I picked up Alfyn's journey at the beginning of the Chapter 3 character stories. As is typical for me, I paused with the main plotline to delve into some of the optional side dungeons before the challenge went up another notch in the form of the Chapter 3 bosses. This was an ideal time to backtrack and clear out the Hollow Throne, for example, which had been too difficult to try earlier. I observed once again that the elemental monsters hit enormously harder than anything else in the dungeon, with the lightning elementals able to use a Vortex spell that hit for about 900 damage. Alfyn had high elemental defense and this was still wrecking him pretty good, forcing a lot of emergency First Aid uses. I have no idea why this one random monster type deals something like quadruple the damage of anything else in this part of the game. The Hollow Throne does have an optional boss at the end, the Throne Guardian, and Alfyn used the wind element on his Blustery Powder concoctions to break through its shields and down it without any trouble.
One of the biggest hurdles holding Alfyn back up to this point had been a lack of the "potent" ingredients for his concoctions, the Purifying and Ruinous ingredients. You may recall from the first page of this report how these ingredients generally do the same thing as their "mild" counterparts, only at a significantly stronger intensity. There were a handful of them in treasure chests or available via Purchase from NPCs, but for all practical purposes Alfyn had been making due with the weaker mild ingredients up to this point. Now he was strong enough to venture out to the towns in the third ring though, and I took the unusual step of heading to Duskbarrow first. This is one of the smallest towns in the game and it typically holds little of interest for most characters. Not Alfyn, however: Duskbarrow was selling three of the four types of potent ingredients including the two most useful for his quest. The Purifying Seed was the single-target healing ingredient while the Ruinous Seed was the single-target damaging ingredient. There was essentially no need for the multi-target healing ingredient (the Purifying Dust) since Alfyn was alone, and the multi-target damaging ingredient (the Ruinous Dust) wasn't available for sale here. Alfyn would have to travel to Riverford, Northreach, or Everhold to get his hands on it.
There was one major drawback here: check out those price tags! It cost 2600 money per ingredient to pick up the Purifying and Ruinous Seeds. Although the enemies start dropping significantly more money in the lategame this was always going to be a serious expense for him. (No wonder he's so poor as a character, heh.) These ingredients were far too expensive to waste on random encounters and therefore I found myself saving them for boss fights, just as Alfyn had been hoarding his non-Noxweed and non-Essence of Grape components thus far. It was a sad commentary on the Apothecary class that Alfyn rare did anything other than attack with his axes because he was too scared of using up his ingredients and components.
I had a chance to use the strongest of these new concoctions almost immediately, while battling against the Leviathan boss at the tail end of the Captain's Bane optional dungeon. The Leviathan gets three actions per round and summons two more minions that each get their own action, creating a nasty 5 vs 1 scenario for a solo character. They can inflict both unconsciousness and poison status ailments and thus require using up the accessory slots to defend against both possibilities. They also hit very hard with their physical damage, and since I had loaded up on physical defense gear in response, Alfyn's elemental defense was lower than normal and therefore weakened the healing from First Aid. The best response was to break out the Healing Balm+ concoction: Purifying Seed + Essence of Grape heals a single target for 9999 HP. This would become a staple of Alfyn's boss fighting tactics and the ability to get all of his health back instantly on demand was something that other characters would have killed for. It was exactly what he needed to deal with the current situation.
Unfortunately, even with unlimited healing he still wasn't able to defeat the Leviathan. The boss kept reviving its minions over and over again (they came back at 50% HP but they still came back) and the minions would lock out some of the boss weaknesses whenever they were in play. There were few chances to deal damage directly to the big octopus. I was still able to make slow progress against Leviathan and get the boss under the halfway health mark, however that opened up a new boss ability (Dissolving Mist) which debuffed Alfyn's physical defense. Once every monster attack did 50% more damage the scales tipped too heavily in the enemy's favor. There would inevitably be a stretch where the enemies would get a sequence of 7-8 actions in a row (Alfyn going at the beginning of one round followed by the end of the next round) and he didn't have enough health to survive that. I would have to come back and try again at a later date.
