Mega Man 11

Mega Man 11 is a pretty excellent game, and I enjoy it muchly. But that’s actually a pretty loaded statement that’s gonna take at least one entire blog post to unpack. I’ll try to get the summary out of the way first before I get in my Guts Dozer and deep-dive.

If you like classic Mega Man games, you will almost certainly like Mega Man 11. The stages, boss fights, and weapons are all rock solid, and the game is bereft of the silly cruft that infected the series and all of its spin-offs. It’s oldschool Jump’n’Shoot Mans with HD graphics.

So that’s probably all most consumers need to know, but I feel like there’s considerably more going on here than just “they made an oldschool Mega Man and it’s good”. There’s five different angles I’ve been considering the game from, as I go through it again and again. The first, obviously, is what the game’s like in a vacuum. All other things being equal, is Mega Man 11 a good game? Well, I’ve already said it was. So that’s that done.

How is it as a sequel? Mega Man 10 is eight years old now — which means I’m like seventy billion years old — and I was real lukewarm on it. (Here are my thoughts on it from back when the game was new.) Mega Man 10 attempted to stir up the core formula by ramping up the boss fights. Whereas before you could generally just blast away with the proper weapon to kill any robot master, Mega Man 10 forces you to learn the fights whether you’re using the weakness or not. Some people liked this, I mostly didn’t, but it seems like Mega Man 9 ended up being the game from that era that everyone fondly remembers. The experiment was mostly worth trying, for people who love learning tough boss fights, but it broke something fundamental.

The first thing MM11 does is scutters the borked experiment, and tries something new. As well a sequel should. We’re back to absolutely demolishing robot masters if you come packing the proper equipment… for the most part. It’s not quite back to the MM6 days of walking in, pressing the fire button seven times, and clocking out. But it’s close.

The new thing is the Double Gear system. In addition to his charge shot and barrel full of robot master weapons, Mega Man has two new buttons: a Power Gear which charges up his weapons (in a different sense than his usual charge shot, I mean), and a Speed Gear which slows down time. He has a meter that fills while either gear is activated, and if you let it fill up entirely it overheats, shorting the system out and putting it offline for a little while. With some practice and good resource management, you’ll always have the gear you need when you need it.

The Power Gear works a bit like X’s buster upgrades in Mega Man X: fire a robot master weapon while your Power Gear is active, and you get a bigger, badder version of that weapon. This is a fun and flashy new toy, but it mostly has the same problem as X does: unequipped, it’s redundant with a system where you can already charge your shot anyway. And with a weapon, it generally just splits the weapon into more and less useful versions. Some weapons are better uncharged, some are better charged, and there aren’t a lot of interesting decision points here. In practice, the Power Gear mainly just adds two button presses to each shot; instead of equipping the Block Dropper and pressing fire, you press L2, then fire, then L2 again, so your Power Gear is active during the shot but isn’t running idle afterwards.

The Speed Gear is more interesting. Slowing or stopping time is not a new concept in Mega Man, but in the past it’s always been jankily tied to a weapon meter. At first it stopped time for as long as you had meter, meaning it was always empty when you were done with it; mostly only useful in the discrete stage areas it was designed for. Later they made each use shorter, but use less energy, but this didn’t work that well either, since a more universally-useful time weapon meant more enemies specifically made immune to it. In other iterations the time property was a charged effect on an otherwise normal weapon, but that mostly just turns it into the Purple Shot you use only on monsters weak to Purple.

The solution all along, it turns out, was twofold: it works because it is 1) divorced from a weapon meter, and 2) usable in conjunction with other weapons. It works best in short bursts, in situations where you need to pay close attention to precise positioning, or to squeeze in more shots of whatever weapon you’re using. It’s useful, it feels good to use, and it’s something which, six sequels from now, will make Mega Man 11 unique.

Everything up to and including the final boss is susceptible to the Speed Gear, but that’s not the praise it sounds like. A functionally-infinite time-slowing button has its cost, and the cost is the game designers saying, “Since we have this new Time Button, we can design some enemy attacks to be obnoxiously fast and impossible to dodge!” You’ll know which attacks these are, too, because the boss will flash blue just before they use them. This is consistent; a blue flash means “Speed Gear activated” for both Mega Man and his enemies (and a red one means “Power Gear activated”). My problem here is that the solution is always the same; use Speed Gear. You don’t get the fun of learning to interact with an interesting dodge pattern, because the attacks are too fast to dodge with human reflexes, and Speed Gear makes them too slow to be interesting.

So the Double Gear system mostly works, with only a few niggles. The important thing is, as a sequel, MM11 is moving the series forward without getting bogged down in 30 years of failed ideas. That’s mostly what I want from a series that only offers slight iterations on a core formula: I want new toys to play with, but I don’t want these toys to make the series unrecognizable.

How is it as a classic Mega Man game? This series is so old and stupid that “classic” has two meanings. On one hand it means just the original Mega Man games, of which MM11 is the newest installment. But in another sense it means just the earliest of those games, before the experiments and cruft started to set in. Most people would consider the first five games to be “classic classic” Mega Man, and that’s how I’m using the term.

After those first five games, which were mostly largely the same, the series spent a long, long time scrabbling around trying to find somewhere solid to build. The greater Mega Man series is a weird and confusing place where, in the deepest darkest depths, you’re messing around with equipment, power-ups, upgrades to power-ups, and something called cyber-elves (??). It wasn’t pretty.

And it wasn’t really Capcom’s fault. The big criticism back in the 90s was that every Mega Man game was just the same; it’s no wonder they started mixing in power suits and treasure hunting and motorcycles and leveling systems and Duff McWhalen knows what else. Mega Man 9’s job, back in the day, was to go all the way back to the last installment that got unanimous praise — Mega Man 2 — and just make that again.

That’s similar to the situation MM11 found itself in. Capcom made the game people wanted, then a sequel to that game that people only sorta wanted, then eight years’ of radio silence. MM9 was a trick that was only going to work once, though; “return to form” doesn’t really make sense if the previous return was only two installments ago.

Instead of just being a no-frills classic Mega Man game, MM11 is an HD version of a no-frills classic Mega Man game. The levels are bright and beautiful and in glorious widescreen, but they’re built with simple tiles and blocks. The animations are crisp and fluid, but not over-drawn. Many of the stages have gimmicks, but the gimmicks always serve to accentuate the jump’n’shoot, rather than interrupt it.

In general, I wouldn’t be surprised to learn the design doc for MM11 started with, “First, design an NES game. Then, make it HD.” A de-make of this game would feel more or less at home in 1994, but the HD version we ended up with feels right in line with modern platformers like Shovel Knight or Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon.

How is it as a modern Mega Man game? And yeah, because of the aformentioned “old and stupid” I’m using “modern” to mean everything from MM6 onward. Throughout those awkward middle installments, the primary focus of the series shifted from solid, predictable run’n’gun to blatant gimmickry. MM6 started the trend with its power suits. MM7 added intro and mid-way stages, and only gave you four robot masters at a time. The idea, it seems, was to give a bit more of a difficulty curve; you take on the back half of the stages with the guaranteed weapons from the front half. By MM8 most of the core gameplay elements were completely changed, and most of the stages had vehicle sections or puzzle elements or forced weapon sections.

This was around the time Capcom got away from the classic series and started focusing more on cyber-elves.

While Mega Man 11 takes most of its cues from earlier games, polished in simpler times, I did note that a lot of its stage elements seem to come from those troubled middle children. Tundra Man’s stage, an ice covered excavation site, could be MM7‘s Freeze Man’s second home. Blast Man’s exploding playground feels like a fun version of Grenade Man’s frustrating gauntlet. Acid Man’s rainbow-colored chemical vats, whose properties change as you allow monsters to barf their payload into them, is a better take on Burst Man’s laboratory. There’s a forest fire level, a bouncy spring maze… heck, even the Wily Machine fires missiles you can stand on. Quite a lot of the game feels like someone at Capcom looked at those middle games, the ones that aren’t as well-remembered, and asked to take another swing.

