Solo Thief: Always Be Grindin'

Well, I had to try it sooner or later after doing so many solo characters in various Final Fantasy games: the solo Thief. Despite the White Mage being significantly more famous as a variant challenge, the Thief is actually the weakest class in the original Final Fantasy. The Thief has offensive output and equipment restrictions almost as bad as the White Mage while lacking any magic whatsoever in compensation. The only advantage that the Thief class gets is being really, really good at running away from battles - not the best sign when that's what your class excels at doing! This was going to be tough to pull off to say the least.

As a quick settings note, I'll be using Ozmo's Final Fantasy Renaissance build since it fixes essentially all of the innumerable bugs present in the original Final Fantasy. This is significant for the solo Thief as the class relied heavily on abusing the crit bug when traditionally playing this challenge, something that won't be an option for me here. At least I'll be able to take advantage of the Thief's incredible Luck for running purposes since that bug has also been fixed. For naming purposes, I didn't want to pick a heroic or tough outlaw figure as inspiration since the solo Thief in the original Final Fantasy is a kind of a pathetic figure. I thought about this a bit and decided to name this character Bernie after the financial criminal Bernie Madoff who defrauded investors of approximately $65 billion before his arrest. Madoff's Ponzi scheme should have been detected relatively easily but it kept going and going, sweeping up more and more investors, until he was caught and sentenced to 150 years in prison. The name Bernie felt like a fittingly ridiculous choice for a silly variant like the solo Thief.

These are the stats with which the Thief class always begins each game. They are, uh, pretty terrible for a melee class that relies on physical attacks to deal all its damage. The starting value of 5 Strength is far behind the 15 Strength that Fighters get and even below the 10 Strength of Red Mages. At least the Thief has decent guaranteed Strength growth and I could force Strength increases on the levels where Bernie didn't hit the stat. You might think that the Thief gets excellent Agility to compensate for low Strength but nope, that's not the case, Agility for this class is pretty much average and only slightly better than the Fighter class. Vitality is also downright sad, with the Thief having an average 660 HP at Level 50 as compared to 993 HP for the Fighter and a guaranteed 999 HP for the Black Belt. Heck, White Mages actually get more health on average (676 HP at Level 50) than they do - not great for a melee attacker!

But the real kick in the teeth for the Thief class in terms of stats isn't immediately visible here at Level 1. The big problem comes in the growth rate for the Accuracy (Hit Percentage) and Magic Defense stats which are always the same on each level up and can't be manipulated in any way. The Thief gets +2% Accuracy with each level as compared to the Fighter and Black Belt who each get 3% per level. This is a massive deal because every 32 points of Accuracy equates to an additional hit in Final Fantasy; the Thief needing 16 levels for each additional hit instead of 10.67 levels inevitably leaves them far behind their peer classes. (Then the Thief also has a horrible equipment selection as well, more on this later.) As for the Magic Defense stat, the Thief follows the trend of the mage classes by gaining +2% per level while the Fighter gets 3% per level and the Black Belt gains a ridiculous 4% per level. Like I've written elsewhere, the beefy lunkheaded fighting classes have far more health *AND* also resist status effects and magic damage better than the mage classes - the original Final Fantasy is not well balanced. The Thief gets grouped in with the mage classes in this respect despite having no spellcasting abilities which is another painful penalty that the class doesn't need.

The other big problem is the equipment selection for the Thief class, which starts out decently enough at Coneria before collapsing shortly thereafter. Bernie was able to equip the Rapier, the best of the starting weapos, which added 9 to his Attack and took starting damage up to 11-22. As a quick refresher, physical strikes in Final Fantasy always deal a random number between Attack and Attack * 2, then subtract out enemy Absorb; multiple hits work in exactly the same fashion. Since the Imps at the beginning of the game have 4 Absorb, Bernie was dealing 7-18 damage and nearly-always killing the critters due to their 8 HP. After quickly hitting Level 2 and gaining a point of Strength, Bernie ticked up to 12 Attack for 12-24 base damage and a guaranteed Imp kill on each successful hit. Over on the defensive side, Bernie was not able to equip the Chain Armor for its massive 15 Absorb and had to settle for the Wooden Armor and its 4 Absorb instead. That was highly useful at cutting down the damage from Imps although much less great against anything tougher. The damage formula works in both directions and stacking heavy Absorb is extremely helpful though unfortunately not an option for poor Bernie.

