First I decided to replay Final Fantasy Tactics: War of the Lions, because hey, why not?
Then I decided to try a challenge run, because my previous playthrough left me with a great respect for the game, and I was confident I was better equipped to solve my way through it.
Then I decided to do an SCC (Straight Character Challenge) because… uh… I’m not really aware of how else to do a challenge run in FFT, outside of Solo Ramza (which seemed beyond my ken) or the typical Lowball Run (which sounded frustrating and boring).
Then I decided to play the game with Chemists, because I figured their survivability and low damage output would create interesting challenges based on positioning and careful enemy observation without creating situations where one single mistake would ruin an entire battle. (And also because I didn’t want to grind job levels at the start of the game to unlock anything else.) (And also because they eventually get guns.)
Then I decided to name my Chemists after cartoon characters because I have done pretty much nothing at all with my life this past month except watch cartoons.
Then I decided to make this goofy banner graphic:
And then I played through the first chapter of FFT. (Well, I played the first chapter then made the graphic. Details, details.)
There is a lot of documentation out there about these types of challenge runs. I am not exactly breaking new ground here. However, it was important to me that I solve the game on my own, so I decided not to read any FAQs or consult any FFT fanboys during my quest. This also means I decided to ignore the “official” rules for SCC, which involves notes about what you’re allowed to do with guest characters and how much you can powerlevel. The rules I’m following are much simpler:
- As early as possible, change Ramza and four generics into Chemists, and leave them there for the entire game.
- None of the Chemists are allowed to equip abilities from any other class. (Not that they should have any in the first place!)
- Do not use guest characters unless forced to do so.
- Do not modify guest characters in any way, except to take their equipment.
- Attempt each battle right away, and only resort to grinding or farming when there is no other solution.
And thus started the grand adventures of McGinnis Beoulve.
So the first thing that happens in FFT is a couple of easy story battles you have to fight with characters you will never care about. McGinnis was forced to be a Squire for these fights, so I just plowed through them and didn’t pay much attention to what my starting generics were doing. I was planning on dumping them anyway.
This wouldn’t have been necessary if I could have just renamed them. Why can’t you rename your generics in FFT? I don’t know. So I was off to a pretty bad start: there was just enough money in my initial war chest, combined with non-Chemist equipment to strip and sell, to hire two male and two female recruits. (Men cost 1500 gil, and women cost 1400, because women are less valuable. Obviously.)
And thus was McGinnis joined by his merry band of Chemist buddies: Sokka, Antoine, Buttercup and Scootaloo. They had clothes and butterknives and a couple Potions, but not much else. (Buttercup has the highest Bravery, and is therefore the toughest fighter.)
The first few battles of Chapter One were eye-opening. I knew that Chemists were weak, but I did not know how weak. Delita, my guest Squire, was rocking out all over the place compared to the plink-y damage McGinnis and his companions were dishing out with their knives. And they were soon joined by Argath, himself a Squire, and for a while I was afraid my entire Chapter One strategy was going to involve watching Delita and Argath kill things while I chucked Potions at them.
Fortunately, we got our asses handed to us in the Dorter Slums, which disabused any such notions. I was going to have to figure out how to use my Chemists to kill things, and at this point of the game that meant I was going to have to grind up some money. I buckled myself in for some random encounters and headed for Mandalia Plains.
Actually, this wasn’t unexpected. The Dorter Slums fight is pretty notoriously difficult, and in many ways is a strong wake-up call. It’s the first time FFT throws magic-users at you, and it starts you off in a prime position for the Archers up on the high ground to pick you off. Even in a normal game this is a fight where a little preparation can go a long way.
Mandalia Plains quickly paid for four Mythril Knives plus enough JP for everyone to learn Auto-Potion, but it also taught me something important about how to fight Chocobos. In FFT, Chocobos are annoying to fight because they have lots of HP, can move halfway across the map, and can cure themselves. There is a huge difference between killing a Chocobo and almost killing a Chocobo, because the damn thing can retreat to a place where you can’t reach it and refill its life. Then it can spend the rest of the battle behind enemy lines, stepping forward to heal any other monsters you happen to be attacking.
What I had to do, then, was learn how to bait a monster to a square next to one of my Chemists, where three others could quickly step in and surround it. This was the only reliable way to kill Chocobos, and I realized it was going to be necessary for certain human opponents later on. Chemists, it turns out, are most effective when they work as a pack. They can’t kill anything individually, but if they move and attack together they can get the job done. They also wanted to stay within Potion-throwing range of one another (four squares with line-of-sight), so the spread-and-conquer tactics that served me so well on my previous playthrough had to be discarded.
This was a big step up for me, because previously I had always placed (perhaps unwarranted) importance on a character’s Move stat. Being able to take an extra step means a character has broader options for positioning and targeting — very important if you’re using an Archer, a Monk or a Ninja. But when you have a whole team of guys who need to work together, Move is much less valuable. So after dispatching my first Chocobo using bait-and-crowd tactics, I ditched everyone’s Battle Boots (+1 Move) in favor of Shoulder Capes (+10 Evasion). I figured the dodged blows afforded by my cloaks would add up over time and conserve a lot of Potions.
