I picked up with Cyrus as he switched over from the Chapter 2 stories to the Chapter 3 set of quests. As usual, I used this interval between the main character tales to stop and clear out some of the optional side areas. The challenge level ramps up significantly with each new set of chapters and the non-mandatory dungeons provide a useful place to pick up some additional experience along the way. Stealth leveling at its finest, in other words. Cyrus came across a particularly interesting encounter in the Tomb of Kings:
There was both a Cait and a Cultured Cait here! These are Octopath Traveler's version of the "very rare enemy worth lots of gold/experience with high defense that tries to run from battle" staple of Japanese RPGs. Most characters would be stuck breaking a soulstone and hoping that it dealt enough damage to defeat these elusive opponents before they ran away. Not Cyrus though: he was able to cast Fire Storm immediately with the default starting boost point and deal 20 * 2 = 40 damage to both Caits, downing them instantly. Unfortunately the Cultured Caits don't provide that much experience, instead yielding enormous amounts of job points. A typical battle at this stage of the game is worth about 20-30 job points, and this encounter payed out more than 600 of them! Totally worthless for Cyrus though, as he had long since maxed out his starting Scholar job. At least the Cait was still worth a lot of experience, with 1000+ XP nothing to sneeze at even in Octopath Traveler's endgame.
The Tomb of Kings doesn't have a boss at the end, only a side quest that Cyrus was able to complete using his Scrutinize ability. I sent him to the Hollow Throne next which did have a boss at its conclusion. The Throne Guardian is one of the easiest optional bosses in the game, with a hefty life total but not much in the way of damage. It was weak to ice element and Cyrus pelted it with a bunch of Blizzard spells until it collapsed. By way of contrast, the Behemoth in the Tomb of the Imperator was a much more dangerous opponent:
The Behemoth poses the reverse situation: an enemy with low total HP that hits very, very hard. If you're curious about how hard, the insert screenshot demonstrates how Cyrus took 3100 damage from a single blow after the creature had buffed up its physical attack. Good thing he was still wearing that Empowering Necklace accessory for +1000 maximum HP or this would have been a one-shot kill from the boss. This was the same opponent who had bedeviled Alfyn with its constant healing, making it hard to finish off the creature before it could break out its "Hydration" move and restore 3700 HP at a time. Unlike Alfyn, Cyrus had more than enough offensive capacity to burst down the creature. He simply needed to avoid dying in the process while setting things up properly. It was a perfect opportunity to use Alephan's Enlightenment and Cyrus also had the good fortune to find that the Behemoth was weak against his staff attacks. I worked through the 10 shields until the Behemoth only had a single shield remaining, cast Alephan's Enlightenment at maximum boost points, broke the last remaining shield, and then used a max boosted Lightning Blast against the broken target. This yielded about 15k total damage and that was enough to one-shot the boss, with the Behemoth only having a little over 12k total health. Hah, two can play at that game!
Cyrus continued onwards through several other side regions. I cleared out the Farshore dungeon next, another area that has no final boss and essentially no relevancy to the rest of the game. There's one associated side quest and that's it. Then it was on to the Derelict Mine which did have a boss at the finish, the disgusting plant thing known as Manymaws. This monster relies on inflicting lots of status ailments; Cyrus blocked the only truly dangerous one (silence) with an Articulate Stone and repeatedly attacked its fire element weakness. Another Alephan's Enlightenment was enough to one-shot the boss once it was broken. Afterwards I equipped the Elusive Maneuvers support skill once again to range further afield into the Everhold Tunnels:
The Everhold Tunnels has one of the highest difficulty ratings in the game (55); only the Forest of Purgation (58) has a higher listed rating. While I typically wouldn't take a solo character into an area like this just yet, Cyrus was able to avoid nearly all of the random encounters and grab the treasure chests that he wanted along the way. My goal was an upgraded weapon named the Knowledge Staff with slightly higher elemental attack than the Wizard's Rod that Cyrus had been using for some time. It also had a big bonus to the speed stat; however, as I've mentioned repeatedly, speed seems to be almost completely useless in Octopath Traveler. It helps you run from battles more easily but I always fight the random encounters anyway and I can't seem to tell whether or not it does much of anything else. Going earlier in the turn order does almost nothing in a turn-based battle system like the one used in this game. I really miss the active time battle (ATB) system of the classic Final Fantasies and I wish that it would make a comeback. Speed mattered a lot in those games and it helped make the fights livelier.
