Follow the Crystal Hoop ~
Bandits Are Attacking!

Now that we're done with our weird little Armand episode, it's time to go back to our original task: locating the rest of Judy's family! We've already found Dad, but there are still three others to go. The Crystal Hoop that we got from Grandpa is telling us to go to the northeast, so the northeast is where we will go.

However, if you remember the geography of this game, if we want to leave north from Serin...

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We're going to have to cross the Vale of Swords...

Yeah, the place where the party falls through the bridge and gets separated into two parties and we keep swapping maps and infinitely respawning monsters everywhere while one subparty tries to rescue the other... what a wonderful place! And here we are with just Judy, Daddy, always-level-one-gauntlet Kurt, and fresh-in-the-roster Armand.

Though every time we've been here before, we've actually come from the north, heading south toward Serin. So this is a bit different.

And now that we're on the adventure map, we can check out Armand's stats. But we've seen them before, so I'll just remind you: Armand has the maximum Makings for Strength, Skill, and Fire, but everything else is pretty low. Spirit is decent, at least, but the rest are lousy.

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I'm starting to wonder if doing a "no-weapons" run was really a good idea. We have no offensive Magic Arts still, so we're just tossing everything to kill it for now. I really wasn't wanting this to be a martial-arts-focused run...

On the south side of the vale, we fight some monsters here and there, punch a chest open to find some money, and that's about all we can do.

We reach the infamous bridge crossing the Vale, and Judy comments that it seems pretty flimsy...

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And then the monster-thing-that-we-had-no-idea-what-it-was-before-but-now-automatically-know-it's-Clyde's-servant-spirit appears. So it seems like this adventure might end up going a bit differently. Or that thing's going to push half of us off the bridge...

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Nah, it doesn't push us. Instead, it summons something else to push us! Or, well, battle us for now. It may look like a normal Pinhut from here because it's hard to really get a sense for the depth perception, but this thing is HUGE; it's a Pinhut Titus.

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And it's quite a bit more powerful than a regular Pinhut. It has an attack called Dynamo Attack where it sticks that little hook on its body (?!) into the ground and uses its body like... a slingshot... for itself (omg how do you even describe this?!) and flings its body into a party member, which causes a bit of HP damage, can damage LP, and has a chance to stun.

In addition to its other normal physical attacks, it also has a 'cry' attack called Occult, in which it lets out some kind of strange noise that damages LP directly. But it's similar to Phantom Shark in that if you have high HP, it can end up just doing 0 damage. I don't think Occult caused any status effects, but I could have maybe just gotten lucky.

It took quite a few turns since all we really have is Throw, even with two party members having glimmered Hammerfall now, but we finally did take it down. I don't think this is meant to be a terribly hard battle, but if you're really unfamiliar with the battle system, it could probably cause you some trouble.

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We start to head toward the bridge, but suddenly a bunch more Pinhuts come out. I don't know if they're just supposed to be far away and they're really all Pinhut Titus..es... or if they're just regular Pinhuts, but either way, Thomas says to "let Daddy handle this" and instructs Judy to go cross the bridge while he holds them off...

Kurt and Armand are apparently not so self-sacrificing, as they just go with Judy.

We actually do make it across the bridge safely, but then Thomas's battle with the Pinhuts ends up moving toward the bridge, and...

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You guessed it. Daddy fall down go boom.

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Or Daddy go splish, rather. Kurt says that he definitely saw Thomas fall into water, and everyone just... knows he's okay. And instead of helping him out, we're just like "YEAH THAT'S FINE HE FELL INTO A MASSIVE CANYON FULL OF UNDEADS LET'S GO."

But I guess they recognize how amazing he is and that he can get out of that situation without help or something...

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We still have to continue out of the Vale area, though. And all the time we spend on the other side must have encouraged all these Wildlings to gather in one spot. I was actually even more worried about this fight than the one with the Pinhut Titus, because everyone was pretty weakened at this part, and we're down one party member. Judy only had 2 LP, so I couldn't risk putting her out into the battlefield, so it was really just down to Armand and Kurt...

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I don't think I showed a screencap of it before, so here's what these little guys look like behind their masks that they carry. Yeah, that thing is not their face. It's just a mask that looks like a face. They're pretty cute. They remind me of like, a cross between a Shy Guy from Super Mario and a Black Mage from Final Fantasy IX. UNLIMITED:Saga Screenshot

Also, I love how Armand's pose is so casual even when there's this like GIANT SPINNING BLADE coming at his face.

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Fortunately, they were pretty much the only monsters on this side of the bridge, so we could leave casually after defeating them.

Judy, who was like "Yeah! Let's leave him!" before is now sad about getting separated from Dad, and Kurt and Armand try to cheer her up as we leave the Vale

And with that, the adventure is over, and we go to the Panel selection screen. And yes, Thomas is really gone from the party.

Judy gets Diplomacy L2, which is great, since we just lost access to Diplomacy because it fell off a bridge. Kurt and Armand both got Throw panels because is is pretty much The Game of Throws right now. Since Armand only had Fashion Panels to start with, putting the L2 Throw on the right side of his Growth Panel, combined with his amazing Skill Making, actually tripled his Skill Level, going from 7 to 21.

When we're done with the Panels, we head into Solophero and...

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There are bandits attacking! We were just about to find where the Crystal Hoop was pointing us, too... So a family member must be nearby! But we have to save everyone from bandits now, because we're RPG heroes...

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We're taken to the center of some clearing, probably the center of town. And there are a ton of little 'spokes' we can travel to outside of this central meeting ground area. A few of them have red previews, meaning there are as many or more enemies on that spot as we have party members.

And so we're going to head straight for the danger!