Successfully toppling Dorter and the two Black Mages it throws at you taught me another valuable lesson: while the Chemists need to move as a group, they should not stand so close to each other that they can be targeted by magical splash damage. This was a lesson I had already learned, of course, but I had to be more mindful of it now that my characters were not going to be spread as far apart as I was accustomed. Chemists need to stand withing four squares of each other (so they can throw Potions), but not right next to each other, and not diagonal to each other, either.
Thus prepared, Dorter went swimmingly and so did the subsequent fights where McGinnis was chasing the Corpse Brigade around the map. Delita and Argath quickly fell into irrelevance, and I started ignoring their contributions entirely. For a while my Chemists were absolutely unstoppable; Auto-Potion restored 30 damage in response to any attack, so any attack that couldn’t deal at least 30 damage was wasted effort on the part of my enemies. And there is precious little in the first chapter of FFT that can deal more than 30 damage.
I didn’t hit a wall until the fight with Wiegraf on the Favoham Windflats. This fight really conspired to test my resolve due to three major disadvantages. First, Delita was a totally underpowered idiot who, on his very first move, would rush forward and get himself killed. Because he was a compulsory guest character, one of the Chemists was going to have to sit the bench. Second, the battle had a Chocobo in it who, left unchecked, would run around the field healing all the bad guys faster than I could possibly damage them. And third, Weigraf himself had access to magical sword attacks which dealt upwards of 54 damage. On those occassions where Auto-Potion didn’t trigger, that meant wasting two Chemist turns healing from one of Wiegraf’s attacks.
I gave Delita up for dead on my first dozen or so attempts. He would always step forward and talk some shit to Wiegraf, who would hit him with his ice sword attack. Then the Chocobo would race forward and finish the job. Getting this Chocobo cornered was obviously the first thing that had to be done, but I couldn’t be too aggressive with it or it would retreat and heal itself. And I couldn’t just wait around forever trying to bait it into the exact perfect position, because that would give Wiegraf a chance to close the distance and start pulverizing me. I kept saying to myself, “If only I had my fifth Chemist…”
The solution turned out to be to revive Delita. By the time I got my first turn Weigraf was still standing up on a hill (close enough to hit Delita with his ice sword), and the Chocobo was standing on the square next to Delita (because all it has to attack with is a beak). At this point the Chocobo wants to move forward and attack one of my Chemists, and Wiegraf wants to move within ice sword range. What I found I could do, though, was wait until after the Chocobo came to me, then hit Delita with a Phoenix Down. Now that he was a valid target again, Wiegraf would pick on him instead of me. This bought me the round I needed to encircle the Chocobo and stab it to death.
I don’t know if Wiegraf is programmed to always prioritize Delita as a target, or what, but at the expense of a couple Phoenix Downs I was able to remove all of Wiegraf’s melee support by using Delita as a smokescreen. Once I got Wiegraf alone it was just a matter of making sure he couldn’t hit two Chemists at once with his ice sword.
The final fight was Ziekden Fortress, and I was really worried about this one. Once again, Delita was taking up the spot of one of my much more useful Chemists. However, I actually had a pretty easy time of it except for one major snag. The boss in this fight was Argath (that loser), and he brought a couple tough Knights and Black Mages to the party.
Well, it turns out Black Mages are stupid. One of them knew Fira, which really hurts this early in the game, but has some of the bite taken out of it thanks to Auto-Potion. I had McGinnis walk into Fira range, wait for the Black Mage to start casting it on him, and then move next to one of the Knights and let Fira kill him. I actually managed to take out one of the Black Mages this way, too. The whole time Scootaloo was standing a few squares away, far outside of Fira range, chucking Potions when she needed to. The other Knight wasn’t an issue because Sokka had baited him around the corner of the fortress. While McGinnis and the others took care of the bulk of the fight over the long course of many rounds, Sokka diligently stabbed away all 140-ish HPs of that second Knight, 12 damage at a time.
Right. One major snag, then: Argath had Auto-Potion. And a shield.
The shield meant Argath would sometimes evade a Chemist’s attack entirely. They were only capable of about 16-24 damage per stab as it was, which meant a lot of stabs to get the job done. Whenever his Auto-Potion triggered it healed whatever damage I had done twice over. With four Chemists surrounding him attacking at every opportunity, I watched in horror as his HP filled back up to its maximum multiple times over the course of the fight.
I almost reloaded the fight to see if the RNG would select another Reaction Ability for Argath, but instead I stuck it out. I had gone in with fifty Potions, and Argath had come packing Monk abilities like Cyclone which could hit multiple Chemists. I knew he would eventually run me out of supplies, but I was curious to see just how long that would take. Lo and behold, the planets aligned just as I used up my last Potion, and McGinnis landed a critical hit which finally took Argath down for good.
So ended chapter one.
…of course, you go into the first real fight of chapter two without any opportunity to resupply, so I had to figure out how to win it without any Potions whatsoever. This is where my “let the guest characters do their thing” guideline came in super handy; it turns out Agrias and Gaffgarion are war machines who literally give not half a crap what you do, because they will just murder everything with their magic swords. I “won” that fight by moving all my Chemists out of range of the enemy Archers and waiting for the victory bells to chime.
Nine hours logged, and now McGinnis and his cartoon Chemists are off hunting for Princess Ovelia. Thank you for reading about their exploits thus far.