I continued the solo Runelord game after finishing with the collection of Chapter 1 bosses. There's always a spike in difficulty level when moving from the bosses in one set of chapters up to the next group, and longtime readers will know that I tend to send my characters out on side missions and optional dungeons as a means to ease through this transition. I had kept Runelord Tressa to the inner ring of towns while clearing out the initial stories (with the one exception of Noblecourt) largely because there was no real need to venture anywhere further afield. Tressa had plenty of damage capacity to chew right through her opponents even while using the starting equipment. But now that she would have to travel out into the second ring for the Chapter 2 and 3 stories anyway, it seemed like a good time to begin picking up some superior gear. My first stop was in Victor's Hollow, another one of the easiest second ring towns to reach, where I made use of Therion's individual talents:
The Robe of the Flame has been a staple armor choice for many of my variant characters and it would be seeing use here again for the Runelord. This particular item has solid physical defense for this stage of the game, then combines that together with the highest elemental defense to be found anywhere in Octopath Traveler, plus an extra bonus of additional max SP. Those spirit points were downright useful on their own, increasing Tressa's total SP pool by about 50%. The biggest downside to this item is its costly price tag at 48,000 money but that's where Therion and his pickpocketing skills came in handy. I could choose to Steal the item and force a success with enough repetitions of the 3% odds. I don't like doing this sort of thing and the game seemed to be punishing me for my shady actions by forcing failure after failure on the theft. I think that I had to try about 50 times in total before Therion finally pulled it off. Long story short, I came away with the item that I needed and Tressa's piggybank still full of coins.
Octopath Traveler doesn't give out many job points right at the start of the game. However, once there are four characters in the party and each monster group has been correspondingly filled out to full numbers, the JP gain starts to increase at a much faster pace. The enemies in the second ring also provide dramatically more job points than the ones in the first ring. I bring this up as a way to explain why Tressa started to unlock her remaining skills much more quickly, now that she was working her way through the Chapter 2 stories. I chose Thunder Rune for her fourth elemental damage option, and this unlocked the first passive support skill for the Runelord class:
Stat Swap is one of the game's more unusual passive skills. As the text indicates, it switches the physical attack and elemental attack stats for the character that equips it. In the picture above, the Runelord would use an elemental attack of 231 and a physical attack of 197. Since the vast majority of the Runelord's damage comes in elemental form, this is a support skill that should only be equipped if the physical attack stat is higher than the elemental attack stat. What the game does not explain is that these stats are calculated in a non-intuitive way: the numbers *DO* include stat bonuses from the armor and accessory slots but *DO NOT* include stat bonuses from weapons. Why the gameplay works this way, I have no idea. I guess because characters can pick between multiple different weapons for each attack? It seems like it would be much simpler to have all gear count for this stat comparison or none of it count for this stat comparison. The one saving grace is that the numbers shown on this screen are, in fact, accurate: the 231 / 197 numbers are including stat gains from armor and accessories but not including them from weapons. Therefore even though this is a weird setup, at least the player can trust what they're seeing from the interface.
I did some testing and found that it wasn't worthwhile to equip Stat Swap most of the time for Tressa. She was using it at the time of the picture taken above, however that was a special situation where she had a Mighty Belt accessory that added +50 to physical attack while lacking anything similar for elemental attack. Shortly thereafter, Tressa traveled to Stonegard for the first time and picked up this accessory:
The Elemental Augmentor accessory is surprisingly easy to acquire via Purchase and it provides double the benefit of the Mighty Belt. Obviously there was no need to swap the stats around if Tressa was gaining +100 to her primary offensive stat, and when I went ahead and tested this to be certain, I found that her damage output did indeed decrease from turning on Stat Swap while equipping the Elemental Augmentor. This is still a pretty neat support skill since it allows a character like Olberic or H'aanit to become an effective Runelord, although you're better off using a more elemental damage focused character in the first place if possible. Meanwhile, Tressa also emptied out her coffers to pick up the Forbidden Sword in the same town for a cool 75k money. (I couldn't Steal the item because Level 1 Therion has 0% odds to pilfer it.) Now Tressa was back to having a higher attack value on her sword once again, making it the preferred weapon type for use against enemies. She'd been trading back and forth between the sword and axe slots throughout the game thus far and the former option once again had the temporary edge.
