Here, Kitty, Kitty... ~
Cave of the Undead

The challenge run I've decided to try is something I called the "Weapon Collector's Challenge," which revolves around not being able to repair weapons at all. The rules are as follows:

  • No blacksmith
  • No Quick-Fix/Recycle (weapon repair)
  • No axe
  • No martial arts panels

Originally I had some different rules planned, but this seemed like a good idea after discussing with someone on the GFAQs board. Originally I was going to allow blacksmith, but ban the use of weapons as base ingredients (no repairs, and no loopholing your way to essentially repairing weapons by creating a different weapon and then creating the old weapon again from that weapon XD), but I was also going to ban shopping.

Someone there claimed it may become too difficult/luck-based, and suggested this instead.

The challenge still revolves around not having any repairs available to your weapons, while requiring you to use your weapons. Weapons have durability in this game and cannot be used anymore once they break. You can repair them in a few ways, but not being able to repair them greatly changes the way you will use weapons, so I thought this will be interesting.

Not being able to use the blacksmith also means you can't create Damascus, which is created from relatively common materials, but far outclasses anything else in the game. You can buy Damascus, but it's extremely rare and expensive, plus you don't have control over what form it will come in.

Anyway, I still think a run with no shopping + no repairs would be interesting, but I liked the sound of this, too, and decided to try it first.

"No martial arts panels" is pretty much a way to keep you using weapons. Early in the game, unskilled martial arts is viable, but later it will become useless, so you'll be forced to use weapons. If you allowed martial panels, martial arts would be powerful enough you wouldn't really need weapons at all. You'd kill things a little slower, but you could still take out everything with just throws if you wanted to (even the final boss). You even have ability to stun and lower the STR of the enemy :P

"No axe" is really just there because there's a game-breaking powerful axe art. I generally never use axes because of this anyway, or if I do, I completely avoid that art. But pretty much any challenge run ever should be "no axe" or else it's not too much of a challenge. That's how powerful it is... But from my SCC and LLG, I've found that if you know what you're doing well enough, nothing in this game is all that much of challenge.

I'm also starting from the lowest market rank (not using clear data). I don't think this actually makes it any more challenging. If anything it might be easier, because you'll have better access to cheap items early in the game, instead of everything being expensive from the start. Buying lots of cheap weapons to have many on hand to use when you don't want to waste the durability on your 'good' weapons (or before you get any real decent weapons) is important. The main reason I'm starting without clear data though is because I lost my save data with my characters cleared on it :P

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So! For this challenge I chose to do Ruby's scenario. There are seven scenarios in this game, and while they all share a lot of subquests, their main games are quite different. The gameplay is of course the same, but considering the simplistic nature of this game (town menu -> board game dungeon -> repeat) they made surprising variety in the way the stories unfold and the way you progress toward the final boss. Some of the scenarios are straightforward -- there are 'story' quests, and as you complete those, the story moves on, and eventually you'll get to a final one. But about half of them don't progress so much in this way, or only progress this way sometimes.

Ruby's is more traditional, though, and you just follow mostly the story quests and you'll get to the end. At least I think -- I've actually never cleared her entire story, as it's pretty long and somewhat challenging, but I've gotten pretty far, and it seems straightforward.

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When looking through the pages of information about each character, one page is this "Designer's Notes" thing... it tells you a bit about what to expect playing that character, so you can get an idea if you want to play them. It's weird XD

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Anyway, this is Ruby! I love how her job or whatever is listed as "Fake Fortuneteller." XDD

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Ruby lives in Loch Vaan with her sister, Sapphire. They run a fortunetelling shop together, though Ruby just manages the till, really. Sapphire is the fortuneteller. Ruby's friend Hiro also stops by a lot, it seems.

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The story begins when Maximilian Burgundy (though it doesn't refer to him by name here, he's an important character in another scenario, too XD) comes to get a reading from Sapphire. One thing that's cool about the storytelling in this game is that while you do have a basic story for each character, there's a sort of... story of the entire world that kind of unfolds itself as you play through everyone's story. It's kind of hard to explain, but the more you play you'll start to realize there's more to the story than just the individual characters' story. Though the "overall story" still isn't the focus, and it doesn't have any kind of actual... completion? It's more like it builds a very complex and interesting world that can only be understood by piecing together parts from all seven scenarios. Ruby's scenario starts out with lots of little cameos of other characters so it just reminds me of this.

I used to think Daddy Burgundy was so hot???? But now he's kinda whatever. I still like his butler, though. I don't think we'll see him in this story, however.

