In Pursuit of Maximus

Last time we left off, we had received a possible, though fairly vague, lead on the Holy Emperor's Symbol in the form of Gon mentioning a red earring. Apparently Maximus, the head of the Church of the Divine King, wears an earring like that, and he for some reason gave Gon a Dream Devil's Potion.

With a bit of Mikhail Company business out of the way, we're off to investigate the Church in Pidona.

When we arrive, Maximus is giving an announcement to the followers of the Church. He says that they've gained the alliance of Ludvich's army, and this will be a great boon for the Church's activities.

As he starts to make another announcement, though, Herman cuts him off!

He confronts Maximus, saying that despite having grown out his hair and beard, he could never forget his face. This "Maximus" thing is a lie -- his real name is Jackal!

The followers recognize the name "Jackal" as that of an infamous pirate.

A soldier (I'm assuming one of Ludvich's group who is there for the announcement?) admits that arresting Jackal is a high priority, as the pirate Jackal has committed countless horrible crimes. But they can't arrest him just because some rando says his face looks similar.

Herman says that Jackal's crew all wear red earrings as identifiers. But the most obvious thing is that their leader has a tattoo of a jackal on his arm that can't be removed. Upon hearing this, Mikhail demands that Maximus bare his arms for us to see.

The soldier apologizes for humiliating Maximus like this, but he also asks him to show his arms to everyone, as it would quickly clear his name.

Maximus's speech suddenly becomes gruff and pirate-like, as he calls out to Herman. Who the hell is this bastard who knows who he is?!

And with that, "Maximus" summons two demons and escapes somewhere at the back of the church while everyone is distracted by the sudden monster attack.

Everyone escapes safely, and you can even walk right past the demons if you want (well, provided they don't bump you as you try to get to the back of the main hall). There doesn't seem to be any kind of door back here, but if you search around, you'll find that you can actually walk into the podium where Maximus speaks -- there's a stairwell hidden under it!

Beneath the church is a huge multi-level basement that seems like some kind of prison or dungeon turned into a makeshift storage and living quarters. You'll find hooded people walking around here who look like the Church of the Divine King followers we've seen before, but when you get closer to them, they'll reveal themselves as monsters.

Jackal seems to have tons of different kinds of monsters under his command, from undeads to goblins to even elementals.

Many of the rooms are packed with treasures. If you remember some of the rumors we heard, it seems that the Church seemed to focus heavily on hoarding treasures, especially the Holy Emperor's relics.

In one hallway, in the place there were rooms on the other floors, you can see a sort of outline of a secret passage. Interacting with it will take you into a room that looks like it was probably Jackal's secret living space, and there are some very nice treasures within.

Importantly, we find the Sorceress's Eye, which is an accessory that boosts magic defense a lot and protects against gaze attacks.

But even better, upon inspecting the mirror in the corner of the room, it opens up to reveal a secret lift, which takes us to a little room with one more treasure in it. This contains the Stardust Robe, which offers great defenses especially against magic, protects extra against shocking attacks, and grants a +1 boost to Endurance and Magic. Very powerful, especially for this point in the game!

Eventually after delving deeper and deeper into the hideout, we find a stairwell blocked by a rapidly vibrating enemy who charges us as we approach.

This starts a battle with some undead mages and an Ill Head (which is like... a skull with horns and green fire coming out that floats around). I missed the opportunity to get a screenshot of the Ill Head because it died pretty quickly.

The mages, on the other hand, were much more difficult to take out. Sara was having to smack someone with the healing stick every turn, and even then, it was hard to keep everyone alive. Even with Bull Crash doing over 1000 damage, it took several turns to take these things out, so I'm assuming they had around 7000-9000 HP. Screwdriver was helpful, too, but the enemies seemed to target Trucks and Mikhail a lot, so Trucks would often die before he could pull it off. Mikhail's attacks weren't particularly helpful.

