The Gilgamesh basement battle came out comically. I had Galuf alternate the Stop song and attacking, which worked fine... but kept going on and on and on. Usually he goes down in a single shot of GilToss, but Galuf had now dealt over 3000 damage... what gives? Ohhh - I had to let him get out of Stop status for the AI routine to proceed with his exit dialogue.
Gilgamesh on the bridge also had a comical moment:
Note to self. Do NOT try fighting Gilgamesh at level 28.
The five Elixirs I'd saved weren't quite enough, so I had to spend a little time on the Bridge farming for Hi-Potions (Lil'Chariot enemies can drop them), but got past Gilgamesh without major trouble. The bards were wielding Mage Masher daggers the entire time, but the Mute never went off on Gilgamesh once. I have no idea why that doesn't work, now for many different characters and parties.
For once I fought the Tyrannosaurus boss legitimately rather than the cheap Phoenix Down kill. Here I tried out a Harp weapon for the first time. Harp weapons behave oddly as Spoony detailed, dealing a percentage of the enemy's current HP, and not working at all (as all percentage based damage doesn't) on Heavy targets. The first harp bought in Crescent deals 1/16 damage, not worth using. Regole then sells Dream Harps for 2/16 percentage damage, which came out to some pretty decent numbers here. As for Tyrannosaurus's ???? superattack, well that obliterates a solo character but is just not a problem with four who can revive each other.
Heh, the Stop-Confuse combo even worked on the Abductor boss.
Yup, there's Requiem, shredding undead enemies as always. Amusingly, the musical note sprites are flipped backwards during that back attack.
And the songs were really working out well here. In fact, in an encounter like this, I'd start by having all four bards sing all four songs. Regen for us, Stop and Confuse on the monsters, and Requiem on the undead dragon. Perfect harmony!
They also had the easiest time saving Golem of any party ever.
And with Stop and Confuse layered on all the flowers, score it Bards 12,500, Hiryuu Plant 0. Halfway through I even remembered to use the Dream Harp for big damage against the non-Heavy boss flower.
Castle Surgate then supplied the bards' first true buffing tune, the Swift Song. And we put it to use in the Gilgamesh ship battle. To win this battle (other than running Enkidu out of magic), you must be able to deal 4000 damage to Enkidu before he replenishes himself with either White Wind or Vampire. So just the ticket was laying Swift Song on thick during the Gilgamesh phase, getting everybody's agility maxed out before Enkidu appeared. Now the bards could get many attacks to each one action of Enkidu's and deal the 4000 damage quickly.
Enkidu got his reset button in once, but we got him after that one Vampire refill. The bards' other trick is that Enkidu is not Heavy, so the Dream Harp worked to deal good damage, and from the back row even. Gilgamesh was polished off in a matter of seconds after that, his Death Claw no threat to a full party.
Unfortunately, songs and harps would do no good against Atmos. Immune to Stop and Confuse of course, Heavy, not Undead.
Here was the tactic I needed. Enter the fight with one warrior dead and the other three low on hit points, so they could kill themselves easily on demand. Atmos never kills except for his Wormhole consuming move or the Comets, so sitting around at low life was fine. (Do NOT use the Regen Song!) Just before the dead warrior got sucked up, revive her and have another warrior kill himself, so I'd still have three warriors attacking while another dead body got pulled over. Repeat when that body was almost consumed too.
So I had control of the fight: Atmos would never let loose Comets and kill the wrong warrior or two warriors. This tactic doesn't have anything to do with the bard job in particular, but in general this is how to maximize your possible attacks before the Atmos deadline for a party with weak offense.
All the while, the bards would be chopping as best they could with their daggers, including the Dancing dagger. It took a few attempts until Atmos never cast his Slow 2 (1/3 chance every 16th turn for it) and until the Dancing Dagger rolled several Sword Dances, about six throughout the fight.
As always, the Forest of Moore provided lots of easy fights and experience. The bards had a load of fun locking down all comers with Stop and Confuse layered on.
The Seal Guardians are immune to Stop and Confuse, but we had a bardly plan. Part one was to stay in the back row singing Swift Songs all over the place until everybody's agility was maxed. Part two was to weaken a crystal to just over 3000 HP, as usual, the Dream Harps being good for this job. Part three was to quickly kill a crystal from there. The bards weren't quite fast enough to prevent it getting a turn at all (that's the Aqua Rake damage above), but they were at least twice as fast as the crystal, enough to repair from each spell with Hi-Potions. The fight took about 40 Hi-Potions in all, but the bards were never in danger.(I also had a backup plan - Bartz had my one Flame Ring, so he could have done it solo with the usual flame crystal free healing, if needed be.)
