The start of the second world is about the halfway mark of the game, and a fitting break in Spoony's journey. Spoony was level 45 and had 5 Elixirs in stock upon starting this area, which I hoped would be enough to do the early parts prior to getting the Hiryuu transportation. Anyway, Galuf quickly rescued the rest of the team and I got control of Spoony once again. (I wonder what the people in this world would think, if told that all their hopes were resting on a bard named Spoony? Hehe.) The fight on the Big Bridge against Gilgamesh was the first real obstacle:
I made sure to Hide until Gilgamesh used up all his magic points casting Aero 2, in order to prevent him from casting Haste/Armor/Shell at the end of the fight. Even so, this was a pretty tough boss! Spoony had to do 6500 damage while plugging away at ~250 per attack, and even with the ability to dodge half of all incoming physical attacks, that still took quite a while. I kept Spoony in the front row, as Gilgamesh's Jump attack would hit him and do full damage regardless of row positioning. At one point, Spoony was knocked down to a single hit point - no, that's not from Maelstrom or anything like that! Just a crazy coincidence. Well, enough Elixirs will get you through a lot of sore spots, and they worked again here. Spoony ended up using 4 Hi Potions and 4 Elixirs here. Thank goodness he could now buy Hi Potions in stores, and be less dependent on Elixirs for healing in these battles!
The only noteworthy thing about going to Rugor was picking up the Dancing Dirk, which was a notable upgrade in damage from the Guardian. The extra Dancing effects were all good too, aside from Mystery Waltz. One of the werewolves in Kelb taught Spoony his fourth song, Requiem. This is the Bard's only direct damage song:
Requiem does very high damage against undead targets. Sadly, it is useless against everything else, and there aren't many undead in this game. (Think of it as a "HARM" spell from the original Final Fantasy.) On the plus side, the Zombie and Bone Dragons in the Hiryuu Valley were two foes that Spoony absolutely decimated. It felt great to pick one command and annihilate the enemies, rather than plinking away over the course of a dozen attacks!
I was disappointed to find that the Bard class cannot equip the Bone Mail armor. Only six classes in the game can't do so, the four pure mage classes (White/Black Mage, Summoner, Time Mage) along with the Geomancer... and Bard. Great. That armor is a cornerstone of my usual strategy for solo characters, providing great physical defense and protection against a number of death spells. I was reminded of this immediately, as Spoony had to take on the Hiryuu Plant without its benefit:
The Bone Mail protects against the poison, darkness, charm, and aging statuses inflicted by the flowers, leaving the paralyzation one (flower #4) as the only danger. With Spoony lacking that protection, all five of them were potentially dangerous, especially the charming flower (#5) which combined with the paralyzing one could quickly get Spoony into a trap where he alternated between being confused and stunned, without ever getting a chance to act! My first instinct was to try the Charm Song here, confusing the flowers and getting them to attack the Hiryuu Plant itself. You see this at work in the picture above, and this is the proven strategy for getting a White Mage past this battle. However, inevitably the flowers would attack each other and de-confuse themselves, then Spoony would get paralyzed/charmed and eventually go down to defeat. I was never able to do more than 1000 damage this way, and the Hiryuu Plant has 12k health. Time for a new plan!
Alright, if confusing the flowers didn't work, why not try Stopping them with the Love Song? I tried this next, with mixed results. I could get the Love Song to work some of the time, but again, inevitably the flowers would dodge the spell and paralyze/charm Spoony, which would start the whole destructive cycle in motion again. I was totally stumped here for a bit, I'll admit, not seeing a way to do this battle. Then something whispered to go look at the Algorithms Guide again, always the best solution when in a jam. As it turns out, the flowers have a fairly high Magic Evade rate, something like 30%. This means that all spells that don't do direct damage have a flat 30% rate to fail, just like a player character using the Aegis Shield. However, the Hiryuu Plant itself had no such Magic Evade, and also lacked any immunity to the Stop status inflicted by the Love Song. Aha!
That was the break I needed. Spoony's new plan was based around freezing the Hiryuu Plant itself in stasis, which would prevent it from reviving any of the flowers once they were killed. I had Spoony kick off the battle with the Love Song, then proceeded to kill off each of the flowers in turn, renewing the Love Song after each attack. Once they were all dead, Spoony alternated Love Song/Attack over and over again; the singing had a 99% chance to hit, and thus easily Stopped the actions of the boss completely. I used the Dancing Dirk and slowly wore down the boss, despite getting tons of useless "Tempting Tango" moves instead of the desired "Sword Dances". After a long battle, the boss lay dead at Spoony's feet - it worked! Like I've said before, there's always a way to win each encounter in this game. You just have to find the right plan.