The most modern-feeling elements of Mega Man 11 are the quality of life additions. MM9 and MM10 very pointedly didn’t have any QOL improvements, in their quest to pretend to be NES titles. MM10 allowed shoulder button weapon switching, a sort of janky half-improvement scraped from the Mega Man X games. MM11 still has shoulder switching, if you want it, but the real improvement is the weapon wheel. Eight weapons, eight directions the right stick can point in… you’d really think this is a no-brainer that should have been in every title from the PlayStation onwards. Instead of trying to remember how many clicks away any weapon is, and in which direction, a number that changes with each new weapon you pick up… you just remember “down is my Impact Dash”.

I’ve played Mega Man X a hundred times over the years, and I still need the menu to switch weapons. By my second run of MM11 I was using the weapon wheel like a pro. This change, along with dedicated Rush Coil and Rush Jet buttons, really incentivizes switching weapons constantly in every stage. No amount of dinosaur-chasing or snowboarding or platform-steering can compare, when it comes to actually feeling like Mega Man.

Finally, (finally!) there’s a kind of silly and awkward angle with which you could look at Mega Man 11: how is it when compared with Mighty No. 9?

This is an unfair question, but it’s unfair in an enlightening way. I didn’t back MN9, and I haven’t played it. I’ve seen streamers play the game to completion, and I followed the whole glorious shitshow of its development cycle, though. Story goes, during the years when Capcom was letting Mega Man lay fallow, some cheeky developers thought they’d step in make a game that was Mega Man in all but name. It got funded instantly by two generations of Mega Man fans, and then the finished product turned out to be a low-quality, cheap-feeling game with stapled-on gameplay systems that didn’t feel much like Mega Man at all.

Some people paid extra for boxes and instruction manuals, and the manuals didn’t fit inside the boxes. And something something pizza explosions on prom night. What a mess.

Why is any of this important? Because as bad as Mighty No. 9 was, I honestly don’t think we’d have gotten Mega Man 11 without it. Or, at least, we wouldn’t have gotten it in this state. If anything could be objectively mined from the spectacular failure of MN9, it’s that there were still enough fans out there craving the Mega Man experience. We’re experiencing something of a 2d platformer rennaisance at the moment, and someone at Capcom was going to want to get on this train eventually, but without MN9 as a pretty clear benchmark for “don’t do it like that”, I think MM11 might have ended up somewhere more along the lines of MM8: a pretty but bloated game, with cobbled-together design elements and voice acting you couldn’t turn off.

MN9 was supposed to be a snub at Capcom who, it was alleged, didn’t know how to make a Mega Man game anymore. Instead, it served as a bright and clear reminder of how the series got off the rails in the first place. In a roundabout way, all those Kickstarter backers eventually got what they asked for after all.

I don’t know where the series goes from here. I think Capcom could enjoy a second “NES era”, just using MM11‘s game engine to make a new sequel with eight new dudes every couple of years, for as long as people continue to enjoy platformers. Or maybe that way lies madness, and the cyber-elves would creep back in and poop all over everything. Or maybe this was a one-off fluke; now that MN9 has been shown up, the blue bomber is just going back in the closet for another eight or nine years.

But Mega Man 11 is pretty excellent. I’m glad to be playing it. Thank you for reading all these words I wrote about it!

And a Little Yappy Dog

And a Little Yappy Dog
That Podcast We Did

00:00 / 48:17

Brick & McClain discuss West of Loathing, four million gold pieces, yuppie spawn, Chrono Trigger speedruns, loud girly hiccups, Jean-Luc Picard, child murder, and David Duchovny’s sunglasses.

A Tea Snob By Definition

A Tea Snob By Definition
That Podcast We Did

00:00 / 1:05:42

Brick & McClain discuss a traditional hot toddy, sophisticated garbage can cuisine, North Korea, the webcomic donation buttons of yore, the Manosphere, multi-level marketing, wedding parties and some new pope.

Infusion and Hopoo Feather

I realize nobody wants to read my nitpick-y pontifications on Risk of Rain. But I am burning with the need to pontificate in a nitpick-y way, so this is what you’re stuck with.

Risk of Rain is a game about finding items. The more items you find, the more powerful you are, until you eventually have so many items that the game crashes. Veteran Risk players, such as myself, consider a game crash to be a legit win state. I have “won” this game many, many times, and I can state without reservation that the two most powerful items in the game are Infusion and Hopoo Feather.

Infusion, the best item in the game, grants a permanent +1 increase to your maximum health for every monster you kill. In Risk of Rain, you kill dozens and dozens of monsters on every level. If you find Infusion and can manage to survive with it for a little while, you’ll eventually have more health than any one monster can reasonably dish out. You’re never completely invincible in this game, but sitting at the 9999 health cap only misses it by an inch.

Hopoo Feather, the second best item in the game, grants your character a double jump, and each subsequent Feather you find grants another jump beyond that. If you have seven Hopoo Feathers, you have seven jumps. Mobility in Risk is extremely important. Most enemies can only damage you if you’re on the ground, so minimizing the amount of time you spend there is a pretty good way to extend your lifespan.

Even if you aren’t familiar with Risk, you can see how powerful combining these two items can be. So here’s the controversial opinion I disagree with: many Risk players feel these items are too powerful for Tier Two, and should be Tier Three instead.

Let me untangle that jargon for you. There are three tiers of items in Risk, which are generated randomly around the level for you to find. Tier One items are outlined in white, are the most common, and least expensive. These items form the basis of your character’s abilities, and their effects are sometimes so subtle you won’t notice them until you’re very familiar with the game. In a single run of the game you’re likely to find several of these in each stage.

Tier Two items are outlined in green, are more powerful on average than Tier One items, and are therefore rarer and more expensive. These are kind of your character’s “bread and butter”. Your gameplan for survival is going to be determined largely by which Tier Two items you find, and how early. In a single run you’ll probably find one Tier Two per stage; two if you’re lucky. Infusion and Hopoo Feather are both Tier Two.

Tier Three items are outlined in red, and are incredibly — sometimes game-breakingly — powerful. Their effects are big and flashy and obvious: a screen-exploding laser, a pair of boots that sets the ground on fire, a hand-to-god extra life. In a single run of the game you will probably only find one or two of these, total, though it isn’t uncommon to complete the game without any at all.

(There are a few other groups of items, which aren’t relevant here.)

Amongst accomplished Risk of Rain streamers and YouTubers, it’s common to say something like “Infusion and Hopoo Feather are so good, they should definitely be Tier Three.”

And I don’t agree at all.

On its face the argument makes sense: these are the two best items in the game. I rather doubt there’s much disagreement about that. Oh, you’ll find the odd duck who’ll make the case for Barbed Wire (a Tier One) or Brilliant Behemoth (a particularly flashy Tier Three), but those come with little asterisks that change depending on your character, your build, your artifacts, and how long you plan to loop. Meanwhile, Infusion and Hopoo Feather are good for every character, regardless of build, or artifacts, or any other factors. There are no weird edge cases where having fewer jumps or less health is beneficial.

I might actually be understating how good these two items are. Let me try another angle. Attempting to continue on down the list, identifying the third best, and fourth best, and fifth best item, and so on, you would very quickly get into subjective territory that would change from player to player. For my part, I would say the third-best item is the AtG Missile Mk. 2, a Tier Three item that has a chance to fire a big flurry of monster-seeking missiles every time you attack. This is a universally good item that synergizes well with every build on every character. You don’t even have to aim your attacks anymore, just swing/fire at empty air and eventually the missiles will show up and wreck shop.

I could, however, see the case for lots of other items being third-best. Goat Hoof is a Tier One that makes you run faster, and if you find a couple of them, the speed increase can be quite substantial. 56 Leaf Clover is a Tier Two which makes certain monsters drop items. Find one of those early, and you’ll be more powerful much sooner. Ceremonial Dagger is a Tier Three which makes purple knives fly out of monsters you kill, seeking out and killing more monsters. Frost Relic is so strong they had to nerf it because it used to crash (“win”) the game all by itself. Depending on your priorities, any of these items, or dozens more besides, are good candidates for third-best.