Undead are one of the few enemy types that are very resilient to status effects, so we couldn't paralyze them or put them to sleep, so we just had to take the damage every turn and hope for the best. Dancing Leaf didn't seem to avoid any of the mages' attacks, since it seems to protect better against physical attacks, and the mages were good at keeping the elemental field in fire, so we didn't get to take advantage of the healing boon from Dancing Leaf, either.

We were pretty outmatched by these guys. This is definitely a really hard battle to take on this early in the game -- way harder than the blue fireballs guarding the control room below Vanguard.

Even though we did slowly take out the first mage, I was pretty convinced that the battle was over when the second one used the Seiryu art Nap. Everyone except for Herman got put to sleep, and Herman is by far the weakest party member at this point, being the newest and having the lowest stats. Even his strongest weapon arts could do maybe 50-100 damage at the most.

But then, by some amazing stroke of ridiculous good luck, on the same turn that he avoided being put to sleep, he glimmered Splitting Dynamic (the "splitting" here referring most likely to the act of chopping a log in half).

This is one of the most powerful Axe arts in the entire game, and even with Herman's measly stats, it was doing around the same damage as Ward's Bull Crash.

Even still, I knew I still had to hit this thing like five more times in order to win, but I at least felt a glimmer (hehe) of hope.

By yet another coincidental stroke of luck, the enemy mage seemed to have finally run out of JP at this point, because it just started whacking people with physical attacks. Even then, since these guys are pretty strong for our party, each physical attack took out a character in a single hit. And everyone was asleep, so they couldn't use their shields (and I think Dancing Leaf would not activate, either).

It took out Trucks and Ward first, which wasn't too unlikely since they were in the front row. Then it came down to just Sara and Herman in the back row, and I figured it had about a 50% chance of hitting either one of them. I thought I might have to hit the enemy two more times, so my chances of winning, even with this amazing series of fortunate events, were seeming not so great. And then I'd lose Splitting Dynamic, too...

The monster chose to hit Sara -- maybe it likes to attack the sleeping people. But then Herman got his chance to attack... and the mage was defeated! I certainly was getting worked up, and this was almost as exciting as when Grace defeated Tagut with her little knife. Though, that was much more exciting because it's Grace and Tagut is one of the strongest enemies in that game. These things are strong comparatively only because we're still very weak.

Anyway, with that out of the way, we can continue up the staircase, though after wasting all our time here, we have no idea where Maximus could be by now.

When we reach the top of the staircase, we come out of a hole in the wall behind the sludgey-looking waterfall in the Pidona slums. Talking to the woman standing near by, she says that the Church members rushed out of the wall and headed toward "new" Pidona, surprising her.

Now we can ask around about Maximus since probably most people saw a hoard of Church people maniacally running through the streets.

Asking around in town, everyone tells us that Maximus and his gang headed for the pier.

Going to the pier, we talk to the boat guy, and he tells us that if we're looking for Maximus, he already took a boat to Librof.

So, we head to Librof, too.

No one here seems to say anything about Maximus, so maybe they didn't actually come into town. But this is the town where everyone talks about how the Church destroyed the Naj Empire and built a tower in the place where it used to be in the desert, so that seems like a decent place to try looking next.

Since we've heard about the desert in town, we can now enter it from the world map. It took me forever to realize you could do this the first time I played this game.

When you get to the desert, you can head either left or right, and the desert will stretch on for quite a while either way. Heading left, you can see the tower in the background appears bigger on each screen, which is the only way to know you're going the right way. This also took me forever to figure out the first time I played, because I just kept going right and would end up at the Akbar Ridge at the edge of the desert that we heard about before. And I never really thought of going left, as I assumed it would just take you back to the map or something.

When we get to the tower, no one seems to really think anything is wrong, though it seems only Church members are able to enter the tower. There's a man standing near the road to the tower who offers to sell us the robes that the followers wear. Seems kinda obvious what we have to do!

Donning the robes, we're able to convince the guard at the door of the tower to let us in.

