Low-Level Challenge

A quick trip back to Coneria followed, replenishing my supply of TENTs and Heal Potions. (And reviving For at the clinic - 40g at Coneria, 400g at Crescent Lake. It's worth it to make the trip!) While I've been pretty paranoid about money throughout this variant, keep in mind that I can't fight monsters for cash. When the gold from treasure chests runs out, that's it. And a lot of the late-game items are darned expensive! Not to mention, I have to waste 50k on that stupid BOTTLE too. In short, I had to do everything possible to scrimp and save my funds.

Into the Ice Cave. I went ahead and did a treasure run on the first trip, grabbing everything except the gold room in the southwest corner of the bottom dungeon floor. Unlike the Red Dragons, you CAN run from the FrostDs (as everyone should know from the Temple of Fiends Revisited!) so I could go ahead and grab the Ice Armor for one of my fighters. Their Blizzard attack did kill poor For again though. He just doesn't have enough hit points to survive much of anything... The one unrunnable fight in this dungeon was against Frost Giants, and I did draw one of those, good for another 500 experience. The unlucky For missed out on that battle too!

After a pair of failed attempts, I reached the Eye:

(Note - I took a picture of the Eye fight. Apparently I forgot to save it. Fine weed on my part, so you'll just have to imagine it.)

This time it was XP who took the hit and missed out on the 1000 experience reward. Along with an unrunnable Frost Giant fight earlier in the dungeon, the experience took You up to Level Nine, and caught For up to level 8 with the others. 9/8/8/8 total, in other words. I had to fight yet another Frost Giant pack on the way out (argh!), and then that was it. Picked up about 2000 experience for each party member, unfortunately - but the worst dungeon in the game was over! Yay! (Although I planned to return later for the missing gold, should I need it. Fortunately I never did.)

Here's by far the lowest-level class change I've ever done:

The gold from the Cardia Island chests was a huge help, as I had to spend 50,000 immediately afterwards on the BOTTLE. That left me with a little over 51k remaining, meaning I couldn't afford ProRings (20k each) for everyone. I could only purchase two and come back later after raiding the Sea Shrine. I gave 'em to the two red mages - they were still sporting Gloves, for crying out loud!

Did the Waterfall, not much happened there. Well, XP was SQUINTed out of existence by a Perilisk... but when you're running from every single battle and not fighting anything, that's a minor inconvenience. Sure wish I could learn LIFE with my red mages - too bad they still lack 4th level spell charges, much less 5th level ones!

There are a surprising number of unrunnable monster encounters in the Sea Shrine. I knew about Waters and Ghosts, but did you know that you can't run from the Wizard/Red Sahag packs either? Usually that battle means firing off Zeus and Thor and raking in the experience, which wasn't exactly what I wanted now. As a result, by the time I had finished raiding the upper mermaid treasure floor, everyone had reached level 9, and You was nearing level 10. Bah! On the positive side, the gold from the chests did give me enough money to finally equip my fighters with ProRings. Past time for that...

I next raided the treasures in the Mirage Tower (but not the Sky Palace) to pick up Thor and the Sun Sword; the latter was important because it was the only way to get my second fighter up to three hits! Still no 4th level spell charges for FAST, which made me wonder if I should have taken one black mage for that very purpose (?) Nah, he would have been even harder to keep alive, and probably still be limping around with barely even 100 hit points.

On the way down to the bottom floor of the Sea Shrine, I faced another Wizard/Red Sahag encounter, plus a random fight against two Waters. This amounted to about 1500 experience, which brought everyone other than For up to Level Ten. You now did have a 4th level spell charge, which was useless until I could get out of the dungone and go to an inn.

I had no real plan against Kraken, other than attacking at max rate. Just have the fighters fight and the red mages cast LIT2 (via Zeus and Thor), hopefully killing him before he could do enough damage to kill my guys. Well, Kraken used "Ink" on round one (heh), did 80 Damage on an attack against XP in round two, and died tamely to LIT2 on round three:

Pretty easy, to be honest. Who said you need LIT3 to take him on? The 1000 experience put laggard For up to level 10 as well, so now I could finally make use of FAST with both red mages. Yay! Unfortunately, it didn't look like I would ever reach a high enough level to have LIFE on hand...