I continued onwards through the Coastlands in the hopes of reaching the town at its terminus, Grandport. Alfyn needed to survive a couple random encounters in order to make it out there, and he was lucky enough to have the appropriate tools on hand for the hazardous trip. First Aid allowed him to heal his way through heavy amounts of damage while his concoctions removed the elemental defenses of the monsters for Amputation disposal. These Greater Kingfisher enemies had about 6000 HP but were vulnerable to wind element; a couple of Blustery Powders softed them up for Alfyn to smash for 8k damage. Their Meteor Storm attacks did more than 1000 damage in turn, only to be healed away with the marvellous power of First Aid. Alfyn made it through this dangerous area and didn't even need to run from the random encounters. Once in Grandport I went ahead and Purchased the usual equipment upgrades, with the biggest improvement coming from the Forbidden Shield. This is the best shield that can be accessed for a very long time, far superior to the Spiked Shield that Alfyn had been using. The higher physical/elemental defenses on these items would help protect my solo character from the dangers lying ahead.
There was one more optional side quest that I wanted to complete, this one being the "Shadow Over the Sands" quest that ends with a fight against the Snake Charmer and his Giant Python. The most important thing to remember for this fight is to equip a Wakeful Stone since their attacks will otherwise perma-lock your character in sleep status. Even with that protective measure taken this was still a tricky battle. The Snake Charmer will keep buffing up the attack value of the python and switching up its weaknesses. You would think that the answer is to kill the Snake Charmer first since it has less health, but nope, this sends the python into a frenzy and grants it extra attacks each round. The safer tactic is to defeat the Giant Python first, even with the obstacles that the Snake Charmer keeps throwing up in the player's path. I had to keep waiting for the Snake Charmer to use "Keep me safe, my beauty" since it would reshuffle the weaknesses on the snake and restore all 5 shields; any progress in breaking the shields would just be wiped out when this move appeared. I would get exactly one chance to break the shields before the cycle repeated again. The axes weakness on the Giant Python was great, although Alfyn had to switch over to Freezing Powders (ice) and Glimmering Powders (light) when it was locked out. Alfyn was only doing about 5000 damage per Amputation cycle and the snake has 50k HP so this battle lasted for a long time. Still, as long as I kept healing properly Alfyn would never die, and therefore it eventually ended up in a successful outcome. Slow and steady won this race.
I started up with the Chapter 3 stories at this point and began with Tressa's tale since it tends to be the easiest. Her opponent at the end is the Venomtooth Tiger, a boss which is entirely based around poisoning the party, and a boss which can be literally defanged by equipping an Antidote Stone. With the poison blocked this boss simply becomes a routine physical attacker and that was never going to have much success against Alfyn. I captured the massive healing that he was getting from First Aid by this point: 3500 HP for 4 SP was a pretty nice trade! The Venomtooth Tiger could rage and snarl all that it wanted while lacking the capacity to punch through that curative ability. The boss had a weakness to fire so a whole lot of Fiery Powders followed by Amputation were the order of the day. Nice and easy to get started with the Chapter 3 bosses.
The Tomb of the Imperator optional side dungeon was relatively nearby in the Frostlands and I figured that I'd check it off my list before continuing onwards. I ended up running into an unexpectedly difficult fight against the boss at the end, the Behemoth. This boss has low health (only 12k HP) and hits very hard with its Boar Rush ability; I figured that I'd have Alfyn equip a Conscious Stone to protect against being stunned, keep his healing up, and that would be the end of it. This did not end up working very well because the Behemoth kept breaking out its own healing ability named Hydration, restoring 3700 HP each time that it appeared. Oh no, an opponent who could also heal! That was a real problem for Alfyn's low-offense setup. Bosses in this game don't appear to have SP totals so it's not possible to run opponents out of magic points as in past games. I'd have to find a genuine answer to this dilemma.
