My excitement at beating the Sandworm lasted for all of about 30 minutes. That was how long it took to walk through the Quicksand Desert, go to the Ruined City, fight the Adamantium Turtle (laughably easy at this level and with the armor-piercing properties of axes), and then take out the outer defenses of the Lonka Ruins. Flameguns were easily handled by equipping the Flame Ring, and the Rockets were completely useless because Berserkers are immune to Confusion/Charm status. (This is probably the only real benefit to the class!) That brought Beowulf to the Sol Cannon battle...
Oh God. Not this again. Sigh.
The Sol Cannon battle is equally as difficult for the solo Berserker as the Sandworm battle. In fact, these two battles essentially comprise the whole challenge of the variant. (The fact that they are fought so close together comes off as a kind of cruel joke!) Let's go over why the Sol Cannon battle is also so difficult. It's similar to the Sandword battle in many ways, a situation where the high HP total of the Berserker is rendered pointless and the inability to control the character's actions in battle represents a gigantic handicap. The boss battle here has three different targets to attack. The first target is the Sol Cannon itself, which slowly counts down and fires an attack known as Surge Beam. This Surge Beam deals 50% of max HP and inflicts a HP Leak status, whereby your health slowly decreases over time. Because of the combination of these two factors, two Surge Beams will result in death 100% of the time unless some kind of healing item or spell is used. Naturally Beowulf the Berserker could never be controlled in battle, and never use any kind of healing item. Two Surge Beams = death. This set a time limit for the Sol Cannon battle that could not be avoided in any way. Once that second Surge Beam went off, Beowulf would be dead.
The other two targets in this fight are known as the Launchers. They both only have one attack: they repeatedly fire missiles at your party which deal 50% of current HP in damage. Here's a picture of that in action:
There's one of the missiles captured in flight. To be more precise, this ability is known as "Valiant Attack" in the game's code. It has a base 75% chance to hit the target, and it also inflicts Aging/Old status. That's why my solo characters almost always have to save up and purchase an Angel Ring for this battle, in order to avoid getting hit by the Old status from the Launchers and seeing their stats drop to nil. While the status effect was pointless for Beowulf in this fight (I had long since saved up enough gold for an Angel Ring), the combination of the Launchers and the Sol Cannon itself represented mortal peril. If even one of those missiles hit Beowulf, it would take out half of his life bar, and then Beowulf would be finished off by the first firing of Surge Beam. And even if I were lucky enough to dodge all of the missiles, the second Surge Beam would still eliminate my solo Berserker. He would only get so many attacks off before his impending doom would strike - Beowulf absolutely had to kill Sol Cannon in a very limited number of attacks. It was the only possible way to win the battle. So how many attacks did I have to work with here?
Seven. And that was only if Beowulf dodged every single missile strike. If even one of them hit, he would get four attacks. Four.
One of the hidden difficulties of this class is its painfully low Agility stat, which is the worst in the game by a wide margin. Berserkers are very slow to do anything. Why the developers felt that Berserkers needed this additional handicap on top of everything else going against them, I have no idea. It's really quite silly how Knights and Ninjas and Magic Knights can all easily double their damage output (or more), while the Berserker gets a paltry 50% damage bonus and must give up all control over the character as a penalty. Then pile a humongous speed penalty on top of all that. Argh! A character with normal Agility would have gotten ten or eleven attacks before Sol Cannon fired the second time, and winning would have been relatively easy. But oh no, not the Berserker class! We've got to make this as painfully difficult as humanly possible. Working with just seven possible attacks caused all the problems in the world.
The other crippling issue in this battle was the amount of damage necessary to win. Both of the Launchers have only 800 HP, so one attack would kill either of them instantly. But the Sol Cannon itself has 12,500 HP and that was a crapton of life to chop through. Remember, Beowulf didn't get any faster with more levels. He had exactly seven attacks to work with, no more, no less. (And again, that was only if every single missile failed to hit him, which *VERY* rarely happened!) The ideal scenario here would be for Beowulf to hit the main Sol Cannon itself seven times, which would still require an average of 1785 damage per attack. This was ludicrously unlikely though, as it require him to pick the main Cannon 7 times in a row at 1/3 odds each time (successful odds of this: 1 in 2187) while also dodging every single missile attack from the Launchers (he had to dodge eight of them, I think; the odds of this were less than 1 in 100). But wait! It gets better! The Doom Axe also has only 85% odds to hit on each attack. So Beowulf would ALSO have to avoid missing on all seven strikes, which only had odds of 32%. If you combine all that together, the odds start to approach one in a million. It simply wasn't going to happen.