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Anyway, Sapphire gets a very... strange reading. She just falls over and says "death." Outside of battle and the special 3D cutscenes, nothing is animated in this game, so she is just standing one second and there's a thud sound and she's just ON THE GROUND and it's so hilarious XDDD My friend X and I used to joke about this and just say "DEATH" and fall over as fast as we could XD or rather I fell down at least XD

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After this, Sapphire is pretty much unwell, and can no longer do her readings. But Ruby and her sister still need money to live on, so...

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Ruby decides to take over the readings :P

Basically, she just starts telling people nice things or giving them advice, which works for most of the customers.

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But some of them are not so easy. This old lady comes in because her cat is missing. So Ruby tells her the cat will come back... then decides to go out that night to find the cat and return it! She tells Hiro it will be okay as long as they find the cat and he says, "What the heck?! That's not fortunetelling!" and for some reason I think this is the funniest thing XD

This whole little intro to Ruby's first adventure is my favorite thing for some reason XD I just think it's so cute and funny. She's just gonna go find the cat... it's too funny to me XDD

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So, this is what most of the game looks like. This is also why most people hate this game XD There is a graphical glitch in the emulator that makes those black lines and breaks up the map with lines between the spaces (that's not shown here though) and it sucks, but it doesn't make the game any less playable. The thing is, the emulator used to not do this???? But the newer version of it does and no matter what I do, I can't seem to get it to display properly anymore. (NOTE: I got it back to normal, but that won't show up until Armic's scenario, so please excute the glitchy graphics for a while~)

The game is heavily inspired by tabletop RPGs and old PC RPGs. You basically have this little figurine of your main character, and you move it around this board-game-like map. You can see the ????s on there; those are the spaces you can move to (spaces you've been will have names). You push the stick in that direction, and your token will hop to that space on the map. Each space is illustrated with these beautiful paintings in the corner. They are SUPER detailed but sadly the PS2 can't output that great of resolution and they're kind of small so a lot of that detail is lost :(

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As you move around, you'll get random information about the location, and other painted sprites will show up, like this ... water. If you've ever played a text adventure game, this game is kind of like that without the text. Instead of typing "Go north" you push the stick north. And then you can look at all the objects in the room, and then apply commands to them... Like you press "Skill" on the menu, and then you can select different targets, and what command you want to use on it.

So let's say you step onto a space on the map, and a character in your party happens to notice a treasure chest on that spot. You click "Skill" and it will open up your party's skills menu. You can switch between party members to choose skills from your whole party, as well as switch between targets (everything on that space, like monsters, treasures, traps, etc.) So you highlight the treasure chest as your target, and highlight a character with a skill like locksmith or something, and then choose that skill... and that character will use lockpicking on the chest... It sounds a bit convoluted and it indeed is. Once you get used to it, it becomes second-nature, but before you understand how it works, it's just a giant mess of menus with confusing controls, and usually what you want to do will involve manipulating series of menus and submenus each which seems to control differently than the last. It's VERY poorly designed UI. But once you get used to it, it's at least usable. It just takes a lot of learning, and really it should have been designed completely differently.

For an example of how obnoxious it can be, the solution to this adventure is to find a key laying around in here, and then use it on the locked door at the back (Kitty is hiding in there). There's only like... one monster roaming around, and the map is not that big, but a lot of players never figure out how to get past this point if they choose Ruby as their first character.

Basically, when you step on the map space where the key is, a key will pop up on the screen and it will say "Rusty Key." Then the key will go away. A lot of people think this means they picked up the key. Basically, the way this game's mechanics work, is whenever you step on a space, anything your characters see is displayed, in the same way in a text adventure game, when you go to a new room, you get a description of everything you can see. The game is just telling you there's a rusty key on the ground.

To pick up the key, you open the "skills" menu, highlight the key (left/right change targets) highlight a character to pick it up (L1/R1 change characters) and then in chosen character's menu, use up/down to navigate to "Action" and click on "Action." This will perform basic action on the highlighted object by that character... so if I do this with Ruby, Ruby will perform "action" on the key, which means picking it up. "Action" can mean different things depending on the target... it picks up items like keys or whatever laying around... it attempts to open treasure boxes... it challenges monsters to a fight... it attempts to open doors... it pulls levers and pushes buttons... it triggers traps (hurting you XD), etc. Just whatever is considered the "basic action" relevant to that target, it will do it lol. You have no idea what the basic action is though :P But basically it's whatever you'd expect would happen in another game if you went up to the object and pressed the action button, so I guess it makes sense, but... putting it in this weird multi-functional menu like this makes it way more confusing than it needs to be.