Before heading to the ship battle with Gilgamesh, Spoony paused to grab his fifth song from Surgate Castle, the Speed Song. I usually skip this area completely, as only a few classes have anything to grab in there, but the Bard class is one of them. The Speed Song is the first of four different "stat-boosting" songs; rather than do anything directly, they slowly increase a particular stat over time. The Speed Song naturally works with Agility, which determines how fast your characters act in battle. The great drawback to these songs is that hitting the singer interrupts them, and that's a problem for a solo character who takes all the blows! Still, they are VERY powerful if given enough time to buff a particular stat to max. Take a look at this picture from the following Gilgamesh battle:
After Hiding and letting Gilgamesh drain all his magic points (removing the threat of Missile and Death Claw), I went ahead and had Spoony buff his Agility up to max with the Speed Song. This was as much for testing purposes as because I needed to do so, but I can't deny it was a big help. Now the way those little bars on the bottom-right corner of the screen work is that they slowly fill up from left to right, and when they fill completely, your character can act in some way: fight, cast a spell, use an item, etc. Anyone who has played the later Final Fantasy games will be familiar with this system. After acting, the bars drop back down to the left hand side, and the process repeats.
In FF5, the Agility stat doesn't make the bar fill up faster. What it does do is make the bar not drop as far back to the left after taking an action. (Haste and Slow work exactly the same way, for the curious.) By pumping his Agility stat from the default 33 to the max of 99, Spoony saw a drastic difference in how far the bar dropped after each action; I spliced in the comparison screenshots above. After buffing his Agility, the bar barely moved at all, and Spoony was able to act again almost instantaneously! Spoony went from being slightly slower than Gilgamesh, to being able to act THREE TIMES for every one of his moves. Wow. Although this took a while to set up, it was unquestionably a powerful skill for boss situations. While moving at triple speed, it was trivial to dust off Gilgamesh and Enkidou (after Hiding until the latter's magic points were also drained, naturally!) Spoony drank a few Hi Potions, otherwise this was quite an easy encounter.
I wanted to equip Spoony with an Angel Ring in the Barrier Tower, as one of the enemies in there used an Aging attack. When I went into the inventory screen to do so, however, I found that a bunch of my accumulated weapons and armor had disappeared! What the heck?! Spoony somehow lost access to his Angel and Flame Rings, and I did NOT sell them. Was this some kind of crazy bug at work (?) I had no recourse but to play on without them, thankfully there wasn't any battle where they were essential on the horizon. I could buy additional copies of these rings eventually, but not until the third world.
For once I had an easy answer to the Atmos fight: hide until he was out of magic points, haha!
Take that, you vaccuum-sucking bastard! Atmos uses nothing but spells, so he was totally useless once his astronomical 20,000 magic points were all gone. (The in-game clock stated that this battle lasted about two hours, although I got it done in ten minutes of fast-forwarding on the emulator.) Finally, the one boss in the game that's easier for the Bard class than any other!
Spoony made his way through the Forest of Mua by confusing the enemies with the Charm Song, and watching them beat themselves to death. Slow, but effective. Spoony stayed in the back row, and when he did attack, he made sure to use the Dancing Dirk, hoping to pull Sword Dance or Jitterbug Duet and dish out decent damage. This area wasn't so bad. Then Spoony made it up to the Crystals/Seal Guardians at the end of the Forest, I went to equip the Flame Ring, and... oh crud! That's right, the item disappeared a little while back, and there is no way to get a Flame Ring anywhere in the second world. Uh oh. That just made this fight significantly harder...
Ah well, nothing like a change of pace to shake things up, right? And if I can do the boss fight against the Crystals with a solo BARD that lacks the Flame Ring, well, that would be a mighty fine feather in the cap! Of course, my first couple attempts at this had Spoony getting pasted to a bloody pulp - those Crystals dish out some pretty good melee damage! I had a thought to go into the fight with a Wall Ring equipped, damage the Fire Crystal down to the critical range, and then have it kill the other Crystals by reflecting Fire 3 off the wall. That didn't work out too well, because 1/4 of the spells would reflect back onto the Fire Crystal and heal it, forcing me to start the process all over again. Time for a new plan.