Tressa was also clearing out the optional side dungeons along her way. I started in the Whistlewood to the north of Atlasdam and then made a counterclockwise circle through the other targets of interest in the inner ring: Untouched Sanctum, Whistling Cavern, Twin Falls, etc. Tressa gained enough job points along the way to unlock both of her remaining elemental rune skills (Light Rune and Dark Rune) and the next two passive support skills. The less useful of the two was named Dauntless:
This skill grants the physical and elemental attack up buffs while the Runelord is suffering from a status ailment of some kind. It's the counterpart to the Warrior's Endure passive, which grants the physical and elemental defense buffs while under the effects of a status ailment. Endure is the better support skill by a pretty good margin, as many of the statuses render your character incapable of attacking (sleep, unconscious, etc.) where the benefits granted by Dauntless are wasted. The Runelord's final support skill also renders half of the benefit irrelevant as we'll see a bit later. I chose this image from the Carrion Caves optional dungeon because it illustrated how Tressa could work around many of the status conditions that bedeviled other solo characters. Blindness didn't matter very much because the elemental pursuit from her attacks would always hit the target anyway (look closely, the pictured attack actually missed). Terror status wasn't too bad either, as Tressa could enhance her weapons with elemental damage on the first turn of combat and then not care overmuch if she was unable to boost afterwards. Once there was wind element on her blade, everything in this random encounter would die instantly to Tressa's initial strike.
The other passive support skill was named SP Recovery, and it served to restore spirit points in an unusual fashion:
By getting punched right in the face! SP Recovery was therefore similar to the Apothecary support skill Inspiration which restores SP from basic attacks. Both of them grant back SP equal to 1% of the damage dealt / damage taken. In theory SP Recovery should therefore be the better skill, since Inspiration requires spending actions on normal attacks while SP Recovery grants back spirit points without needing to invest an action at all. However, there's one crucial difference between the two: Inspiration rounds up in its calculation while SP Recovery rounds down. Thus Alfyn would gain back 1 SP for dealing anywhere from 1-99 damage but a Runelord would gain back 0 SP for taking 1-99 damage. There are always tons of attacks that hit your character and deal the minimum 1-10 damage in Octopath Traveler, and unfortunately SP Recovery grants back 0 SP in all of these cases. Runelord Tressa would have to take 100 damage to see any benefit from this support skill. Overall then, it wasn't especially great because minimizing incoming damage is kind of the goal for a solo character. I didn't exactly want Tressa to be taking blows like the one pictured above just to refill her SP meter. Still, it was better than nothing and some minor SP restoration was helpful on the margins, I suppose.
The boss pictured above was Heavenwing, an optional opponent at the end of Carrion Caves. Tressa was able to use Medium Healing Grapes and her newly acquired Dark Rune to defeat this enemy without too much trouble, even with the scare captured above. Now you might think that the optional side bosses would be guarding powerful items in Octopath Traveler, in order to encourage players to seek them out and gain the associated rewards. This is emphatically not the case: far better equipment can be found via Purchase/Steal in towns from random NPCs. Defeating Heavenwing was noteworthy because I think it's the first time that any of the items protected by the optional side bosses were actually useful. I picked up a Soul Hatchet here, an axe with +147 to elemental attack, and for once that was genuinely needed. The elemental pursuit from Tressa's runes dealt damage based on the specific weapon used, and therefore I wanted to use her axe in most cases to take advantage of all those extra points of elemental attack. Thus the basic pattern was to use her sword if I needed physical damage or if there was a specific swords weakness to exploit, with the axe being better in all other cases. Yes, the crummy Soul Hatchet was better than the Forbidden Blade - go figure!