But no honest player would call Infusion and Hopoo Feather anything other than first and second. Maybe there’s a debate about which of these two is first, and which second, but if a player tells you anything else they either don’t know as much about the game as they think they do, or they’re trying to be edgy and contrarian. They’re Metal Blade. They’re !Mix. They’re Oddjob. They’re really that goddamn good.

They’re powerful enough to be Tier Three, but making them Tier Three would totally suck and ruin the items completely. Here’s why.

Tier Three items are rare, and powerful, and flashy… but they don’t really change how you play the game. Not in the moment-to-moment sense, I mean. With the exception of the Photon Jetpack, Ancient Scepter and maaaaybe Rapid Mitosis, your approach to how you push the buttons and use your abilities to clear monsters won’t change much upon your big Tier Three find. They certainly make the game easier, and more exciting, and you’ll never be unhappy to get one. But they don’t alter your fundamental approach to playing.

Many Tier Two items do have this effect, though. This sense of, “Oh neat, I found _______, this run is way different now!” Smart Shopper puts a lot more gold into the game, which alters the way you think about clearing levels and hunting for chests. Guardian’s Heart gives you a damage shield that can absorb one big hit for you, dramatically increasing your odds of surviving individual encounters. Leeching Seed heals you with each attack, shifting the risk/reward decision to fight or flee when low on health. Toxic Worm will have you initiating encounters from up close, rather than at range, even for projectile characters.

In other words, Tier Three items are rad for how powerful they are, but Tier Two items are rad for how fun they make the game. Plasma Chain is a kickass attack item, but it won’t make you rethink your approach to fighting monsters; the big damage chain is just a nice perk that happens automatically. But Chargefield Generator? That’ll make you rethink everything about how quickly to kill, and where, and where to stand while doing it.

Hopoo Feather changes the game in a dramatic way no other single item pickup does: you get a second jump. It lets you reach places you couldn’t get to otherwise, more easily avoid attacks from virtually every direction, and doubles the pace which you can climb up ropes. Infusion is a “lock in” moment, a clear delineation exists between “pre-Infusion” and “post-Infusion” in a successful run. For a few minutes after finding your Infusion you must play very cautiously and carefully. Wouldn’t want to lose this great Infusion run you’re on, after all! But after that you can play much more aggressively than you would otherwise, using your health as a resource to tank some big hits to give yourself opportunities to pile on lots of damage.

If these items were Tier Three, you wouldn’t get them as often, and the whole game would be much less fun as a result. I think they were placed in Tier Two for exactly this purpose: it’s more important that these two items find their way into as many runs as possible, than for any given Tier Three.

I don’t know how much of Risk of Rain‘s vast inventory is going to find its way into Risk of Rain 2. I don’t even know if Risk 2 is going to have tiers, or whatever. I suspect the basic structure of the game — search for and buy items, some items are more rare/expensive — is going to remain the same. If that’s the case, I hope the designers don’t take these streamers to heart who want the “best” items to be too rare to have fun with.

Thanks for reading this long post about feathers and whatnot!

Final Fantasy VIII on Steam is a stupid broken wonderful mess, and it’s all Chocobo’s fault

When Final Fantasy VIII launched in Japan back in 1977, it included a mechanism to interface with a peripheral called the PocketStation. As far as I can tell this was a Tomagotchi-style device where you could play bleepy little dot matrix games, but also plugged into your PlayStation so you could import bonuses into whatever compatible actual video games you might own. For FFVIII this meant Chocobo World.

Chocobo World is a neat little app. Your chocobo automatically wanders around the world, fighting monsters and collecting treasure. You can take control manually if you like, speeding up the process, but I imagine anyone would get bored of this pretty quick. As its own thing it’s even less interesting than a Tomagotchi, really, since your chocobo can’t be killed and never really demands your attention.

The PocketStation never made its way across the Pacific, but the North American version of FFVIII still had the built-in integration. This led to a lot of gamers confused as to why you have to name a chocobo, what Gysahl Greens were for, and why there was a MiniMog card. Back in the day there were a lot of footnotes in a lot of FAQs, and I imagine no small number of players with more money than sense imported themselves a PocketStation solely for this one game.

Of course, the Steam release of FFVIII doesn’t have the issue of region differences. The modern World is a standalone app you can run in the background, whether or not your copy of FFVIII is running. And it otherwise works the same; instead of plugging into your PC (choco-boco-dongle?), FFVIII just reads the World data off your hard drive.

But there’s a stupid glitch. A stupid, kind of hilarious glitch that every single Steam player will accidentally benefit from.

I’m not clear on the details, having never seen one of these devices myself, but I believe it was impossible for the PocketStation to run a game while it was plugged in, which was required to import data. Think of a cell phone you can’t use while it’s charging, that’s kind of how the PocketStation do. I think.

But on Steam, this isn’t a problem. You can have Chocobo World running while you play FFVIII, even during the import process. And so, for whatever reason, the data file keeping track of treasures your chocobo “owes” you doesn’t get wiped properly. You can take them again and again, until you have vast piles of everything. You can do this as early as disc two, upon reaching your first chocobo forest.

I’ve confirmed that if you close the World app before doing the import, the data gets wiped properly and you only get one batch of items. If it’s running, though — and that’s the most common way Steam players will do it — barrels of free items are yours to keep.

Here’s how it works:

Chocobo World is a series of events. One of these events is “find a treasure”. This treasure will either be an A, a B, a C, or a D. These are the only four items that exist, as far as your chocobo is concerned. One of the subscreens in the World tells you how many of each you have.

In FFVIII, there are four treasure pools labeled A, B, C, and D. And you probably see where this is going. When you import treasures from World, what you’re doing is rolling on each of the four treasure tables a number of times equal to how many letters your chocobo has. 5 As, five rolls on the A treasure table.

Since the data doesn’t clear as long as the World app is running, you get a new set of rolls every time you do the import. Have 5 As? Cool. Boot up the app, run the import, get 5 A items, save your game, run the import again, get 5 more. Do this as many times as you want.

Here’s what you can get:

At the time I noticed the glitch, I had something like 4 As, 11 Bs, 30 Cs and 45 Ds. After ten minutes of playing with it, I walked away with the following:

  • all of the items required to summon Doomtrain (usually not possible until late disc three),
  • all of Quistis’s blue magic spells,
  • enough rare GF items to get a full part with HP +80%, Ribbon, Devour, and Ability x4 abilities,
  • enough weapon components to make Lion Heart, Ergheiz, and some other endgame equipment,
  • piles of powerful magic, including 100 Flares, 100 Holys, 100 Triples, and enough magic items to refine as many more of these as I want,
  • god who even knows probably like a unicorn and a rocket car and a pile of Black Lotuses, whatever they are.

This was after ten minutes. If I’d kept going, I could have gotten literally anything I wanted for every character.

This is hilarious.

Final Fantasy VIII is not a difficult game at the best of times. Knowledgable players can break any Final Fantasy wide open, but even un-knowledgable ones will break FFVIII by accident eventually. With no experimentation and no research, an unsophisticated player using auto-Junction will stumble across blindly spamming limit breaks partway through disc three, no question. This is what I did when I was sixteen.

With one hour of leveling, the player can set up the same broken cheese at the beginning of the game, before the first boss fight. And then never look back. This is what I did when I was, I dunno, twenty-six.

So if any game deserves to be broken even further by a silly half-baked peripheral exploit nobody noticed, I’m glad it’s Final Fantasy VIII. Now to try and figure out what to do with all these Elnoyle cards I’m not gonna need anymore.

Thanks for reading!

Old Man Pains

Old Man Pains
That Podcast We Did

00:00 / 1:13:57

Brick & McClain discuss muscle relaxers, Jenny McCarthy’s ghost, disposable underwear, juggalo championship wrestling, Homestuck, unnerving books, and Alan Rickman’s cinematic superpower.

Bury This One

Bury This One
That Podcast We Did

00:00 / 1:11:37

Brick & McClain discuss exploding rabbites, Rescue Ranger paternity issues, scratchy lotteries, rumschpringe, synchronized fireflies, synthetic meat, and fonetic speling.