Anyway, I picked up the key (it's on like... the spot right next to you when you start XD) and let's look at the characters' starting status :P

But let's look at our characters before we go getting into battles.

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Here is Ruby's "Makings." Yay, more convoluted things!! Actually, this isn't so confusing. "Making" is just a base multiplier for their stats. The little icons were kanzi in the original, so they were easier to understand. But the game's manual actually tells you what all the little symbols mean :P

Without going into how characters grow and build, I'll just go over what these stats are. The five Elementals (water, fire, earth, metal, wood) are for magic and increase the power of that element. Pretty simple. Each character's elements are actually in different positions, which is kinda neat.

The five Abilities are Strength (flexed arm), Skill (sword), Spirit (heart), Magic (staff), and Endurance (fist). Endurance and Spirit are solely for resisting status effects (physical and mental, respectively). Strength is your ability to deal HP damage. Skill is your ability to deal LP damage. Skill and Strength also affect your proficiency with different types of weapons. Magic is general strength of magic. They're actually very simple for as complex as this game is...

HP in this game acts as a sort of 'buffer' or 'shield' for LP. When your LP is gone, you die. But HP can go to 0 and you're fine. But the lower your HP, the greater risk for losing LP. You can't recover LP except by finishing an adventure/map, or through very rare herbs that you can only get once per game. Charas don't permadie but dying is a huge setback, so you don't want to die.

You also have to pay attention to how you fight enemies, because you need to concentrate on lowering HP first, then trying to deal LP damage later. HP damage is more fixed/reliable, while LP damage is based on a bit of chance. By having high Skill and lowering the enemy's HP, you can guarantee LP damage. But you have to know what you're doing.

Anyway, Ruby has Skill Making of 1. This is terrible. It's the absolute minimum Making an Ability Level can have. The highest you can have is 5. Elemental Makings, though, range from 0 to 4 instead. I don't know why.

Basically this just means Ruby's Skill Level will never be able to get very high. Her magic is good and fire is good but they compete for space on the panel (I'll talk about this later, I guess) so overall she's not that amazing at anything. A strength of 3 is not bad though.

But it's okay, because characters can excel at things outside of battle, since you need exploration skills, too. Plus, if your main character dies, you get instant game over, so it's better to not have them as a critical part of your battle party. So I'll probably make her into a healer/support type character since your Levels are not too important for that.

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Hiro, on the other hand, is surprisingly tough in a fight, despite being essentially just the 'nerdy next door kid.' Strength Making of 4 is very nice, plus Skill Making is 3!! Also, Spirit and Endurance are good, so he can hold up well.

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To see your characters' abilities, you have to go to "magic tablets." Yeah, I have no idea... Whoever designed this UI really had no idea what they were doing. Anyway, neither Hiro nor Ruby start with very useful panel abilities for battle...

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Here's another look at the map with more of it filled in. Places you haven't been are invisible, and 'entrances' to them will just be ????s, so when you start an adventure in a place you haven't been, you'll just see a tiny little blob of map and some ????s and it's kinda ugly and confusing XD

Another part of the map is the 'color' of the spaces. When you push the stick in the direction of a space, it will light up, and then name of the space will be a different color. This indicates the number of monsters you can see on that space. Blue means no monsters, yellow means less monsters than party members you have with you, and red means same number or more monsters than you have party members. But if you hold the stick too long you'll move, so you have to like... flick the stick at the spaces quickly to check the color XD Maybe they should have done that differently, too? But it's not too hard to do so it's not so bad.

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When I got to the end of the adventure (unlock the door and find cat), these monsters appeared. It's usually always just the undead!! I've never seen a slime with it?! Slimes can be quite difficult to fight early on, and since I have pretty much nothing at this point, and they resist a lot of attacks...

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I decided to run away. I've never picked that before XD It just lets you win the adventure without fighting, though :D Yay! You don't get EXP or anything for fighting, so it's not too big of a deal to skip this fight. Fighting is important but in other ways. I won't really go into it here because it's a bit advanced.

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At the end of an adventure, your characters grow. This is the only time they grow. You get four random abilities in the form of "Skill Panels" for each character (you can influence the panels, but you can't guarantee them). Ruby got two martial arts panels (which I banned), a map panel, and a Monger panel. From each character's four random panels, you can choose one to give to them. Then you get to place it on their Growth Panel, which is that panel board that has seven spaces (the one where it showed the Makings and stuff), and where you place it will affect your stats. I'll talk about that in more detail later, I think.