I had Bernie slay a bunch of Imps around Coneria until reaching Level 3. That's when I sent him into the Temple of Fiends to grab the Cap inside for the extra point of Absorb, 5 being better than 4 and all that. I had no fear that Bernie would get into much trouble since he could run from almost any battle effortlessly due to his massive Luck stat. This was famously bugged in the release version of Final Fantasy and solo characters could always freely run from battle due to how the bug operated. Final Fantasy Renaissance restores the correct running formula: the odds of a successful run are Luck / [Level + 15]. In other words, Bernie had 15/16 = 94% odds to succeed on a run at Level 1, and since the Thief class gains a point of Luck with every single level, that would only keep increasing over time. He would improve to 16/17 at Level 2, 17/18 at Level 3, and so on until 64/65 = 98% at Level 50. This was the one real advantage that Bernie had and it did make navigating through dungeons much easier than normal.

Unfortuately it's not enough to walk through dungeons running away from battle after battle. At some point you do need to fight opponents and this is where the Thief class has enormous problems. If there's one big takeaway lesson from this report, here it is: the solo Thief is awful against bosses. This trend began right away against Garland who is infamous for being one of the most pathetic boss fights in JRPG history. I thought that Bernie would be able to defeat Garland at Level 4 after gaining a series of "strong" level ups that boosted him over 100 HP. There were no clever tricks to pull here, no spells or abilities that Bernie could use, only choosing the "Fight" option on every round of combat until one of the two combatants fell over dead. Bernie had a base Attack of 13 at this point which meant 3-16 potential damage against Garland's 10 Absorb. Conversely, Garland's own 15 Attack meant 10-25 damage against Bernie's 5 Absorb. The two of them had almost exactly the same health with Garland having 106 HP and I don't need to tell you that 10-25 enemy damage was quite a bit better than Bernie's 3-16 damage. I ran a bunch of iterations of this battle, hoping to bend probability with Garland missing attacks or Bernie landing some crits, but it wasn't enough to pick up the victory even after some 25 attempts. Losing to Garland, that was downright sad.

There was nothing to be done except grind out more XP and try again at a higher level. (This would be a repeated pattern for Bernie throughout his journey, lots and lots of experience grinding.) Level 5 was another "strong" level up for the Thief class and with another 25 HP on hand I was able to force a victory over Garland, winning with 5 HP remaining after several more attempts. Now I could at least get Bernie across the northern bridge and make it over to Pravoka. The eastern walk was a breeze with Bernie's running prowess to get past monsters, and the new town had some equipment upgrades for purchase. A pair of Gloves took Bernie up to 6 Absorb while the Scimitar had 10 Attack and 10 Accuracy which was superior in all respects to the 9 Attack and 5 Accuracy on the starting Rapier. I would have preferred the Short Sword and its 15 Attack but it couldn't be equipped by the Thief class - get used to hearing this.

The Pirates were the next challenge on the docket and Bernie was going to need some more levels so that he would have sufficient total health to tank their blows. The Pirates would always die in a single hit since they have only 6 HP apiece, however Bernie lacked any multi-targeted abilities and could only strike one Pirate at a time while they all concentrated their sword slashes against him. Their base Attack is 8 which translated into 2-10 damage against Bernie's 6 Absorb and that added up to a lot of damage with nine of them attacking at once. I wished that I had some of the options available to the other classes here: Fighters and Red Mages could simply tank with heavy defense from the Chain Armor, Black Mages could use the (unbugged) SLEP spell, even the White Mage can put up the RUSE evasion shield. Black Belts are the only other class with nothing to help and they get vastly more health from Vitality scaling along with far better damage output. The life of a solo Thief kind of sucks in this game.

The only option was spending some time leveling again. Unfortunately the XP requirements had gotten high enough that it took too long fighting Imps around Coneria at 30 XP per victory. I had more success around Pravoka for the moment, running away from Ogres and Creeps while taking on the battles against GrImps and Wolves. Level 7 was another "strong" level up that boosted Bernie to 158 HP and I hoped that this would be sufficient to get him past the Pirates. The combats played out almost like the solo Berserker from Final Fantasy 5, just hold down the Fight button since there was nothing else that Bernie could do. After several more attempts he managed to squeak past the Pirates with 8 HP remaining. That was great news since I really didn't want to be stuck grinding out two more levels until his next "strong" level up.