Part of the problem was the inherent ineffectiveness of Amputation as an ability. The picture above shows Alfyn swinging and missing with the ability, something that happened far too often when he hadn't taken the time to break his opponent beforehand. This is a killer penalty that doesn't affect pretty much every other skill in the game and it greatly influenced how I approached boss fights. I basically had to break all of Alfyn's opponents because he was otherwise so darned innaccuate with his best damage skill. Similarly, I was using Last Stand as my offensive mainstay for random encounters because I couldn't count on Amputation to land its blow reliably. At least Last Stand would hit every opponent on screen at once and didn't miss a third of the time. There was no help coming from Alfyn's Divine Skill either: Dohter's Charity causes all items used by an ally to affect all targets instead of one target, i.e. basically useless for a solo game. While I had know about the uselessness of Alfyn's Divine Skill going into this challenge, the poor accuracy of Amputation was a major reason why Alfyn was proving to be somewhat weaker than I'd been expecting.
So what to do about the Behemoth and cut through that endless healing? I needed to get the boss into a position where the shields were broken to set up a one-two punch of damage. The best concoction for this purpose was the Luminous Powder, the upgraded version of the light element Glimmering Powder that Alfyn had been using for some time now. This concoction broke three shields and had a much higher chance to inflict confusion status on the boss, which would cause it to smack itself for pretty good damage. I filled up Alfyn's boost meter completely and let his health drop low to take advantage of the bonus damage on Last Stand. This allowed me to break the boss, use a max boosted Amputation, and then hit again with a Last Stand at 800 HP to deal the finishing 5k damage needed to get over the top. Whew, what a tough fight for Alfyn. He struggled in any situation where he couldn't drag things out and wear down the opponent over a long period of time.
I thought that the next-easiest Chapter 3 story would be Olberic's clash with the lizardfolk in the southern deserts and headed to Wellspring. The monsters in this area use so much poison that it's typically worthwhile to equip an Antidote Stone for safety's sake, even for a character like Alfyn who had a ready answer to the venom. After clearing out the associated dungeon of its treasures, Alfyn found himself facing off against the Lizardman Chief and its associated minions. Those two minions provided an opportunity to demonstrate another one of the new concoctions: Ruinous Seed + Essence of Grape made Gusting Powder, three wind element hits along with a greater chance of debuffing physical defense. Alfyn cleared out the two small lizards immediately, and although the boss called them back repeatedly, they would die to one use of Last Stand without needing to break them again. This would remove the blocked weaknesses from the chief and that was the sign for Alfyn to start hacking away with his axe. Rinse and repeat while making use of lots of healing. This boss fight ended up being much easier than the Behemoth, as routine as things get.
I also want to point out here that even the upgraded potent versions of Alfyn's concoctions did no damage at all. They were fantastic for breaking opponents via their elemental weaknesses and applying different status conditions, but the actual damage output was basically zero. This was a disappointment as I'd been thinking before starting this character run that Alfyn would have both physical and elemental damage capabilities. That turns out not to be true though: he's entirely physical and far too reliant on Amputation and Last Stand for offensive output. My hope that Alfyn could shift over to elemental casting if needed turned out to be a mirage.
While Alfyn was in Wellspring, I thought that he could run through Therion's Chapter 3 storyline as well and finish up with the place. Gareth, the concluding boss, can steal away your items but that wouldn't be a problem so long as Alfyn had his concoctions on hand. The dungeon itself was no trouble as usual and soon enough I was matched up against the boss. Gareth spawned with two thief minions and I had figured out from past characters that it's best to leave one of these minions alive, as Gareth will go up from 2 actions/turn to 3 actions/turn once they are both defeated. The minions have much less dangerous abilities and you're better off not letting Gareth have an additional action per turn. The biggest issue in this battle came from an ability that I'd overlooked: Steal Magic. Gareth will attack and use this ability that takes out half of the target's maximum SP, in this case 75 out of Alfyn's 150 total SP. He uses this attack frequently and it does a ton of damage on top of draining those all-important SP. No spirit points means no chance to use any abilities and that's really bad for all characters.