FF5 Four Job Fiesta 2018: The Write-Up

Another Fiesta is in the can, and while I hope to get a decent clip reel of this year’s run up on YouTube, that project will likely take me a month or so to complete. In the meantime I thought you might enjoy a brief write-up detailing how the run went. But first, here’s a quick table of all the Fiesta runs I’ve completed through the years:

That’s seven Fiestas, and not one single Monk, Black Mage, Summoner, Dancer or Freelancer. I wouldn’t mind if my ’19 Fiesta were some combination of those jobs, especially considering they’re all pretty strong!

I’ve decided that #regpurechaos is my preferred Fiesta ruleset. Under pure chaos rules, you can roll any job (including Mime and Freelancer) for any crystal. You can end up with literally any combination of jobs, with no weight or bias towards or against any set of them. #reg tends to over-represent the earth jobs, since there are fewer of them, while #random over-represents the wind jobs, since they’re in the pool for all four rolls. #purechaos strikes just the right balance.

Standard #chaos is the same thing, but it re-orders your four jobs so you get the earliest ones first. The idea here is to minimize the time of the game you have to spend playing Freelancers. Well, the first two years I played the chaos variants, I got two fire jobs both times. This meant using Freelancers all the way through Liquid Flame. It’s a neat way to play the game, and Freelancers are actually really good — I spent a lot of this year’s run saying, “Gee, I hope I roll Freelancer for my next job!” — but I didn’t want it to happen a third year running.

My solution was to hack my GBA rom so all the jobs were available from the first crystal. This year, if I rolled a fire job into that first spot, I could switch to it right away. And that’s exactly what happened: I got Bard.

Since I’d be running the first few dungeons with a party full of Bards, Twitch chat suggested I name my hero Bardz. So I did that, and it was pretty funny.

A quick note about Bards…

Bard is one of the most powerful jobs in Final Fantasy V. They learn the !Hide ability, which lets them nope out of battle for as long as they want. This sounds like a joke ability but in truth it allows you to skip some really dangerous attacks in certain fights. From the moment the class is unlocked you can pick up a song called Romeo’s Ballad that acts as a free, virtually-guaranteed Stop effect. In the late game their stat-boosting songs can literally max out your Strength, Agility and even EXPERIENCE LEVEL.

The two superbosses of FFV, Omega and Shinryu, can each be defeated with nothing but Bard abilities. I don’t think there’s another job in the game that can make that claim, except maybe Chemist.

However, as soon as my run started I noticed I had a problem: because I had unlocked Bard using a cheat code, I was several hours away from gaining anything the class could actually use. Songs don’t start appearing until late in the first world.

In the past I’ve completed both of what I consider to be the toughest versions of the “single job slog”, that part of the game after you unlock your first job but before you unlock your second. Thief and White Mage are both grind-y and tedious, but I was able to make judicious use of their advantages to carry me through. Namely, Thief can !Steal better weapons at certain key points in the run, while White Mages are indestructable as long as their MP lasts.

Bards have neither advantage. I think, played by these rules, Bard is the absolute slowest possible start.

I don’t point this out for any particular reason, just pinning this badge of honor to my chest. So okay, how bad did it actually get?

The Single-Job Slog

Bards can do two things during the first few areas of the game: Daggers and Potions. And they don’t even start with the Daggers.

I invested all my money from the Wind Shrine into a small Potion supply, and took Karlabos down over the course of many rounds. At this point in the game one hero had a Knife, one had a Dagger, and the other two had nothing at all. I put those two heroes in the back row and had them Defend to minimize the amount of damage Karlabos could do; less damage meant fewer Potions used up. I expected to have to grind a few levels to bea tthis boss, but that ended up not being necessary. Still, I had a safety save in a second slot, because beating Karlabos locks you in the next dungeon without any means of getting back to town.

The next dungeon is the Ship Graveyard, where Daggers sometimes drop off of Skeletons. By the time I reached the end of this dungeon each of my Bards had a Dagger and the !Hide ability. The boss of the area is Siren, who has weak attacks until an abrupt phase shift where she “becomes one of the undead”. Her attacks get much stronger at this point, so I had everyone !Hide and waited until she was ready to be alive again, at which point I called the Bards forward and asked them to use their Daggers to make her not alive anymore after all.

!Hide was instrumental again in the next boss fight, against Magissa. She uses magic attacks constantly, and there aren’t enough Potions in the world to drink quickly enough to get on top of that damage, so I sent the Bards away and then went and made a sandwich while Magissa stupidly ran herself out of MP. She’s not entirely toothless at that point, though, because she can call her husband Forza forth to fight for her. Forza is essentially a tougher version of Karlabos, though, so moving the Bards to the back row and having them spam Potions was enough to (eventually) send him packing.

The next boss, Garula, marked the end of the single-job slog, but was the toughest boss by far. He dealt more damage than Forza, could inflict HP Leak, and after a phase change starts counterattacking with brutal double hits. On the back row the Bards were dealing single-digit damage, but each of Garula’s hits still took two Potions to get on top of. If I could just beat this guy I could roll my next job, and literally anything would smooth out the next part of the game. But for now he was a roadblock.

The only advantage I could reach was the Elven Mantle in the Walse Castle basement (which I abused Quicksave chicanery to grab). This accessory helps evade physical attacks, so I could, with some luck, potentially move one Bard to the front line to increase their Dagger damage.

I wasn’t sure how much leveling up was going to improve my odds. You gain HP at level up, but max HP wasn’t really the limiting factor. Garula was strong enough, and my Bards weak enough, that 1000 max HP wouldn’t be enough. The real problem was the paltry 50 healing from each Potion. To keep on top of Garula’s damage I needed three Bards spamming them at all times. If all leveling did was raise my HP, it was going to take a lot of leveling to get passed Garula.

All of the early Final Fantasy games seem to handle stats a little differently, and I get them mixed up a lot. I did some research and turned up this:

That’s a lot of jargon, but what it basically means is that, for knives, a character’s experience level factors directly into their damage output. Twice. At the beginning of the game, just a level or two should provide a noticable boost. An hour or so of grinding later my Bards had more than doubled their damage output.

There was still no way to stay ahead of the healing with everyone spamming Potions frantically, so I elected to send Faris out front with the Elven Mantle and focus on just healing her. The other Bards on the back line could Defend if they didn’t need to send a Potion Faris-ward, and Defending Bards didn’t take enough damage to need healing at all. Once or twice I did need to make Faris !Hide so everyone else could clean up the nickle-and-dime damage they’d been taking, but I still cleared the fight with about a dozen Potions to spare.

Job Fair Shenanigans

Going into this year’s Fiesta, I decided there were two jobs I absolutely did not want to see. Berserker is the undisputed worst job in the game, and I’ve played them three out of my seven Fiestas. Beastmaster is a dumb job with lousy abilities that don’t synergize with other classes and take lots of boring backtracking and carefully measuring enemy HP to make effective use of. I’ve only done one Fiesta with Beastmaster, but that was enough for me.

So of course my ’18 #water job was Berserker. Womp womp. I hit the Job Fair and plopped down a donation to get a reroll. The Job Fair rule is you can start using your new job right away, but I didn’t buy a new job, I bought a reroll, and I had no idea what my new job was going to be. Since these requests are manually processed I had no choice but to quit playing for the night.

When I woke up the next day, I noted my new #water job was Thief.

A quick note about Thieves…

After Bard, Thief is just about the worst start you can get. So you would think my Bard/Thief party would be pretty disheartening. But it wasn’t, for a few reasons.

First, I hadn’t rolled Thief since my very first Fiesta, and was looking forward to having one again.

Like Bard, Thief is a weak start, but picks up considerably in the mid-game. Thieves get lots of cool advantages no other job can replicate: they avoid back attacks entirely, they can steal items and equipment from monsters, they can skip random encounters, and they have the highest Agility score in the game. Their abilities synergize with basically every other class.

In my first Fiesta, I wasn’t really sure how to handle #fire jobs, since those jobs come at you in two sets. I didn’t know whether I should roll my job immediately upon breaking the crystal or wait until a little later when I had the whole set. I decided to wait, but “a little later” turned out to be on the other side of two of the most annoying bosses in the game. Rolling earlier wouldn’t have helped — my #fire job that year was Bard, which is one of the late #fire jobs — but that wasn’t going to be an issue this year with my All Jobs Unlocked cheat! No matter what #fire was, I was guaranteed to have it early.