Alright, enough time spent on the side quests. It was time to begin the Chapter 3 stories and I headed for Tressa's entry in Victor's Hollow first. The Forgotten Grotto dungeon is quite linear in its layout and the Venomtooth Tiger boss at the end normally proves to be the easiest of the Chapter 3 opponents. Cyrus quickly made his way to the finish and ran into an unpleasant discovery: he was having a lot of trouble with the poisonous tiger!
As usual, the problem wasn't on the offensive end. Cyrus could attack the fire element weakness on the boss and hit for about 4500 * 2 = 9000 damage after breaking the shields on the Venomtooth Tiger, even without using Alephan's Enlightenment. Instead, the issue was the incredible frailty of Cyrus against incoming damage. The Venom Fang attack from the boss would deal 1300 damage to Cyrus and that was well above a third of his total HP. When the randomness of the turn order would leave the Venomtooth Tiger with three or four actions in a row (Cyrus acting at the beginning of one round and then at the end of the next round), I found that he could get bursted down and killed from near max HP. The ticking health regen from Vim and Vigor certainly helped but it was no substitute for having more total HP to play around with. I ended up using Medium Healing Grapes on nearly every round of this boss fight, only pausing to cast Fire Storm occasionally when it was safe to do so. Fortunately I was able to defeat the boss without having to dip into the Refreshing Jam stores but this boss fight was nowhere near easy or routine, and that was a bad sign for the future.
I feel compelled to point out here that Cyrus was wearing his Empowering Necklace with its +1000 HP in every single one of these screenshots. Without that accessory, he would have had less than 2500 max HP for this battle and it would not have been possible to win. Four actions in a row from the Venomtooth Tiger was guaranteed to do about 3000 damage, and if Cyrus had fewer max HP than that, well, you can guess what would happen. How was Cyrus going to deal with the Chapter 4 bosses like Werner and Simeon and Darius that go up to three actions per turn? I had absolutely no idea at this point and wasn't sure if winning would be possible at all. There was a reason I wrote that Cyrus might well be the weakest solo character in the game.
It was obvious what Cyrus needed more than anything else: more total maximum HP to play around with. For my solo characters in Final Fantasy 5, that would have meant gaining more levels to increase their HP total, and of course I would be doing that as well for Cyrus as his journey continued. In Octopath Traveler, however, the best way to increase any particular stat is to accumulate more of the "nut" items, the ones that permanently increase stats for your character. These come in normal, medium, and large varieties, with the medium ones having double the effect of the normal nuts and the large version having four times the base effect. Unfortunately these items scale based on the stats of your character, such that Olberic sees a much bigger benefit from the HP-granting nuts than Cyrus. Here's the full chart showing the benefits of each nut for each character:
Therefore Cyrus gained 60 HP for each Nourishing Nut, the one that grants extra max health, multiplied twice or four times over for the stronger versions of the nuts. I alluded to this earlier in the report but it's a point worth repeating: Olberic gained about 60% more HP from each nut (and each level up) as compared to Cyrus. Even the game's other featherweight champions, Ophilia and Primrose, each gain about 15% more HP as compared to Cyrus. The poor scholar just does not have any staying power whatsoever. I could work around this for much of his character run by accessing powerful endgame items that he wasn't supposed to have yet, but eventually the endgame was going to arrive and then where would he be? I had no answer to that question.