OK, Sky Palace next. I was somewhat disheartened when it took my team two full rounds to kill the Blue Dragon - usually it goes down in one round from a normal group. Maybe the lack of ten levels of Strength boosts was finally catching up to me? In rounding up the loot in the Sky Palace, I had to make the difficult call to drop the Zeus Gauntlet to make room for the White and Black Shirts. I just couldn't see a situation where I would need to use both Zeus and Thor again, since I would be running from most every enemy, and the White/Black Shirts would be more useful against the bosses I would be fighting. Anyway, this all became moot because I ran into the worst enemy mob in the entire game on the fourth floor:

There's nothing any party can do when it's hit by TRANCE, followed by insta-kill Sorceror hits. Wow. Just glad T-Hawk's Ironcore team never got taken out by this nonsense. (OK, glad they were only taken out *ONCE* by this nonsense!)

On the return trip, I faced a random encounter with an Eye, granting another 800 experience to all. Then on the top floor, the very last battle before Tiamat was another MudGol/Sorceror pairing where XP was slain instantly - argh! At least I did manage to get out of there with the other three characters intact. With half my offense gone, I decided to cheeze out and Bane Sword my way to victory against Tiamat. After about five tries, it worked:

I'll take the wins however I can get 'em with this group. Look how low those hit points are! Even with Ribbons all around, Tiamat's elemental attacks decimated this team. 50 hit points per attack is a big deal when you only have 180 total! The 1800 experience took You and No up to Level Eleven, with For and XP lagging a level behind still. 11/11/10/10 for the team overall.

I restocked potions, revived XP, and grabbed XCalber. Also noticed that For was a mere 256 experience shy of level 11, where he would pick up a second casting of FAST. The Temple of Fiends looked a lot more doable with 4 castings of FAST than 3, so I went ahead and did the minimal fighting necessary to put him over the top.

Here's my team at the finish of the game, about to enter the Temple of Fiends. In terms of weaponry, things were straightforward: XCalber and Sun Sword for the fighters (with Defense in inventory), Ice Swords for the red mages. I also had an "item with spell effect" for each of the four characters, except XP who had a Heal Helmet instead of the Zeus Gauntlet. I was more likely to attack with XCalber than use Zeus in 99% of situations anyway.

The Armor situation was a little more interesting. My red mages had the usual Gold/Opal Bracelet + Ribbon/ProRing combo, using the White and Black Shirts in their shield slots. No took the third Ribbon, along with the Opal equipment for best possible Absorb. XP equipped the Dragon Armor, Aegis Shield, Heal Helmet, and ProRing - defending him against the vast majority of elemental attacks. Yes, this is one thing that T-Hawk got wrong in his Ironcore report. The Dragon Armor defends against fire, ice, AND lightning, so it's actually the BEST possible armor for a fighter. With Dragon + Aegis (poison element) + ProRing (death element), you can protect a fighter against almost everything, although there are a few attacks (like QAKE, which is earth element) that can get through. The Dragon Armor also ties for the highest Absorb value in the game, so definitely don't go throwing it away!

You can also see the paltry spell selection of my mages. You (the character You!) had exactly the same stuff as For, except LIT2 in place of AFIR. I never did reach a high enough level to cast LIFE. Still, I don't regret the decision to go with red mages over white or black ones. There were times where I need black attack magic, and times where I needed white defensive magic. Only the red mages could provide both in the same character, plus have decent hp growth.

Then the real nightmare began...