With these thoughts in mind I plowed ahead to the Steamship.

The Other Job I Kinda Hate

The Steamship was no trouble at all. I took the opportunity to !Steal some Hi-Potions from the monsters there, and made use of !Hide again to run the boss out of MP to diminish its dangerous attacks. I rolled my #fire job and got…


This was a real bummer. I’m kinda tired of Geomancers in Fiesta runs; this is the third time I’ve gotten it. I can summarize the class like so: it’s “kinda good” in the places where it works, and absolutely worthless in the places where it doesn’t. In some areas the class gains access to decent attacks (which still pale in comparison to what any of the attacking mages can do), but in others they get bupkis. There’s nothing the player can do to influence this in any way; the class is hard-coded.

Even worse, Geomancer simply doesn’t synergize with anything. I’m not aware of any cool “Geomancer combos” or obscure killer strats. Through most of my run, my Geomancer made do with either Equip Harps (which grants a small Agility boost) or !Sing, turning them into a second Bard.

Having a second Bard on hand turned out to be okay, because this is the point in the game where !Sing becomes available. But man. Still a bummer. Part of the magic of the Fiesta is unwrapping each new job and thinking about how you’ll build your party, and Geomancer just isn’t exciting from that standpoint. It’s like a LEGO brick with no studs. It’s just a big frumpy blob that sits in your party throwing Wind Slash sometimes.

The Gil Grind

Geomancer sucks, but it sucks just little enough to clear Byblos and Sand Worm with no major difficulty. (These are the two bosses that would have been a nightmare with just Bard/Thief.) After this you get a ship, and sail around the world picking up new spells and equipment. For my purposes this meant finally getting some Songs:

  • Mighty March, which adds Regen to the whole party,
  • Alluring Air, which adds Confuse to all enemies, and
  • Romeo’s Ballad, which adds Stop to all enemies.

Now I had two options to completely shut down random encounters: I could !Flee to avoid them entirely, or !Sing Romeo’s Ballad to freeze all the monsters in place while I picked them apart. This was a big boost in power and I was pretty happy right up until I hit my next roadblock: Soul Cannon.

Soul Cannon is a big gun mounted in a flying robot airship. Before fighting it, you have to destroy lots of smaller guns mounted on the flying robot airship. The Geomancer actually came in pretty handy here, with the high-powered (for this stage of the game, anyway) Wind Slash attack. Unfortunately, and somewhat arbitrarily, Soul Cannon itself is immune to wind.

This means I had to kill the boss with just my knives and stockpile of Hi-Potions. Which would be fine, except the boss makes use of the Old status ailment. A hero with Old loses experience levels until they suck too much to matter.

I reasoned that if I could get one hero to avoid being Old’d, I could solo the fight if I had to. But the only way to guarantee that was to get an Angel Ring, an accessory that blocks several nasty status ailments but commands a $50k price tag.

It was again the Thief’s time to shine. After a short while of !Stealing from some local monsters, I had a big pile of Silver Bows, War Hammers and a couple of Death Sickles to sell off. I put the Angel Ring on my strongest party member and then proceeded to trounce the fight with zero difficulty. It could have been the levels I’d gained while farming up money, or it could have just been the god-like RNG I managed to get. Either way I was passed the fight and moving on.

Geomancer Is Actually Good, For Once

The Ronka Ruins is a big, maze-like dungeon filled with tough monsters and absolutely gruelling boss. Fortunately for me, this is one of the few spots in the game where Geomancer is hard-coded to kick ass. I burned the dungeon up without much thought and rolled my final job: Knight.

I was really, really excited to get Knight. It’s neither one of the best jobs nor most interesting; it’s just good and consistent. Knights are the most equipment-reliant job in the game, and as a result, there is a lot of really good Knight equipment. There are only like two interesting decisions a Knight gets to make about his battle plan, but that’s two more than a Geomancer ever gets to make. And besides, my team was kinda squishy and weak, so a big strong dude up front with a greatsword made for a nice addition.

But I was stoked for another reason: Thieves are able to !Steal the elusive Genji equipment during the second world, but this set is only useful if you have a Knight to wear it. I’d never explored this synergy in a Fiesta before, and it’s actually impossible under the base ruleset, since Thief and Knight are both #wind jobs!

Suffice it to say, with my Knight leading the way, my team had no real trouble mopping up the rest of world one. Quite a lot of FFV can be plowed through if you have one consistent damage-dealer with strong back-up, and my Knight had the Bard and Thief to prop him up.

World Two

Things were so smooth, in fact, that there’s almost nothing to report from world two. There are a couple of gimmick bosses that most of the difficulty of the world is situated around, but there’s no point where I hit a major snag. One boon we earned from our world two explorations was the Bard’s Swift Song, which can max out the party’s speed and break the whole game open.

Atomos is a gimmick boss that some teams can beat effortlessly while some bang their heads against for eons. My team was in neither camp. The “normal” way to win this fight is to let Atomos kill someone with his unrelenting Comet spam, then pile damage onto him as he drags the corpse across the map. Raise the corpse just before it gets snarfed up, then rinse and repeat. My team had no problem with damage output, but I still tried to be a little sneaky. I recalled Atomos was susceptible to Sleep, so I had my Knight hit him with the Sleep Sword. The animation played and everything, but then the Comets started flying, so I don’t know what the haps was.

Wind Slash is a great AoE spell, but Geomancers can only use it in hard-coded places, and the fight with the four crystals is not one of those places. The plan for this fight was to take the Flame Shield from the forest (this turns into an Aegis Shield after a story event, and Aegis is the better shield, but you can get another one later in the game) so my Knight would absorb fire damage, reduce the fire crystal’s HP enough that it spammed Firaga at me, and then use the free healing to whittle the other three crystals down. What I discovered was the wind and water crystals are just slightly faster, meaning I’d sometimes see two Aqua Breaths in between healing Firagas, wiping out my Knight. With liberal application of Swift Song to get the timing right, the fight didn’t turn into a roadblock.

The boss of world two is Exdeath, and this is for many parties the hardest boss in the game. The only way to win this fight is to stack up damage and keep ahead of the healing. Some fiesta parties have neither damage nor healing. My party was about average in both regards. Geomancer is maybe good in this fight, sometimes, because she can equip an Air Knife to boost the damage from Wind Slash. (But then she rolls any of the non-Wind Slash spells and wastes her turn.) Knight’s damage output is consistent but not exemplary. There are a couple ways I could play this, but what I settled on was equipping Bone Mail and the Flame Shield on my Knight, protecting him from Exdeath’s worst attacks. To heal, the Knight could equip the Flametongue and whack himself with it. Everyone else had to rely on Phoenix Downs and Hi-Potions, which were plentiful. As long as the items held this fight was in the bag — except for one caveat. If the Knight died, I could not revive him, because Bone Mail precludes using Phoenix Downs. Exdeath has a countdown attack, one of those “30 seconds to live!” things, which meant failure. All I needed was a fight where Exdeath chose a different Doom target, which happened on the second or third try.

World two also has an optional superboss who, when you account for all the equipment and abilities you don’t have access to yet, is probably on par with Omega in terms of sheer difficulty. The Gil Turtle has one trick up its sleeve: it counters every attack with two physical attacks, hilariously called “Turtle”, which just kill you in one hit. I had two excellent advantages for this fight: my !Singers had the Requiem song, which deals big damage to undead targets, and Gil Turtle is undead. And my Knight had the !Guard command, which reduces all physical attacks to 0 damage. If I triggered the fight with my three squishies in critical HP, my Knight would automatically take their hits for them, and reduce the damage to 0 with !Guard. So the plan was to go in, pick !Guard every round, and have the Bard and Geomancer whittle the boss’s HP down with Requiem.