Access to the sea meant a trip to Elfland where sadly there wasn't that much of use for Bernie. He was able to swap out the Wooden Armor for a Copper Bracelet that had the same 4 Absorb but less of an evasion penalty attached. There was also a slightly better weapon here in the Sabre which had 13 Attack although only 5 Accuracy. This was superior to the Scimitar unless the 5% additional Accuracy on the Scimitar would take Bernie up to an additional hit, which it would for Levels 10-11. The Silver Sword is by far the best weapon available at this stage of the game, but naturally not usable by the Thief since this class never gets anything but the leftovers. It bears repeating as well that Bernie couldn't learn any of the spells on sale at Elfland and would never have access to any magic aside from the lategame items-as-spells that everyone gets.

There was nothing else on the mandatory quest path until the Marsh Cave and Bernie was nowhere remotely close to ready for that. Instead I spent a while fighting random battles in the ocean where the monsters were the most doable for the moment. Sharks were my preferred opponent as they gave 267 XP for a solo character while being fast and relatively easy encounters. Bernie would go back to the inn at Coneria after every fight and I used the Soft Reset option liberally to skip unwanted battles against Sahags and the like. Upon reaching Level 10, Bernie gained his second attack by switching back to the green-colored Scimitar and that made a huge difference in terms of damage output. Now Bernie could reliably down Sahags in a single attack and kill Sharks in 3-4 rounds of combat. For the moment, I continued grinding out more levels and getting stronger.

This is where the real tedium of the solo Thief began. Due to Bernie's mediocre weapon options, poor scaling from stats, and lack of any magical abilities, my solo Thief had no choice but to grind out a whole bunch of levels to be strong enough to defeat Astos. He couldn't even scratch the 40 Absorb on Astos at the moment and the only remedy was gaining more Attack via Strength growth, a very slow process as every 2 points of Strength equals 1 additional point of Attack in this game. It would take six whole levels just to equate to the difference between the Scimitar and the Sabre, sheesh! In order to have enough damage to deal with Astos, Bernie was forced to go through an extraordinarily long training montage. This is, uh, one of those things that's more fun to read about than actually play.

A critical component of this process was forcing Strength increases on every level up which is mandatory when playing the solo Thief. The way that stat growths work in this game is that certain stats are guaranteed to increase with certain levels: for example, the Thief will always gain a point in Strength, Agility, and Luck when hitting Level 2. (The Thief always gains a point in Luck on every level to maintain their exceptional running skill.) The other stats have 25% odds to increase on the non-guaranteed levels and of course this is something that can be forced via repeated save-scumming. I don't love doing this but Bernie had no choice, he *HAD* to get Strength increases on every single level to have any chance of completing the game. Bernie was a melee attacker with weak weapons and no abilities, he had to get pumped up via leveling to be even remotely viable as a character.

Here's the list of all of the guaranteed stat gains for each of the six classes in Final Fantasy. The one bit of good news was that the Thief gains a lot of Strength from its initial levels, with a guaranteed point every single time until reaching Level 11. This allowed me to force Vitality increases with ease at every level where Vitality didn't increase naturally. The Vitality stat provides additional health in Final Fantasy: 1 additional HP on every following level up per 4 points of Vitality. This makes Vitality extremely important to stack up early in the game as one extra point of Vitality at Level 2 effectively translates into 0.25 * 48 = 12 additional HP over the following 48 levels. Conversely, Vitality is almost worthless in the lategame because there are so few level ups remaining. I made sure to increase Strength and Vitality in lockstep, forcing an Agility increase if both were guaranteed, and even taking the time to increase both of them at 1 in 16 odds at Level 11, 14, 17, and 20. The Strength increases were mandatory and it was worth the effort to get additional points in Vitality this early in the game.