Once all of those side dungeons were finished, it was time to get down to the business of clearing out the Chapter 2 stories. I started out with Tressa's own story since I was confident that she could handle Omar and I wanted to grab the Conscious Stone hidden in Morlock's Manse for some of the other upcoming opponents. This guy can be pretty tough since he buffs up the physical attack of his two minions and all three of them hit fairly hard for this stage of the game. The answer was to remove Omar's two footmen from the battlefield as quickly as possible, limiting how many attacks they could get in. This was a chance for Tressa to showcase her Thunder Rune and Shocking Pursuit for the first time, with this skill having arguably the most impressive graphical effects out of the six runes. Electrical energy crackles around the Runelord when they enchant their weapon, then gets released in a jolting burst as lines of energy radiate outwards in every direction. The footmen were weak to both lightning and axes, making them particularly susceptible to these Runelord attacks. Two swings from Tressa downed each of them, then she could pause for a turn to heal and switch her weapon's enchantment over to the light element that Omar was weak against. I had Tressa pummel the big guy for a few rounds, then switch back to Thunder Rune to one-shot the footmen when the boss revived them, and then finally ended the battle with light element once again. Nothing too difficult here even if the incoming damage was significant enough to require a decent amount of healing.
Since Tressa was already in Quarrycrest, I had her run through Cyrus' Chapter 2 story at the same time. Light element was the big winner against the random monsters in the Sewers, with virtually everything weak against that particular damage type. Apparently skeletons don't enjoy getting blasted with holy magic, imagine that. The same pattern held true against Gideon:
Both the boss and his minions shared that same weakness to light element. Bright Pursuit illuminates the screen with a radiant glow and then fires a bolt of light at the target; it was sufficient to kill the Dancing Bones minions in two hits apiece from Tressa. Their removal unlocked the boss weaknesses on Gideon, allowing Tressa to pelt him with more light-enhanced basic attacks. Normally the terror status can be an issue in this battle, but again, Tressa didn't really care about that very much once her elemental rune had been enacted. The damage from the elemental pursuit couldn't be increased from boosting and therefore basic attacks worked just fine in terms of damage. This ended up being a notably easier battle than the one against Omar and Tressa kept pounding her opponent one round at a time until he croaked.
Tressa headed to Saintsbridge next and made two significant upgrades to her offensive setup there. The less important of the two was the purchase of a new weapon, the Elemental Hatchet, which added another 60 points to her elemental attack. This was a rare case of getting something useful out of the "New Weapons and Armor for Sale" unlock from Scrutinize/Inquire. As I've said before, it's too bad that almost all of the best equipment comes from the Purchase/Steal Path Action and unlocking more stuff in the stores almost never ends up being worthwhile. This was the exception to the rule, and it continued the same pattern as before where Tressa's axe was the better option for anything other than a specific need for physical damage or hitting a swords vulnerability.
The second and more important new upgrade came in the form of Tressa unlocking her seventh active skill and final support skill. The active skill was Transfer Rune, which causes skills that normally target yourself to target the rest of the party as well. It's a powerful ability in a mixed party... and absolutely useless for a solo game, heh. There's a reason why Tressa left that one for last. However, unlocking this active skill also granted Tressa her last support skill, and that one was a doozy. Elemental Edge is on a very short list for best support skill in the game. Ignore the uselessly vague in-game description, what it actually does is grant the elemental attack and elemental defense buffs to the character equipping it. Permanently. Yes, the Runelord class gets an infinite elemental attack up buff for itself! That's an extra +50% damage on every use of elemental pursuit for the rest of the game. Holy moley is that good, no wonder this is a secret endgame job. It sure beats the Vim and Vigor passive that the Scholar class gets for its final support skill!
With the elemental attack up buff now permanently in place, Tressa continued ripping through her opponents like they weren't even there. She had been one-shotting her foes for most of the game to date and things only became that much more lopsided with this damage boost in effect. Making matters even worse, Tressa also had access to all six elements by virtue of having unlocked all of her rune options. The overwhelming majority of enemies are weak to at least one of the six elements, allowing Tressa to pick and choose the best option for each encounter. The Hróðvitnir boss at the end of Ophilia's Chapter 2 story was weak against ice, thunder, and light elements; I ended up going with the lightning option because the visual effects looked the coolest. Pictured above was the creature getting shocked for almost 8000 damage, with Tressa not caring at all that her physical attack had been debuffed. I almost felt sorry for the ravenous beast, with the screenshot capturing a moment where the animal looked like it was screaming in pain from the electricity coursing through its body. This was another situation where Tressa buffed up with lightning damage and then pretty much just used basic attacks again and again until Hróðvitnir was finished.