The one attack I didn’t have a way to avoid was the turtle’s Earth Shaker, which he always uses upon death. I tried confusing a cat enemy in the underwater dungeon to cast Float on me, because that’s a thing cats do in world one, but it didn’t work. (I’ve since learned there are cat enemies on the dragon mountain that can do this for you.) Instead, I just had my Thief !Hide for the whole fight, so I won the battle with three dead heroes and a hidden Thief at critical HP. I tweeted the dead Gil Turtle to Gilgabot as a joke, because this boss should totally be tracked as an optional fiesta challenge. This is how I learned the victory approvals are automated, and Gilgabot counted my Gil Turtle victory as a Neo Exdeath victory. That was pretty hilarious.

Nothing to see here, except…

World three provided little more than a speedbump for my party. They had more than enough gold to purchase a full set of Hermes Sandals, the best accessory in the game, conveying permanent Haste. With Bards !Singing Requiem the pyramid was no issue at all. Geomancer proved useful again in the Great Sea Trench, with its innate ability to avoid damage on lava floors. Thief was rockin’ it from the front line, merrily !Mugging with the Chicken Knife. The Bard picked up a few new songs, including the game-breaking Hero’s Rime.

The one hiccup here was Omniscient, at the top of Fork Tower. At first I thought I could skip this area, since I didn’t need any of the rewards. (No White or Black magic, see.) I did want that replacement Aegis Shield, which is in the waterfall dungeon, which is only accessible by submarine… which only unlocks after clearing Fork Tower. Well, rats.

Fork Tower is split into two halves. One half locks out all magic attacks, by literally disabling the Magic command in battle. The other half locks out all physical attacks, but it does so inelegantly. Most of the standard magic — !White, !Black, !Summon, what-have-you — are allowed, but a lot of other magical-type commands are disallowed, including !Sing and !Gaia. Trying to use either of these commands against the boss causes him to cast Reset and start the battle over.

There are two ways to deal with this that I know of, and neither of them are very good. The first is to run Omniscient out of MPs, so he has no juice to cast Reset. He has about seventy-three million MPs, though, so this takes six hours. The other way is to nail him with a status ailment that disables spellcasting, like Stop or Mute, then damage him with an illegal attack before the ailment wears off. Since Omniscient is an endgame boss, status ailments last only a few literal seconds. The only way to sneak into that window is with a fast hero whose turn is already ready to go when the ailment lands.

I needed my accessory slots for Reflect Rings, to protect my heroes from Omniscient’s constant barrage of spells. Lacking some other way to apply Haste, I needed to rely on Swift Song to speedify my heroes up. (Omniscient will Reset !Sing, but only if the song targets him.)

My plan was to let my heroes’ ATB fill up, use Romeo’s Ballad to inflict Stop, then immedialy have the Thief !Mug with the Chicken Knife for big damage. Unfortunately this didn’t work, and I’m not sure I understand why. The animation for Romeo’s Ballad played, which is an indication that the song landed, but Omniscient immediately Reset the fight anyway. So that wasn’t going to work.

I had to fall back on one of the silliest strategies I’ve ever had to employ in FFV: equipping a Mage Masher, attacking my own heroes, hoping the Silence spell procs off the hit, bounces off the hero’s Reflect Ring, gets through Omniscients impressive magic defense, and Silences him just long enough for the other hero to !Mug. I could use Hero’s Rime to increase my levels as high as I wanted, so each !Mug could do thousands and thousands of damage here, but there was a weird trade-off I had to be careful of: the higher my levels were, the more damage I’d be doing to myself while searching for bounced Silence procs! I found a nice happy medium and set to work.

This is a painstaking way to approach Omniscient, but it does work eventually. You don’t have to kill him all the way, just enough that he undergoes a phase change and starts using -aga spells on you, which bounce off your Reflect Rings and finish the job.

And that was that. I collected my Aegis Shield and set off for the endgame.


To get the coveted Triple Crown, you need to defeat three endgame bosses: Omega, Shinryu and Neo Exdeath.

Omega is susceptible to Stop in the same way Omniscient is susceptible to Silence: he immediately erases the condition, but gets his ATB reset, so if you’re Hasted you have just enough time to queue up another Stop in order to keep him locked down. With good timing, two heroes !Singing Romeo’s Ballad can accomplish this. I set my third hero to !Sing Hero’s Rime, and my fourth to attack Omega with a Coral Sword. This is the only Knight weapon that hits with lightning, which is the only way to deal more than 0 damage to the boss. With my Knight’s level steadily rising, he dealt more and more damage each round until Omega died. Nice breezy fight.


I was excited to fight Shinryu this run because, unlike Omega, you actually get a tangible reward: the Ragnarok sword. Only Knights can equip this sword, so I could actually put it to use with my party. The problem was how to win the fight. Typically what you do is inflict Berserk on Shinryu, then employ some method of surviving his constant stream of 9999-damage hits. I could do the latter with the same auto-Cover strategy that worked with Gil Turtle, but had no way of Berserking the boss.

It was Bard to the rescue again, this time with !Hide. I got a monster earlier in the dungeon to inflict Zombie status on one of my heroes. Zombie is a loss condition; if all your heroes are some combination of Zombie, Stone or KO, you lose the game. The difference between Zombie and KO is that Zombie’d characters are still targetable. This means you can put a Reflect Ring on them, !Hide with the rest of your party, and as long as your opponent has at least one reflectable attack they take damage from, you win. Eventually.

Shinryu has about two dozen different attacks, only one of which is reflectable: Atomic Ray. He has a 1/3 chance of picking this attack something like every five or six combat rounds, and each one bounces off my Zombie for about 250 damage. Shinryu has 55,000 HPs. This was going to take hours.

I didn’t see another path to victory, though, so I set the fight up, engaged Picture-in-Picture mode, and played a full run of Final Fantasy IV: Free Enterprise while waiting for Shinryu to very, very slowly kill himself.

That happened, and I claimed my Ragnarok. One boss left.

Neo Exdeath

I overprepared for this fight. Exdeath’s first form doesn’t have any dangerous AoE attacks, so as long as you have Phoenix Downs and Gold Needles you can sandbag the fight forever. I had two Bards !Singing the broken buff songs, and before long my Agility and Experience Level were maxed out. I went into the final battle with Ragnarok, Excalibur and the Chicken Knife, weilded by blindingly-fast L255 characters. It was a massacre.

Final Thoughts

The difficulty on this party was really front-loaded. That can be typical of a lot of Fiesta parties. What I liked about my team, though, was that it avoided the World Two malaise I’ve gone through with some previous team; that sinking feeling of having kinda good jobs, that you just know will be breakaway strong once you get a couple World Three advantages, but first you have to push through all the World Two gimmickry with nothing but a twinkle in your eye and a prayer in your heart. My team had some fun advantages and wasn’t terrorizing the game, but neither did we get stalled out for dumb reasons.

Bard might be my favorite job in the game. It synergizes with absolutely everything, both in the sense of giving auxilary abilities to other jobs, or making other jobs more powerful during fights. !Sing is a game-breakingly good command. Equip Harps is a good Agility boost for basically everyone but Thief. !Hide allows for shenanigans. And, of course, Swift Song and Hero’s Rime magnifies the strengths of every other job in ways even a Chemist would salivate over.

Thief and Knight are solid jobs that are fun to play with. Thief gets great abilities that work well on their own or with other jobs. Knight gets great equipment that opens up a lot of solid options. Neither of these jobs are world-shattering on their own (though they can be, with Bard backing them up…) but there’s something to be said about building a party around a solid center core, rather than just blowing the game away.

Geomancer is boring and I’m tired of it. I’ll be Job Fair-ing them away at least for my next few runs.

Run #2

After completing my run this year, I went on vacation for a week. When I got home, I decided to roll up a second feista run, wherein my first job was… drumroll please…


Welp, here we go again!


That Podcast We Did

00:00 / 1:22:27

Brick & McClain discuss D&D as a moral shaming mechanism, liquor that makes them violently ill, the statute of limitations on spoilers, throat stabbing, nostalgia cakes, and muggle quidditch.

FF4: Free Enterprise Character Breakdown

Final Fantasy IV: Free Enterprise is one of the best randos I’ve played yet. I adore every version of Final Fantasy IV I’ve ever played, even that cash-grab sequel starring Cecil Jr. and Poochie, so a new way to revisit the game has been very exciting. I have lots of thoughts about the rando, but the most interesting ones are on the choice you can make regarding your team, so that’s what this post is about.