Mostly though, Bernie was just grinding out levels in endless fashion. I was running the gameplay at 3x default speed with the fastest message rate to power through combats as fast as possible. I tried testing out several different areas to fight different monsters before settling on the forests outside Elfland as the best option. Ogres and Creeps were readily beaten once Bernie was getting two hits and the poisonous Asps and Arachnids gave surprisingly good experience. Most battles were yielding 200-300 XP apiece... which was good at first and became increasingly less helpful as the XP requirements for each level began to climb into the tens of thousands. I tried fighting in the Marsh Cave but the XP results were no better and there were too many battles with paralyzing critters that could wipe out Bernie. The famous Peninsula of Power was also no good for the moment as the enemies there were simply too strong to beat! Bernie had no HARM or FIRE spells to plow through the undead opponents, nor strong defense to tank their blows, nor a RUSE evasion shield to hide behind. Maybe I could come back later at higher levels but for the moment I had to be content with the denizens of Elfland's outdoors.

All of this was tedious, of course, but the grinding process wasn't too bad overall. I was playing a lot of Teamfight Tactics at the same time as Bernie's quest and that game is far more stressful. It was nice to take a break and run some mindless critter-stomping in Final Fantasy as a change of pace, usually while I was watching a show or listening to a podcast at the same time. As Bernie approached and then passed the Level 20 threshhold, an unexpected problem began to pop up: monsters began running away from Bernie in droves! This is due to how the Morale stat works in the game: the formula for an enemy retreating is Morale - 2 * [character level] + (0...50) < 80. At Level 20, the calculation would subtract 2 * 20 = 40 from the enemy's morale, then add a random number from 0 to 50, with the monster retreating if the overall sum was less than 80 . Some enemies like Creeps (morale 104) and wolves had about 1/3 odds to retreat on any given round of combat and even Ogres weren't much better at only 116 morale. It was comical starting up combats and having the whole enemy formation scatter and run for the hills, but also a bit problematic as well - how could I keep grinding for XP if the monsters kept running? I didn't have an easy answer at the moment.

I decided to brave the Marsh Cave in search of the CROWN when Bernie was Level 21 since he gained a "strong" level for more HP there. Bernie might have been able to defeat the Wizards at a lower level, however the real test was going to be Astos so there was no need to make things tougher than needed when doing the first half of the quest sequence. I had earlier looted the treasure chests on the dead end upper half of the cave, as expected leaning heavily on Bernie's ability to escape from combat with near-perfect runs. He had 36/37 = 97% odds to run successfully and that genuinely was a big advantage in navigating a dungeon full of paralyzing undead. If Bernie could manage to get his turn, he could escape from those Zombie/Ghoul encounters that everyone detests so much. I also caught a break when facing the other super dangerous encounter, the Crawl/Bones pairing, as the Crawls have low morale like Creeps and would frequently run from combat. There was one fight where a Crawl stunned Bernie on the initial round of combat, then ran away, allowing Bernie to shake off his paralysis and successfully retreat. Other potential high-damage opponents like Gargoyles and Scorpions were no threat at all since Bernie could easy run from any fight where he wasn't incapacitated.

The Wizards guarding the CROWN were still nasty foes though, even for a character like Bernie who was absurdly over-leveled. They had fairly study defenses with 16 Absorb and a base Attack of 30 which translated into 24-54 damage against Bernie's 6 Absorb. The real killer though was the fact that the Wizards get two attacks (fortunately with low Accuracy so they often miss) and if both of them landed it would put a massive hurting on Bernie. I was routinely seeing Bernie get popped in the chin with "2 Hits! 78 Damage" messages and even his 357 HP didn't last long against that. Fortunately the number of Wizards in this fight is random with 2-4 of the mindflayers as possible setups. Like most weak variants, Bernie had to hope for the two Wizard battle and even that was no easy pickings as he died several times against just the pair of opponents. I think that it was the fourth or fifth attempt against two Wizards that successfully lined up the right RNG to see Bernie kill the first Wizard in two attacks followed by avoiding double hits from the remaining one. Getting out with the stolen CROWN was easy afterwards as Bernie ran away from everything and didn't see any paralyzing monsters along his path. I felt like a genuine thief here, sneaking into the Marsh Cave and hightailing it out with the loot!