In the meantime, I went around accumulating as many of the Nourishing Nuts as possible to increase Cyrus' HP total. There are only three of the large version of this item to be found, and I was able to acquire two of them from the final Sir Miles quest reward and a Townsperson in Riverford. (The final one only unlocks as a Purchase/Steal item after finishing Ophilia's Chapter 4 storyline.) Paired along with a Medium Nourishing Nut from one of the merchants in Grandport, that added up to 4 + 4 + 2 = 10 * 60 HP = 600 additional health for Cyrus. This took him over 4000 HP in total (with the Empowering Necklace equipped) which brought him into the playable range for the Chapter 3 stories. The bad news was that I had nearly exhausted all of the Nourishing Nuts in the whole game and Cyrus still had a highly unsafe life total. If he ever had to remove that +1000 HP accessory, he was going to be in real trouble.
One more tidbit to consider: Cyrus had just hit Level 50 overall. Want to guess his HP total without his Empowering Necklace and with none of the stat-boosting nuts in play? Go ahead and guess. Here's the answer: 1970 HP. That's it! If you ever needed more proof as to why the solo characters need to make use of all four types of Path Actions, look no further. Most of the nuts are acquired through side quests or Steal/Purchase actions that someone like Cyrus wouldn't be able to unlock on his own. If he could only make use of Scrutinize and nothing else, this journey would have gone from very difficult to completely impossible.
With his health total boosted up into a safer position, Cyrus continued onwards with Olberic's Chapter 3 story. This is another one of the easiest options among the group, as the Lizardman Chief and his minions don't put up too much of a threat. The boss can debuff your character's physical defense and he does hit pretty hard, but the crippling weakness of the Lizardman Chief is the fact that he only gets one action per round. That's just not that dangerous compared to the other bosses that can move two or three times per round. The two Sand Lizardking minions were weak to ice element and were blown away with the first Blizzard from Cyrus, then continually re-wiped from the battlefield each time that they were summoned back. There was a lightning element weakness on the boss itself for Cyrus to strike and that made the whole operation pretty simple. Cyrus was now hitting for more than 10,000 damage against a broken target (5200 damage * 2 from his two-hit elemental spells) and continuing to ramp up his damage with each new level. He'd picked up a bunch of Magic Nuts during that earlier search alongside the Nourishing Nuts and they were making a big difference.
Several of the other Chapter 3 bosses were roughly equivalent to the Lizardman Chief in terms of difficulty. The Dragon lurking at the end of H'aanit's Chapter 3 story can be countered pretty easily by equipping an Inferno Amulet to block its fire breath weapon and otherwise loading up on physical defense gear. I was planning to attack the ice element weakness on this boss, only to find that the weakness started the battle locked out and unavailable. Now I could have used Light Soulstones to break the final weakness on the Dragon and shuffle its weaknesses around but that would have been needlessly wasteful on the items. Cyrus didn't need to break the Dragon, not when he was never going to die to the boss, and instead I simply cast spells at the unbroken target for long rounds on end until it died. Vim and Vigor plus a lot of Healing Grapes and Inspiriting Plums were sufficient to solve this opponent.
It was much the same story against Albus in Primrose's Chapter 3 story. The accessory of choice this time was a Bright Stone instead of the Inferno Amulet, with the Empowering Necklace still firmly locked in the other accessory slot. Albus only had wind and light for his elemental weaknesses, neither available to Cyrus, and so it was another long process of hitting for 2600 * 2 = 5200 damage at a time against an unbroken target. That was honestly downright good against a boss who couldn't have his shields broken, much faster and more reliable than what Alfyn had been able to put together. Albus summoned a pair of minions after he dropped below 50% HP but of course Cyrus could blast them away immediately by hitting their fire or lightning weaknesses. This was another easy battle.