I returned to Noblecourt to restock on items and decided to have Tressa complete Therion's Chapter 2 storyline while she was there. I used Cyrus' Scrutinize to pick up the increased stealing odds for Therion, since this plotline annoyingly requires three separate item thefts and the odds will drop to 3% if the party doesn't gain the added Steal chance ahead of time. Apparently my luck was riding high on this day because Therion lifted the first item at 15% odds, then the second and third items at 8% odds apiece, *ALL* of them on the first try! I'm not making that up, he hit on 15% and then 8% and then 8% odds consecutively. Now why couldn't that have happened for something that actually mattered, argh! This was the most interesting aspect of Therion's Chapter 2 story, as Orlick's pair of bodyguards were two-shotted with dark element damage and then Orlick was pummeled with wind element over and over again. I think Tressa had to heal one time and that was it.
This was the rare game where I had not made an early stop in Goldshore to pick up some of the items located within. Tressa was able to Purchase the usual Dragon's Vest armor with +185 physical/elemental defense, an item that I expected to replace the Robe of the Flame as the physical damage from enemies continued to ramp up, along with the Protective Bracelet for +50 physical/elemental defense in the accessory slot. These are standard items that I find myself using in every game because they have so much general utility. There was only one unusual event that took place leading up to the Caves of Azure dungeon. This is an area where a good number of the random monsters have attacks that can confuse your character, something that generally isn't very dangerous in a solo game since taking any damage will break sleep or confuse status. Confused characters also seem to attack the enemies much more often than they attack themselves in Octopath Traveler. However, there was one occasion where Tressa was confused while she had her elemental runes in effect, and she decided to attack herself with that elemental pursuit. The result was 3000 points of self-inflicted damage and an instant game over. Whoops! I missed the screenshot and this didn't happen a second time, for better or for worse, and thus I can only describe the scene in text. It was one of those defeats that was funny enough to be worth experiencing once.
Vanessa Hysel is one of the easier bosses in this game, and as expected Runelord Tressa had no trouble defeating her. Vanessa mostly relies on her minions to deal damage while using status ailments and weak elemental attacks from the backlines. Tressa was able to use ice and light elements against the two Sellswords, each of which died in two attacks despite their hefty life totals. Their incoming attacks weren't doing more than about 200 damage to Tressa and that was easily fixed with healing items. Meanwhile, each elemental pursuit was hitting for roughly 7500 damage per swing - this just wasn't a close battle.
It was a similar story against Rufus at the end of Primrose's Chapter 2 story. The monsters along the way in the Secret Path dungeon were notable for having Tressa's first max damage printout of the game. After breaking one of the little Light Sentinel opponents with a basic axe attack, the followup Dark Pursuit hit the magical 9999 number. I expected that Tressa would be seeing a lot more of that as the game went on. As for Rufus, the one danger in that particular boss fight comes from his ability to stun the player, and indeed I lost my first try at this battle because I forgot to equip the Conscious Stone and Tressa was stunlocked to death. After making that equipment correction this turned into an easy fight, with Rufus failing to hit for more than 100 damage at a time as his two minions were easily dispatched. This was another opponent with a weakness to light element and Tressa kept attacking with Bright Pursuit until he was finished.
Tressa returned back to Victor's Hollow as she continued chasing down the remaining Chapter 2 stories, this time working through Olberic's quest. This is the only main story chapter in the game with no dungeon attached, only a series of sequential boss fights at the town's arena. To my surprise, almost all of these enemies proved to be weak to dark element, and Tressa found herself enchanting her weapons with unholy purple energy against most of these opponents. Joshua was the only exception, getting roasted with fire instead to the tune of 9900 damage (!) after his shields were broken. Archibold folded quickly thereafter to the aforementioned dark element. That left one boss remaining:
The one place where I was able to get creative was against Gustav in the final boss fight. I specifically needed to work around his Shield Wielder minions, which will start using an attack that can stun the player but only when they drop below 50% HP. My task was therefore to damage these minions enough so that they wouldn't drop below half health from Tressa's first attack but then would die from her second attack. I was able to accomplish this by switching around Tressa's elemental rune along with the weapon that she used for the attack itself. In the main image above, I deliberately chose an element (light) that the minions were not weak against, and then attacked with Tressa's sword to deal a lower amount of damage. After tagging both minions for 2700 damage, I switched Tressa over to the Ice Rune and swapped to her axe, the one that had +200 elemental attack on it. The inset image demonstrates the massive difference: fully half again as much damage from the attack, up to 5500 damage and enough to finish off the shieldbearing minion. (They had 7900 HP apiece.) This is a great example showcasing why the Runelord needs to choose their element and their weapon wisely - the difference between a correct choice and an incorrect choice can be enormous.