Leaving a minion alive also created difficulties. If Gareth has his shields broken and a minion gets their turn, they will use "Smelling Salts" and instantly restore all 5 shields on the boss. That's bad enough in a party setting but really bites hard for a solo character. I had to line things up super carefully in the turn order like so:
If you look at the action bar at the top of the screen, Alfyn can take his turn here and break Gareth with a Gusting Powder, then use Amputation at the start of the next turn before the minion gets a chance to act. That's the ONLY sequential order in which this could work out, Alfyn going after the minion on one round and before the minion on the next round. Any other combination of actions would see the Smelling Salts come out and the boss revived. Anyway, this was a pain in the rear but it was working. Alfyn could restore his health with concoctions if he didn't have any SP available and there were plenty of Inspiriting Plums on hand to restore those spirit points themselves as needed. Then Gareth dropped below 50% HP and he began stealing Alfyn's items, which quickly put me into an impossible dilemma:
Wait, Alfyn's concoctions were considered to be items as well?! I guess that makes sense, but argh, what a disaster! Suddenly I lost the ability to heal with Purifying Seeds and damage the boss with Ruinous Seeds. In fact, Alfyn was caught in a perfect Catch-22 situation here. He couldn't get his items back unless he broke the boss, but in order to break the boss, he needed access to his concoctions because the axe weakness was currently locked out. And it wouldn't be long before Steal SP appeared and took away all of his spirit points, thus denying Alfyn of the chance to heal. No items and no healing abilities meant that Alfyn was doomed to a quick defeat.
Or did it? I started improvising on the fly and came up with a crazy strategy on a wing and a prayer. Alfyn did have one way to restore SP: auto attacking and using his Inspiration passive. He was getting back 4 SP per axe swing and if he landed even one attack that would be enough to cast First Aid. Of course he was only doing 300-400 damage per attack and Gareth still had more than 10k HP remaining but it was in fact working. Little by little the health on the boss was going down. Attack one round, heal the next round, again and again. Was this actually going to work?! Sadly my luck eventually ran out: Gareth used Steal Magic at the wrong moment and left me with too many repeated rounds with zero SP and no chance to heal. It was shocking that I'd gotten even close to defeating him in the first place. Followup attempts, including testing out the "kill both minions" tactic, didn't get any closer to a victory. I'd have to come back later and try again. I had some ideas on that front but I might as well deal with the other Chapter 3 bosses first.
The first step was finding an upgrade from Alfyn's outdated weapon. He was still using the Golden Axe from Clearbrook village because I hadn't been able to get any of the better options. The Ogre Cleaver required defeating an 8 star Challenge/Provoke opponent, the Forbidden Axe required defeating a 9 star opponent, and the Battle-tested Axe required (of course) defeating a 10 star opponent and then hoping for that 2% drop rate to land. Olberic wasn't a high enough level to Challenge any of these NPCs and I wasn't about to attempt the struggle with H'aanit and her Provoke. Thus Alfyn had been stuck with the Golden Axe for longer than I wanted to use it and that had been limiting his offensive performance significantly. There was only one weapon available that didn't require defeating an opponent or completing the Chapter 4 storylines: the Death Cleaver. This was hidden in a treasure chest in the Everhold Tunnels, an optional side dungeon with a challenge rating of 55. Alfyn was only just barely strong enough to make his way there without meeting his demise, and I managed to sneak in and grab the thing before teleporting out. (It helped that this chest was near the entrance.) The new weapon represented a massive upgrade in terms of damage and even had a small chance to poison opponents, an effect which could also trigger from Last Stand and Amputation. Remember that Alfyn restored SP via his Inspiration passive in proportion to his damage dealt, and higher damage when auto attacking meant more opportunities to hit opponents with Last Stand. This helped out a lot.
Newly equipped, I decided to take on Alfyn's own Chapter 3 storyline next. The plot here sets up another contrast between Alfyn and an older, grizzled apothecary named Ogen who picks who he helps and who he doesn't help. We see Ogen cruelly leave an injured man to die because "some lives aren't worth saving" and then heal a sick child shortly thereafter. Alfyn cures the injured man only to discover the next day that he's a dangerous mercenary named Miguel, who of course immediately kidnaps the sick child and demands a ransom. Obviously the player must go rescue this latest child to find themselves in danger thanks to Alfyn's boneheaded decision. I appreciate the way that the writers set up these alternate healers (Vanessa and Ogen) to provide foils for Alfyn, but why is there such a complete lack of communication between everyone? Why doesn't Ogen mention to Alfyn "that guy's a murderer, might want to be skeptical of his story"? Why don't Ogen and Alfyn treat Miguel's injuries from within the confines of a jail cell? We know that this world has prisons, we see them in several cities. You can follow the Hippocratic Oath while also not being a total moron! Ah well, guess the plot wouldn't be as interesting if everyone acted logically.