Rather than attack with Spoony's daggers, I had him attack using his Dream Harp instead. You can see that at work above. The way that harps work is that they deal percentage-based damage; for example, the Dream Harp will do 1/8 of current HP whenever it hits. Even better, harps can be used from the back row at no penalty. Thus, like using Static Field in Diablo II, you'll never kill anything using a harp, but it sure can soften up opponents for you! Now if that sounds too good to be true, it's because it is: harps miss frequently, and they don't work against most bosses: anything that has the "Heavy" flag in the code. And yet for no clear reason, the Crystals don't have this flag, so Spoony could play away on his harp! Each Crystal starts with 7777 hit points, and the Dream Harp was extremely useful in whittling them down a bit.
Now when the Crystals get under 3000 health remaining, they stop doing physical attacks and start using their elemental ones: Fire 3, Aero 3, Aqua Rake, and Earth Shaker. For Spoony, this was his cue to exit, stage right! Once their magic points were all drained, and the Crystal was stuck helplessly casting spells that would always fail, Spoony could return and polish them off. So now the battle plan was sketched out and ready to go. I had Spoony start with the Water Crystal, the one on the far right, and use the Dream Harp to drop it down under 3000 HP. Hide for ages, come back and immediately start plinking away at the Fire Crystal. Repeat the process, then again for the Wind Crystal (the one in the back). Once 3 of the 4 Crystals were burned out on MP, I had Spoony finish them off, and get ready for the final Earth Crystal. This one had to be dealt with a little differently, because Earth Shaker doesn't cost any magic points, and thus Hiding would be useless! I had Spoony pump his Agility up to max with the Speed Song (which wouldn't have worked earlier, because he would have been taking too many physical hits too pull it off), then proceeded to carve up the last Crystal with the Air Lancet dagger. Worked just the way I planned it! And because my tactics were so good, Spoony only had to use 2 Elixirs, although I'll admit I downed about 50 Hi Potions as well in the course of the battle. Whew!
Spoony dealt with the enemies in Exdeath's Castle the same way as those in the Forest, finding that they were almost all prey to the Charm Song. I enjoyed watching some of the foes cast instant death spells like Blaster and Break on themselves, heh. Soon enough Spoony had looted all the treasures and made it up to the top floor of the castle. Usually the final Gilgamesh encounter is a walk in the park - not so much for Spoony!
Gilgamesh uses lots of status-affecting spells. Spoony could avoid many of these by Hiding and draining his magic points, but there were two abilities that I feared: Rocket Punch (which does damage equal to 1/2 current hit points and confuses the target) and Sonic Wave. Oh, how I hate thee, Sonic Wave! Trying to hide in the back row was not an option, as Spoony would eventually get hit with Sonic Wave and see his damage drop to a fraction of its normal total. Even for Spoony, doing 50 damage per attack wasn't going to cut it in the face of 13,000 life! Therefore, it was better to get into the front row and accept more total damage, in exchange for shortening the fight and hoping to avoid Sonic Wave. Since this was already luck-based anyway, I re-equipped the Dancing Dirk and crossed my fingers for Sword Dance to come up, which actually did respectable damage. After about five attempts, I got lucky and didn't see Sonic Wave appear, while Sword Dance popped up four different times and punched out massive damage. Yay - would like to say I had a great plan here, but it was mostly just bending chance in my favor through multiple tries.
And then for Exdeath... hoo boy, this guy is a toughee. Let me start by listing his moves that do and do not use magic points:
Use MP - Fire3, Bolt3, Ice 3, Dispel, Condemn, L3 Flare, Gravity 100, Demi, Bio
Don't Use MP - Dynamo, Earth Shaker, Hurricane, Zombie Breath, Flame
Fortunately, Spoony only had to worry about the moves in the second category, the first group all being invalidated by Hiding until Exdeath's magic was drained. And ye god, did that take forever! Exdeath has 32768 MP to start the battle. It took 90 minutes of running the game on Fast Forward mode to see them run out, which equated to 20 hours of in-game time. TWENTY HOURS! Note to anyone reading: do not try a solo Bard run on an actual Super Famicom system. Trust me on this.
