With the airship in tow, I went and bought Cecil a full assortment of Silver ("Mithril") equipment in Silvera. This provided a minor boost to both attack and defense. The Legend Sword remained useful to keep in inventory, since it did bonus damage against undead opponents. It's not like you can sell it anyway! I tried next to loot the treasures in Eblan, where you aren't supposed to go until a fair bit later in the game. Specifically, there is a Slumber Sword in there for Cecil that was better than anything else I currently had. Unfortunately, you have to win a battle against a group of monsters to get it, and they kept kicking my behind over and over again. Eventually, I gave up and decided to come back later. This was the first time Cecil actually got killed, and it was purely as a result of sticking my nose into an area where I didn't belong yet. My philosophy always is, if you're not getting killed periodically in these games, you're not pushing the envelope enough! (Or the game is a modern RPG and is just pathetically easy...)
I followed my standard procedure for the Magnetic Cave, unequipping Cecil of everything and running from all fights. Then, after beating the boss, I could go back through the cave and loot all the chests. So that brought me rather quickly to the Dark Elf:
It's cool that Astos reappears in this game, even if he seems to have become mentally retarded in the process. Anyway, his status-changing magic made this a rather difficult fight. Astos would mix up castings of Weak ("Tornado"), Piggy, and his triple elemental Fir2/Ice2/Lit2 combo. After a few rounds of this combo, I realized it was impossible to keep Cecil's hit points at max, because the boss would always knock them back down into the critical range with Weak. Since Astos never attacked, all I had to do was keep hit points above 100 to be completely safe. Similarly, I didn't bother to try and cure the Pig status, since the next casting of Piggy would cancel it out. After about five tense minutes of combat, Astos rolled over to his second form:
The Dark Dragon had exactly two attacks: a physical one, followed by a breath attack that did about 300 damage. Rinse and repeat endlessly. (What did I say about the AI programming being a little on the simple side?) I had Cecil alternate between attacking and using a Cure 2 ("Hi Potion") from inventory, which slowly increased his hit points, because I was healing back a little more damage than he was taking. Halfway through the fight, I realized that the Legend Sword would probably do more damage against a "Dark" Dragon than the Silver Sword, so I swapped that in and suddenly started banging out 1000 damage attacks, like the one you see above. The boss fell shortly thereafter. What a fun fight - required some skill and improvisation to figure it all out.
Cecil reached level 30 by the end of the cave, where he picked up his sixth hit. Very nice. I restocked on a bunch of items and prepared for the Tower of Zot. It's one of the tougher parts of the game, because you can't leave the dungeon once you enter it. I remember not knowing that as a kid, and having some real problems in the tower after going in with insufficient items. Anyway, Cecil picked up some great experience here, and the fighting was easy once he grabbed the Flame Sword in a chest on the second floor. Almost all of the enemies were weak to fire, making for some quick kills. Incidentally, I fully plan to save the Legend, Flame, and Blizzard Swords in inventory and swap them in and out depending on the elemental weaknesses of whatever Cecil ends up fighting. Gotta do whatever you can to help the solo character.
The Magus Sisters are the first of two bosses in here. I got the screen capture in mid attack animation, and I think it looks pretty sweet. For those who don't know, in this fight you have to take out the middle sister first, or else she will heal and revive the other two. Their attack consists of casting Wall ("Reflect") on the middle sister and bouncing attack spells off her onto your party: Fire 2, Ice 2, Lit 2, and Virus ("Bio"). Each of these would usually do about 200-300 damage to Cecil. I mixed up attacking and healing with potions - couldn't have Cecil heal himself with Cure 2, since he was Walled as well for most of the battle. Once the middle girl was dead, the other two started hurling all sorts of status spells at me: Poison, Confuse, Berserk, and so on. None of these were really dangerous, although Cecil spend a number of rounds confused. Eventually, I hacked the other two down and that was that. (What's up with their names in the Japanese version?! Ugh. This is one place where taking some liberties in translation was a good idea.)
