Ironcore Team: Part Two

In the first page of this report, I took the Ironcore team up through ArchaeoAvis and the end of the first world. Now it was time to venture onwards, starting with the meteor miniboss trio and then moving on to the second world, there to eventually confront Exdeath.

Chimera Brain, Titan, and Puroboros
Bartz Lenna Galuf Faris
Level 19 Level 19 - Level 19
Mystic Knight L5 Time Mage L3 - Monk L4
Double Grip White L4 - Blue Magic

Galuf disappears for these three boss battles, which is why I've dropped his character from the table above. That left me without my prime offensive magic user, although I still had my physical attackers, and Lenna could use Black magic if needed. The Chimera Brain was not difficult, as usual. I used Time magic for Haste/Slow and Faris kicked in a casting of White Wind for healing, while the rest of the time Bartz and Faris attacked. Over and done with quickly. Titan's Earth Shaker spell can deal major damage if you're not prepared, so I went to North Mountain and had Lenna Control one of the Gala Cats there. This allows you to cast Float on the party, then return to the airship and go fight Titan. His earth-based spells will pass harmlessly underneath the Floating party! As it turns out, because Lenna dodged two attacks with the Elf Cape, none of the three characters took any damage at all in this battle. Wish I could say that I came up with that trick, but I actually found it on a FF5 message board for doing a White Mage game. Worked like a charm here.

The Puroboros battle, umm, did not go as I expected. Those little bomb things are always the toughest of these three bosses, and it was no different here. The idea is to hit all of them at once with multi-target spells, so that they will all die at the same time and not revive one another with Life 2 spells. Unfortunately I was missing Galuf here, who would have shined in this battle, but I did have Lenna present, and I swapped her over to the Black Mage/White magic combination for that very purpose. Of course, I had to be an idiot and have Bartz go ahead and attack, when he should have been defending or using items only. Even worse, I stupidly had Faris start out the battle using Kick (pictured above), which does half damage to enemies in the back row. This meant that the Puroboros all ended up with different HP totals, and I could not kill them all at once. I could only mow them down with massive spell damage over and over again, waiting for their magic points to run out, and hoping in the meantime that I wouldn't get slaughtered with the Exploder spells. At one point, Lenna was taken out by Exploder doing 1100 damage, and only pure luck prevented the other two characters from meeting the same fate. I had to use an Elixir on Faris to restore health and magic points - good grief! - as she was doing the most damage through repeated castings of Aqua Rake. Ultimately, I did survive this battle, but hardly in comfortable or easy fashion. Very poorly done by me!

On into the second world, and I took over the brief period where you play as solo Galuf. I gave him the Summoner job (to use Titan, the strongest spell available at the moment) along with White L4 to handle any healing. I thought that would be more than sufficient, only to get a random encounter "back attack", in which Galuf was slapped around *AND* hit with a Slow spell simultaneously. Yeesh! Galuf nearly died from a random encounter, and might well have done so if I hadn't run away like a sissy girl. This was almost unreal. Get me my party back, please!

At least the first Gilgamesh battle did go as planned, Galuf hitting the boss with two Titan summons to end things quickly. Now I had the full party of four back, and could breathe a sigh of relief. Things had been noticeably tougher even with three characters instead of four. My team needed everyone around, helping to share in their part of the burden!

The team had no problem getting past the monster encounters on the Big Bridge, taking them to Gilgamesh Battle #2:

Gilgamesh (Big Bridge)
Bartz Lenna Galuf Faris
Level 20 Level 20 Level 20 Level 20
Mystic Knight L5 Time Mage L3 Summoner L4 Monk L4
Double Grip White L4 White L4 Blue Magic

My team fought possibly their best battle to date, with all four members contributing significantly to the overall victory. Bartz did his usual Double Grip attacking thing, Faris swapped between physical attack and Blue magic (Flash + White Wind), Lenna buffed and healed everyone, and Galuf cast a series of Titan summons that did excellent damage against the boss. No 1000+ damage moves from anyone, since Gilgamesh has no elemental weaknesses to exploit. I managed to time a Mute spell from Lenna to block Gilgamesh's Haste/Armor/Shell triple buffs, neatly removing any serious danger from the second half of the battle. However, he did one Jump attack that laid a whopping 1300 damage on Galuf, wow! Never seen that happened before. Was that a critical hit, or a bug or something??? In any case, Gilgamesh died shortly thereafter with no further fuss.