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There are bandits everywhere! These four were just the ones on the space we jumped to.

This adventure is a bit like the adventure in Kurt's scenario where the Knights are only protecting the temple and allow monsters to ransack the village, and we have to stop them. Bandits will keep spawning constantly onto the map, and we can only win once we've cleared the map of bandits.

The problem is the game spawns tons and tons of bandits. Like probably three or four every two turns. I'm not exaggerating! This is one of the most well-known points in the game for causing people to quit playing. If you can't take out the bandits in one or two turns, this adventure is literally impossible to finish, and you will soon be overwhelmed with like 9 bandits on every space of the map, with no hope of ever clearing them out...

And taking out entire groups of bandits in one or two turns can be really tough. You'd have to have gotten some great weapon panels and glimmered some great weapon arts in the first few adventures (and gotten a great weapon in the shop, too, I guess), or have found a bow in the shop (which isn't very common) that had Random Arrowshot in its ability set, released it, and gotten a bow panel for the person using it...

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Or you can use Shock from that Opal Armlet that Judy had. This is why it was critical not to use up the durability on this thing. It's pretty much required to get past this part of the game unless you've stumbled upon a great stroke of luck earlier. And a lot of new players have no idea this is going to happen, obviously, so it's pretty easy to end up using up all the durability before getting here, since Shock is very useful and you only have ten uses on this thing...

Add to all this that the game doesn't inform you what your goal here is, other than Judy saying "We have to take care of the bandits!" when the adventure starts, and you have one of the most obnoxious walls for new players to run into with this game. It's stuff like this that make me completely understanding of why so many people hate this game. Along with its half-finished and convoluted UI and control scheme, they put stuff like this early in the game... And even the developer note suggested to play Judy's scenario first if you like magic!

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The first set of bandits only had four enemies to the battle, and Shock very luckily took out two of them, and the other two fell easily to combo throws from Armand and Kurt, so we were able to defeat them in just one turn.

But just from that, we move back to the meeting grounds and off onto another spoke, and seven more bandits have already gathered. We've pretty much spent the absolute minimum amount of time we could have spent so far...

So you can see how this would get overwhelming fast...

Fortunately, new bandits tend to spawn inside already-existing groups of bandits, so they don't necessarily add to the amount of battles you'll have to fight if you can take them out quickly, just the individual battles themselves will be more difficult because there are more enemies to defeat in the short amount of time.

And even if they don't spawn together, they will clump together like fast-moving Slimes, so it's not like you're trying to frantically chase bandits all over the town or something. You just need to head straight for each group you can see and take it out as quickly as possible so that more groups don't form while you're battling. If the other groups grow a little that's fine, but you're just not wanting new groups to form because there's too many bandits cluttering up the map.

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That group of seven took us two turns to defeat, so when the next group had seven, I queued two Shocks from Judy. If you can go fast enough, you should only have to fight two or three groups of bandits to clear the whole lot.

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With two Shocks, five of the bandits fell, and I picked the rest off with individual throws from Kurt and Armand.

Also, I want to note that Armand has the higher Skill and Strength Levels of the two by far. Especially for the sake of LP damage, Kurt has a Skill Level of 5, while Armand has that impressive 21 we mentioned in the last Growth Panel screen. But Armand has a L2 Throw Panel and Kurt has a L3 Throw Panel, and it's Kurt who is inflicting more damage and being more consistent with LP damage with his throws. Panel level makes such a difference in your damage output that just raising your Panel one level is way more important than raising an Ability Level (meaning a stat) by many points. Of course, Panels only go up to level 5 and they're much harder to come by because of all the RNG, so that makes sense, but... My point is just that if you're choosing between placing two panels and you're choosing one for its Ability Level increases and the other for the actual Skill Panel itself, GO FOR THE PANEL. Your stats are not nearly as worth it.

And in a case like this, if you need to make sure you deal as much damage as possible as quickly as possible and you're choosing between two different characters to deal that damage, take the one with the higher Panel Level, not the one with the higher Ability Level.

Of course, if Armand and Kurt both had the same level of Throw, Armand would be performing better, because he has better Strength and Skill Levels. So late-game, when everyone has pretty much the same levels of panels across the board, the stats will make a more noticeable difference. So pay attention to Ability Levels when planning long-term growth, and pay attention to Panel Levels for immediate use.

I think ignoring Panel Level in favor of Ability Level was a mistake that I and many other players made (or continue to make) playing this game. It seems like you'd want to use Armand because of his vastly superior Ability Levels, but in the end, Kurt is the one who deals more damage and is more reliable at this point in the game.

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After defeating the third set of bandits, we're just immediately thrown to the Growth Panel screen with no explanation at all...

Judy got Monger L3, which will be very helpful since we're tight on cash and the shops have expensive stuff since the market rank was maxed long ago in Ruby's scenario. But we did get to "erase" Atlas from Judy's Growth Panel, so hopefully we'll get it again soon so we can start getting her familiars in some better spots.

Armand got a Fire Familiar L2, which hopefully will encourage higher level Fire Familiars for him, and Kurt got a Punch L2, which when placed in place of his Sword panel creating a joint combo with his Throw panel, boosts his Strength up to 16. Which isn't amazing, but it's good for Kurt since Kurt's Levels are terrible.

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Afterward, Judy says that it appears the bandits ran away lol. So I guess that's what happened...

And then we see a figure rustling around in the bushes at the edge of town. Judy recognizes the shape of her brother and says, "That bulk..."

And so it looks like we're about to find another family member...

But that's where this adventure ends (actually, this entry contained two adventures, since the bandit thing counts as its own) so we'll have to see if we can find Roy next time.