Switching from Miguel the plot figure to Miguel the boss fight, I discovered the answer to this challenge back while playing as Tressa. It's all about stacking up as much physical defense as possible; Miguel deals purely physical damage and debuffs your physical defense to hit even harder. But if the player's physical defense is high enough, this ends up having no effect and all those spears that he's tossing around don't do much of anything. I equipped Alfyn with all of his best physical defense gear, including a rarely-used Guardian Amulet accessory, and managed to get the total score up to 846. This reduced Miguel's damage down to the minimal range, certainly nothing that Alfyn and his crazy healing couldn't handle. The boss shifted around his weaknesses after recovering from each break but was always vulnerable to either axes or fire or wind, the three main damage types at Alfyn's disposal. This was honestly a joke after the problems caused by Gareth, and Alfyn passed the test with flying colors.
Ditto for Albus the Right-hand Man at the end of Primrose's Chapter 3 story. He's a bit like the Venomtooth Tiger in gearing so many of his attacks around one status condition (blindness) which can be blocked via a simple accessory choice. Albus weirdly only took one action each turn and never gained more of them, which was enormously less dangerous than the double and triple actions of many other bosses. He did summon two minions when he fell below 50% HP but it was simple to defeat the two of them and they didn't come back afterwards. Just an easy boss fight for someone with a Bright Stone to block the blindness. Alfyn used his wind element concoctions for breaking and happily took advantage of their physical defense down side effect to land his first 9999 damage printouts of the solo run. Too bad that's the damage cap for everyone other than Olberic.
And H'aanit's Dragon opponent was also a cinch to defeat, who I'm mentioning mostly so that I can include that cool-looking screenshot above. An Inferno Amulet reduced the damage from its fire breath by 99% (not a typo, that's what the "greatly reduces" elemental amulets do) and auto attacks with axes were more than sufficient to break through the shields. It didn't matter that the Rending Claw attacks from the Dragon were dealing 1100 damage apiece, Alfyn could heal about 4000 HP per casting of First Aid and only extreme carelessness on my part would get him killed. Sure wish that all of the bosses were this easy.
Yvon was more interesting as the boss of Cyrus' Chapter 3 story. He starts out with two Research Fellow minions that fortunately don't come back after being defeated; Alfyn took advantage of their axes weakness to break them and land a pair of Last Stands to finish them off. Yvon himself is an all-physical boss who can land attacks that drain all SP and all BP. As bad as that sounded, Alfyn had plenty of experience with the SP stealing from Gareth earlier, and as long as he still had access to his concoctions I felt confiden that he would be able to succeed. Yvon also only took one action per turn and I'd already seen from Albus how not dangerous that was. In terms of breaking Yvon, he started out with just a light element weakness for Alfyn to target, then added more weaknesses even as his total number of shields ballooned from 3 up to 12. The good news is that a fire element weakness opened up in the process, making this the perfect time to employ the potent version of his fire concoction. The Flaming Powder hit three times and had a high chance to inflict poison status; it was so successful that Yvon spent basically the whole battle poisoned. Even if each poison tick only did 1% damage they did add up over time. In fact, it was a poison tick that ended up finishing off Yvon while Alfyn was getting ready to break the boss yet again. So while this was a bit tougher than the last few bosses, the whole thing was still pretty simple. No one had come close to repeating the danger level posed by Gareth.