I should mention at least briefly how Cyrus was handling the random encounters from a tactical perspective. I had been concerned about his ability to survive against even the random foes that popped up along the way, but it turned out that Cyrus was handling them without any trouble at all. Earlier in the game, I typically tried to break the most dangerous opponent and then cast a max boosted one-hit elemental spell on the third round of combat. (Characters start with one boost point and can normally use a max boosted ability on the third turn of each battle.) Those one-hit elemental spells were no longer strong enough to wipe the board of monsters, and instead I was having Cyrus churn out his more powerful two-hit elemental spells instead. Typically I would have Cyrus use the Defend command for the first two rounds of combat, reducing the damage taken and moving him to the front of the turn order for the next round. He proved to be fairly sturdy once adopting this defensive stance, often taking less damage than the passive Vim and Vigor HP regeneration. Then on the third turn I would have Cyrus use a max boosted Fire Storm or Blizzard or Lightning Blast spell, whichever was most appropriate for the situation, which would deal close to 6000 total damage and eliminate everything on screen. Those spells weren't cheap at 22 SP per casting but I had plenty of funds to afford an endless supply of Inspiriting Plums by now. This was both the fastest and safest way to approach most of the non-boss encounters.
I targeted Miguel next and if you've ready my past reports, you know the drill by now. Load up on the top physical defensive gear and there's not a ton that he can do. Miguel's base damage is fairly low and he compensates for this by debuffing your physical defense and launching repeated attacks. However, it's possible to nullify almost all of the incoming damage by stacking up enough physical defense to counter and turn this battle into something routine. I could get Cyrus up to roughly 850 physical defense and that was more than enough for this fight. Vim and Vigor regeneration alone was almost enough to see him through to the finish. While there were no elemental weaknesses for Cyrus to attack, hitting Miguel repeatedly for 3000 * 2 = 6000 damage worked just fine.
I decided to embark on Cyrus' own Chapter 3 storyline next as the easiest of the remaining options. The plot sees Cyrus traveling to the town of Stonegard in the second ring of the Highlands, there to continue investigating the trail of the missing forbidden tome From The Far Reaches Of Hell. Cyrus tracks down the translator who created an abridged version of the document 15 years earlier, only to discover (in the least shocking revelation in history) that the obviously-evil headmaster of his academy was behind the theft. No way, I never would have thought that the sinister individual with glowing red eyes was a bad guy! Cyrus then walks into an obvious trap and falls into a pit within Headmaster Yvon's manor house:
Of course Yvon and his assistant don't actually kill Cyrus, or even injure him in any way, instead leaving him within this pit and then strolling away without making any attempt to monitor the situation. Seriously, this might as well be straight out of the Austin Powers movies: "I’m going to place him in an easily escapable situation involving an overly elaborate and exotic death." I guess this hole isn't that elaborate or exotic but I actually think that makes it even worse! The incompetence of these villains makes it hard to take them seriously. By the way, Cyrus is no shining light here either: despite his brave talk, he has absolutely no plan to escape and in fact there's nothing you can do as a player to escape either. The only way to continue onwards is to select the "wait and see what happens" option - our hero, ladies and gentlemen! Cyrus has to be rescued by a 17 year old teenage girl that he had no idea was even in the same town, i.e. saved by a pure deus ex machina event that he had no role in whatsoever. This is bad writing plain and simple, made worse when his rescuer Therese is immediately captured by Yvon and then needs to be saved like the damsel in a 1930s pulp novel. Can't we do better than this nowadays? I don't want to spend too much too much time ragging on the plot (it's not why I play this game) and some of the invididual stories in Octopath Traveler are decent enough, but man oh man, all of our major characters are total failures in this particular chapter.