This brought the group to Rugor village, where they were able to load up on superior weapons and equipment again. (For a supposedly "remote" town, Rugor had some nice stuff!) Bartz upgraded to the Slumber Sword, while the rest of their party outfitted themselves with fourth-level magic spells: Bio, Drain, Break, Comet, Reset, Slow2, Image - and, best of all, Shell. This last spell cuts magic damage in half, just like Armor does for physical damage, plus reduces the chance of status-inducing or instant death spells by half. It's easily one of the best spells in the whole game! Unfortunately, I did not have enough money to buy everything I wanted, even after saving for some time in the previous world. The mages were forced to go with suboptimal armor again for the moment.

I gave Faris the Escape ability again temporarily, in case any of the dangerous Kuzar enemies appeared in random encounters. None did, fortunately, but I was prepared in case they did show up. A large part of doing this game without dying consists of knowing where to assign that guaranteed run ability. The underground river passage was tougher than I expected, with high physical Defense on a lot of the monsters. Both Lenna and Galuf were temporarily training as Black Mages, and I made extensive use of their Fire and Bolt 2 spells here. Also realized at this point that I only had one Thunder Rod, so I couldn't get double Bolt 2 power if I needed it. Blargh, minor oversight there. This dungeon also doesn't give you the courtesy of a save point before facing off against its boss:

Bartz Lenna Galuf Faris
Level 21 Level 21 Level 21 Level 21
Mystic Knight L6 Black Mage L2 Black Mage L3 Monk L4
Double Grip White L4 White L4 Blue Magic

Fortunately the Tyrasaurus was little more than a joke. Cast fire magic (Fire 2 and Fire 2 Sword) and he dropped dead in a matter of seconds. Easiest boss since Crayclaw. If there's one thing that should be clear by now, it's how much more quickly bosses die when they have elemental weaknesses to exploit. Most of the truly tough fights don't give you those easy solutions.

Many of my characters had temporarily maxed out their jobs at this point, leading me to make a couple of swaps upon reaching Kelb village. Bartz had been a Mystic Knight practically ever since the job first appeared, and now I began training him as a Ninja, making use of the newly acquired Dancing Dirk. Galuf also had all of the ability points he needed at the moment in his primary White Mage, Black Mage, and Summoner jobs, allowing me to start learning the ways of the Dragoon. Faris remained as a Monk for the moment, although I planned to change her back into a Thief soon. I could not have made these swaps sooner, as I lacked enough gold to equip all of these jobs! As a general rule, I try to keep one "Heavy" set of armor, two "Medium" sets of armor, and two "Light" sets of armor. That allows for some flexibility in job swapping, without wasting excessive amounts of gold. Only a couple of the jobs use the Heavy armor; right now, I was able to transfer that stuff from Bartz to Galuf. This game doesn't give you much cash until the very end - you'd better make use of what you have. I still didn't have completely optimal equipment in one or two places, due to lack of funds.

Faris made sure to pick up the Magic Hammer spell while taking in the sights at the Hiryuu Valley. I also successfully obtained the Golem summon, defeating the two undead dragons in a random battle. The real story in this area was Bartz and his infuriating Dancing Dirk; the darn thing kept kicking in "Jitterbug Duet" over and over again versus the undead enemies, causing Bartz to drain away his own life and heal the enemies in the process! Bartz actually killed himself on multiple occasions due to this foolishness, sheesh. I decided that I'd shelve the Dancing Dirk and pick up another normal Ninja knife when I returned to Kelb. Just too variable - I'd rather have predictable damage output with this group than wildly good or bad results. Black Mage Lenna was carrying most of the load here with repeated Fire 2 spells.

Hiryuu Plant
Bartz Lenna Galuf Faris
Level 23 Level 23 Level 22 Level 22
Ninja L1 White Mage L4 Summoner L4 Monk L4
Magic Sword L6 Time L4 White L4 Blue Magic

The Hiryuu Plant boss battle is one where the Monk job really shines, since the Monk can keep on Kicking the little Hiryuu Flowers to death over and over again as they revive. (The Hiryuu Plant itself will never attack, just revive the Flowers endlessly.) Faris was even more useful in this confrontation, as she cast the Missile spell for an instant 8000 damage at the start of the battle (!) Missile reduces the life of the target by 3/4, and for whatever reason the Hiryuu Plant doesn't have the "Heavy" flag in the code to prevent this from working. Galuf contributed with Titan summons, Lenna added her usual Haste support, and Bartz... well, Bartz was almost useless in this battle, thanks to some mis-timed Jitterbug Duets from the Dancing Dirk. Argh. I changed out that weapon immediately after this battle!