So yes, I did create a save state there after all magic points were gone, and randomized each new attempt by running the game for another 10-30 seconds on Fast Forward for each new attempt. Can you blame me? This was going to take some practice to get right. Exdeath also has 32768 HP in this fight, and Spoony could only do about ~125 per attack in the back row:
Of course, you know from that picture that I ultimately did win, so here's how I did it. First of all, the big problem in the fight was Exdeath's physical attack. This move does tons of damage, and thus I absolutely had to keep Spoony in the back row. His normal physical attack would do ~400 damage there, and his special "Vacuum Wave" attack would do ~700 damage, plus inflict a hit point leak status that slowly drained away more health for a while. Furthermore, Exdeath starts with a speed rating of 50, which is very fast indeed; he essentially got 3 attacks to every 2 that Spoony did, and that was distinctly a bad thing. Just trying to hack the boss down from the back row wasn't going to cut it, not unless I was prepared to level up to some insanely high point and drink an ocean full of Elixirs. I figured I could be smarter than that.
Aside from Hiding until Exdeath's magic was gone, the key to this fight was using the Speed Song. Yes, even in this uber-dangerous boss battle! IF (and it was a big if) I could keep Spoony alive while buffing his Agility to max, he would be able to move twice to every one move of Exdeath's, allowing me to react instantly with healing as well as bang out damage at an acceptable rate. Unfortunately I screwed this up a number of times, getting stuck in the middle of the Speed Song where Spoony couldn't heal himself! Gradually, I started to figure out the spots in Exdeath's AI routine where I could use the Song safely; right after he used Hurricane was a good time, for example. Through trial and error I got better at this, until finally I managed to pull it off correctly in battle.
Now Spoony could start going on the attack, chipping away at that massive Exdeath HP total. I used the Dancing Dirk again, as two of its attacks (Sword Dance and Jitterbug Duet) both did good damage from the back row, ~800 and ~350 respectively. Hey, that was a lot better than the ~125 Spoony was doing normally! The other two options, Mystery Waltz and Tempting Tango, were sadly both useless of course. Still it was working, slowly, and with his speed buffed Spoony could rely on Hi Potions to heal himself rather than Elixirs. Once Exdeath's health fell under 16000, his AI routine switched to one based around casting Fire/Ice/Bolt 3, which was pointless because he had no magic points left! That was the point where I knew Spoony would win, and - another fifteen minutes later - he did. Spoony entered the third world at level 53, which was above the average for my characters but by no means insanely out of whack. He had to use nearly every ability I'd taught him in this battle, and I was proud that he pulled it off so well!
Alright, into the third world now. Sadly, Spoony had to do the Antlion fight multiple times, until he landed a bunch of Sword Dances from the Dancing Dirk at the outset of the fight. Sonic Wave makes this boss a pain in the rear for any low-damage variant.
I snapped a picture of my favorite line of dialogue from the cut-scene that follows shortly thereafter:
Never fails to make me laugh. Somehow the notion that Exdeath, this supposedly badass uber-villain, is thwarted by a giant turtle, of all things, makes this scene too funny for words. The Japanese have some weird plot ideas...
Anyway, Spoony moved on and picked up his sixth Song at the top of the Ancient Library. (This is one of the most obscure Songs, as you have an extremely brief period to grab it before the Library is destroyed by a story event.) The Magic Song works exactly the same way as the Speed Song, slowly raising the Magic Power stat to max. This is almost useless for a solo Bard, however, as the Requiem Song is the only only that involves magic damage in any way. I picked it up mostly for purposes of completion.
The real treasure for Spoony came from walking over to Mua, and obtaining the Chicken Knife. Finally, a weapon that could do real damage! I felt like I had awakened from some horrible nightmare, and was now back to playing a normal character again. With the Chicken Knife, Spoony could dish out real, non-trivial damage and actually kill most critters in a single hit. The best part: Spoony had already run from so many battles, I didn't even need to power up the knife. It was already maxed out in damage! Heh.
Spoony used a combination of the Chicken Knife and the Requiem Song to get through the Pyramid, as a large number of the enemies inside were undead. In consequence this area was a total breeze, as the non-undead enemies would either fall in a single hit to the Chicken Knife or Spoony would run away from its Flee effect. The Machine Head robots went down to some old-fashioned Chickeny goodness. Spoony looted all the treasure, picked up some fine experience, and prepared for the boss fight outside:
I gave him the Wall Ring for Merugene/Mellusion, which stopped everything but her physical attacks, and those were pretty rare. A combination of the Vitality Song (Regen status) and Hi Potions were enough to stay healthy with ease. Meanwhile, Spoony relied on the Chicken Knife to attack, and actually could do real damage. Look, he doesn't have to spend hours plinking away with a feeble dagger! This encounter was staggeringly easy, and quickly overcome.
