 rounds.
Now that I had the Floater in hand and could zoom around the world in the airship, it seemed like time to go through the Castle of Ordeal. Before doing that, however, I made a side trip to Gaia and purchased everyone ProRings to make sure that future death spells wouldn't be able to hurt my characters. This also brought Rock and Fist's Absorb to 60 each, by the way. Gold Bracelets were also picked up for Fast and Cure, giving them semi-decent armor as well.
There was one priceless item in the Castle, but it wasn't the one you might think. No, that Zeus Gauntlet is useless for the Iron Fists - the Heal Staff is the uber item for them! Don't laugh, I'm serious here. The ability to get free healing on all characters, round after round, literally forever is not to be underestimated. Cure took the Heal Staff and would use it practically every single round for the remainder of the game. It would also figure prominently into my strategy for the Temple of Fiends Revisited.
The rest of the Castle of Ordeal was a breeze. Some monsters took forever to kill (like the Nightmares; their Evade stat is really high!) but there were no threats at all. Ditto for the Zombie Dragons guarding the TAIL:
They hit hard and we can barely hurt them, but that's nothing some work with FOG2 and FAST can't fix. As far as the TAIL is concerned, I had already made the decision to class change with the Iron Fists. I might not have done so if their damage was higher, but frankly these boss battles take so long to fight that I'm going to need access to the 7th and 8th-level white magic spells that only a White Wizard can use. I also wanted to be able to equip the Knight-only armors that pop up at the end of the game onto Rock and Fist to increase their Absorb stat. Finally, the rules of the variant are to play out the whole game without equipping weapons or casting offensive magic spells. I believe that class changing would allow me to play out this game truer to those rules than I would have been able to do otherwise, and that was the single most important factor in the decision. Take a look then at the new Iron Fists!
Incidentally, let me clear up one or two misconceptions about what class changing actually does (there's a lot of misinformation on this floating around the Internet). Class changing does two things, allows characters to equip different weapons and armor and increases the number of spells that characters can cast. That's it; class changing has no effect upon stats whatsoever. (This is why Black Belts gain nothing from class changing; they never equip weapons and armor and they never learn to cast spells!) For this group, it essentially increased the number of armors that my Fighters could use and gave Cure access to some high level spells. I never bought Rock or Fist any white magic spells; it just didn't seem in line with their personalities. In fact, Rock and Fist never did anything but Fight and Run the entire game; I don't think I ever had them use any other battle commands for the entire game! Talk about your one-track minds.
The next area was therefore the Sea Shrine, although I may have run the Waterfall before this to pick up my first Ribbon, not entirely sure. In any case, there were a number of good treasures in the Sea Shrine to cart off, most notably the Opal set of armors (Opal Armor/Bracelet/Shield) and a second Ribbon. There was also the Power Gauntlet, which I should say a word about. This item casts the spell SABR when used in battle, which is supposed to increase Damage by 16 and Hit Percentage by 15%. I tested this out quite a bit, and it simply doesn't work. There was no noticeable increase in damage (I think I would have been able to tell if Rock's Damage increased from 22 to 38!) and Rock did not pick up an extra hit the way he would have if his Hit Percentage had actually increased. Therefore, I can only conclude that SABR is bugged and doesn't work. This is unfortunate, because TMPR - which is supposed to increase Damage by 14 on one character - also is bugged and flat out doesn't work. If TMPR actually did work, I could have killed Astos without having to use weapons! (By the way, that's why I had the Fighters use Iron Staffs against him; the Damage increase was exactly the same as a casting of TMPR.) I ended up selling the Power Gauntlet therefore; bear in mind for your future reference that this item does not work and there is no reason to keep it.
The Sea Shrine had a lot of good experience and treasure in it, so I went back to the inn in Onrac frequently. Remember when Blak came out of the Onrac inn and had a townsperson walk into him? Well it happened again!
What in the world is up with this woman?! If you look at where I zoomed in, you can clearly see two sprite graphics occupying the same tile. It's the same woman who keeps doing this too, wonder why... I won't make any dirty jokes here, that's up to you.
Enough joking aside, I leveled up the Iron Fists until they were Level 30, at which point in time Rock and Fist picked up a 4th hit. By coincidence, Fast also got his third hit at this level, although he wasn't attacking against bosses. After lots of fighting, therefore, it was time to fight Kraken.
Kraken has only one way to hurt your characters, and that is through his physical attack (I doubt "Ink" ever put someone in their grave!) His attack is pretty strong, of course, and Mr. Octopus does get 8 hits as well. The strategy was therefore pretty simple: go nuts with casting FOG2 and pumping up everyone's Absorb. Between Cure and Fast, they had 11 charges of 6th-level spells, so I went crazy with the FOG2s and had them cast it over and over again, even when it wasn't needed. All of the Iron Fists had their Absorb increased by 132 (!!!) points, bringing Rock to a total of 199 Absorb. Even Solo wouldn't have been able to dent that. Now to be fair, it would have been smarter just to cast INV2 six times, which would have made all of the Iron Fists unhitable, but I was having fun. Once I had their defenses set, the Iron Fists were in no danger whatsoever. They couldn't get through Kraken's Absorb of 60 (the picture is from a critical hit), but he sure as anything couldn't get through theirs! Kraken died on Round #37.