Most versions of FFIV don’t allow you to build your party, and the two versions that do have incentives to use all the characters at least once, and only at the very end of the game. It’s not like other JPRGs where you’re making decisions about your party through the entire story. It really wasn’t until Free Enterprise that I ever had cause to stop and think of the merits of one character vs. another. In this post I’m going to outline how characters are obtained in the rando and some general thoughts on who you ought to take or, failing that, how to make do with who you find.

Two Starting Characters

The basic rule is, Free Enterprise gives you a character anytime you reach a location where someone joined in the main story. I’ll call these “Join Spots”. Since you start with two characters in the main story, Free Enterprise rolls you two characters to start with. Depending on who you get will determine how easy your start is.

I’ll get into the merits of each individual character later, but the best possible start is probably to get Edge. Since Free Enterprise characters join the team with the same levels and equipment set they have in the base game, and Edge is one of the last characters you meet, any number of early game bosses will go down nice and easy. Fusoya is another great character to start with, but I play with a game flag that causes him to be weak until you kill some bosses, so Edge is still your best get.

The worst possible start would be something like Edward/Tellah, but even that is manageable if you know where the other Join Spots are.

Duplicate Characters

Some characters join the party more than once in FFIV, so in Free Enterprise there are more Join Spots than there are characters. This means some characters are found in multiple locations. A character can’t be in your party more than once (although that would be amazing, here’s hoping for a future version), so if you run into a duplicate character nothing special happens.

Freebie Characters

There are “free” Join Spots at Watery Pass, Damcyan, Mysidia and Mt. Ordeals. (These are the spots where Tellah, Edward, Palom/Porom, and Tellah again join in the main story.) If you’re playing with the No Free Lunch flag turned off, you can immediately fly to these spots to fill out your team. You’re not guaranteed to see everyone, so you don’t exactly get to pick and choose who you want, but it’s had to imagine not having a great party after seven rolls.

Nobody I know plays with this flag off, because I don’t consort with cowards, so let’s pretend the freebie characters don’t exist.

“Freebie” Characters

With No Free Lunch turned on, there are two characters you can reach without doing any treasure hunting. The first one you’re likely to check is in the Baron Inn, though he’ll be guarded by two boss fights. The other is on the Mt. Hobs summit, and is guarded by a much easier boss fight. If you’re not ready to start taking bosses yet you can check to see who they are before triggering the fight.

This early in the game, single-target damage is your goal. Ideally, between these two characters plus the two you start with, you’ll find some combination of Edge, Kain, and Yang. Casters aer great later on, but they all start out pretty weak (except for Fusoya, with an asterisk), and it’s likely you’ll find a good spear or ninja sword during your initial explorations. These single target bros are your moneymakers at first.

If you got the dreaded Edward/Tellah start, and there are no good bows to equip His Royal Spooniness with up front, you’ll probably have to take out a few lowbie bosses to get enough EXP to take on the bosses in Baron and on Mt. Hobs.

After you’ve checked these locations, everyone else is blocked off by key items. You’ll have to do some treasure hunting to find everyone else.

Key Item Characters

In addition to two characters, Free Enterprise starts you out with one key item. If you’re very lucky, it’ll be one of these, which unlock easy Join Spots:

Package – This is a cool item to get early. Fly this to Mist, and you’re rewarded with a short scene where you fight whichever character rolled into this slot. They’ll summon Titan and knock you out, then you’ll proceed to Kaipo where you’ll automatically fight a very easy boss to get them into the party. You might call this the vanilla start, since this is the item the king gives you at the beginning of FFIV.

SandRuby – You can check which character is asleep in Kaipo any time you want, but you can only wake them up if you find the SandRuby.

Hook – With the Hook, you can fly your Hoovercraft to the Eblan Cave. There’s a Join Spot at the end, where some poor character gets whooped by whichever boss rolled into Rubicant’s slot. They’ll join immediately.

Darkness Crystal – Flying to Mysidia with the Darkness Crystal triggers the Big Whale event, allowing you to travel to the moon and immediately access the Join Spot outside the crystal chamber at the start of the final dungeon.

It’s nice to get these items early, but don’t go into Free Enterprise counting on them. Chances are you’ll have to fight at least a few bosses or pop a few monster chests to fill out your numbers.

Guarded Characters

Here are the rest of the Join Spots, each of which is blocked by both a key item and two boss fights. I’ll list them in rough ascending order of difficulty, for what it’s worth, but you’ll probably have to make do with what items you find. (And some boss fights are dreadfully difficult no matter which slot they roll into.)

Baron Key – This item grants access to the equipment shops in Baron, as well as the Castle. There’s a Join Spot in the castle behind two boss fights. If you’re strong enough to beat the bosses in the Baron Inn, chances are you can take the two bosses inside as well. You don’t get a chance to check this character before triggering the bosses.

Earth Crystal – By flying to Troia and speaking to the green soldier you can explore the Tower of Zot whenever you want. There are two boss fights here, behind which is a Double Join Spot. You can fight the first of these bosses to see who the first character is, but once you trade the crystal to Golbez both characters join your party before the second boss fight. These are the toughest boss fights in the Overworld, so don’t be surprised to face a wall here if someone like Wyvern or Dark Knight Cecil rolls into their slots.

Magma Key or Hook – Either of these key items grants access to the Underworld, where you can reach the Join Spot in the Dwarf Castle. These bosses are about as tough as the ones in Zot. You don’t get to check this character, but they join in time for the second fight. If you’re using the Hook to reach the Underworld through the Eblan Cave, you’ll have to face two more bosses in Bab-il who are considerably tougher, making this potentially the most well-guarded character in the game.

Darkness Crystal – Talking to the soldier on the Big Whale grants access to the Giant of Bab-il, where one more Join Spot awaits you at the end, behind two of the toughest bosses in the main story. If you get very lucky with early equipment and easy boss rolls, it’s possible the Darkness Crystal grants you two early characters!

Now that we know where all the characters are, who should we take? Well, that largely depends on what you find and where you can check, but you’ll eventually have to make hard decisions regardless. Reaching a Join Spot with an already-full party will prompt you to dismiss someone, and dismissed characters are never seen again (unless they’re your duplicate for the seed). It’s tempting to think you’ll just take the characters you want and dismiss the rest, but in practice you usually won’t want to replace a developed character even if their replacement is strictly better.

I’ve arranged the characters in order of the general usefulness of each character’s role. Who you want to take will likely be a function of which roles you have filled and who you manage to find.

White Mages

You will need need need a white mage in your final party, and by “white mage” I mean “someone who can spam Cure4”. It is possible to defeat Zeromus without a dedicated healer, but the fight is much tougher, and the road there is much tougher as well. There are three good white mages in the game, so chances are you’ll roll into one. I would consider completing the rando without one of these characters to be a challenge run.

You only need one white mage. My general rule is to take whichever of Porom or Rosa I find first, or Fusoya if I find neither. The only reason to double up on healers is if you want someone casting White in the endgame.

Rosa – Pound for pound, Rosa is the most useful character in Free Enterprise. She has a higher Will stat than Porom, though that doesn’t matter much since equipment tends to equalize that. She learns all of the important spells (Cure4, Float, Wall, Life2) at earlier levels than Porom does, plus she can Aim. Bows and arrows are pretty good in the first half of the rando, especially if one of your shops carries Artemis or Samurai Arrows, and Rosa can never miss with them. I mentioned earlier how one solid martial character can mow down most of the early bosses. With just a tiny smidge of luck, Rosa can be that character.

Porom – Porom is worse than Rosa across the board, since she gains all the important spells later than Rosa does and can’t Aim. If you find her early and gain a bunch of levels before locating Rosa, though, she’ll carry you to the end with no difficulty. Her one advantage is she actually learns the Exit spell, which is very useful while treasure hunting. (Rosa only learns this spell if you complete the Tower of Zot!)