Spoony went ahead and looted the Apollo Harp and Assassin Dagger from Kuzar Castle, although I continued to have him use the Chicken Knife for virtually all situations. He could also finally pick up replacement Angel/Flame Rings in Mirage, as well as add the Coral Ring and Running Shoes accessories, not to mention the top flight magely armor equipment (Black Shirt and Coronet). Busy shopping trip! I should mention here that to get the final two Bard songs, you must finish a little sub-quest of playing all eight pianos in the world; the locations are in Tule, Carwen, Karnak, Jacohl, Crescent, Rugor, Mua, and Mirage. By playing the last one in Mirage, Spoony could now return to Crescent and get his last two songs, accompanied by this lovely Engrish message:
Hehe, well said Mr. Bard. The last two songs are the Power Song and the Heroic Song (also known as the Level Song in some translations). They also work the same way as the Speed Song, with the Power Song increasing Strength over time, and the Heroic Song increasing Level. Since Level is the one number that factors into pretty much every calculation in the game, the Heroic Song is really powerful in a non-variant setting. For solo Spoony, the Power Song was probably slightly more useful, as his low Strength was his biggest limitation. I already knew of at least one place I would be using both songs before the end of the game...
The Chicken Knife/Running Shoes combo carried Spoony through the Solitary Island temple, with very little of substance to report. Spoony either killed the random foes, or ran away due to the Flee effect. Spoony served up some fried Chicken to Stalker/Stoker and won without any real issues. I had to use a couple of Elixirs when the boss broke out his Hurricane attack, and that was easily done.
Spoony handled the Minotaur the same way my characters alway do, by hacking away with the Chicken Knife and using Elixirs as needed. Little to report. Against Omniscient, Spoony played his beloved waiting game yet again, standing around for hours while the boss slowly drained his tens of thousands (no, that's not a mistake) of magic points. With a Wall Ring and Regen status from the Vitality Song, Spoony was in no danger whatsoever. Eventually all 30,000 magic points were gone, and Spoony carved up the turkey using his physical attack. Tedious and easily done.
Now the Great Trench was one place where Spoony could really cut loose - every enemy down there was undead!
Requiem decimated them. With the Running Shoes on, Spoony could sing Requiem twice before the random foes could even get a chance to act, and thus he took no damage from virtually every fight. It's amazing how the Running Shoes can be such a powerful DEFENSIVE piece of equipment - kill the monsters before they get to do anything, and you won't take damage! Speed is really the uber factor in this game, as I've said on a number of occasions.
I tried to use the Magic Song for fun against the boss trio at the end of the dungeon, but they kept attacking too often and knocked Spoony out of it before I could increase his Magic Power stat. So after fooling around with that for five minutes and not achieving anything, Spoony just starting singing Requiem, and they all bit the dust shortly thereafter. Even the bosses in the Great Trench are undead too! If Spoony ever needs to do some more leveling (and he probably doesn't), at least I know where to go.
Istory Falls was back to the usual enemy mix, which meant running away from most battles. It's simply wasn't worth the effort to go through difficult random encounters when Spoony could pick up gold and experience so much more easily by facing off against the undead in the Great Trench. All too soon I had looted all the treasure and reached the boss at the end. Leviathan meant equipping a Coral Ring to defend against his Tidal Wave move, while using a mixture of Hi Potions and the Speed Song to raise Agility to max. Once Spoony had effectively reached Haste status, able to respond instantly to whatever action Leviathan took, I switched over to the attack. As a result, Spoony went through about 50 Hi Potions in this battle, but managed to avoid dipping into his Elixir stash.
