Cyrus: Scholar Solo Game

Welcome to the newest installment of our ongoing Octopath Traveler series of solo games, this time featuring the clueless bookworm Cyrus. He holds the Scholar job and effectively functions as Octopath Traveler's Black Mage or offensive spellcaster, bringing three different types of heavy elemental damage. Cyrus has one of the best offensive outputs of any character in the game, and he's particularly good at wiping out large groups of enemies with his flashy spell effects. Unfortunately Cyrus also brings all of the typical weaknesses of a ranged spellcaster, notably poor physical defenses and extraordinarily low HP growth. Cyrus may well be the weakest choice to pick for a solo game - should be some fun times ahead! I already knew before starting that he was going to have a devil of a time defeating some of the endgame boss opponents.

As a quick refresher for our rules in an Octopath Traveler solo game, the seven other characters will all be recuited (to allow playing through their respective storylines) but won't take any part in combat, with one potential exception at the end of Therion's storyline. The lesson that I learned from my initial Tressa solo game is that the Path Actions of the other characters also need to be included or else it locks out too much of the gameplay. So that's the rule for this game: Cyrus can use the other characters to Steal/Purchase items, Challenge/Provoke NPCs in town, and Allure/Guide random townspeople around for quests, but none of those other skills can be used for combat purposes.

Cyrus is the starting character that I chose for my initial non-variant playthrough and he's one of my favorite characters from a plot standpoint. Cyrus is a scholar at the Royal Academy in Atlasdam, spending his time researching the arcane in an obsessive pursuit of knowledge. Unlike most of the faculty members that I've encountered in my own academic career, Cyrus genuinely seems to love teaching and repeatedly expresses a rather naive belief that all knowledge should be shared openly with anyone who wants it. And yes, that includes incredibly dangerous forbidden sealing techniques that could unleash a horrific demon on the world; Cyrus has a chance to destroy this knowledge but insists that it should be preserved. This is all part of his character, of course, as Cyrus is also completely oblivious to the female students who have a crush on him. (Does anyone remember the introductory scene from Raiders of the Lost Ark where the one woman is staring rapturously at Harrison Ford? It's a bit like that except that Cyrus is blissfully unaware of what's happening.) There's an old trope of the "brilliant scholar who doesn't understand everyday life" and Octopath Traveler has a lot of fun playing around with it.

Cyrus brings the "Scrutinize" Path Action, indentical to Alfyn's Inquire except functioning as a percentage-based dice roll instead of automatically unlocking at set levels. Cyrus' ability is far more useful for a solo game since it always has a chance to work and the dice rolls can be brute-forced if necessary via saving and reloading. With that said though, I've found both Scrutinize and Inquire to be rather underwhelming on the whole compared to some of the other Path Actions. The hidden items rarely turn up much of interest and the other stuff that unlocks (discounts at the inn, easier stealing, first strike in Challenge/Provoke battles) just isn't that useful. You would think that unlocking extra equipment for sale in weapon stores would be a great benefit but nope, not so much. The equipment that comes from Purchase/Steal is far superior in almost every case. If there's anything I've learned from these solo games, it's the fact that the Purchase/Steal ability is overwhelmingly the best Path Action, and not allowing it for a solo game would be a crippling disadvantage.

Cyrus' unique Talent is named Study Foe and it reveals one weakness on each enemy at the start of each battle. This will quickly result in every weakness for every enemy appearing after a few fights in each new area. Great stuff for a non-variant game and not terribly useful for someone like me sitting around with a guide that already holds all of that information. The lack of a more useful Talent is a major factor in Cyrus' overall weakness as a solo character.

And then there's the base stats on Cyrus. I'll start with the good stuff first: this guy is amazing at anything related to offensive magic. Cyrus has the highest elemental attack by a good margin, with only Primrose and Ophilia even coming close to him. He gets the second-most spirit points (SP) in the game behind Ophilia, something which will be badly needed to keep his spellcasting up and running. Keep in mind that the stats in this game grow over time in proportion to their starting values, i.e. Cyrus will also continue to gain more elemental attack than anyone else in the game as he levels upwards. There has to be a tradeoff for those stats, of course, and it comes in the form of brutally low physical attack and HP, both of which are the worst in the game. While Cyrus doesn't really need physical damage, playing a solo character with terribly poor health is not exactly a challenge that I was eager to embark upon. Think about this: Cyrus starts the game with 200 HP at Level 1 while Olberic starts the game with 325 HP! I had enough trouble making it through the endgame with Olberic and Alfyn, and now I was going to have to do the same thing on a character with roughly 50% less health? Yikes.