There were three extremely difficult fights in the Temple of Fiends revisited, all of which I would need luck to get past. The first was against Lich: a single casting of NUKE could wipe out my entire team. Both red mages still had less than 200 hit points, so a non-elemental spell doing 100-400 damage... was a problem. I had to kill him before he could get the spell off, hoping that (against odds) the boss would either go last in the turn order or choose to attack in the first round. Secondly, Kraken's monstrous attack power could down either red mage in one go. I had to hope that he would stick to LIT2 or go after the fighters, who could actually survive an attack or two. Speed in downing him was again a major priority. Finally, Chaos himself would be no easy ticket; his own non-elemental TORNADO and SWIRL attacks would decimate my party if he used them in succession. I had to kill him and do it quickly, before he got off his CUR4 and extended the battle. And that wasn't even counting the random encounters against Gas Dragons, Worms, and Sorcerors! Clearly, this was going to take multiple attempts. Quite a few of them.

First attempt, XP was taken out by the Phantom's GLARE. (The one character without a Ribbon, d'oh!) Second attempt, XP killed again by Phanton's ZAP. Attempt #3 hit two consecutive packs of Gas Dragons, three dragons followed by four dragons. I won both battles, but had lost too many potions to continue.

Attempt #4 saw me get past the Phantom for the first time. Then Lich annihilated everyone with NUKE:

On attempt #5, Lich chose to attack in the first round instead of use NUKE. Woo hoo! There's only a 25% chance that he'll attack rather than cast a spell. I FASTed the fighter with XCalber, and No swatted the boss down on the second round before he could get off the spell:

Excellent! So far so good. At the very least, I now knew it was possible for my team to get past Lich - with some luck.

Kary was easy: the red mages spammed the White Shirt and Heal Staff continuously while the fighters attacked. Cake.

Kraken worried me. Worried me a lot. The plan was to have one red mage White Shirt the party up to speed, while the other one cast FAST on the fighter with the XCalber. Second round, I would have the first red mage continue with the White Shirt while the second either healed or used the Black Shirt to attack, as the situation dictated. In the fight, Kraken went first and did 200 Damage to XP (the non-XCalber fighter). Everything else went according to schedule. I healed him up with a CUR2, the best I could do... and Kraken responded with INK. Excellent. Round three, Kraken goes first... and does 144 Damage to XP. Who had 141 life, and another CUR2 coming to heal him. Goddamn it! At least we killed that bastard in retaliation.

Now if only my red mages could cast the LIFE spell! Still, if I could get the Masmune and FAST up No in the final two boss battles, I had a decent chance to beat the game. It all rested on avoiding those Sorceror fights on the fifth basement floor. First fight on the Air floor was, sure enough, against four Sorcerors. But my team got away immediately without taking a hit! Whew. We did get the Masmune, and by coincidence, the experience picked up from unrunnable fights in the Temple and against the previous Fiends had taken No up to Level Thirteen, where he reached 96% to hit, for exactly 4 hits! I took that as a good sign.

Tiamat... what's there to say? I used one of my remaining two FASTs on No, then had the red mages use the Heal Staff/Helment endlessly. Even with the Masmune, this still took about six rounds of combat. I was really feeling the lack of XP's attacks. That brought us up to Chaos...

All three of my characters got to act before Chaos in the first round, getting off FAST and the first use of the White Shirt. No did 75 damage in his first strike, landing no critical hits. In retaliation, the boss attacked and did about 80 damage to For. Second round was better, No doing 298 damage - Chaos responded with ICE3. Third round, No did 352 damage, Chaos responded with CRACK. My red mages continued to heal and cast INV2 with the White Shirt. Chaos continued his spell progression with LIT3 in the subsequent round, but No went nuts and did 510 damage! Must have been at least three criticals in there. Hopefully just two or three rounds left to go. Chaos next attacked and missed! Yay White Shirt! Meanwhile, No did another 380 damage. Next round was less positive, No only doing 97 damage with no criticals, while Chaos cast SLO2. Uh oh - next one's CUR4. Can the team finish him off before he casts it?

Nope... He had taken about 1800 damage at the time, more's the pity. Well, we aren't licked yet, and with six straight White Shirts, both red mages were now able to heal continously. So we keep going:

Round 8: No 269 damage, Chaos FIR3
Round 9: No 336 damage, Chaos ICE2
Round 10: No 424 damage, Chaos FAST (over 1000 damage, halfway there!)
Round 11: No 289 damage, Chaos NUKE

Oops... I forgot about that. Didn't remember that he had that one. All I could do now was attack, and hope Chaos would attack (and miss!) in turn.

