Solo White Mage: The Power of Hope

Next up was the dungeon that I had most been dreading among the midgame troika, the Ice Cave. This place is almost always one of the hardest challenges to complete in Final Fantasy due to a confusing layout for newcomers and a truly nasty monster mix. Remembering how I had faced the non-random nature of encounters when saving right outside the Marsh Cave and the Castle of Ordeals, I decided to try making a save point some distance outside the Ice Cave before canoeing over to the entrance. Unfortunately this didn't work either: the encounters still weren't random and took place in the same order, they just started in different places depending on how many fights Hope had taken before arriving at the entrance. This continued to be an unsatisfying mechanic due to the lack of actual randomness and I would have to basically memorize the pattern of monster encounters in order to make it through the dungeon.

Speaking of those nasty enemy groupings, the Ice Cave is one of the hardest dungeons to complete in Final Fantasy because there are so many ways for the party to get wiped out. Hope faced a common encounter with Mummies/Cockatrices near the entrance where every Cockatrice had a chance to inflict petrification on their attacks for an instant kill. The odds of this were pretty low and one use of the Zeus Gauntlet would wipe out all of the birds, but when there were 2-6 Cockatrices per battle who were all attacking, eventually some of their attacks were going to land. More dangerous than the Cockatrices were the undead with paralyzing strikes, Images and Wraiths and Geists and Spectres. They were a common battle in the Ice Cavern and always showed up in huge packs with as many as nine enemies present. The odds for a status effect to be inflicted on a monster attack are (100 - Magic Defense) / 200 which translated in this case to roughly (100 - 70) / 200 = about 15%. Therefore any one undead blow was unlikely to land the paralysis but there were just so many of them in each battle that Hope found herself getting stunlocked and then killed quite often. Also keep in mind that the paralysis has a chance to hit on each attack which is why multi-attacking undead like Geists tend to be so effective. Even worse were the Mages who had high odds to get a "Monsters strike first" round and almost always started each combat by casting the RUB spell which had roughly 50/50 odds to kill Hope. Dodging one RUB was possible but when three or four Mages popped up in a random encounter, well, the numbers were not on my side. Finally, if Hope could avoid all of the bad stuff in random encounters, there was still the Eye which had its own flurry of instant death spells to contend with. This was not going to be easy.

The path forward through the Ice Cave was one that I had to figure out through trial and error. Hope would basically never die to accumulated damage, only to one of these various status effects, which meant that I needed to map out a path through the random encounters that minimized her chances of getting stunned or petrified or RUBed out of existence. Eventually I discovered that the best set of random encounters resulted from fighting two battles before entering the cavern. This would cause Hope to face a fairly easy combat against Mummies/Cockatrices, followed by two battles against Red Bones and then Wizards which would never deal enough damage to kill her. The Zeus Gauntlet could blast through all of these opponents without breaking a sweat. Then she would reach the second basement floor where Hope had to survive a guaranteed Image/Wraith undead fight, followed by an easier combat with the pictured Frost Wolves and Frost Giant. This is actually an un-runnable encounter so I would have Hope cast double RUSE followed by repeated Zeus Gauntlet casts of LIT2 until they were all dead. Hopefully the step counter would then allow Hope to fall down the hole to the third basement before the next encounter which was guaranteed to be against the deadly Mages. And then she would have to survive the trapped square on the bottom level which always has a fight against more paralyzing undead - argh!