The Mirage Tower and Sky Palace were the only areas left to complete, so I sent the Iron Fists there next and began stripping the dungeons of their treasure. I planned out what to hold in all of the limited armor spots, and ended up with Rock and Fist both having an Absorb of 67 (with Ribbons on). Cure had the third Ribbon, and picked up the White Shirt for her empty shield spot (I deemed it more important to have the White Shirt than the 8 extra Absorb from a ProCape). Fast equipped a ProCape for his shield spot and went without a helmet (since he didn't have a Ribbon), choosing to carry the Heal Helmet (which he couldn't equip) in that spot. More on this later, but the important point was that I had the use of the Heal Staff and a Heal Helmet on hand between Fast and Cure. All weapons were of course useless and were sold or dropped.
After cleaning out all the treasures from the Sky Palace, the Iron Fists were still only Level 33. Since I wanted to fight Tiamat at Level 41 (when the Fighters would get a 5th hit), that meant more leveling up. I did this in the Sea Shrine, where the best experience seemed to be, and found one particular tile where I could fight endless battles against the easy (and experience-rich) GrSharks.
Now when you fight endless leveling battles, you sometimes can start doing some strange things to pass the time. For some reason, I decided one night to push around the townspeople in Onrac. The area around Onrac's inn forms a sort of natural pen, so I started herding the townspeople in there. "Putting them in jail" I called it. Again, this makes no sense, but it was entertaining me. After about a half hour's work, I had corralled them all, resulting in this picture:
They are all my prisoners! Mwuhaha! This picture doesn't really do the scene justice either, since all of the townspeople kept moving around constantly. It was really quite a sight. Most of the townsfolk were herded into the jail quite easily, but one person was incredibly troublesome. He's circled in red; I started calling this guy "the Captain" in my head. The Captain took forever to herd; he kept moving the wrong way over and over again. It took ages to get him over the bridge you can see to the right, and then he escaped my containment and crossed back over it to the other side! Arg! The Captain took as much time as everyone else put together. Again, I realize this is bizarre, but it still deserved a spot in my report.
All antics aside, I leveled the Iron Fists until they reached Level 41. Here's a picture of them at that point in time:
They have clearly grown up a bit from that last screenshot at Level 22! The only really important stat here was that Rock and Fist had increased their Damage to 30, and were each getting 5 hits. Now that wouldn't be enough to get through Tiamat's 80 Absorb, but it would do a number on any of the other monsters the Iron Fists encountered in the Sky Palace. As a result, that dungeon was fairly routine. Cure and Fast kept the group's hit points up by using the Heal Staff/Helmet frequently while the Fighters bashed in the heads of their foes. In due course, therefore, they reached Tiamat:
I've always liked it when the game prints out that "10Hits!" message, it just seems very satisfying for some reason. As expected, of course, Rock can't get through Tiamat's Absorb. But this was old hat by now; the Iron Fists haven't gotten through the defense of ANY of the Four Fiends, so I hardly expected anything to change for Tiamat. The battle would be have to be won through defense once again. When the fight started, Cure cast the spell WALL on Fast, instantly giving my one Ribbon-less character the equivalent of a Ribbon and drastically cutting down on all the elemental damage he received. That took care of Tiamat's elemental attacks. Fast naturally did what he does best and FASTed the Fighters, then he and Cure worked together to cast INV2 repeatedly. What INV2 does is increase the Evade of all characters by 40%; this is half of the Evade increase of RUSE, which increases it by 80%. Now if casting RUSE three times makes a character unhittable on anything except critical hits, simple math says that casting INV2 six times will make all four characters unhittable. (Why does this work? Well, Evade is capped at 255%, and 80 * 3 = 240%, which will reach 255% when added to a character's Evade. And a character with a fully maxed out Evade cannot be hit.)
Did it work? See for yourself:
So Tiamat can't hit the Iron Fists anymore, and his elemental attacks have their damage reduced by 3/4 - which gets wiped out as well through constant use of the Heal Staff/Helmet by Fast and Cure. Don't underestimate the power of getting back 24-48 hit points on each character every single round of combat. It's rather like the monster regeneration rate in Diablo2 in Hell; if you can't do enough damage to get through that regeneration rate, you can't do a darn thing. And even Tiamat couldn't do enough damage to get through the healing of the Iron Fists. He was completely helpless. It was just a matter of time (a lot of time) before getting this message:
That's a critical hit there; again, no hit could do more than 1 damage unless it went critical. Tiamat took 39 rounds to kill, which explains the message the Iron Fists are shouting there. What shame and humiliation for the Four Fiends, all brought down with a combination of punching, the AFIR spells, the FOG/INV spells, and repeated use of the Heal Staff! All that's left now is for the Iron Fists to meet their destiny in the Temple of Fiends.