I was going to have to rely on the fact that Cyrus turns out to be really good at killing things with his spellcasting. He can only equip staffs for his weapon type, and that's another real weakness, but he gets three different types of elemental damage: fire, ice, and lightning. Four different types of damage is pretty good for a solo character and, unlike Alfyn, Cyrus can dish out real damage with all three elements at his disposal, not simply use them for shield breaking purposes. He will need to kill monsters before they can kill him since Cyrus has zero defensive or healing abilities.

Cyrus begins his story by investigating several books which have gone missing from the library of the Royal Academy, eventually tracking them down to a rival scholar who stole them to cover a series of gambling debts. To empower Cyrus in this search, he begins with the initial starting Scholar skills of Fireball and Icewind, basic spells attuned to the fire and ice elements respectively. The big advantage of these skills is that they hit all opponents on the screen at once, much like Tressa's Trade Tempest skill or Primrose's Night Ode skill or Ophilia's Luminescence skill. (The damage is exactly the same for all of these abilities, just attuned to different elements.) The downside is the exact same property: they hit all enemies at once, without the option to focus-fire on a single target for greater damage. Cyrus actually does get that functionality eventually from his Divine Skill but that wouldn't be available for some time yet. With that in mind, let's look at the full list of Scholar skills from the mechanics guide:

For a longer explanation of what all these numbers mean, I'll direct readers to this page in the solo Tressa game. Cyrus might have the most basic set of abilities in the whole game since he only has four skills in total. He has three single-hit elemental abilities in Fireball, Icewind, and Lightning Bolt, and then he has three more double-hit elemental abilities in Fire Storm, Blizzard, and Lightning Blast. The first group has a slightly higher attack modifier at 1.33 compared to 1.20 and a slightly worse boost modifier at 0.90 compared to 0.95. The net effect is that the damage is a bit lower for the single-hit abilities: at maximum boost, the damage would be 1.33 * 0.90 * 4 = 4.79 for the first group and 1.20 * 0.95 * 4 = 4.56 for the second group. Except of course that the second group of elemental abilities hit *TWICE*, therefore making the full damage comparison 4.79 against 9.12 which tilts much more heavily in favor of the latter group. You're essentially paying triple the SP cost to deal a little bit less than double the damage. Sometimes this is worthwhile and sometimes it isn't, setting up some interesting tactical decisions.

Analyze is one of the only two Scholar skills that doesn't deal damage, revealing the target's remaining HP and one or more of its weaknesses. This is not very useful for a solo game and I didn't expect to use it much, if at all. As for the Divine Skill Alephan’s Enlightenment, I'll discuss it further once it unlocked later on in the game. For the moment, I chose to take Fire Storm as Cyrus' third skill so that he would have the option to double hit with one of his abilities. This seemed more useful than unlocking a third element in lightning which I already knew I wouldn't need for the initial boss fight. Cyrus did get to make use of his shiny new ability against Russell:

The visual effects for the skills in this game look fantastic, and all of Cyrus' elemental abilities are appropriately dramatic. If there's one issue with these static screenshots, it's the fact that you can't really see the bosses sometimes due to the sheets of flame washing over them or whatever else crazy stuff might be happening. Anyway, Russell spawns with a pair of Water Wisp minions who are weak against both fire and lightning. I had Cyrus break the two minions with a pair of unboosted Fireball casts, then unloaded with a max boosted Fire Storm as pictured above. The damage was more than enough to wipe them out and leave Cyrus alone with Russell. Fortunately this boss was weak to staff attacks, allowing me to knock out his shields with melee blows and then use another max boosted spell once the shields were down. This is the one battle in the game where the player is expected to be a solo character so it was an appropriately easy encounter.