The rest of the bottom basement floor wasn't that bad, as it served up fights against GrPedes and Frost Dragons who hit hard but didn't have any status attacks. The Frost Dragons never used their Blizzard ability, something that I remember from the Berserkers playthrough as well, which leads me to suspect that Ozmo made a mistake in their programming; they're supposed to use Blizzard 50% of the time. There was also a Sorcerer encounter on this floor which I rarely made it far enough to see and brought its own perils from insta-kill melee attacks. After going up the stairs to the first floor, Hope typically had to survive another Wraith battle with its chance to paralyze followed by more Mummies/Cockatrices with their low odds to turn her to stone. And if she could survive all that, she would get her chance against the Eye:

This reskinned Beholder from Dungeons and Dragons mostly uses a series of instant death attacks that varied in terms of their actual danger level. The Eye has 62% odds to cast a spell which always follows the pattern of XXXX-BRAK-RUB-LIT2-HOLD-MUTE-SLOW-SLEP. Out of these spells, XXXX was not dangerous to Hope since it always kills any party member with less than 300 HP but also always fails against anyone with more than 300 HP. BRAK and RUB were vastly more dangerous, two different instant kill spells which had about 70% and 50% odds (respectively) to land successfully against Hope. I always preferred that the Eye would use one of its abilities at 23% odds over casting these dangerous spells; the Eye's GLANCE-SQUINT-GAZE-STARE abilities were also instant death moves but had much lower odds to succeed, down around 10-15% since they used the status-inflicting formula. Even better would be the Eye attacking but that only happened about 14% of the time; any melee attacks from the Eye were infintely better than rolling the dice on something that might kill Hope. She could take down the Eye in two or three rounds of combat through repeated use of the Zeus Gauntlet and there was little that I could do other than cross my fingers and hope to dodge BRAK appearing.

With so many different ways for Hope to get wiped out, it was always going to take a lot of repeated attempts at the Ice Cave to make it through in one piece. Her single biggest killer was the Mage encounter which I had specifically crafted a path through the dungeon to try and avoid ever seeing; sometimes the step counter didn't line up properly though and the Mages would RUB her off the board. (Ironically Hope could have blocked this if she had somehow been able to make it to Onrac and purchase the ARUB spell for which she had seventh-rank spell charges sitting around unused!) Outside of the Mages it was mostly the undead that wiped out attempts at the dungeon. There were just so many of them sprinkled thoughout the Ice Cave that it was impossible to avoid fighting multiple battles against them, plus the trapped tile on the bottom basement meant that they had to be fought twice more in guaranteed combats. On my most successful runs, Hope was either able to dodge their paralyzing attacks or benefit from well-timed "Chance to strike first" rounds that meant a free escape from combat. She was able to defeat the Eye about half the time that she made it to the boss, once killing the Eye on the second round with high LIT2 damage rolls before it had its turn, another time surviving BRAK at 30% odds. I had an attempt get past the Eye and survive the bottom basement floor only to get stunlocked by Wraiths on the top floor only two dozen steps from the exit - arghhhh! But the next time that Hope made it to that point, she rolled Wizards instead for the last encounter and that was a battle that would never be able to kill her. The stairs heading out were finally in sight:

Yes, there was a wonky graphical bug here for some reason, not that Hope cared. You know, I've been playing this game since the days when I had the physical NES cartridge in the early 1990s, and the sense of relief and triumph from making it out of the Ice Cave in one piece never goes away. This is such a tough dungeon that it's always a rush to complete the place and gain access to the airship for the first time. Hope needed fewer total attempts to complete this dungeon as compared with the Marsh Cave, however each single attempt also took longer to play out so the total time invested was probably about the same. I appreciated the fact that she wasn't simply running away from each fight, Hope was actually slaying most of the monsters through the use of the Zeus Gauntlet or HARM spells since that was usually safer than trying to land a successful flee attempt. The only thing that kept stopping her was the various status ailments inflicted by the monsters, and once she was finally able to dodge all of them she made it safely out with the FLOATER.

The airship always opens up the map and the second half of Final Fantasy's gameplay can mostly be done in any order the player desires. My first destination was a trip to Gaia to pick up a ProRing that replaced the venerable Gloves; this would protect Hope against Death element spells for the very brief time until she could obtain a Ribbon. It also increased Absorb by 7 points over the Gloves, up to a new total of 33 points for something approaching decent protection. Next I hopped over to the Caravan to purchase the mandatory BOTTLE, then headed for the Waterfall to pick up the highly useful treasures inside. This is a short dungeon that generally lacks anything too dangerous, however Hope managed to find a way to get wiped out inside. There's a trapped tile with Mummies and Cockatrices at the entrance to the treasure room; the resulting combat had exactly one Cockatrice which immediately attacked and petrified Hope at something like 10% odds. Well that was rather unlikely... I re-ran the same dungeon and fortunately avoided the same fate the second time around.

