OK, so this time we're actually able to run around and do things we want to do. So let's talk a bit about Carrier Missions!
I don't remember how much I've said about these so far, so I'll just start from the beginning. Ventus belongs to the Carrier Guild, so he's the only character that can actually go into the Guild buildings that are in every city. And, no, when you recruit him in Kurt's scenario, you still can't go in. And even though Nuage is a carrier, you can't go in just from having him in the party, either. Though that would have been kind of cool.
Carrier Missions basically serve as unlimited (albeit simple) subadventures that also have a little cash payout at the end. When you enter a Guild you can request work (or if you're already on a job, you can drop off your delivery or check on your order), which will bring up a menu of items that need transport. You can pick one of them, and then you'll do one of those infamous traveling adventures where you just walk on the map from one place to another.
Depending on how difficult the job is, you'll earn carrier points at the end of a mission along with your payment. If you get enough points, your Carrier Rank will rise and you'll get more stars in the bottom left corner of the screen. The higher your Carrier Rank, the more difficult missions you can take on. Missions have difficulties and, from what I'm assuming based on the ones I haven't been able to do so far at Rank 2, the maximum difficulty you can take on is ten times the number of stars you have.
I don't know if having a higher Carrier Rank also makes more difficult missions appear in general, but I would hope so, since everything hovers around these low levels except for very rarely seeing something in the low 20's.
From what I've gathered seeing random info while I look up other stuff while working on The Strelitzia Inn, it seems like the items that are available to take from each city go in some kind of rotation (with each city having its own rotation) and the items available determine the general difficulty and payout.
One thing that's easy to notice just from playing is that by leaving a city and coming back, the destinations will be re-randomized. Which item you take and the general difficulty level and payout will be around the same amount, but you'll get different cities to go to.
This is nice because Ventus's main way of opening up the world and unraveling his story revolves around taking Carrier Missions to various places. Instead of like other characters unlocking locations once they're required to go there in their stories, Ventus rather unlocks locations by traveling there on his own by means of a Carrier Mission, and then discovers the story as he happens across events around the world.
Here's a town map showing where everything is. The roads aren't straight lines in the game, but the lines on the map just show that there is a road between the two places that you can embark on during traveling adventures. Our adventure is taking us from Zomar to Serin. The game will automatically take the shortest route (though there's often only one route) so we'll first walk to Longshank. At the end of each traveling adventure, when we arrive at the next town, we get to develop the Growth Panel and everything, so every single town route is a separate adventure. While a Carrier Mission is active, though, we can't visit the world map or any other towns except the one we're in at the time.
After arriving in Longshank, the next destination on the way is Gadeira. Travel between any of the three Longshank, Gadeira, and Vaftom is by boat, so we just take the boat. No, we don't have to go through the whole Necro Boat adventure; we just arrive there immediately after seeing the boat picture and hearing some sounds.
You can even, if you're really desperate, go to each of the three cities and keep taking Carrier Missions that go to one of the others to continue completing missions over and over without having to embark on any adventure. You'll get 0 points toward your Carrier Rank, but you will at least get your small payment as reward for the delivery, which is nice when there's something in a shop that you can't stand to miss out on but don't have enough money.
Making it to Gadeira allows us to use the blacksmith there, which is nice, too. There are blacksmiths in Longshank and Wanda, too, of course, but the available items to work on are different (with Longshank's being Mythe Works, which only gains ability to work on more things in Mythe's scenario anyway) and while on a Carrier Mission, we can't visit the other places if we want, anyway. So it can be good to think about what towns you'll have to cross through and know if you're going to get to stop by a smith or anything while you're stuck in a mission.
From Gadeira to Solophero, one part of the road we get to walk on is this coastal highroad, which hardly ever appears in the game. I think the only other time we get to take this path is during Judy's "March to the Sea" story adventure. The scenery is pretty unique and there are annoyingly a lot of Aquans, but it's fun to get to travel along this path. The scenery is mostly reused for Spirit Cape, where we do the Tribal Chief's Trials subadventure, but there's not a lot of time to enjoy that with the short turn limit.
After arriving in Solophero, there's only one more road to take to get to Serin. But if you remember, the road to Serin from Solophero is quite dangerous...
Because it's the Vale of Swords!
As always, we try to cross the bridge, but some monsters screw that up, and then we get stuck forced to cross the rope, which snaps and half of the party plummets to the bottom of the Vale and has to climb back out with the help of the party who stayed above.