On then to Yvon the boss fight as opposed to Yvon the hapless villain. He starts the battle with a pair of Research Fellow minions that fortunately had a lightning element weakness for Cyrus to exploit. I had Cyrus cast Lightning Blast three times in a row, the first two times without boosting to break through their shields, and then at max boost on the third turn of combat once the minions were defenseless. That wiped them from the encounter and unlike many other bosses Yvon never calls them back again. Yvon does have a couple of dangerous abilities, a silencing attack (make sure to equip an Articulate Stone) along with moves that drain all SP and BP from the target. However, he never gets more than one action per round and that makes the whole fight rather easy. Stolen SP could simply be restored by Inspiriting Plums and the damage output from Yvon wasn't high enough at only one action per round to force a need for anything beyond Healing Grapes. Yvon had a lot of shields and a lot of HP to work through, none of which posed much of a problem. He could have had 600,000 HP instead of 60k health and it wouldn't have changed the math of this battle. Cyrus repeatedly roasted the headmaster with fire until he burned away into ash.
The last two remaining Chapter 3 bosses both pose problems for a solo game. I wanted to tackle Ophilia's story first which meant dealing with the tandem pair of the Mystery Man and the Shady Figure. These two present difficulties for a solo character due to their constant healing of 800 HP per round, a unique feature not present in any of Octopath Traveler's other major boss fights. I thought that I had a solution for the two of them which would work around Cyrus' various weaknesses. First I needed to fall back upon one of the discoveries from my Olberic solo game: the ability to secure an endless supply of large soulstones in the town of Everhold. There are three different townspeople that can be Challenged for these soulstones in the village, although I did find out that one of them (the Old Man who drops Large Shadow Soulstones) has a level requirement of 55, not something that a non-solo Olberic is likely to meet. There was nothing stopping me from Challenging the Ardent Actor (Thunder Soulstone) or the Usher (Fire Soulstone) repeatedly though, and I took the time to build up a stock of both items. This was tedious to do since Cyrus wasn't gaining experience in the process but I knew that I was going to need those soulstones.
Then I loaded up Cyrus with the equipment pictured above. The Mystery Man/Shady Figure bosses are one of the few times in the game where maximizing elemental defense is the correct choice. Nearly all of the major bosses emphasize physical damage and this is the rare exception otherwise; I was able to come within two points of capping the stat at 997 elemental defense. The Robe of the Flame was the best chest armor for this battle and it even granted Cyrus extra SP to play around with. Then I also made sure to equip a Calming Stone because the Shady Figure has a terror attack that it can break out once its partner has fallen, and I knew that it would be the last enemy left standing. With those protections in place, Cyrus could start the battle:
The trick for these bosses is overcoming their 800 HP healing that keeps arriving at the end of each round. Although a non-variant party wouldn't have any trouble overcoming that amount, it can be a sizable challenge for a solo character. If Cyrus simply relied on his abilities, he could deal 3000 * 2 = 6000 damage to the pair of opponents by casting one of his two-hit elemental spells every five rounds of combat when his boost meter was full. That was a fair bit better than the 800 HP per round regeneration but would still drag out the fight for a long time, and of course it didn't factor in rounds needed to heal or restore SP. I did not want to use Alephan's Enlightenment here to concentrate damage on one opponent since both of these enemies get much stronger after one of them has been defeated. Better to eliminate both of them at the same time if possible. And unfortunately there were no elemental weaknesses to target: both bosses lock out all of their elemental weaknesses at the start of the fight, immediately after this screenshot was taken. It was impossible for Cyrus to break either boss since he lacked the spear/axe/sword/dagger weapon types to get through their shields.