That triggered the long dramatic Golbez sequence:
No matter how many times I've seen this, I still think it looks cool. I've always preferred the in-game cut scenes over the full motion video ones.
Now usually Valvalis ("Barbariccia" - another good change in the American version) is the easiest of the four Fiends. Her gimmick is that she spins into a tornado, and you have Kain use his Jump attack to knock her out of it... oh, wait. See the problem? Without Kain, it's difficult to hit Valvalis at all:
In another example of simple AI programming, Valvalis had exactly two attacks. On one round, she would cast Weak ("Tornado") which cuts the hit points of the target down to essentially nil - less than ten. As part of that same attack, she would use a Stone attack that partially petrified the target. Each individual stoning had no effect, but take four of them cumulatively and it meant instant death. On round two, Valvalis would deliver a rather weak physical attack. Then rinse and repeat, over and over again. Just those two things, a Tornado/Stone combo and then a weak physical attack. The problem here is that you cannot heal both hit points and status at the same time. It would take one turn for Cecil to recover hit points, then a separate round to heal the stone status, and by then the pattern would have started all over again. How do you make any progress against that? Uhh...
The only way to inflict damage was to wait until her Tornado attack missed, which would give Cecil a chance to attack in turn. Unfortunately, the Tornado hit about 80% of the time, and the stone attack was an auto-hit that never missed. I would spend most rounds of combat alternating between using Cure 2s (Hi Potions) and "Gold Pins" (the item that cures stone status) and waiting for a rare chance to strike back. Cecil kept dropping under 10 hit points with each successful Tornado, so the whole battle was constantly one step away from disaster. Fun stuff. After failing about five times initially, I went back and leveled Cecil up from 35 to 40. That made him slightly faster and increased damage output a bit, enough so that my second or third try eeked out a victory:
Dear Lord, what a horrible fight. I used over 50 Hi Potions and 30 Gold Pins in the course of this ONE boss battle. Cecil has seven hit points left, and has taken 2/4 stonings in the above picture. (Kain and Rosa are fully petrified.) All in all, it took something like four or five hours to get past this spot. I never want to see this battle again!!!
Whew. Anyway, moving on to the Underground. Cecil was now overleveled a fair bit, making these fights relatively easy. The Calbrena doll boss mostly stuck to physical attacks, so you know how not dangerous that was. They did mix it up once in a while with a Confuse spell:
Cecil tried to cast Exit and Cure a bunch of times, with hilariously ineffective results. The boss also fired off a couple of Hold spells, most of which missed. (Cecil's magic defense was slowly improving.) Pretty soon it went down, clearing the way for boss fight #2 against Golbez:
Everyone in the party was already dead, so the Shadow Dragon didn't even have to use its Cremate attack. Interesting. I reasoned that the Legend Sword with its holy element properties would be more effective against Golbez than the Flame Sword, so I made the swap in-battle and Cecil responded with a major damage increase. He was pounding out 800-1000 damage with each attack, wow! Rydia cast black magic on herself until she died, and I mixed in Cure 2s from Cecil when he took too much damage from Golbez. Overall, a nice and easy boss fight. Nothing crazy like I saw against Valvalis.
By the time I entered the Tower of Babil, Cecil was level 42 doing (8x) 87 damage. He'd come a long way in the course of the last dozen levels... Most of the monsters here in the tower were weak against ice, and the game makes it easy for Cecil by giving him the Blizzard Sword on the second floor. This is pretty much the reverse of the Tower of Zot, in other words, ice instead of fire. Cecil gained two levels fighting the easy monsters on the way up, and prepared for the next boss battle against Dr. Lugae.