There were two massive prizes in the Waterfall which would enormously help Hope in her quest. The first was the pictured Defense sword, an item that casts RUSE when used in battle. This report has made it clear how RUSE was the single biggest tool in Hope's arsenal and now she was no longer limited by the number of first-rank spell charges. I could and did use the Defense for evasion protection in virtually every random encounter going forward as it was worth the time to lock out damage from melee attacks. Hope could even restore any health lost with the Heal Staff once she had that magical dodge zone in place. The other huge pickup was the first Ribbon of the game, a helmet with the same 1 Absorb as the Cap but which provides permanent resistance for all eight elements. The Ribbon effectively cuts all damage from elemental spells and abilities in half (while also preventing them from doubling their damage) and simultaneously blocks almost every instant death attack in the game. All of those kill moves have an associated element and therefore the Ribbon can stop them. The NUKE spell's non-elemental nature and Sorcerers with their non-elemental death blows are about the only things the Ribbon doesn't stop. It was highly amusing to face Cerberus enemies and have their Scorch ability deal 3-5 damage thanks to the Ribbon's innate fire resistance.

I was actually running a bit low on money to finish filling out Hope's last remaining spell slots, probably due to skipping all of the treasure chests inside the Ice Cave. Clearing out the Waterfall and raiding the chests in the Cardia Islands provided enough income to complete the process at which time I discovered another error in Final Fantasy Classic:

Hope was able to learn the spell CUR4 which is not supposed to be possible for White Mages; this is a White Wizard-only spell in the base game. I suspect this is just a typo that Ozmo made when he was putting together all of the coding, hopefully it's an easy fix to make. I had actually clicked on CUR4 in the White magic shop expecting to be told that Hope couldn't learn the spell and was shocked when the purchase went through. (HRM4 is another White Wizard-only spell which Hope correctly could not learn.) Since White Mages are not supposed to have access to CUR4, I avoided using it with Hope throughout the rest of her journey. For the other seventh-level spells, ARUB was completely irrelevant now that Hope had a Ribbon to wear since it only provides protection against poison, stone, and earth elements. HEL3 was the only useful spell here since it was another way to get healing from a different spell tier even though the party-wide aspect was completely wasted. I had earlier picked up INV2 even though RUSE outclassed it in every way - I didn't want FOG2 to look so lonely there at the sixth rank by itself! And even though Hope could learn the LIFE and HEL2 spells in the fifth-level category, the former spell was obviously useless and CUR3 would always be better than HEL2 for a solo character.

The Sea Shrine was the next major dungeon and it was a total cakewalk compared to some of the previous places where Hope had ventured. Almost everything in here was weak against lightning element which allowed the Zeus Gauntlet to shred through the place. Hope now had the Defense to let her employ RUSE on an infinite basis and there didn't appear to be any monster encounters in the Sea Shrine that had much in the way of status-inflicting effects. Enemies like Waters and Ghosts and the pictured GrSharks had powerful melee attacks... which did precisely nothing for them once the RUSE shield was in place. Hope was about to top 500 HP which meant that it was almost impossible to wear through her full health in a single encounter and I could easily Heal Staff her back to full at the end of each fight. (This is another place where running the gameplay at triple speed REALLY comes in handy!) After getting wiped out so many times in the Ice Cave, it was a total power trip to waltz through the Sea Shrine with complete impunity, dealing out lightning-based death at every turn.