Plotwise, Cyrus is rewarded for apprehending his thieving compatriot by being placed on academic leave and firmly told to make himself scarce by going on sabaatical. This is due to an unrelated event: his student Therese has falsely claimed that Cyrus is engaging in an inappropriate relationship with the princess of Atlasdam, all so that she can get more attention from the professor that she's crushing on. It's another example of the consistently poor treatment of women in the game's writing, with Therese having no identity of her own outside of Cyrus. She's even portrayed as having no real interest in the subject matter that Cyrus is teaching, just a fluff-brained girl acting out of petty jealousy and inexplicably getting sympathetic treatment for her terrible actions. The writing should treat this situation a lot more seriously than it does: false accusations are very rare (sexual harassment is drastically underreported, not overreported) but certainly not something to laugh off. Everything about this setup is wrong, from how badly Therese is written as a character to the way that Cyrus brushes away the damage to his reputation. I'm not an especially great writer and I'm convinced that I could have come up with something better. (How about the obviously-evil headmaster frames Cyrus for a crime and he has to travel incognito to clear his name? That's a trope too but it's better than what we get here. From The Far Reaches Of Hell is missing and Cyrus is blamed for the theft, thus he has to embark on a quest to find the tome in question. Argh!)

It shouldn't surprise readers of these reports to hear that I was headed south into the Coastlands first to recruit Tressa. Along the brief journey to Rippletide, Cyrus was lucky enough to stumble across one of the elusive Cait enemies. He didn't have a Medium Soulstone of any element yet for the guaranteed kill, and yet I managed to hit the thing with two castings of Fire Storm to down it before it could run away. The resulting bounty of 1000 XP and 150 job points unlocked a fourth skill for Cyrus (I grabbed the single-target Lightning Bolt) and his first support skill. Here's the full list of passive abilities for the Scholar job:

If I'm being completely honest here, the support skills for Cyrus were a sad lot indeed. Evasive Maneuvers was the first passive skill to unlock, granting a reduced encounter rate for random monsters, and I didn't even want to equip it as an ability. I don't really mind fighting the random battles that appear along the way and the resulting experience would be badly needed for Cyrus. (I expected that I'd be doing some level grinding down the road, to say the least.) Elusive Manuevers would have its uses in specific circumstances but I didn't plan to have it in effect for general use. Elemental Augmentation was simple and effective, an extra 50 points to the elemental attack stat. Nice to have without being anything too noteworthy. (Keep in mind that a Large Magic Nut stat-boosting item would later be worth about 36 points of elemental attack for Cyrus so this support skill was only worth about 1.5 of those items. A bit disappointing.) Percipience would remove the chance for a surprise attack, another "nice to have" ability that wasn't worth very much. The only true winner in the bunch was the last support skill, Vim and Vigor, which would be a major help when it appeared. Regenerating back 10% of max HP every turn would be a gigantic benefit for a solo character, and it would even synergize with the HP/SP regeneration from the Battle-tested Shield in the lategame. Unfortunately Cyrus has a terribly low max HP total to limit the effectiveness of this support skill, but beggers can't be choosers and this was a lot better than the rest of the mediocre support options.

Mikk and Makk were the dual pirate bosses waiting at the end of Tressa's Chapter 1 storyline. Both of them were weak against Tressa's wind element (which Cyrus lacked) but otherwise forced him to split up his damage types, with Mikk weak against lightning while Makk was weak against fire and staff attacks. This was a situation where the are of effect nature of Cyrus' spells worked particularly well, since all of his damaging abilities would always hit both opponents at once. Fire Storm was already hitting 650 * 2 = 1300 damage against a broken target which meant it didn't take long to wear down these goofy opponents. If there was a problem here for Cyrus, it was the constant risk of running out of SP. Even his basic elemental skills cost 8 SP per casting and Cyrus pretty much had to use one of these abilities in every random encounter. This would cause him to run dry after about a dozen such battles or else dip into his stash of (expensive for this early in the game) Inspiriting Plum items. Characters get a full restore of HP/SP when they level up in Octopath Traveler and I was making use of that mechanic quite a bit here in the early going.