The inside of the tower is a convoluted maze of rooms and doors and staircases. Each floor is fairly small, so it's not like you'll get particularly lost, but it's very tedious and confusing running around in there. There are also many places where I can see treasure chests, but I can't find out how to get to them at all.

Though there are other places where there are robed figures blocking doorways, and we're not able to get through there, so it probably has something to do with that. I have never actually finished exploring the tower, but I have a feeling it's going to pull a Final Fantasy V stunt and make us escape the tower later with a time limit, trying to grab the treasures while running into countless dead ends and getting mixed up from the unreasonable floor layout.

Also while in the menu, I noticed that I never talked about this part -- there's a "current events" section where you can see little notes on the things you're currently engaged in. Our notes have three active things: look for the orichalcum dolphin, pursue Maximus, and defeat the Dophorle Firm through trade.

There are no enemies in the tower, so basically we just spend a bunch of time trying to find the staircases on each level. There are a lot of floors. This takes a while.

There is one staircase that leads to a dead end, just a little room with this guy in it. When talking to him, he tells us that there is some kind of switch in the basement of the tower. And the person who used that button had killed everyone, but he was the sole survivor because he hid in this room.

I have no idea what he's talking about and I couldn't find a basement, but there is a hooded figure blocking a doorway on the first floor, so it probably has to do with that. I don't know why he decided to tell us that there's a switch and identify the killer as the person who used the switch... Unless he's saying that the switch was part of how everyone was killed? But it doesn't sound like he's necessarily saying that, so I don't know.

Eventually we reach a high part of the tower with a more elaborate door. Yeah, there's parts where you can go along the outside of the tower, too. This place is huge and takes forever to navigate. I can't complain about that enough, hahaha.

Inside, we find a congregation of hooded figures listening to a sermon or something from this irresistibly handsome older man with long hair, though bald on top, and a nice mustache. And flowy yellow robes. And he is beautiful and wonderful and great. Hint, hint.

Well, he's kinda scary, really, because this is Tiberius, who, if you remember from the rumors we heard in Librof a while back, is the Church leader who took up weapons and massacred the people of the desert who wouldn't convert to the Church.

I'd like to believe that he was brainwashed by Maximus or something but... Tiberius is the leader of the Church who accepted Maximus, and I think that the imperialism started before Maximus even joined the church. Though the destruction of the Naj Empire wasn't too long ago, and I guess it's fully possible that Maximus manipulated Tiberius into taking them over so he could steal their treasures, especially if they held relics of the Holy Emperor.

When we approach Tiberius, he sees that we are not followers of the Church. I guess because we for some reason removed the robes as soon as we got inside. Maybe they were itchy?

But the Church and the Divine King love and accept all people, and it's never too late for us to join. He invites us to devote ourselves to the Church.

Mikhail doesn't even respond -- he just demands to know where Maximus is.

Keeping a very calm demeanor despite this dude in armor making hasty demands in front of him in a place where he shouldn't be, Tiberius responds that Maximus is, of course, most likely in Pidona where he leads the Church.

Mikhail tells Tiberius that Maximus's true identity is really the pirate Jackal.

Tiberius says that even for pirates or murderers, as long as you repent, the Divine King will forgive you. Whatever names Maximus has gone by before or whatever crimes he has committed, they matter not now. He is now a man that follows that path of the Divine King.

Mikhail says that Maximus and his crew have done a lot of bad things while concealing themselves behind the identity of the Church. He demands to know if Tiberius is part of Maximus's gang. I'm surprised he even gave Tiberius the benefit of the doubt from the beginning -- you'd think he'd figure the head of the Church would definitely be in leagues with the man using the Church to commit crimes.

Tiberius says something like if that were true, we would need to have Maximus submit to a judgment or something -- I don't really get it, because it's kind of vague. I don't know if he's trying to say something like "God will judge" or if he's trying to say something like "This is a matter for proper authorities," but it seems that he doesn't seem to be trying to defend Maximus, but rather just respond to things in the most rational manner he can think of.