These battles were not only easy to complete, they also provided massive amounts of experience for a solo character. Hope was routinely getting 3000, 4000, even 5000 XP from individual victories and the amount of experience needed for the next level up never goes above 32k in this game. I had to run away from some encounters to avoid leveling up since I needed to keep manipulating Strength increases for Hope. Then there were also the treasures that she found in the dungeon, with the top floor holding the mermaids having most of the goodies. The Mage Staff provided a fire-element version of the Zeus Gauntlet (casting FIR2 when used in battle) while the Opal Bracelet replaced the Gold Bracelet and added another 10 Absorb. Having 43 Absorb was actually enough to shrug off the blows from some of the weaker monsters. I took my time clearing out the loot on all of the various basement levels while Hope gained something like seven or eight levels in the process. I wasn't even trying to grind here, she simply kept gaining XP at an incredible rate!

Once the chests were all opened, Hope made her way down to the bottom floor where Kraken was lying in wait. This is one of the most dangerous of the main bosses due to his physical attack prowess: eight hits that could each deal 50-100 damage before applying Absorb, translating into 7-57 damage per hit against Hope's setup. I was crossing my fingers that Hope would get to go first in the initial turn order to apply a RUSE casting before Kraken's first attack, that or the big octopus choosing to waste his turn with the useless INK ability at 25% odds. The combat started and Hope did indeed go first which is why the above picture shows Kraken hitting only five times for 106 damage. Kraken managed to act first in the next two rounds though and he dealt another 100+ damage on each of his next two attacks before Hope could get the third RUSE casting in place. I actually had her use RUSE a fourth time just to be on the safe side, then burned through a pair of CUR3 spells to restore health in the unlikely event that Kraken would land some 1 in 200 odds crits. With her defensive setup fully online, Hope could then spend the rest of the battle using the Zeus Gauntlet to hit Kraken's lightning element weakness. Most uses of the Gauntlet dealt 100-150 damage and it didn't take too long to turn this boss into sushi.

The Sea Shrine had been incredibly easy for my solo White Mage and I could only hope that the Mirage Tower and Sky Palace would prove as friendly. Hope had to stop in Melmond to drop off the SLAB and then make a brief visit to Lefein for the CHIME; she was unable to learn the LIF2 spell, not that it would have done a solo character any good anyway. Then it was time for more dungeon crawling as Hope began sifting through the various treasures in the Mirage Tower. The main item that I wanted here was Thor's Hammer which has the identical property to the Zeus Gauntlet of casting LIT2 when used in battle but occupies a weapon slot instead of an armor slot. I would swap over from Zeus to Thor eventually but for the moment the new weapon remained held by one of the dead Fighters.

As for the monsters inside the tower, they lacked the omnipresent lightning weakness of the Sea Shrine's denizens but still didn't put up too much opposition for Hope. RUSE from the Defense shut down any physical attackers while elemental damage was greatly reduced by the Ribbon. Some of the enemies like Catmen and Cerberuses had low morale and would even run away due to Hope's high level. This was another dungeon that lacked any of the dangerous status-inflicting enemies which were so common in earlier places like the Marsh and Ice Caves; Final Fantasy's difficulty curve is pretty weird in this regard, with the earlier dungeons significantly harder than the later ones. I also discovered that the Mirage Tower was another place where each battle paid out massive amounts of experience for a solo character, with groups of Chimeras or Vampires routinely yielding 4000-5000 XP. As I mentioned above, the amount of experience needed to level never goes above 32k in Final Fantasy and therefore Hope gained a level on each of the first and second floors of the Mirage Tower alone. Who needs grinding when you level this fast naturally?