Speaking of items, I had picked up some very basic defensive equipment for Cyrus in the starting town of Atlasdam. I was limited in terms of getting him better stuff both by the small number of towns that he'd visited thus far as well as the limited amount of money on hand. The place that I most wanted to visit at this stage of the game was Noblecourt, the second ring town located in the Flatlands that has a nice collection of useful gear. This was where the Elusive Manuevers support skill saw real use for the first time: with it equipped, Cyrus could easily walk to the town without facing a single battle. The way that random encounters work in Octoapth Traveler is through a "step gauge" mechanic, i.e. the party will run into a fight after a set number of steps. Elusive Manuevers increases the number of steps before a random encounter triggers, and a by a pretty big margin, something like double or triple the default rate. (It's a core component of the Octopath Traveler speedruns where Tressa and Cyrus are the two most indispensible characters.) The step gauge gets reset each time that the player reloads from a save, and since the game autosaves at the beginning of each screen, Elusive Manuevers could theoretically allow Cyrus to travel anywhere in the world by exploiting the save-and-reload mechanic. Reaching Noblecourt was a breeze and I knew already that Cyrus could venture much further afield.

I picked up the Empowering Bracelet for now using Tressa's Purchase ability. There was more defensive equipment that I wanted for Cyrus in Noblecourt but he lacked enough funds to make it happen, and I still didn't have Therion on board to Steal the stuff in underhanded fashion. The Empowering Bracelet provided one modest solution to the recurring problem of Cyrus' low HP total. He still had a mere 700 HP and that wasn't much. This would at least get him up to 1200 HP and allow Cyrus to survive a couple of hits without keeling over.

Hits like this one from Gaston, the boss of Olberic's Chapter 1 storyline. The big issue here was a lack of adequate physical defenses. Cyrus has a low base stat in that area and I still lacked much in the way of defensive gear because I'd been saving up for better stuff in Noblecourt. This came back to bite me when Gaston landed his "Mighty Blow" attacks for more than 400 damage apiece - ouch! I also realized that Gaston used an attack named "Bludgeon" that could inflict unconsciousness status on Cyrus, and he only broke this out if his two bandit companions were dead. Alright then, let's avoid killing the two bandits... except that all of the elemental spells used by Cyrus hit everything on the screen at once. Whoops, didn't anticipate that. And now that I had started Olberic's chapter, I wasn't allow to leave the town of Cobbleston to go purchase better defensive gear in another village. This was pretty bad planning from me. In the end, I resolved the situation by breaking Gaston with his two minions still alive and then smashing a soulstone to wipe out everything on the screen. I didn't want to get trapped here any longer! This was a failure of planning on my part and I hoped to avoid a repeat of this problem.

First things first: time to get some better defensive gear in Noblecourt. This would do the most to keep Cyrus alive longer, especially since he had such a pitifully low amount of total health to work with. I used Tressa to Purchase the Imperial Vest as a general-use armor and then picked up the Spiked Shield from an actual weapon store, a rare case of the vendors being useful. The Spiked Shield is the best shield in slot for a very long time until the Forbidden Shield becomes available in Grandport, one of those oddities where the game doesn't provide any superior options for no clear reason. These new items pushed Cyrus over 300 defense in both the physical and elemental categories, which I figured would be enough to get him through the remaining Chapter 1 bosses.

Cyrus had also reached 500 job points by now, enough to unlock his fifth active skill. I took Blizzard to grant him the double-hit ice element spell, for no particular reason aside from being listed above the similar lightning two-hit option. I'd grab that at the next job unlock to complete the set. This also unlocked the Elemental Augmentation support skill for another 50 points of elemental attack, increasing the overall number by about 30%. Both of these new developments were on display against the next boss:

Helgenish is one of the easiest of the Chapter 1 opponents and Cyrus predictably mopped the floor with him and his goons. Helgenish only had an ice element weakness and his minions had no weaknesses at all that Cyrus could exploit, but nonetheless Cyrus blew away the two minions with his first casting of Blizzard and then his second casting put up this damage against the boss himself. Close to 2000 damage this early in the game was fantastic stuff and suggested that Cyrus would likely be able to hit the max damage cap of 9999 before he finished his journey. If he could spike the later bosses for 20k damage at a time, that would at least give him a shot at surviving. Helgenish had no chance and was shattered into pieces by the massive shards of ice conjured up by Cyrus.