Just then, the tower starts to violently shake, and we see a scene of flying monsters surrounding the top of the tower.

When we return to Mikhail and Tiberius, we can hear Maximus's voice somehow echoing through the tower. He tells Tiberius that he's taken control of the tower.

Tiberius recognizes his voice and calls out to him, telling him that the tower belongs to the Divine King, and he can't just do with it what he pleases.

Maximus says he doesn't need stupid shit like a "Divine King." He's going to be the one to rule the world himself, using the power of the Holy Emperor's relics and collaborating with the world's monsters.

Mikhail demands again to know where Maximus is. We have to stop the monsters he's teaming with if we're going to stop Maximus.

It seems like Maximus must have flown here on the monsters or something, because Tiberius truly didn't seem to realize he was even here until now, but he's probably higher up in the tower.

Tiberius claims he is nothing but a worthless old man, but he wants to be of help if he can. We have the option of recruiting Tiberius into the party.

And, well, of course!

Tiberius comes with a huge 23 in Magic, which is made only stronger by the Stardust Robe that we found stashed away in Maximus's hideout earlier. His Spirit is not bad, but the rest of his stats are somewhat lacking. He'd definitely intended to be a mage character.

He even comes knowing a bunch of great Genbu and Solar magic arts already, including two healing arts, and the powerful Thunderclap and Daybreak arts.

He wears yellow robes, has powerful magic, has long hair but a shiny bald head, has a mustache, is old, and his tiny bit of story seems to be about trying to redeem himself for a life he suddenly realized was misled, despite having a strong sense of justice. Basically, he's a myriad of my favorite things, making Tiberius my favorite playable character in the game.

Sadly, unlike the other characters we've recruit, Tiberius is horribly unpopular and forgotten. The Maximus chase is a very difficult quest -- there's absolutely no way we'd be able to defeat the monsters at the top of the tower right now, much less Maximus himself. In fact, I've never played the game far enough to even get that strong, and I've played pretty far into the game. Add to the fact there are multiple prerequisites to getting here -- you have to have found and solved the Dream Devil problem, as well as approached Maximus in the church with Herman in the party, as he's the only person who can identify him properly -- most players don't even get to Tiberius until they already have a pretty solid party built up, and recruiting him at this point is impossible if your party is full, and so you'd have to run all the way down the tower again, go somewhere else to a bar and dismiss a member, and navigate all the way back up the tower again just to recruit him.

And in addition to that, he's just a frumpy old man character who until this point was vilified, and it's still debatable whether you believe he's redeemable or not. So I understand why he's not popular at all.

But that means there's no art of him, really. All the other player characters have multiple incarnations in games like Imperial SaGa and Emperors SaGa, and in Imperial SaGa, even some NPCs and enemy characters from Romancing SaGa 3 are playable characters, but Tiberius doesn't even have one playable form at all. So I can't even get a decent official artwork of him, other than this art from the SaGa trading card game.

When Imperial SaGa had a player survey recently, I asked in the free comment section if they would please add Tiberius as a character :P

And with that, since we have no hope of defeating Maximus and his monsters at all (I tried, and we can't even get close), it's time to... walk all the way back down the tower.

And with that, we've fully assembled our mustache harem! I don't know why I decided of all character that Mikhail would be the most interested in these types of guys, but now I can imagine all kinds of gross things about the lot.

And what a strange bunch of people we've managed to collect, too. This wacky-outfit guy who wears sunglasses but also has sunglasses on his hat, a man who cosplays as Zorro to fight capitalism, a washed up pirate-looking guy who walks with a cane but can still do flips and stuff, and now a bald old priest who can't even tell when a pirate is corrupting his entire church right under his nose.

But, hey, they're all hot, and that's what matters in life, right?

Now we can finally move on and start chipping away at all these interesting rumors we've been hearing across the world, and start exploring some places more thoroughly. And maybe even seal an Abyss Gate or two. Hell, this cackle of mustache creepers may even become the next legendary heroes of this world, who knows!