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Ruby and Hiro's interactions are great :)

Anyway, Ruby decides to keep up her fake fortunetelling with newfound confidence.

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Then this handsome fellow comes in and says he's looking for a knife he lost long ago. Ruby tells him where to find it... and of course, sets out to go put the knife in that spot before he can get there, making Hiro come with her again.

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So, we head off to the Cave of the Undead to plant the knife. On this one space, you get a little event where a lot of undeads come out... It says you can't go further, but then asks you if you want to try to go further (?????)

I always just say "No" because you only have Ruby and Hiro at this point and like... that seems kind of dangerous for them???


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... There's so many 8))));;;

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I did use my weapons a bit, just to ensure I could take one out per round.

Battle is pretty interesting in the game, too. You get five actions per round of combat, which you can distribute to your party members how you wish. You can have one person do all the actions, or split them up however you want. The order you select the actions determines the order everyone stands on the field. Characters you don't use in that round will hop away from the battlefield to rest, regaining some HP.

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I managed to even take out the last two together in the final round (it's easier to fight less enemies because they get fewer attacks per round, and you have a better chance of being able to chain your actions together into combos).

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You get absolutely nothing for winning :,)

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Shorty after placing the knife, looks who shows up to claim it. Looks like Ruby got busted XD Well, she's not sure if he actually saw her place it. Either way, an undead pops out, and now Iskandar is here to help you fight, so it's okay that I lost all that LP against the undeads, because he's strong and bulky and taking out this undead is not too hard with him to help :)

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I caught Ruby mid-jump XDDD The battle sprites have TONS of hand-drawn frames, even though they're not fluidly animated? It's hard to explain. But they are really cool looking and I REALLY love them.

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At the end of battles you have chance to 'unleash' abilities on your equipment. Basically all equipment has so many traits, but some can be hidden, and at end of battle you'll bring those out. Warning Shot is a line of skills that do low damage but can inflict status effects. Debuffs and stuff are VERY VERY VERY useful in this game.

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Ruby got a Staff panel! And two more Martial panels wtf -_- Here you can see how placing the panel can affect stats... Basically, the stat it's adjacent to on the Growth Panel will get changed... so you see on this far right spot, it's close enough to the Skill, Spirit, Water, and Wood icons so that placing a panel there will change those stats.

This isn't a permanent boost to the stats, but rather it is a recalculation. Each Skill Panel (in this case, Staff LV1) has its own 'base' modifiers (one for Abilities and one for Elementals), each of the seven spots on the board has a rate at which it affects the stats (based on how close they are to them), and then of course you have your Makings which I talked about before. So it pretty much just multiplies these things together and determines how it will change your stat.

So if you want to get the best stat, you want to put something that raises that stat high as close as you can get it to that thing. But the Makings are very important so even if you do optimal placement, it's not going to go that high even with good panels in the right place if you have a poor Making.

It sounds complicated but you really don't have to think about the intricacies of it while playing. Just put things near the stat you want to boost by putting it near the icon. Certain things boost it better, and you can just figure this out through experimenting.

You can also get bonuses by creating patterns with panels that have the same picture on them. For example, all three martial arts panels (punch, kick, and throw) have pictures of fists. If you put them in certain patterns (two touching each other around the outside of the board, three in a line cutting through the center of the board, or three corners not touching in a 'triangle' from each other), you can get a bonus to a certain stat. The picture is what determines it. So a pattern combo bonus thing from fist pictures will give you +STR and +END. The type of pattern determines how much bonus you get (joint/two on the sides is worth a little, triangle is worth a good bit, and line is worth the most) There are a bunch of these and it's mostly trial and error to figure out what does what. There's only a couple useful and viable ones anyway though.

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The next day, Iskandar shows up at the shop :P

He asks to speak to a real fortuneteller and returns the knife to Ruby. Hiro comes over and they think Sapphire must be getting chewed out for Ruby's lie, because they talk for a long time.

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But Sapphire comes out and says she's leaving with Iskandar. Ruby asks if she can come, and Sapphire has no objection. Hiro says he can't go because he still has obligations like his chores at home and stuff. But once you get on the road, Hiro shows up and says he's coming :P His excuse is that he is worried about Sapphire.

And that's where we'll stop for today. Next time, we'll head out on the road with Iskandar and begin our grand journey...