With Primrose added into the fold, I went back to some of the earlier towns and fulfilled more of the side quests that required the use of the Guide/Allure Path Action. I've mentioned before that Primrose is far more useful for a solo game than Ophilia since the player can keep her at Level 1 and bend probability by rerolling until the NPC in question agrees to follow the party. Completing side quests was important because they granted Cyrus more money, quite a bit more cash than he could get from defeating monsters with their low early game payouts. I turned on Elusive Manuevers and ventured down to Saintsbridge in the second ring of the Riverlands, using this trip to finish the "Prodigious Painter" side quest back in Atlasdam for a cool 13,000 money. That was a ton at this stage of the game and I already had my eye on an important upcoming purchase. Most of the other side quests were less lucrative but even 2000 and 3000 money apiece did add up over time.

I also wanted to highlight how random encounters looked notably different for Cyrus as compared to all of the other solo characters. After a handful of battles in each area, his "Study Foe" Talent would have revealed every single weakness associated with each opponent. I'm used to having most of them blank for the other solo characters and only caring about their respective damage types; for example, Alfyn pretty much classified everything into "weak against axes" and "not weak against axes" and that was the end of it. Of course I could look up the weaknesses of any monster in my reference spreadsheet if needed, but mostly I wouldn't bother to do so since it would take too much time. Having Cyrus here was a bit like playing a strategy game with the fog of war turned off.

I was continuing around the inner ring in counterclockwise fashion, therefore bringing Cyrus to Alfyn's starting quest next. He had accumulated enough job points by the end of this story to unlock his sixth skill, and I took Lightning Blast to have the full set of elemental abilities on hand. The Blotted Viper boss at the end couldn't deal enough damage to get through Cyrus' new armor in a meaningful way, and the main danger to Cyrus in this battle came in the form of poison ticks. (I did have plenty of Healing Herbs on hand to counter them.) The one thing that a solo character has to guard against is killing both of the Mottled Asp minions, as removing them from the field will unlock a "Constrict" move from the boss that inflicts unconsciousness. Once that appears it's only a matter of time until the stun + poison combo results in a game over for your character. That's the whole reason why Cyrus was using Lightning Blast here: the little snakes were *NOT* weak against lightning, therefore surviving the spell's blast instead of dying. Stay alive there little guys, don't leave Cyrus alone with the big snake!

Unfortunately Cyrus was getting a little too big for his own britches here. I found that a second casting of Lightning Blast would wipe out the snake minions even though they didn't have any weakness to lightning element and I hadn't broken through their shields. The Blotted Viper would then stun Cyrus and kill him with poison afterwards. Hmmm, another case of Cyrus doing too much indiscriminate damage! The smartest answer in restrospect would have been to do some damage to the snake with Cyrus' pathetic staff attack, enough so that the second casting of Lightning Blast would wipe out everything on the battlefield. That would have been a slow solution but I think it would have worked. Instead, I used a Medium Soulstone in place of the second Lightning Blast and that did a little bit more damage, enough to finish off the boss. This was working for now but I wouldn't be able to rely on soulstones to get me out of danger forever.

I continued to make use of Elusive Maneuvers after wrapping up Alfyn's story, ranging first to Stonegard and then to Goldshore. Cyrus could always make it to the next save point or the next screen transition before fighting a single random encounter, and if he was wiped out thereafter, no big deal. Reload from the most recent save point and continue onwards. There were a number of easy side quests in these towns that paid out big cash prizes on completion, 5000 and 6000 money at a time. It was enough to Purchase the big prize that I'd been working towards: 61,750 money for the Wizard Rod bought from a random Townsperson outside the Goldshore cathedral. Cyrus had been using the Quartz Rod thus far with an elemental attack value of 38 points. The Wizard Rod represented just a wee bit of an increase from that: +300 points of elemental attack, more than doubling the total value even after adding in base stats. This represented a gigantic leap upwards for Cyrus' damage, with him having an item that he definitely wasn't supposed to have unlocked yet. It was going to make the remaining boss fights in Chapter 1 a little bit... spicier.