Speaking of Hi-Potions... these bards do tend to use a lot of consumables. That Byblos fight consumed seventy grand of Phoenix Downs, and I expected the Exdeath fight might well do the same. And equipping four characters in this game gets pretty darn expensive; you do want those four Haste Shoes for a cool two hundred thousand in all.
So I took the bards down to play the Gil game in the cave near Bal. Beat this Gil Turtle side boss several times and you can earn up to 80,000 in cash. All the danger from Gil Turtle comes from his counterattacks; otherwise, he just does a moderate strength physical attack, 600 damage against the back row, repairable with Hi-Potions. So the bards used their usual lengthy battle plan: Speed Song to the max. I had two bards sing on every turn, protected behind a Guardian Dagger/Elf Cape combo, with the other two feeding potions to everybody.
With their agility maxed out, now it was time to go on the attack. Gil Turtle is conveniently undead, so Requiem busted out tons of damage all over him. And with the bards now acting at ludicrous speed (seriously, the action bar refills in about two visible ticks), they could easily fix that with potions. The attacks inflicted darkness and poison status, no problem. So the bards easily took down the boss...
except for that Earthquake dying move! How do we avoid 3600 damage?
There's the answer! This Sting Eagle enemy in Drakenvale can cast Float when Confused!
Now I knew the bards could beat Gil Turtle, but it wasn't worthwhile to actually go do it. The Sting Eagles start with no magic points, so you have to feed them an Ether to make Float possible. Ethers are expensive, and it's a 50-50 shot that the monster will kill itself before it casts Float. Spending like 20k gold of Ethers and all that time to beat the Gil Turtles was a bit too cumbersome. Gil can be farmed much faster by just killing Zombie Dragons right here with Requiem to sell their Dragon Fangs, so ultimately we skipped the Gil Turtle side quest.
Exdeath's Castle is probably my favorite dungeon in the game. For the first time in forever, the random encounters are actually a bit dangerous, just enough to keep you on the edge of your seat. But it's a hoot to turn stone and death spells against themselves! And the rewards also ramp up nicely, including ABP for a party with normal jobs.
One monster that gave me pause was this Jackanapes mini-boss, where the sliding floor platform can trigger it from the walls. It has 65 defense, which the best weapon Air Dagger at 54 attack can't crack. And we can't run. It could be confused, but would deal 0 damage to itself since its own defense is higher than its attack. Are we doomed?
Nope. There's the answer!
And now for Exdeath himself. I ran into this amazing quirk that might or might not have been a bug. Faris was singing the Swift Song, when she got turned into a zombie... and KEPT SINGING! I am pretty sure that the song kept working - it looked like everybody else continued to act faster and faster. What a boon to have an invulnerable character continually boosting the party!
As for the actual fight... Condemn, unlike for solo characters, was no threat, just undo it with a Phoenix Down. His Vacuum Wave specialty physical for 1300 damage would instakill any bard in the front row, so they had to do it from the back. But other than that, Exdeath didn't seem to have anything that would kill the bards. So it was a long slow grind of chopping with Air Daggers for 100 damage at a time.
Until he pulled out Level 3 Flare against my L33 team. Doh.
One ding later, we tried again. We got Swift Song up to the max again. It's hard to describe this feeling of crazy manic speed. The four characters would act nearly instantly again after each turn. We'd get twelve or sixteen attacks to every one of Exdeath's. I counted when Lenna got hit by Condemn, and within that 30 seconds of game time she got seventeen attacks.
Of course, we couldn't do much damage each attack, less than 100 from the mandatory back row. At least the Dancing Dagger helped out some. With Sword Dance of course, but Jitterbug was also welcome, working around the back row penalty for more damage and healing Faris too. Anyway with Level 3 Flare offline, Exdeath had nothing that could ever kill multiple warriors at the same time. So the bards just kept poking and poking and poking, with plenty of turns to use Hi-Potions to recover from all damage.
There's Firaga and we're through to the second half of the AI routine. Unlike with solos, this is actually more dangerous now; Exdeath sometimes gets two uninterrupted actions, and could kill a warrior with a spell + physical combo. But one Phoenix Down repaired that. Poke poke poke went the daggers. The only question from here was whether the Hi-Potions would last long enough to make it all the way through his HP total. And they did, with 30 left from a starting stock of 95.
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