Like so many other fights in this game, Lugae has two different forms. The first is a comedic fight against Dr. Lugae and his Frakenstein-like robot creation, Balnab. Killing either one will trigger the second half of the encounter. What I didn't know initially was that the surviving member of the two foes will self-destruct, causing massive damage to Cecil:
The first two times I tried this fight, Cecil simply died from the explosion, and that was that. On this third try, Cecil eeked out a survival with less than 50 hit points remaining. Yikes! Because this was counter-productive for the second half of the fight (see next paragraph), I tried some alternate strategies to try and increase my survivability. I remembered that the self-destruct spell doesn't do a random amount of damage, but instead deals sacrifice damage equal to the remaining hit points of the caster. In other words, by damaging both Lugae and his creation down to near-death totals, when they exploded I would take considerably less damage. This worked out the way I intended, and Cecil started taking 500-1000 damage from the explosion, instead of the 3000+ initially. Chalk up a minor victory to tactics.
Now for the second half of the battle, against the Lugae monster that the doctor transforms into. This foe had a more complicated attack pattern before repeating. Lugae started off with a (useless) poison attack, then an attack called Beam that did 200-300 damage, then a Sleep spell (which worked all too often, sadly) and finally the real danger: a Laser attack that did anywhere from 800 to 1800 damage!
Yeouch! Nasty, nasty stuff. Lugae would oddly finish up the pattern with a Heal spell that cured status ailments on Cecil (the poison and sleep from before), which I was grateful for. Otherwise the fight would have been completely impossible! OK, what to do in terms of counter-strategy? The biggest problem was that the Laser attack did far more damage than I could heal. Cecil's normal two options were Cure2 potions or Cure 2 the spell, both of which could heal about 400-500 hit points. Needless to say, that was helpless against an attack that regularly did three times as much damage. After failing a couple of times, I paused and took Cecil up three levels, from 44 to 47. That brought him up to nine hits (9x 100 damage!) and gave me 300 more max hit points to play around with. By now I was familiar with the Lugae pattern, and I mixed up attacking and healing with Cure 2s, Cure 3s ("X-Potions"), and Elixirs. I used up my one Cure 3 and all three Elixirs, and dealt Lugae the fatal blow right before he reached Laser again, on the last possible attack before Cecil would have been killed:
Got him fading away into mist: this game's equivalent of the "Terminated" sign. It was a near-perfect battle for me, using exactly the resources I had on hand to win with absolutely no waste. The three extra levels made a big deal, but the improved strategy - knowing when to take what action - was the real cause of victory! Another tough boss out of the way. Earlier, I had complained about the boss battles being too easy for a solo character. Not anymore, heh.
Back to the Upper World for the second time. I went back to Eblan (now at the time when you're supposed to go there) and raided the chest with the Slumber Sword in it. Of course, by now the weapon was outdated and too weak - I was more interested in getting revenge for my earlier defeats than using the weapon. The fights in the Cave of Eblan and Tower of Babil were strictly routine; by now, normal monsters had become little more than a joke. There's a much bigger disparity between bosses and random encounters in this game than in the original Final Fantasy. In that game, the random monsters were often worse than the bosses (Sorcerors!) In this game, pretty much all the challenge comes from the boss battles, with the random encounters little more than token experience to be grabbed.
All of the heroes save Cecil were dead for the fight against Edge's parents, leading to humorous scenes like this:
How's he even talking?! Looks dead to me.
The last two Fiends had been enormous challenges for Cecil. Rubicant... rather less so. He alternated between three different attacks: a weak physical attack, Fire 2, and (after opening up his Cloak) a pretty good Flame Tornado, which did about 800-1000 damage. I had Cecil equipped with the Blizzard Sword again, after having used the slightly stronger Medusa Sword throughout most of the dungeon. At level 53, Cecil was getting (11x) 106 Attack and (7x) 60 Defense - and had even picked up a second magic defense modifier, finally! With Rubicant weak against ice, he tore through the Fiend's defenses when the cloak was down:
Look at that damage! Each attack was as good as a casting of Ice 3 from Rydia in a normal game. I ignored all attacks other than Rubicant's Flame Tornado, and healed whenever the Cloak was closed. After five or six attacks, Rubicant bit the big one. Very little danger in this fight, a nice change of pace.