That was the easy part though. Now Bernie had to deal with Astos:

Astos is the roadblock boss for the solo Thief class. The dark elf is a huge problem for pure melee fighters due to his massive Absorb rating of 40 which all but nullifies early game physical damage. Fighters and Black Belts can work around this with their raw Strength and excellent weaponry (i.e. Silver Sword) but the Thief has no such advantages. Bernie had painstakingly built up 25 Strength which granted 12 points of Attack, increased to a total of 25 Attack with the 13 points from his Sabre weapon. Against that 40 Absorb, Bernie would do a grand total of 1-10 damage per hit and that was NOT an average of 5 damage either since his 25-41 base damage rolls would all translate into 1 damage while the 42-50 rolls would become 2-10 damage (average damage = 2.73). Astos has 168 HP and an assortment of truly nasty spells in his rotation: RUB-SLO2-FAST-FIR2-LIT2-SLOW-DARK-SLEP. He would always lead off with RUB which would instantly kill Bernie about 60% of the time, followed by SLO2 which would knock my Thief down to a single hit. If RUB didn't drop Bernie, he would eventually die to accumulated damage from FIR2, LIT2, and a FASTed Astos attacking and getting multiple hits. This was a nearly-impossible setup and I had been targeting Level 28 as the best time to make a serious attempt at Astos, at which time Bernie would have an Attack of 29 and pick up a third hit on the Sabre. I figured that I would need to dodge the initial RUB, then dodge the followup SLO2, and hopefully pick up some critical hits to get the job done.

This is a good moment to discuss how crits work in Final Fantasy. They were famously bugged in the release version of the game, using the index number of each weapon as the crit chance rather than the actual crit value, which resulted in lategame weapons having much higher crit values than intended (e.g. Xcalber having 39% odds to crit instead of the intended 5% odds). Ozmo has fixed this in Final Fantasy Renaissace and therefore Bernie's Sabre was working properly at 5% odds to crit. This is also a detail that most guides have wrong, probably because crits are so buggy in the base game: the crit calculation is based on a dice roll of 1-200, not 1-100, so the "10" value for the Sabre means 5% odds to crit, not 10% odds to crit. Anyway, a successful crit deals the normal damage from an attack, plus an additional damage roll with enemy Absorb ignored. Thus instead of dealing 1-10 damage against Astos, Bernie would deal (1-10) + (25-50) damage on a crit. This was the one loophole whereby he could work around that intimidating 40 Absorb.

With all that background information in mind, immediately after picking up the CROWN from the Marsh Cave I decided on a lark to walk up to the Northwest Castle and take a few shots at Astos. I had no expectation of any success with Bernie only at Level 21 but it would be entertaining to see how badly my Thief was outmatched before going back to grinding. The battle started and Astos missed his RUB spell, very nice, followed by Bernie landing a crit and dealing 71 damage - whoa, nice! Astos successfully landed his SLO2 slow on the next round and knocked Bernie down to a single hit per attack, but not before Bernie banged out a second crit for 52 more damage - WHOA! Now we were really in business and suddenly the fight had gotten much more serious. All that I could do was keep hitting the Fight command and pray for friendly RNG. Unfortunately Bernie kept doing 1 damage, 1 damage, 1 damage over the following rounds as Astos continued marching through his spell progression. I still needed about 40 more damage for the kill and my only chance was hitting one final crit at those same 5% odds. And that's when, just as Astos finished casting the SLOW spell and was nearly back around to RUB again, Bernie landed the 56 damage crit pictured above like a GODDAMN BEAST to deliver me the victory!!!

I'm 100% serious here, Bernie defeated Astos on the FIRST ATTEMPT by avoiding the RUB spell and producing three separate critical hits. That was across roughly 15 hits in total to give some context on what an absurdly lucky result this was. I was caught completely flat-footed here which is why I only have the one image to share above; normally I slow down the message rate for boss fights to make it easier to take screenshots. I managed to get the damage result but not the "Terminated" message before it disappeared off-screen. I wish I'd been recording this outcome, I simply could not believe how lucky I'd been here. The #1 most difficult obstacle for the Solo Thief run was now in the rear-view mirror and I'd barely even broken a sweat!

With Astos out of the way in surprisingly speedy fashion, Bernie could now finally begin to play the game again instead of taking part in an XP farming simulator. Access to the Mystic KEY delivered a literal treasure trove of riches to Bernie who had been stuck on Elfland-tier equipment for ages. On the defensive side, I was able to purchase a Silver Bracelet in Melmond to replace the Copper Bracelet and then sail to Crescent Lake where the Thief class can inexplicably equip the Buckler in the shield slot. Together they increased Bernie to 19 Absorb which was more than triple his previous 6 Absorb total. He still couldn't tank hits like a Fighter with their incredible armor but Bernie was a bit less of a total punching bag now.