Video summary of these boss battles:

Part Four

I walked back out of the dungeon the same way that I had walked in. I suppose that this was a form of stealth leveling, although I didn't even think about it until my group was most of the way out. I'm too used to solo games that don't have the Exit spell available - I always walk in and out of every dungeon that doesn't automatically teleport you somewhere. Well, it's probably no big deal either way.

Moved on from there to Surgate Castle, where the group found the Agility Song and the Float spell. You have to solve a minor book reshelving puzzle for the latter, which always bothered me because the bookcases didn't appear to line up in any logical fashion. Now I finally figured it out: the bookshelves run in alphabetical order from RIGHT to LEFT, since Japanese is traditionally read in that direction. Interesting. Anyway, on to the third Gilgamesh battle:

Gilgamesh and Enkidou
Bartz Lenna Galuf Faris
Level 24 Level 24 Level 24 Level 24
Ninja L2 White Mage L4 Dragoon L1 Thief L3
Magic Sword L6 Black L4 White L4 Blue Magic

You can probably see I wasn't terribly worried about this encounter, as I brought the Dragoon job on Galuf instead of something more valuable. The idea there was to get some additional ability points, although as it turns out Gilgamesh doesn't award ability points for this battle either, heh. Joke was on me there. I made one other mistake, thinking that I had Time magic assigned to Lenna's secondary job class, only to find out when the battle started that I had accidentally brought Black magic instead. No Haste for this battle, whoops! It didn't make a difference though, as I simply concentrated on buffing up even further with both Armor and Shell statuses from the double White magic users. Faris made use of her Thief job to Steal the Genji Glove accessory, which was way better than anything else I had at the time. Meanwhile, Bartz cast Drain Sword and was therefore healing back 900 life with every attack. The attacks by Gilgamesh were rendered completely ineffective by all those protective spells, while Enkidou went down in seconds from a Blue magic Missile spell and physical attack. Smooth battle and drama-free.

The team next made its way up the Barrier Tower, learning more Blue magic spells along the way. Time Slip (Sleep + Aging) came from the Traveler enemies, GuardOff was picked up from the Ziggurats, and Faris was finally able to acquire Level 4 Quarter from the Tricker monsters, thanks to the fortunate coincidence of sitting at Level 24. Only a little over a half-dozen Blue spells left to go.

And then, just like that, it was all over:

It was a Red Dragon battle in a trapped treasure chest. And I knew there was a Red Dragon in there, went in with my boss setup, but apparently it wasn't enough. The enemy opened the battle with Atomic Ray, a fire-based spell that did major damage to everyone, about 500 to each character. Ouch! Well, I knew that was bad, but I had plenty of healing magic on hand. So I thought, anyway. Faris attacked first and picked "Jitterbug Duet" out of the Dancing Dirk, which killed her as she tried to drain the (undead) Red Dragon. Ooops, that wasn't good. Bartz went next and buffed himself with Ice 2 Sword. Galuf cast Cure 2 on everyone, while Lenna cast Haste on herself. And then the Red Dragon picked "Atomic Ray" a second time in a row... and the whole party was dead, just like that. Wowzers.

This was a combination of bad luck and mistaken tactical choices. It was bad luck because the Red Dragon only has 1/3 odds to pick Atomic Ray as an attack; getting two in succession came at 1/9 odds, or 11%. And two Atomic Rays in succession wouldn't have killed me at any other point in the battle, since I would have had Haste status up and running then. Drawing a Jitterbug Duet at the worst possible time was another bit of bad luck, although I doubt it impacted the outcome of the fight. Overall, however, this was still my fault for not picking the correct moves. Faris had Blue magic sub-equipped with her Thief job, and I should have chosen White Wind instead of attacking (which would have done little damage in any case). White Wind plus double Cure 2s from Lenna and Galuf could have handled even the unlucky double Atomic Rays. I simply didn't realize how much danger the group was actually in - my own fault for not stopping to check the AI code for the Red Dragon before beginning the battle. I should have known those attacks were lurking out there. I could have done better.

Now I could have just pretended that this didn't happen, and go merrily on my way... But that would defeat the whole purpose, right? If the goal is to complete the entire game from start to finish without dying, you can't take a mulligan on unlucky breaks or tactical mistakes or whatever. The only option is to start the game again from the beginning, and get it right on the second attempt. So - that's exactly what I did!