Spoony had thus already reached the end of the third world, with the final dungeon remaining as the only unconquered locale. With nothing further left to do, I restocked supplies and got started. The strategy for the first couple of bosses in the Cleft of Dimension remained short and simple:
Hide until they ran out of magic points, then attack. Ya know, the same thing Spoony had been doing the whole game? Calotisteri/Wood Sprite only had 1000 MP, and she ran through that extremely quickly, after which she was helpless. This boss is pretty sad, and can be countered with ease by a few simple tricks (Spoony didn't even have the Bone Mail, which nullifies her entire spell repetoire!) Apanda was also easy to run out of magic, leaving him with virtually nothing dangerous remaining. Apocalypse took quite a long time to run through all his spells, but afterwards met with the same fate. He never attacks, just casts Blue magic constantly. The Chicken Knife served to take down all three foes.
Ironically, Catastrophe was one of the toughest bosses in the final dungeon! Usually this guy is a pushover because of his low hit point total. Well, Spoony had some issues because his Earth Shaker attack doesn't cost magic to use, and thus Hiding was entirely useless. Catastrophe also occasionally uses "Demon's Eye", the same stoning attack that the Shoat summon employs, and that killed Spoony a fair amount too. Don't get me wrong, this wasn't a major roadblock by any means, but Spoony lost a number of times and had to dip into the Elixir stash again. Not a foe to disrespect for the solo Bard, it seems.
Halicarnassus was taken down by her own magic:
I tried attacking, and yet that barely did any damage. Easier just to sit in the back row, using Hi Potions and the Defend command, and wait for Halicarnassus to Holy herself to death off of the Wall Ring. So that's what I had Spoony do, capturing a nice screenshot in the process!
Because Spoony's damage against Twin Tania would be physical in nature, that meant equipping a Coral Ring to defend against his Tidal Wave. I initially tried buffing Spoony's Agility with the Speed Song, to make up for the lack of the Running Shoes, but that didn't work out too well, and I kept getting him killed. I rejected that plan, and focused on attacking conventionally instead. Every time you hit Twin Tania with a physical attack, he has a 1/3 chance to counter with Tidal Wave, which is what I wanted to have happen since it would heal back about 1000 health for Spoony! In an ideal world, those Tidal Waves would be evenly distributed and Spoony could do the whole fight without having to use any healing items. In reality, I have to use a couple of Elixirs when I didn't get Tidal Wave counter attacks to show up. Spoony stayed in the back row, doing a little over 1000 damage per attack, slowing wearing down the boss' 50,000 health. When Giga Flare was about to appear, I had Spoony Hide to dodge it. (One hit from Giga Flare would have done 3000 damage, and Spoony only had 2800 health!) Eventually, Spoony's slow and steady approach won out over the boss.
Spoony now prepared for the difficult Necrophobia fight, which I had been worrying about for some time. The first half of the fight would be a joke; Spoony could simply dodge the magic spells from the Barriers until they shortly ran out of MP, and polish them off at leisure. The problem was the second half of the battle, against Necrophobia himself. The enemy does nothing but attack physically, with a very high damage rate, and can pull out his Hurricane/Attack combo at any point for instant death. Even worse, Necrophobia has high Defense as well, and even the Chicken Knife wouldn't be able to cut through that easily. I was going to need to get lucky in terms of avoiding attacks, plus get a long string of successful hits (and not "Run Away"s) with the Chicken Knife to pull it off.
Well, Spoony tried his best to win this battle at level 56 and got beaten pretty badly. Necrophobia's normal attack could kill him in one hit in the front row, two in the back row, and I was spending the whole time doing nothing but gulping Elixirs and hoping to get lucky. Not going to work. So I leave the dungeon and go level Spoony until he hits level 61, to try my chances again. Short answer: slightly better, but not by much. In about six tries, I couldn't get further than 15k out of a needed 34k damage against Necrophobia, and I was really getting tired of walking all the way from the previous save point with each attempt. So... time for a new plan.
Screw that old Necro guy. The only reward for winning that battle is another save point, and Spoony doesn't need to beat him if he can kill the final boss with minimal fuss. That's a big if, obviously. But I had a plan for taking down Exdeath, one that I'd been thinking about the whole game. Time to test out Spoony's true Bard powers to their fullest!
Spoony started the battle by Hiding until all of Exdeath's magic points were gone. The key factor here is that the dreaded White Hole move costs 99 MP, and thus even Exdeath runs through his mammoth 30k magic point total in a hurry. Once that was out of the way, Spoony could return to the fight and get on with the real part of his plan: buffing ALL of his stats to max with the trio of the Hero Song, Power Song, and Speed Song. There was no danger, as Spoony could only be hit by Exdeath's physical attacks, which were easily healed by a combination of Regen from the Vitality Song and Hi Potion use. I had Spoony equip the Guardian Dagger to defend against some of those attacks, and Exdeath's AI script only has him use his physical attack 1/3 of the time anyway, so these three songs were able to buff Spoony's stats quite quickly.