Offensively, Bernie was able to find a trio of weapons scattered in various treasure chests, each of them designed to be effective against certain classes of monster. These were the Dragon Sword found in the Dwarf Cave, the Rune Sword in the Temple of Fiends behind a door locked with the KEY, and the Coral Sword which was on the second floor of the Earth Cave. All three weapons shared the same 15% Accuracy rating, a big deal since they would all unlock Bernie's third hit at Level 23, and had similar Attack values at 19 for the Dragon and Coral Swords along with 18 for the Rune Sword. Each blade was designed to be effective against certain classes of monsters: the Dragon Sword against dragons, the Coral Sword against aquatic foes, and the Rune Sword against magical and mage opponents. Here are the monsters that fall into each of those categories:

This was yet another mechanic which was bugged in the release version of Final Fantasy; the Ice Sword does absolutely no extra damage against fire enemies and so on. Ozmo has fixed this in Final Fantasy Renaissance so that the intended mechanic now works properly: weapons gain an additional 4 Attack if they are effective against a certain class of monster. This was definitely noticeable, taking Bernie from 13 + 19 = 33 Attack with the Dragon Sword to 13 + 19 + 4 = 37 Attack when hitting dragon opponents, a gain of about 15% extra damage worth doing some situational weapon swapping. The Dragon Sword was my default weapon everywhere except when on the ship since there were so may more enemies classified as dragons as opposed to aquatic. Of course there were even more foes in the magical or mage groups, however the Rune Sword had 18 Attack instead of 19 Attack to make it weaker against everything that didn't fall into those categories. It also had half the crit rate of the other two weapons, 2.5% per hit as opposed to 5% per hit, which further decreased its value. At least the Rune Sword had a really awesome bluish-purple color when being wielded in combat.

These weapons were a big upgrade over the previous Sabre and it was fun getting to make use of the weapon effectiveness property in a real way for the first time ever. Now here's the bad news: these are the last weapons that Bernie would ever get to use until finding the Masmune five minutes before facing Chaos. The Thief class already had a subpar weapon selection and this is where it completely falls off a cliff with nothing else usable throughout the entire second half of the game. Fighters and Red Mages can both equip the Flame Sword, Ice Sword, and Sun Sword which all have far superior stats. It's absurd that the Thief gets none of these options while also having worse Accuracy and Magic Defense scaling at the same time! The designers of this game really had no idea how to balance the classes properly.

In any case, I was still thoroughly enjoying myself while playing this character. Bernie had gotten a big power spike from his new weapons and that only increased upon hitting Level 23 and unlocking his third hit. With a base Attack of 33, he was dealing 33-66 * 3 damage (minus enemy Absorb on each hit) which typically translated into somewhere in the 100-150 damage range. Bernie was comfortably one-shotting Ogres by now and I found that he was strong enough to win against the forced encounters in the Hall of Giants by killing Giants in 3-4 attacks apiece. He was roughly at the point where a Fighter would have been a dozen levels earlier, only with much worse defensive capabilities - yay? The toughest enemies were the Earths on their trapped squares which were still able to kill Bernie if they rolled high enough on damage. I used the Rune Sword against them since they are considered magical enemies and the extra damage no doubt helped a bit.

Once I looted the treasures on the first two floors of the Earth Cave, I sent Bernie deeper into the underground in search of the Vampire. I wasn't too worried about this miniboss himself, moreso the various monsters on the third floor of the Earth Cave than have stunning or petrification abilities. Sure enough, Bernie was turned to stone by a group of Cockatrices on the first trip down there. On my next trip, Bernie was able to escape quickly from a similar encounter with the little birds and make his way to the Vampire's chamber:

Where he proceeded to ONE-SHOT the undead creature by landing this critical hit, sheesh! Vampires only have 156 HP so Bernie absorbed an initial attack and then followed it up with this deadly strike for the kill. I swear, this solo Thief was making me look bad after I went and talked about how the class struggles against boss encounters. I had been mostly worried about getting stunned by the Vampire's DAZZLE and fortunately it was never an issue. Now I still needed to get out of the dungeon and the Earth Cave decided to troll Bernie by giving him four consecutive battles against undead with stunning abilities. He had two battles agaist Images, then a Geist/Spectre pairing, and then one final Image battle. This was where the near-perfect running of the Thief class really did come in clutch as Bernie was able to skedaddle from each encounter on the first try before he could be stunlocked into oblivion. The first two floors of the Earth Cave lack any such dangerous encounters and Bernie made it the rest of the way out without issue, whew.