I created a new file and started over again from the beginning, retracing the steps of the original team. There is no way to change the names of the characters in-game; my new "BartzB" party was an entirely new venture. I planned to take the name "Bartz2", but you can only choose letters on the naming screen, not numbers, thus I was stuck with the awkward-sounding BartzB. Sending in the B Team!

Using my previous playthrough as a guide, I flew through the game at breakneck pace, using the emulator's Fast Forward speed liberally. It only took about four hours and two real-world days to catch back up to the Barrier Tower again (I can go much, much faster when not taking notes and recording videos!) The new team's progression mirrored that of the original team almost exactly, as I followed my previous notes. The biggest change was learing the Death Claw spell during the Karnak Castle escape sequence. I also took on the D. Chimera a little bit later on (getting Aqua Rake with less danger) and changed Bartz into a Ninja for the Puroboros battle, winning easily by throwing Ninja scrolls. The group went back and killed the Red Dragon this time with no issues, the foul monster not even bothering to use Atomic Ray on this go around. Bah! Forced to do all that extra work because of a few badly-timed dice rolls!

That brought everyone to Atmos:

Bartz Lenna Galuf Faris
Level 25 Level 25 Level 25 Level 25
Ninja L3 White Mage L5 Black Mage L4 Monk L4
Magic Sword L6 Time L4 White L4 Blue Magic

Atmos flattened Faris immediately with a Comet barrage, however I was able to put the monster to Sleep with Galuf's Black magic, and then cast a series of spells without fear of waking the beast. As long as you refrain from doing physical damage, any target put to Sleep in this game will never wake up. Galuf did the most damage with a succession of Bio spells (enhanced by the Venom Rod), while Faris chipped in with some weakish Blue magic. Eventually, I grew tired of this and finished off Atmos with a Black Shock + Level 5 Doom combination. Could have won by continuing to cast Bio spells, but this solution had a little more flair.

The party next went to the village of Mua, which had all kinds of powerful new goodies on sale. I spent most of my accumulated gold on the fifth-level magic spells: Cure/Fire/Ice/Bolt 3, along with other goodies such as Wall, Haste 2, and Quarter. These were extremely strong spells, and the elemental ones could be paired with Magic Sword for further use against bosses. I also upgraded Bartz to a pair of improved Ninja daggers, and that left only a handful of money left for armor. Most of my characters were stuck using whatever equipment they already had for the moment. I'd have to come back later after running more dungeons to fully outfit everyone.

After waltzing through the Guido Cave, bashing some Metamorphas without issue, the Ironcore team was off to fight Shoat:

Bartz Lenna Galuf Faris
Level 25 Level 25 Level 25 Level 25
Ninja L3 Time Mage L4 Black Mage L4 Thief L5
Magic Sword L6 White L5 White L4 Blue Magic

Shoat's own attacks are relatively benign: he alternates between a normal attack and a Drain spell. However, whenever Shoat takes damage he will counterattack with the spell "Demon's Eye", which has a very high chance of turning the recipent into stone. The key to the battle is therefore to pick and choose your attacks carefully - only use your most powerful damage dealers, with the rest of the party waiting on hand to employ Soft potions. My biggest bomber at the moment was Galuf using the Fire 3 + Flame Rod combination, banging out roughly 2500 damage per casting. During this battle, I had Galuf cast away with Fire 3 while everyone else defended and used recovery items. Galuf was petrified on two separate occasions, but everyone else stayed safe, and I won the encounter without too much trouble.

The Forest of Mua is a fun dungeon to run through, as the enemies provide tons of experience for some reason. (This game isn't well balanced in that regard, as some other locations like the Ancient Library don't reward the player with much experience at all.) My Ironcore team gained three full levels, with the double combination of Bartz and Faris relentlessly mowing down the random encounters one monster at a time. First Lenna, then Galuf had the Healing Staff at all times, which sufficied to keep everyone at full health. I made sure to grab the game's first Aegis Shield along with the Tiny Song spell, went back to Mua briefly to buy the now-affordable armor for everyone, and then headed off to confront the four Crystals.

Crystals (Seal Guardians)
Bartz Lenna Galuf Faris
Level 28 Level 28 Level 28 Level 28
Magic Knight L6 Time Mage L5 White Mage L4 Blue Mage L3
Double Grip White L5 Black L5 Brawl

I did some job swapping here, as this can be a rather dangerous battle if not played properly. I agonized a bit over what abilities to bring with Galuf - I could have White, Black, and Summon magic in any combination of two out of three, but not all of them - before deciding on double White magic along with Time and Black. While I really would have liked a Summoner for the Golem spell, I wasn't willing to give up any of the other options. Faris returned briefly to her Blue Mage roots so that I could hopefully learn the Aero 3 spell while still casting Blue magic and fighting barehanded like a Monk.