As for Gustav himself, his big trick is inflicting terror status every round once he drops under half health. I've already explained why that wasn't much of a problem for Tressa, as she didn't need to boost her attacks to deal huge damage with her elemental pursuit, but I decided to try and work around his terror-inducing attacks anyway as a tactical exercise. Tressa changed her elemental enhancement over to the Dark Rune and took advantage of Gustav's axe weakness to hit two weaknesses each round, axe + dark element. I knocked the boss down to just over half HP and then Tressa broke the last shield with an axe swing, letting the Shadowy Pursuit hit the defenseless target for 9700 damage. Gustav was still broken on the next round, letting another 9800 damage elemental pursuit hit again. The boss tried to inflict terror status on the following round but it was irrelevant because Tressa killed him with the next attack. Nice and easy stuff. Tressa even picked up Gustav's Shield in the post-battle drop which was an improvement over the Spiked Shield that she'd be wearing previously.
I had left H'aanit's Chapter 2 story until the end since I continue to believe that it's the toughest of the bunch. One thing that I had been doing throughout this playthrough was Purchasing various soulstones with Tressa, and I used a few of them to get through the story-mandated Provoke encounters with H'aanit. No need to stand around for long minutes on end trying to win those battles with Linde, better to use a few Medium Soulstones to get them over with faster. The Spectrewood dungeon stands out for having lots of enemies that use silencing attacks, enough of them to make equipping an Articulate Stone worthwhile for most characters. I was able to forgo this with Tressa since she could get her elemental runes in play on the first turn of each combat, after which she wouldn't need to use another ability because every elemental pursuit was an easy one-shot kill. I don't know if I've mentioned this mechanic before in writing, but for every battle in the game that isn't a surprise attack, one of your characters will always act first. For a solo game, that means your solo character always takes the first action in the first round of each battle. Thus Tressa could always cast one of her elemental runes before being silenced and that was sufficient in virtually all random encounters. Everything in this forest seemed to be weak against fire, or axes, or both fire and axes, which made things rather straightforward.
I chose to protect Tressa against silence and unconsciousness statuses against the Lord of the Forest. While she probably could have worked around lacking protection to both of them, there was no reason to take any risks here. Better safe than sorry. The Lord of the Forest and its minions were almost entirely weak against fire element (the last group of minions required a temporary switch to dark element) so Tressa concentrated on hacking them down, one set of minions after another. She almost had enough damage to one-shit the Weaping Treant minions, hitting for 5500 damage out of their 6000 HP. If I'd dropped one of those status protection accessories in favor of the Elemental Augmentor it would have been enough. Oh well, two hits worked well enough to down each set of minions. The Lord of the Forest itself used its flashy Forest Ire lightning move periodically, but look at how low the damage was: less than 300 points. Huh? That was the Elemental Edge support skill in action once again, providing permanent elemental defense up as well as the more common elemental attack up property. Most enemy attacks are physical in Octopath Traveler but this was one case where a boost to elemental defense was helpful. Once again, persistent attacks with added fire and dark elemental damage was more than sufficient to win this fight.
Not surprisingly the Chapter 2 stories as a whole were fairly easy for Tressa. With access to all six elements and that amazing Elemental Edge passive, the Runelord tore right through everything in this part of the game. The opposition would need to gain more total HP to have any chance of standing up to her elemental pursuits. If there was a bright side for the monsters, it was the fact that Tressa would be running into the damage cap more and more often, and she couldn't deal more than 9999 damage at a time. Right? Umm, that's actually not the case, as we'll see when we get to the Divine Skill for the Runelord class down the road. For the moment though, Tressa was riding high and enjoying the lamentations of her defeated foes as she left a path of destruction in her wake.