I ran the fetch quest to pick up the ROD and then prepared to return to the Earth Cave to deal with Lich. I hadn't been thinking too much about this boss fight, assuming that if Bernie could defeat Astos then he'd be able to handle Lich afterwards, and I probably should have given it some more attention ahead of time:

Lich is an undead mage who specializes in a serious of dangerous spells. Like all enemies in this game, Lich's spellcasting followed a preset order: ICE2-SLP2-FAST-LIT2-HOLD-FIR2-SLOW-SLEP which would wrap around and repeat endlessly after reaching the last spell in sequence. Bernie had enough health stacked up by now that the direct damaging spells weren't too bad (although when ICE2 doubled its damage as pictured above it definitely hurt!), the real dangers were the HOLD spell to inflict paralyzation and the SLOW spell to knock Bernie back down to one hit. Unfortunately HOLD and SLOW both have the same high accuracy rating of 64 which translated into roughly 75% odds to be successful. I also hadn't been considering the 40 Absorb that Lich sports, identical to Astos, which greatly reduced the damage from Bernie's physical attacks. The Rune Sword would help offset that since Lich is a magical opponent, however after testing out the Rune Sword I realized that using it was a mistake. It was better to have 3 less Attack on the Dragon or Coral Sword and get 5% odds for a critical strike instead of 2.5% odds. Bernie's best chance to defeat Lich was the same way that he had beaten Astos: land a few critical hits in succession which would deal bonus damage not blocked by enemy Absorb.

Unlike Astos, Lich was lurking at the bottom of a lengthy dungeon and the original Final Fantasy doesn't have save points. I thought it might be prudent to gain a couple more levels before making additional Lich attempts since Bernie could amass experience quickly in the Earth Cave. Each fight in the Hall of Giants was worth a little over 1000 XP which was blisteringly fast compared to the pre-Astos leveling that I'd been doing. I targeted Level 27 as the next "strong" level up where Bernie eventually found himself sporting 442 HP. Making it through the Earth Cave down to Lich turned out to be relatively easy for a Thief who could run away from any battle instantaneously. The only things that I truly feared were Cockatrices with their petrification and the undead with their stunning attacks, both of which had relatively low odds to succeed since Bernie's Magic Defense had been slowly scaling up with all these levels.

I decided that I'd try to fight Lich about ten times at Level 27 and see how the attempts went, then figure out if I was close enough to run more tries or go back to grind out more experience. The first attempt went poorly, with Bernie failing to score any critical hits and Lich landing his HOLD stun after which Bernie was unable to break out of his paralyzation (the odds are 25% to shake it off each round). That was disappointing but did feel like a low roll outcome. The second attempt went much better, with Bernie nailing two different critical hits that each did more than 100 damage. Unfortunately he rolled very low on damage for his non-critical attacks and came up a bit short on damage, running out of health when Lich had taken about 370 damage out of his 400 HP. I felt much better with that result and resolved to run some more attempts since I had been close to winning. The third battle turned out to be the charm with all of the key RNG factors lining up in my favor. Bernie only managed a single critical hit, however ICE2 did not double its damage, Lich's HOLD spell missed, and most importantly, Lich used his physical attack FOUR times, including on three of the first four rounds before he put his FAST spell in play. This was just barely enough for Bernie to wear down the boss with a whole bunch of rounds dealing 30-50 damage leading to this result:

Beautifully managed by my solo Thief and not requiring the same kind of absurd RNG luck that he'd enjoyed against Astos. This was something like a 90th percentile outcome instead of 99.9th percent result. Astos and Lich were probably the two hardest bosses for the solo Thief and I anticipated that the second half of the game would likely get a bit easier as more of the items-as-spells became available. That was all speculation though and I'd find out soon enough. Stay tuned for the second half of this report on the next page.