During the battle, I had Lenna and Galuf concentrate on adding the Haste, Armor, and Shell buffs to the rest of the team. While I wasn't worried about the physical attacks of the Crystals, they will use their corresponding elemental attacks (Earth Shaker, Fire 3, Aero 3, Aqua Rake) when they get close to death. Shell was the key to surviving that onslaught. Bartz couldn't rely on exploiting elemental weaknesses here, so he cast Drain Sword and that worked out well enough. Faris alternated between attacking physically and casting some Blue spells to help out; Flash was quite useful, and Missile dropped the health of the Crystals by 3/4. I later realized that Lenna could have cast the Quarter spell in similar fashion, rather than wasting time parrying to no effect. The group took their time, defeated one Crystal at a time, and had no serious issues. Faris learned Aero 3 in the process, nice!

I couldn't do anything about saving Galuf though, as he perishes in a story event here. That's one battle even this playthrough can't win...

Part Five

This brought the Ironcore team to the final dungeon of the second world, Exdeath's Castle. (No, we're not going to do the optional super-boss GilTurtle, just as I ignored Prototype earlier. Sorry.) I used a team of Bartz the Mystic Knight, Lenna the Geomancer, Cara the Summoner, and Faris the "Blue" Monk for the bulk of this dungeon. Lenna became a Geomancer for the first time in order to pass through the lava floors, and her Terrain attacks did excellent damage as well. All of the Terrain abilities were air-element based in this dungeon, which were boosted in damage by the Air Lance that Lenna had equipped. Cara would have been much more useful as a Black Mage in here, however I wanted to save the final ability points for Black and White Mage until the third world, when Lenna wouldn't be around. So I stuck with Summoner for now, even though it was pretty useless without having the Syldra summon yet.

The random battles on the upper floors were tough here, darned tough. At times I considered taking an auto-escape ability (Escape, Smoke, etc.) just to skip them, but ultimately decided that wasting precious experience in a no-grinding game would be foolish. Battles with double Yellow Dragons and triple Blue Dragons wore down the party's collective resources. The party might well have perished in some of these encounters if I hadn't had double White magic plus Faris' White Wind on hand. Thank heavens for Cure 3, what a lifesaver. I swear, White and Time magic are the keys to this game. You can win without them, no doubt, but you're going to die along the way a lot.

Bartz Lenna Galuf Faris
Level 30 Level 30 Level 30 Level 30
Magic Knight L6 White Mage L5 Summoner L5 Monk L5
Double Grip Time L5 White L5 Blue Magic

Carbunkle is just about the only boss in the game that I'd readily admit I don't know how to beat. Because of the difficulty of beating this boss with solo variants (the vast majority of whom can never use the summon spell anyway), I typically will skip the Carbunkle fight. I haven't experimented with this boss and learned all the ins and outs of how to win safely. As a result, for a variant like this I took the easy way out and killed Carbunkle using the weakness of his second form to petrification. One Shoat summon at the right moment, and it's all over. Apologies for that, I didn't want to die here.

Then the final bosses:

Gilgamesh (Castle) and Exdeath
Bartz Lenna Galuf Faris
Level 30 Level 30 Level 30 Level 30
Ninja L4 White Mage L5 Black Mage L5 Monk L5
Magic Sword L6 Time L5 White L5 Blue Magic

I used this configuration for both battles, except that Faris was a Thief (with Blue Magic) in the Gilgamesh battle so that I could Steal a Genji Helmet. Cara did the main damage here, with Fire Rod-boosted castings of Fire 3. 2800 damage per pop, not bad. Bartz equipped a combination of Double Lance and Air Lance (lots of lances here!) for nearly 2000 damage per attack. Faris added some decent magical damage with Aero 3 - I love the versatility of the Blue magic spells in this game! Anyway, Gilgamesh did nothing threatening, and his worst attack was a Flash spell that forced Eyedrop usage. Not a problem.

In contrast, the Exdeath battle was epic. I mean EPIC! I built up the party with various buffs, had nearly everyone killed, then rebuilt the team again from death's door and pushed on to victory. That's all I'll say - watch the video!!!

Part Six

Next time, we move on to the third and final world. Hopefully no more screw-ups!