More realistically, Beowulf would hit each of the Launchers once, killing them in the process, and then have five attacks left over for the main Sol Cannon itself. I suppose that I could have gotten really lucky and had Beowulf take out one Launcher, then hit the Cannon six times at 50/50 odds for each attack, but that kind of luck was not reliable. Better to plan around winning off of five attacks against Sol Cannon. A simple calculation revealed that Beowulf would have to average 2500 damage per attack over five attacks to get the job done. Unfortunately that was a lot of damage. At his current Level of 62, Beowulf was averaging 1664 damage per attack (832-2496 range with his Doom Axe). Obviously this wasn't good enough. Time to Level Up!
I found a much better place to gain additional levels for Beowulf. Previously I had been fighting around Crescent, where Beowulf could gain about 1000 XP per battle. Although this was a decent rate for the first world, it was really beginning to fall off as his experience total climbed into the millions of points. After doing the Sandworm battle, I went back and looked at the monster list for the first world again, and realized that these battles against the Mini Dragons offered a far better gain rate. 4500 XP for winning was enormous, and sped up Beowulf's leveling pace significantly. The Mini Dragons are sort of a hidden boss located near Istory, extremely difficult for a normal party to beat when playing the game in traditional fashion. Beowulf had little difficulty with his gluttonously inflated overleveled status, equipping a Flame Ring to protect against their Blaze attack and slowly chopping them down to size. The other enemies in this area offered little experience, and the Mini Dragons were a somewhat uncommon encounter, but it was still the best place to fight. I tried killing Prototype for experience, and it actually died quite easily, but it only gives 2000 XP. What a rip off!
When targeting a new level for Beowulf, I tried to find a point at which he could reach 2500 damage per attack reliably. Hitting that point with his actual average was not something I wanted to do - he would have to be Level 95 for that! Yikes! OK, fortunately axes do have a range of damage that they can roll, so Beowulf could always get somewhat lucky on his damage rolls and exceed his average damage for that level. Of course, he could also get unlucky and roll lower than his average damage as well, something that I saw all too often. I decided to target Level 77 for my first serious attempt against Sol Cannon. At Level 77, Beowulf would receive another attack modifier and would be averaging 2048 damage per attack (1024-3072 range). Doing 2500 damage per attack over 5 attacks was unlikely, but within the realistic range of something that could happen. Beowulf would have to roll in about the 75th percentile of his damage range to kill Sol Cannon across five attacks. I fully admitted that these odds were not good. Still, worth a shot, right?
I turned on the HP tracking for the boss again, so that I would not have to track the Cannon's health manually in every single attempt. Sol Cannon's health is written a bit differently in the code: it starts with 22,500 HP and then blows itself up when it drops below 10,000 HP. That's why the boss actually has 12,500 health overall. This might seem strange but it makes perfect sense from a coding perspective; the designers wanted to make sure that the "explosion" animation would play when Sol Cannon is defeated, and since no attack can do more than 9999 damage in this game, they made it so the Cannon would blow up as soon as it dropped below 10k health. In the context of this battle, Beowulf would emerge victorious if he could get the life of the Cannon below 10,000 HP. Therefore on this attempt, when Beowulf died to the second Surge Beam with 11,730 health remaining, he was relatively close to the victory, only 1730 health to go. I wrote down the numbers as listed in the game, rather than subtracting 10,000 from everything.
Most battles ended very quickly: one of the two missiles would hit Beowulf right at the start. As soon as that happened, the battle was already over, because Beowulf couldn't possibly destroy Sol Cannon in the four attacks he would have before the first Surge Beam went off. Only when all of the missiles happened to miss (ALL of them!) did he have any shot of winning. Because Beowulf was so slow at moving in battle, both Launchers would always get to fire before he was able to attack, so Beowulf would have to dodge at least two missiles successfully in every single fight. He could never move first and take out one Launcher before it got a chance to fire. This made avoiding those missiles an extremely high priority, to say the least! Let me explain a bit about the to-hit odds for those missiles.
All spells in this game are classified as either auto-hit or a chance to hit. Most of the pure damage spells like Fire, Ice, Bolt, etc. automatically hit the target and will never miss. Spells that are status-ailment related usually fall into the other category, where they have a chance to miss and do nothing. The Valiant Attack (missile) has a base chance of 75% to hit the target. This is then modified by the difference in Level between the caster and the target; if the caster is higher, the chance to hit goes up, and vice versa if the caster is a lower level. The Launchers have a very high Level of 50, which is why a normal party (which will be about Level 20-25) will see the missiles hit about 99% of the time. Beowulf was in the opposite situation, his extremely high Level actually decreasing the odds of those missiles hitting him. At my target level of 77, the odds of the missiles hitting dropped from 75% to 75 - (77 - 50) = 48%. This made a real difference! I could further reduce the odds of the missiles hitting by equipping armor with the Magic Evade property (this is something that I've learned from T-Hawk). Every piece of armor in the game has Magic Evade associated with it, although most of the more physical-oriented armor has a Magic Evade of 0. I looked at the available equipment for Beowulf, and he could get 5% Magic Evade from equipping the Plumed Hat. Not much but every bit helped. Then for his accessory, I could get another 5% from the Elf Cape. That meant giving up the Angel Ring, but he was dead anyway if even one missile hit, so no big deal. EXCEPT that the Angel Ring has even higher Magic Evade than the Elf Cape, 10% instead of 5%. Well that worked out nicely, heh. This gave Beowulf a total of 15% Magic Evade from his equipment. Unfortunately this scales multiplicatively with the leveling calculation instead of additively [it's not 47 - 15 = 35% chance to hit, but rather 47 * (.85) = 39.95% chance to hit]. Still, every little bit did help out in dodging those missiles.