Now, the multiplier formula for the Chicken Knife involves three numbers: Level, Strength, and Agility. All of these numbers were now 99 for Spoony, or close to it, so the multiplier looked something like this: (Level * Strength) / 128 + (Level * Agility) / 128 = (99 * 99) / 128 + (99 * 99) / 128 = 76 + 76 = 152. Multiply this number (M) by the base Damage for the Chicken Knife (127) and you get...
Massive damage! Keep in mind that Spoony is in the back row here, so he is actually doing close to 12,000 total damage, and that's after subtracting out the boss' Defense too. Simply put, Spoony was now an uber-warrior on the offensive; yes, greater than any of my other solo characters! That's the true power of the Bard class, the ability to buff all stats to insane levels - given lots of time and the right circumstances. Now, why didn't I do this in the Necrophobia fight? Because singing the Songs for a Bard is like falling asleep; they will sing forever until a physical attack hits them. If I were to have Spoony try to buff his stats in the first half of the Necrophobia battle, he would simply sing endlessly and never stop. The tactic worked here against Exdeath because he uses a normal physical attack... and all that stat buffing would carry over to the second Neo-Exdeath half of the encounter! This is one place where Singing really works perfectly.
So bring it on, Neo Exdeath! Spoony's not afraid of you!
Just let him go Hide for awhile until Part #2 uses up all its magic points casting Almagest. Well, that only took 90 minutes of running the emulator on Fast Forward. (I think that works out to something like 20 hours in-game!) With Part #4 eliminated by Odin, and Part #2 neutered by lack of magic, the only remaining threats were Part #3's physical attacks and Part #1's Grand Cross move. Yes, Grand Cross doesn't cost any magic points to use. However, every time that Neo Exdeath tipped off that the move was coming by announcing "The Laws of Physics are broken!", I had Spoony Hide for a little while, and dodged the attack.
That was really the only way that Spoony could have lost the fight. I wanted to be careful to get it right the first time, because I did *NOT* want to have to go through all the hassel of Hiding for hours on end a second time! Fortunately, nothing untoward happened. Spoony stayed in the back row and dished out 6000+ damage per hit, killing Part #1 to start, and then redlining Parts #2 and #3 together, finishing them off with a Syldra summon from the Magic Lamp:
And that was all she wrote.
When preparing for this variant, I expected that the Hide command would be Spoony's bread and butter, while his Songs would be all but useless. That turned out not to be the case; although Hiding against bosses was an integral part of the overall strategy, the Songs more than carried their own weight. I actually plan to work in some Bard songs into my next non-variant playthrough, whenever that might be! For Spoony, the hardest parts of the game mostly came in the first and second world. Once he gained access to the Chicken Knife at the outset of the third world, the game became vastly easier. The low Strength and Vitality stats were absolutely crippling for this character until he gained access to some Bard songs. As I said, it was like playing a Black Mage with no magic!
Two additional bonus stats for Spoony. First, here's his Elixir Usage throughout the game:
Liquid Flame: 1
Karnak Castle: 1
Gilgamesh (Bridge): 4
Crystals/Seal Guardians: 2
Gilgamesh (Castle): 5
Twin Tania: 3
Neo Exdeath: 7
Normal for my solo characters is something along the lines of 20-30, to give you an idea of how much more help Spoony needed to get through the game. I farmed dozens and dozens of Elixirs off of enemy drops, almost entirely in the first two worlds. Finally, the play time stat from the main menu:
We have here my original non-variant team at the top, representing a control group of sorts, followed by Spoony, Black, and Solo. Spoony's game took almost 70 more hours than Solo, my second-longest by a wide margin! Again, a very large amount of that time came from Hiding and running the emulator on Fast Forward speed in boss battles... but still. It's just crazy. You can also see how Spoony's max hit points were significantly lower than even Black. What did I tell you about the problem with having low Vitality!
Solo Bard is one of the hardest of the solo job challenges. I'm going to back off and do a couple of easy ones before trying another one like this again. Next up should be Dragoon: Jump! Jump! Keep an eye out for it.