Round 12: No 106 damage, Chaos attacks and misses
Round 13: No 123 damage, Chaos ICE3, Game Over

So close! Over 1800 damage the first time, and over 1500 the second time. If Chaos had attacked just slightly more often, I would have won. One thing was clear: if I would make it back to him again with both fighters alive, it wouldn't even be a contest.

Attempt #6 wiped out by Lich. Attempt #7 Phantom got XP yet again. Attempt #8, Lich. Attempt #9, Lich. Attempt #10, killed by Mage RUB despite ProRing at incredibly low odds. Atempt #11 downed by four Gas Dragons and constant POISON. Atempt #12, Phantom gets XP again! (Good Lord, he goes after the Ribbon-less character every time!)

Very odd situation on attempt #13, with Lich getting off NUKE but three out of four characters surviving, only For going down. Look at these hit point totals:

Can I get it done with only one of the two red mages? Maybe. I had to try, at the very least!

It was definitely harder fighting the bosses without For's help. Before, I had one red mage using the White Shirt while the other one used the Heal Staff, keeping everyone's hit points in relatively good shape. Now, against Kary and Kraken, I had no choice but to use the White Shirt to cut down on the number of hits they did. Kary was still relatively straightforward. Kraken, however, put down some major smackage on XP before I could get the Evade of everyone up. Fortunately, he went into a LIT2/INK storm after that, and I limped out of the battle with everyone alive:

Somehow, I managed to avoid every Sorceror encounter mob on the Air floor, despite fighting a lot of battles there. Tiamat delivered a nasty blow to You on the first round (200+ damage), then went down to a hail of blows from XCalber and the Masmune. Whew. And that brought me to Chaos again:

All those unrunnable fights in the Temple had put everyone up to Level Fourteen! It probably would have been 13 if For had stayed alive. My overall experience total for the game was 35,046 (No) + 33,423 (XP) + 36,330 (You) + 23,231 (For) = 128,030. Almost half of the total experience gain had come in the final dungeon! For the upcoming fight, I only had one FAST left (having used the previous one on Lich), which obviously XP, bearing the Masmune was going to receive. Fighters fight, red mage lays down White Shirt smokescreen, and hopefully the big guy goes down before he can heal himself again. The breakdown goes like this:

Round 1: No 115 damage, XP 209 damage, Chaos attacks and does 109 damage to No
Round 2: No 122 damage, XP 350 damage, Chaos attacks and does 160 damage to You
Round 3: No 3 damage (d'oh!), XP 324 damage, Chaos casts ICE3 (halfway there)
Round 4: No 95 damage, XP 217 damage, Chaos casts LIT3
Round 5: No 138 damage, XP 245 damage, Chaos uses CRACK to no effect (aka "it's over!")
Round 6: XP 189 damage: Terminated!

Final thoughts: this was a lot of fun - and not easy. The early parts of the game were the best, scrounging by on minimal gold and doing the challenges at ridiculously low levels. The Wizards took about a dozen tries to get right, ouch! Lich was similarly a gigantic pain, in both his first and second forms. I guess that's because my team was strong against physical attacks (due to finding armor), but helpless against magic with their low hit point totals. My team's low magic defense was sadly obvious versus casting foes. The run through the Temple of Fiends Revisited was just painful, the worst I've experienced since Blak. Still, I got it done eventually without resorting to savestate trickery. Lucky #13, woot!

I fought the minimum number of battles necessary, only quest-related and unrunnable battles. I'm sure you could do it at a slightly lower level if you save-stated your way around unrunnable encounters, but this should be pretty good for a real playthrough. Just wish For had lived to see the ending!

As always, thanks for reading. I'm probably finished with the original Final Fantasy for a while, having run out of ideas to try. I'm thinking of maybe doing something with one of the SNES Final Fantasies though, so perhaps you'll see more content of a new sort in time.