Beowulf had decent success against Sol Cannon at Level 77, although victory still remained elusive. I kept track of the attempts at the boss where Beowulf successfully managed to get his seven attacks - there was no point in tracking the battles where he only attacked four times before dying and lost to the first Surge Beam. Of course, the latter group were far more common... I would estimate that Beowulf survived to get his full seven attacks somewhere around 10-15% of the time. Unfortunately I also had to deal with two more unpleasant realities here. Number one, Beowulf still missed 15% of his attacks, and even a single miss would instantly condemn that attempt at the boss to failure. This was extremely frustrating, as you might imagine. Number two, I again found myself running afoul of the limited number of RNG sequences in the game's coding. My random attempts at the boss were not so random after all. I ended up with 13,124 HP remaining on Sol Cannon no fewer than four different times in the span of 15 minutes of play, each of which was literally the exact same battle, blow for blow. As T-Hawk had pointed out earlier about the Sandworm, it was entirely possible that there simply was no starting RNG seed which would allow Beowulf to win the fight, because the game engine is not perfectly random. This was rather disspiriting...
I made 15 "successful" tries with the full seven attacks at Level 77 before moving on. (This equated to well over 100 unsuccessful tries where the first Surge Beam killed Beowulf. I have no idea how many in total.) Then I made another 15 successful tries at Level 78, and another 15 at Level 79, and so on. Beowulf wasn't doing that badly, and I got Sol Cannon down to 11k health remaining several times. Doing that final 1000 damage still remained tantalizingly out of reach though. When I hit Level 80, Beowulf gained another attack multiplier, now up to 2112 average damage per attack. This got me to my further penetration yet, down to just 10620 HP left. 95% of the way there! But still no victory. I began to wonder if victory was going to be possible at all. Ummm, we're getting pretty close to Level 99 here, after all! Would I be able to win if I had to max out the Berserker entirely? Some quick math reassured me that victory would be almost assured at Level 99, with 2560 damage per attack and only 22% odds for each missile to hit. OK, so that was good news. But, uh, was I really going to have to go that far to win?
I thought for sure that Level 82 would see Beowulf emerge victory, and I ran a full 50 "successful" attempt there. I thought for sure I had the battle won: Beowulf had carried out six attacks, killing both Launchers and with the Sol Cannon sitting at 11484 health left. He was almost assured of killing the target, just needing to do about 1500 damage on a possible range of 1088-3264. I could taste victory! Beowulf swung and... he missed. He missed. He freaking missed! I threw down my controller in disgust and stalked away from the computer as Surge Beam fried Beowulf to a crisp for the umpteen millionth time. Of all the cruel twists of fate! I wish I were making this story up, believe me.
Increasingly I felt like a pawn, dancing helplessly in the hands of Fortune. The fact that you cannot do ANYTHING AT ALL in these battles was unbearably painful. I was reminded of what Pitchfork Pat wrote in one of his lengthy reviews of the Final Fantasy series. This was written about Final Fantasy 2, but it seemed to apply here as well:
"Final Fantasy II starts off with Frioniel and friends locked in a hopeless struggle against an imperial death squad. There is no way to win. No matter what you do, your team gets the mortal shit kicked out of it. This is a perfectly appropriate introduction, inasmuch as it sets the mood for everything else to come. Kawazu's brainchild is a games that does everything it can to break you down and wither your spirit. And when I write "you," I am not referring to your in-game player characters. I'm talking about YOU, the player.
Final Fantasy II is a pair of simultaneous battles on two separate planes. The first is the fictional struggle of Frioniel and the rebel forces against the might of the Palamecian Empire. The second is the very real battle between you, the player, and Final Fantasy II in which the game attempts to foil your efforts and demoralize you from ever playing again. As you try to beat Final Fantasy II, Final Fantasy II tries to beat you."