In our case, Ventus and Tiffon were the ones who made it across the rope, while Vearst and Musol fell into the abyss below.
This is a pretty rough place to go to this early in the game. In fact, it's possible to come straight here before ever even meeting Vearst or anyone and have to do the whole thing with only Vent and Tiff with only being able to develop your Growth Panel a couple times... which is pretty much near impossible.
But I didn't come here on accident -- I specifically wanted to go to Serin not because there's anything of particular interest in the town, but because I wanted to pass through the Vale myself, even if the party is pretty wimpy right now.
Because Daddy is here :)
If you remember, he fell off the bridge while defending Judy, Kurt, and Armand at the beginning of Judy's scenario. Ventus's crew running into him here is kind of like an 'alternate scenario' version of that scene, I guess. Instead of meeting back up with Judy and everyone at home, he ends up traveling with Ventus!
But not yet. We just see him pass by, and we still gotta get out of this place alone without his help, sadly.
And, hoo boy, was it rough! Not long after wandering around in the bottom of the Vale, Vearst and Musol were stuck with just 1 LP each. With early-game equipment and a lack of Life Protection, their high LPs still got depleted quickly. Fortunately, you can't lose your last LP to a trap, even if it hits you when you have 0 HP. If you have 0 HP and 1 LP, the trap will just... do nothing. I guess in this universe people are only able to die in battle or something? Then why does Mordeus make such a big deal about not dying to traps...? I mean, I guess they're not dying when they run out of LP, they're just being "knocked out" but I still think a giant boulder falling on your head is something that should be able to knock you out, but... hey, what do I know? 8)
Even though we were almost out, this game is endlessly cruel, and threw a Parahunter at us. These things can deal LP damage pretty easily and with 2 LP themselves can be a little obnoxious to take down for weaklings like Vearst who aren't good at dealing LP damage at all. At least he had the Dagger he came equipped with, which is the best weapon for dealing LP damage if you're not proficient at anything.
Oh, and these things can blind the party members by pecking out their eyes, which only makes it that much harder to damage them. With a full party these things are a pushover, but this early in the game with just Vearst and Musol, I was mortified...
And rightfully so. Even though Ventus and Tiffon are the only story-relevant characters and could continue on with the rest of the game without these two big guys down here, having the available party fall in battle still results in a Game Over...
And like the early-game showdown with Tagut in Ruby's scenario, we were so close, so I felt like there was no choice but to keep trying until we could make it!
This time, though, we don't get to have any cool epic ending with Grace standing along against the Demon King and defeating him with only her hidden knife. Our victory story this time will just be "the giant Vearst and Musol didn't happen to die to a cute critter."
It took a couple tries, but the two lugs finally made it through. There was no real trouble with Ventus and Tiffon up top, but for some reason we kept getting bombarded with enemy after enemy and enemies in hoards and stuff in the bottom.
When we're leaving the Vale, we find a confused Daddy wandering around. Ventus realizes he must have lost his memory or something because he has no idea idea what is going on. The only thing the poor guy can come up with is that he knows he's "a Daddy," and thinks maybe Vent might be his kid.
Taking pity on the poor father, the group feels we can't just leave him alone out here and we bring him along on our adventures to go do... other equally dangerous things in different locations.
And even though Tommy didn't do anything on the adventure except join on the last space before the Growth Panel screen, we still get to develop him anyway! And if you remember from Judy's scenario, he starts off pretty strong to begin with and even comes with a gun. So we at least get a really great character for our team (in many ways -- raw power, potential power, and sex appeal!) early on for our troubles crossing the Vale.
We hand over our delivery and get paid in Serin, and we're able to go back to the world map again. We find a Silver Mail and a Silver Helm in the shops, which is perfect for Vearst, and we're able to afford it with a little bit of selling stuff we found in chests during our travels.
Thomas isn't the only character you can stumble upon by wandering around the world with Ventus, so I took a short mission to Loch Vaan to pick up another character before going on with the story, because I'd really like to get the party as full as possible. Then when I got there, I realized I wouldn't even have room in the party for her once we recruit all the more story-relevant characters (and you know I'm keeping Daddy in the party, too) so we just leave Ruby behind. But you can recruit her by taking a Carrier Mission that leaves from Loch Vaan. It's just a simple "Hey, can I come?" "OK" kind of deal, so it's not really like we're missing out on anything interesting.
And with that out of the way, we'll resume Ventus's storyline in the next episode!