My solution was to rely on soulstones for additional damage. Cyrus could hit the enemies for 6000 damage when his boost meter was full, sure, but that only presented an opportunity once every five rounds of combat. (Four rounds to charge up four boost points and then the next round afterwards when no boost points would be generated. Characters do not gain a boost point on the turn after boosting in Octopath Traveler.) What about those other four out of five rounds when the boost meter was charging up? I realized that Cyrus could break soulstones during those rounds for extra damage and stay ahead of the curve, outpacing the regeneration of the bosses. This would also work for any other solo character, not just Cyrus, and I was testing out this tactic for future runs as well. The plan worked like a charm, with the Shady Figure's constant healing unable to match the ongoing damage that Cyrus was tossing out. On the other side of things, the hefty elemental defenses on Cyrus plus Vim and Vigor passive healing kept Cyrus largely safe, only occasionally needing to use a healing item. Eventually the Mystery Man died as expected (it has 4000 fewer HP) with the Shady Figure having only a little health remaining. One final Lightning Blast finished off the redlined opponent and that was that. I was very excited by the way this whole process played out, as I think that I've now "solved" this boss fight in the same way that I earlier figured out how to defeat Miguel. Any solo character can get past these two opponents if they're willing to farm up enough soulstones ahead of time.
And now for the most dangerous of the Chapter 3 bosses: Gareth.
Gareth and his more powerful thief overseer Darius are both variant busting bosses. They will steal your health, steal your SP, and steal your BP. Worst of all they will steal your items, and the only way to get them back is to break the shields on the boss in question. That's not too difficult to achieve with a non-variant mixed party with lots of different types of damage, but in many cases it's not even possible for a solo character with access to only a few limited damage types. The good news with regards to Gareth is that he doesn't have a lot of HP, only 38k in total, which is the least out of all of the Chapter 3 bosses. My hope was to avoid a drawn out encounter and try to burst down Gareth as quickly as possible, limiting the amount of time in which he could steal items and muck around with Cyrus' spirit points. I had an immediate plan to slash through a major chunk of Gareth's health right out of the gate. I used a Large Energizing Pomegranate on the first turn of the battle, taking Cyrus up to maximum boost points and then using Alephan's Enlightenment right away on the following turn. This was crucial because it allowed Cyrus to hit Gareth with his spells *WITHOUT* hitting the two minions that tag along in this battle. I didn't want to kill them because removing them would take Gareth up to three actions per turn and increase the danger level significantly. Thus the single target nature of Alephan's Enlightenment was perfect for the situation.
With Cyrus' Divine Skill in effect, I could have him cast Blizzard with no boost points invested on the following turn for 2 * 2000 = 4000 damage to Gareth, then follow that up with a max boosted Blizzard on the final turn before Alephan's Enlightenment wore off. This yielded the pictured 8000 * 2 = 16,000 damage and just like that I had cut through half of the total boss life. Now the battle became a tight struggle for survival while finding enough open space to inflict the remaining damage needed to finish off Gareth. I carefully held the boss one hit away from breaking his shields so that Cyrus could restore his items when Gareth inevitably stole them away. This just barely worked out:
I was able to break Gareth and get the items back but of course that meant not healing on the same round, and by the time that the turn order returned to Cyrus he was on his last legs. If there was ever a perfect moment to consume a Refreshing Jam, this was the time! That put Cyrus back in business again and I only needed to survive a few more rounds to line up a finishing blow. I had to spare a good number of rounds healing for safety and otherwise tried to use soulstones for extra damage when Cyrus lacked enough boost points to cast his own spells, carefully not using Fire Soulstones to avoid hitting the elemental weakness of the minions. Stay alive minions, I need you there to prevent Gareth from getting another action! I did not try to use Alephan's Enlightenment again, as it required too much setup that could be interrupted by having items or SP stolen away in the meantime. In the end, shortly after getting the big heal from the Refreshing Jam, I was able to prepare the final killing Blizzard:
And that was one of the most dangerous bosses successfully defeated, whew. I actually did win on the very first try thanks to a lot of thinking about how to approach this challenge ahead of time. I was much less sanguine about how things would proceed against Darius, though I guess I'd cross that bridge when I came to it. The Chapter 4 bosses in general looked like an intimidating lot for Cyrus thanks to his laughably small health total. He could dish out the damage but increasingly it didn't look like he could take it. I'd have to come up with something as he tried to close out his journey in the final days yet to come.