The other item worth mentioning here was an armor named the Exotic Garb. This was the reward from the "Lost in Translation" side quest, something which I had fulfilled only because I wanted the 6500 reward money. However, I realized afterwards that the equipment was actually perfect for Cyrus right now! The physical and elemental defense values were slightly weaker than the Imperial Vest, trading those defenses for a secondary property that restored SP after each action. It wasn't a whole lot, just 3 SP per turn right now, but that would be enough to keep Cyrus from running out of SP in random encounters. He could defend for the first two rounds, gaining 6 SP in the process, then spend 8 SP casting one of his single-hit elemental abilities with max boost points on the third round of combat. This limited SP loss to a net of -2 SP per fight, easily enough to be self-sufficient. Now I could make it through the remainder of the early game without drowning in Inspiriting Plum expenses.

So, how much did the damage on Cyrus increase after equipping that Wizard Rod?

A lot. It went up by a lot. That's poor Heathcote getting zapped by Lightning Blast in Ravus Manor, another example of the visual effects looking amazing for the elemental spells. I just love the way that the 2D sprite graphics interact with the more modern-looking environments and effects in Octopath Traveler, great stuff. Anyway, with this boosted damage from his new gear, Cyrus had effectively outscaled the remaining opponents in Chapter 1. Heathcote only has 5900 HP in total so Cyrus had come close to one-shotting him here. (His health was displaying in the red before Cyrus cast this spell, purely from the damage inflicted while breaking through his shields.) I don't have much more to say here, Cyrus was a frail customer but he sure could dish out the punishment while he was still standing.

With Therion in the fold now, I was able to return back to some of the earlier areas that Cyrus had already traversed and open up the purple locked chests along the way. Therion always stays in the party even for a solo game because he's needed for this particular chore. Therion allowed me to Steal the Oasis Hat from the Impresario of the traveling theatre troop outside Noblecourt, by far the best helmet available until much later on. Just be careful not to fulfill's Kit's associated quest until after stealing this hat since the theatre group will leave afterwards and the player loses this opportunity forever. I also headed back to Stoneguard and grabbed the Elemental Augmentor accessory for its tasty +100 elemental attack value. Although I wasn't sure how often Cyrus would be able to wear this in boss fights due to the pressing need for defensive accessories, it was definitely something that I wanted on hand as an option. It was the choice for the moment alongside that earlier +500 HP Empowering Bracelet.

The Exotic Garb kept kicking in its modest 3 SP per turn regeneration in each of the combats that Cyrus came across. I found that Cyrus was powerful enough to wipe out the weak forest critters in the Woodlands by casting one of his single target elemental spells with only a single boost point on the initial turn of combat. Typically it was better to wait until he had max boost points on the third turn though, just so that the Exotic Garb could regenerate 6 SP over the first two turns. I also had a weird run of finding Cait enemies while traveling in this area, with Cyrus downing four of them during the walk from Boulderfall to Flamesgrace. His Fire Storm attack would hit for 9 * 2 = 18 damage against the Caits which have all of 4 HP. As for the boss in the Woodlands, the Ghisarma took 6600 damage from a max boosted Lightning Blast and that was pretty much it for the weird rat-like creature. Then it was back to fire element again at the end of Ophilia's Chapter 1 story:

The Guardian of the First Flame summons its Dark Wisp minions when it drops below 50% HP. I wasn't too worried about this because Cyrus could clear the battlefield with his spells, but as it turns out, he never even saw the minions show up. Following down the same path that Olberic had tred earlier, Cyrus broke the boss and then wiped it out with a Fire Storm that did nearly 7000 damage, therefore never giving the Guardian a chance to bring in its compatriots. I always enjoy stomping this boss after the trouble that it gave solo Tressa and this certainly was a stomping.

The initial portions of Cyrus' journey had pretty much gone the way that I expected. Cyrus was a frail customer who often felt like he would blow over in a stiff breeze. I had to worry constantly about him running out of HP and SP due to his weak physical nature and reliance on spellcasting. However, he could dish it out like nobody's business, returning massive multitargeted damage that decimated the ranks of his enemies. It reinforced one of the core tenets of this quest: keep Cyrus alive and he'll flatten everything else in no time. Keeping him alive, that was the tough part though! We'd see how well I managed to do at that as his journey continued onwards into the Chapter 2 stories.