This is perfectly applicable to the quest of the solo Berserker as well. The battle was not really Beowulf against the Sandworm and Sol Cannon. No, the battle was between me, the player, and the incredibly tedious and repetitive gameplay of this variant. It's impossible to avoid the realization that you are basically wasting your time (and your life, perhaps) when spending so many hours on this mission. You don't control the outcomes of the battles. It's not fun or rewarding to play. The variant becomes a chore, a job away from your normal job, devouring time that could have been better spent doing... well, just about anything else. There's a reason why the solo Berserker has taken me about a full year to play. You simply can't spend too much time on this at once, or it literally will drive you insane. Taking a few months off is highly recommended.
As it turned out, victory came from an unexpected source. With Beowulf still trying to defeat the boss, now at Level 83 (oh god), something unusual occurred. Beowulf took out one of the two Launchers on his first attack. This was what I liked to see; the best outcome was normally for Beowulf to kill the two Launchers first, to decrease the possibility of more missile attacks and at least get a shot at killing Sol Cannon with his other five attacks. However, on this occasion Beowulf followed up his first attack with three attacks on the Cannon. And surprisingly, no missiles showed up either from the one remaining Launcher. The first Surge Beam went off, and now it didn't matter if any more missiles hit. Beowulf attacked and hit the Cannon again. Another attack, another hit on the Cannon. At this point, Beowulf had attacked six times, killing one Launcher and hitting the Cannon five times. With one Launcher still alive, he had 50/50 odds to hit the Cannon again, which was guaranteed to kill it. And... that's exactly what happened:
8424 health remaining on the Cannon. It's dead in that picture, just waiting now for the explosion to go off. So after all my planning around winning the battle in five attacks, needing to average 2500 damage per attack, Beowulf actually won the battle on the one time when he got off a sixth attack against the Cannon. He killed one Launcher on his first attack, then hit the Cannon six straight times at 50/50 odds on each attack. 1 in 64 odds. The luck factors finally broke my way after so many repetitions.
At this point, I've now written 3500 words just about the Sol Cannon battle alone. That's equivalent to almost 10 pages (single spaced) in a Word document. But seriously, what else would I write about? The experience of facing the Sandworm and Sol Cannon literally *IS* the solo Berserker variant. Nothing else even comes close to those boss battles. Above is the smaller Excel chart that I created to track the progress of Beowulf during the Sol Cannon encounter. Beowulf won on "successful" trial attempt #124. Since this does not count the overwhelming majority of times when Beowulf would get nailed by a missile and lose the battle instantly, the total number of trial was vastly higher. Probably roughly equal to the Sandworm fights. 600 total attempts? 700? 800? 1000? I honestly don't know, and would prefer not to know. It was a lot, that's all I can say.
I put stars on the numbers to indicate misses, one star for one miss and two stars for two misses. There are a lot of repeated numbers on there, indicating the lack of true randomness in Final Fantasy 5's number generation sequence. I did get better at randomizing things as I had more practice with this. Fighting random battles and then re-saving the game did seem to help at reducing the number of repeat boss fights, although I still got repeated combat results up until the end. It seems like you can't achieve true randomness in the combat for this game, at least not while playing legitimately.
Now there's one other point I want to address here before moving on. I have seen claims online from people who say that they made it past the Sandworm with a solo Berserker with a Level in the 30-40s, and past Sol Cannon with a Level in the low 60s. From my own personal experience with the game, there are only three possible explanations for this that make sense. Number one, people on the Internet are lying. This is probably true in the overwhelming majority of cases. Number two, people are cheating, which is really just a subset of the first point. Finally and number three, people are abusing emulator features to the point that it becomes indistinguishable from cheating. All emulators allow you to save state in battle, which is obviously cheating outside of certain very special cases (i.e. running a boss out of MP with a Bard or White Mage or something, so you don't have to repeat 2 hours of tedium on every attempt). Other emulators allow you to randomize seeds within battle, so you could get a good first attack from a Berserker, save state there, and then repeatedly randomize the combat until getting another good attack, and so on. This is again tantamount to cheating - you might as well just give yourself unlimited health at that point. I've also heard of other players setting up automated scripts with true randomness built into the combat sequence, so that the script will just play out battles endlessly without any input from the player. For instance, someone might go to bed at night and have their computer play out 100,000 battles of the Berserker against the Sandworm, then wake up the next day and see if any of them won. Assuming that you're willing to go to that length, then sure, maybe some impossibly low-odds result could obtain victory. But I seriously question the integrity of the result when an automated scripting sequence is playing the game itself, allowing for infinitesimally unlikely combat odds to rear their head.
Me, I just play the darn game. And if you're doing that, you're going to need some crazy high levels to win these battles. I just don't see any possible way around that. Even with Beowulf's victories over the Sandworm and Sol Cannon, he still had to get widly improbable results at stupid high levels to win. I've done the damage calculations, there's no way around needing high levels for these battles. If there's something I'm missing here, feel free to let me know.