Now I was down to the last few Chapter 3 bosses, the ones that I was the least confident in Alfyn's ability to defeat. I'd been saving Ophilia's Chapter 3 story until the end since her dual bosses pose so many problems for a solo character. The Mystery Man attacks in this pair while the Shady Figure heals and buffs, and the Shady Figure in particular heals both of them for 800 HP at the end of every round of combat. That was very bad news for a low offense character like Alfyn - we had another healing duel on our hands! My preference would therefore have been to kill the Shady Figure first, however that wasn't practical due to the lack of exploitable weaknesses. The Shady Figure is weak to fire, ice, and lightning damage but all of them were blocked at the moment by the Mystery Man. I wasn't keen to try swinging away with Amputation against an unbroken target due to the risk of missing, and repeated Last Stands wouldn't deal enough damage to get through the endless healing.
So it had to be the Mystery Man first regardless of what I wanted. I could use the axes weakness to break that opponent and then land Amputation or Last Stand for heavy damage. That part was easy enough, only the real battle wouldn't begin until the Mystery Man was dead. Once the Shady Figure was the only one remaining, it went up to three actions per turn and started debuffing Alfyn's elemental defense each round. Repeated uses of Arcane Blade would deal about 1000 damage each, and I had to be very careful for those rounds where the quirks of the turn order would let the Shady Figure get five or six actions in a row. I miscalculated at one point and the boss took Alfyn from 3500 HP down to zero in one such sequence. Whoops, thought I was safe there and apparently wasn't. Sometimes I would have to pause for several rounds just healing with First Aid until there was a safe moment to attack. The good news was the fact that I'd stacked elemental defense on Alfyn for this battle and that also buffed up his healing at the same time. He could restore about 5000 HP per First Aid at this point! The Shady Figure couldn't quite manage to kill Alfyn if I maintained his health properly and with the infinite healing removed, it was only a matter of time until victory arrived. Whew, not an easy fight at all.
That left Alfyn with a small bit of unfinished business:
I'd been thinking about what I could change to deal with Gareth and came up with the Dragon's Scarf accessory. I had Purchased this from Tressa's father back in Rippletide after my initial failure against Gareth and thought that it might be just what Alfyn needed. The Dragon's Scarf restores back 5% of the character's maximum SP at the end of each turn (rounded down unfortunately), in this case granting Alfyn 7 SP per round. If he couldn't get his items back or use his concoctions, this provided a seconary source of SP aside from his Inspiration-enhanced auto attacks. The new accessory didn't solve all of my problems since it granted SP back at the end of each round, not before each round, and a long streak of Magic Steal actions from the boss could still leave Alfyn unable to heal himself. Nevertheless it gave Alfyn a much better fighting chance and much better odds to have enough SP to use Amputation (8 SP cost) instead of simply healing.
On my second or third attempt at the boss while using the Dragon's Scarf, I found myself in a situation where I could break Gareth with an axe attack and then kill him with Amputation once he was broken on the next turn. But Alfyn had zero SP thanks to Gareth's stealing abilities and that wouldn't be enough to use Amputation. I was annoyed at how close and yet how far away I was from victory. Then it hit me: Alfyn would get SP back from attacking thanks to Inspiration and then further SP back from the Dragon's Scarf. Do it, do it now!
Haha, take that! It was a satisfying conclusion to this fight along with the amusing disposal of the remaining thief minion afterwards. I broke him and used Amputation for maximum damage just to work off some of the earlier frustration. I could not have pulled this off without equipping the Dragon's Scarf, Alfyn wouldn't have had enough SP to use Amputation just from his auto attack alone.
And there was one more bit of unfinished business to wrap up, returning to the Captain's Bane dungeon to deal with the Leviathan. There was no clever strategy this time, merely the accumulated weight of a dozen more character levels along with significantly better equipment. The Constrictor attack that had been dealing 400-500 damage previously was now dealing only 200 damage plus Alfyn had about a third more total health to work with. It was basically a numbers game at this point and the big octopus was on the losing side. Alfyn had nearly been able to defeat the optional boss earlier and this newer, stronger version of the character had none of the earlier difficulties.
Most of the Chapter 3 bosses proved to be relatively straightforward customers to defeat. The real problem had come from Gareth, and it was obvious where the biggest challenge was going to arrive in terms of the Chapter 4 bosses. At this point I still didn't have any idea if it would even be possible to win against Darius, the significantly stronger version of the thief boss. Time would tell as we moved onward to the final opponents in the Chapter 4 concluding stories.