Fusoya – Fusoya is a special character with his own rando flag. If the flag is off, he joins your party with 1900 HPs and every spell in the game. If the flag is on he joins with way fewer resources, and gains some HPs and a few randomly-selected spells each time to defeat a boss. There are like six bosses you can kill effortlessly right at the start of the rando, so Fusoya is a good early get no matter what you do. His drawback is his small MP pool; he can’t cast as long as Rosa or Porom can, and you risk your Cure4 battery dying at a crucial moment in the Zeromus fight. You can mitigate this if you roll SomaDrops into one of your shops, but that’s janky and expensive. If you keep Fusoya in your team it will probably be in the role of secondary caster, and you’ll be using him for black magic or emergency revives.

Tellah – Tellah is not a viable white mage. Do not take him.

Top-Tier Martials

Winning the game with just casters is possible, but pretty tricky due to how many hard-hitting physical attacks you’ll have to face while treasure hunting. Outside of Adamant Armor, squishies can’t absorb these attacks; you’ll need someone on the front line with heavy armor and lots of HPs. These characters will also be your primary source of damage early in the rando, until you level up a black mage.

The only real consideration with these characters is you only have three front-line spots to use. If you have more martials than spots, someone has to sit in the back row where their usefulness is drastically decreased.

Cecil – Cecil weilds the strongest weapons, wears the best armor, has amazing HPs, and automatically tanks hits for other heroes if they’re near death. Even better, all his endgame equipment shows up in monster boxes. You are going to find more Crystal gear than you know what to do with. Cecil’s only drawback is you need to “level” him by completing Mt. Ordeals and turning him into a Paladin, and he’s useless before that. Since there are three bosses and a key item up there, you’ll probably do Mt. Ordeals early anyway. If you find Cecil before then just stick him in the party and tell him to sit tight. If you don’t, clear Mt. Ordeals then prioritize searching for him.

Kain – Kain has the same advantage Cecil does: strong gear that rolls into the monster box pool. His other major advantage is the Jump command, which deals damage from the back row. This has the benefit of making Kain basically invincible to physical attacks, and freeing up a front line spot for another martial, should you find one.

Edge – Edge is a little squishier than Cecil and Kain. He’s incredibly strong early on and tends to taper off by the time you hit the Underworld or the Moon. Still, he’s the only character with two endgame weapons in the key item pool, so it’s easy to gear him up. His Dart command deals huge single-target damage, which is excellent early on for getting through out-of-depth bosses if they’re blocking your progress. In a pinch, you can put Edge in the back row if you manage to find some FullMoons, but this isn’t optimal.

Yang – Yang starts out weak but ends up so incredibly strong it’s almost scary. He doesn’t need gear (though, certainly give him anything useful you find!) and his only relevant stat is his experience level. His damage output will probably never outpace Cecil’s or Edge’s without some concentrated grinding; if you get him, consider clearing out the monster boxes in the Sylph Cave or the Lunar Subterrane to charge him up.

Black Mages

Black mages are an important source of damage both in boss fights and monster boxes. The problem is they mostly start out knowing no useful spells, meaning their first few boss fights are going to be real tough going. Your casting strategy is also going to be very different depending on which of these mages you find and decide to stick with. Whomever you put in this role, remember the Stardust Rod is their best weapon. If you find this in a shop during your initial exploration, and you rolled a black mage as a starting character or one of your freebies, this is one of the most potent weapons you can buy. Its use ability casts Comet, which is enough to wipe out pretty much anything in the Overworld.

Unlike white mages, doubling up on black mages is actually viable, especially through the mid-game when you’re clearing a bunch of pesky monster boxes. Feel free to take two or more black mages with you if you’re feeling fiesty.

Palom – Palom is so much more powerful than the other black mage options that I will actually consider dismissing one I’ve leveled up a bit if I find him late. He has higher Wis. than the other black mages, which translates directly into more damage, plus he has the Bluff command to raise his own Wis. during battle. He also gains black magic at a much quicker rate than Rydia, most notably Ice-2 (which he gets after a single level) and Quake. Quake alone can destroy every monster box and most boss fights in the game. I’ve cleared the Lunar Subterrane of all its chests with an extremely under-leveled party just using Palom’s mighty Quake.

Rydia – Rydia is a distant second when it comes to black mage options. Her Wis. is lower than Palom’s, but that’s not really the issue. You won’t be able to make good early use of Rydia unless you find some useful Call magic (which are found randomly as treasures, or sometimes in item shops) or a path to the Underworld. By completing the event in the Dwarf Castle Rydia will grow up, immediately granting her all the *-2 elemental spells and most of her Call magic. If you don’t find a way to the Underworld, and don’t manage to luck into a Levia or Baham item, Rydia is stuck as a kid with probably not much to do with the scant experience you can win from Overworld bosses. That being said, an early Sylph spell can be a godsend, turning Rydia into a passable healer during the mid-game. It’s not really that she’s bad per se, it’s just that Palom is so much better so much earlier, and without any luck involved.

Fusoya – Fusoya is a decent black mage, with all the same caveats that make him a decent white mage. He has a smaller MP pool, and his randomly-selected magic sets might leave you hanging without a good attack option like Virus or Quake for way too long. Of course that flips the other way too; you might get super lucky and score Quake really early, in which case you can go ham. One good strat if you find Fusoya early is to commit to him plus one other caster, letting him take on the opposite role of whomever you find next.

Anyone – If you have the Japanese flag turned on (and you really, really should) you will find a lot of spellcasting items both in treasure boxes and in shops. Learn what these do. You will often find seeds where a bit of black magic can carry you through a really tough fight, and anyone can use items off the menu. GaiaDrum casts Quake, Vampire casts Drain, Coffin casts Fatal, and there are a few other useful ones besides. If you find a shop with some spellcasting items but no black mage in your early explorations, consider buying some to make your life easier.

Tellah – Tellah is not a viable black mage. Do not take him.

Mid-Tier Martials

There is only one character in this tier. It is Cid.

Cid – Cid has two drawbacks, but they are fatal ones. First, he has no endgame equipment. The best weapon he can use is the Rune Axe, which is fairly weak compared to what the other front-liners can use. (He has the Earth Wrench, which casts Quake when you use it, but not the Wis. stat to back it up, so it won’t stomp the game the way Palom can.) Second, he is incredibly slow. Consider giving him a Crystal Ring to enhance his Agility a bit, but even then, watch in awe as the other characters lap him. That being said, Cid’s HP pool gets pretty unreasonable at higher levels, effortlessly clearing 4000+ with just the EXP you pick up along the way. Worst case scenario, put him on the front line with Armor or Blink and let him tank the physical hits.


These characters are terrible and you should not use them. Well, usually. You might not have a choice at first. The only thing worse than starting with one of these characters is starting with one and then finding them again as your duplicate on Mt. Hobs.

Cecil – Before promoting to Paladin on Mt. Ordeals, Cecil is the weakest character in the game by a very, very large margin. His one and only benefit is that he starts with more HP and stronger gear than Edward or Rydia do; he probably won’t die to the bosses in the earliest slots. He’s the best garbo character because you can take him immediately to Mt. Ordeals to transform him into a powerhouse. If you don’t, he is not a viable character in the slightest.

Edward – Edward is just barely viable if you squint. His one and only asset is his high Agility (which isn’t even that high, on average; just “not worse than anyone else really”). If you find a really good bow and either Artemis or Samurai Arrows in a shop, Edward is good for 1200-ish damage from the back row. His HP is kind of the opposite of Cid’s; the developers didn’t intend for either character to reach high levels, so didn’t pay much attention to what their HPs curves did. Cid gets way too much, and Edward gets way too little. Plan on spending lots of money on Apples, if you can. Or, better yet, just dismiss Edward at the first opportunity.

Tellah – Tellah starts with pitiful spells, low casting stats, awful HP, no Agility, and it gets worse. His 90 MP looks like a lot at first, when compared to Rydia or the twins, but by the mid-game is not enough to carry the team as a white or black mage. His one and only saving grace is you can get him some useful spells by completing Mt. Ordeals. More than once I’ve used his Stone spell from there to clear the monster boxes in Eblan Castle or the Tower of Zot. Unless you want to spend a million GP on SomaDrops so he can keep barely-adequate pace with sub-par Cure4s, dismiss him as soon as you can.

Thank you for reading this post about characters from a video game that came out 500 years ago!