Once the Mirage Tower had been fully explored, it was time to head up into the Sky Palace. The Blue Dragon was a bit of a tough customer since it frequently used its THUNDER ability which could deal roughly 20-75 damage per appearance even with the Ribbon providing lightning resistance. The dragon is supposed to be weak to fire element but the Mage Staff didn't appear to be getting the 50% damage bonus for hitting an elemental weakness; this might be another minor error that Ozmo made when reproducing the original coding. Once Hope made it through the teleporter, she found herself facing a new set of monsters which weren't really any more dangerous than the ones below. Manticores were a common opponent here who had low attack and tried to poison Hope for some reason (huh?) The Eye from the Ice Cave was back as a random encounter but couldn't do anything to a character equipped with a Ribbon. Air elements were all-physical opponents who could be stopped by the Defense and GrNagas were total joke opponents who cast some of the least-dangerous spells imaginable. The only real threat here came from the Evilmen who had low odds to cast NUKE (which happened to Hope once), along with the Sorcerers up on the fourth floor with their instant-death attacks. Everything else was readily handled and I didn't even need to use many Heal potions since the Heal Staff was sufficient to keep up health.

The Sky Palace is the last place to collect new treasures before the final dungeon and there are some real doozies inside. The biggest prize for Hope was the ProCape, the only shield in the whole game that the White Mage class can use. It provded another 8 Absorb and capped her out at 51 points of the defensive stat. This required moving the Zeus Gauntlet out of the final armor slot which I was able to offset by unequipping the Silver Hammer and moving Thor's Hammer into a weapon slot. White Mages can't equip Thor's Hammer (only White Wizards can use it) so Hope had no weapon at all equipped for the moment, something that was no obstacle since she never used her melee attack. I also grabbed the Bane Sword for situational use along with the White and Black Shirts; the White Shirt would never be useful here since the Defense would always provide more evade, but I thought there were a few places where it would be worthwhile to give up the defense of the ProCape to have the Black Shirt available for castings of ICE2.

I cleared out the treasures on the first three floors of the Sky Palace all in one trip, taking advantage of the fact that Level 40 was a guaranteed Strength increase for the White Mage class and wouldn't require stat manipulation as Hope gained nearly two fulls levels getting in and out of the dungeon. With everything looted, Hope could then proceed directly to Tiamat on her next trip into the Sky Palace. I hit one encounter with Sorcerers and started laughing when most of them RAN AWAY from Hope thanks to her being Level 41 and overwhelming their morale. She was closing in on the final fiend when suddenly WarMech attacked on the long bridge, even getting a "monsters strike first" round. I tried to get the RUSE evasion shield in place but that didn't stop the robot's NUCLEAR ability and...

Yeah, I can't say that I was surprised about that. This is not a battle that a solo White Mage wants to fight, not with WarMech resisting every element other than Time (which Hope couldn't even use) and having 1000 HP to chew through. Repeated uses of Thor's Hammer at 25 damage per pop were never going to defeat this opponent before the non-elemental NUCLEAR wiped Hope out. All that I could really do was avoid this random encounter appearing since WarMech does have low odds of showing up. (Somehow both my Berserkers party and Hope ran into this battle at the first available opportunity - incredible bad luck or Ozmo making some kind of mistake in the encounter table odds?) Anyway, there was nothing to do but climb back up to the top of the Sky Palace again. This time I forced a random encounter on the fourth floor right before taking the final stairs, hoping that the step counter would get me to Tiamat before another battle took place. That didn't happen, however the one random encounter that I saw on the bridge had Air elements this time around who were easily handled with RUSE. WarMech is a much more dangerous opponent than Tiamat and I was glad that the robot didn't appear again.

My plan for Tiamat was to get all of the standard defensive protections in place for Hope, starting with the familiar triple RUSE casts. Tiamat has a strong physical attack as well but the main danger comes from her THUNDER-POISON-BLIZZARD-BLAZE set of abilities which she will use 50% of the time on each combat round. These have an effective strength a little bit higher than FIR2/LIT2 and hit the entire party when not playing with a solo character. Meanwhile, Tiamat also resists the three major elements so repeated castings of the Mage Staff or Thor's Hammer would only deal 20-30 damage per round. I didn't think that Hope could win an extended battle aross something like 40 rounds of attacking; her CUR3 charges would wear out before she could deal enough damage to defeat the fiend. CUR4 would make the battle a breeze but of course that spell was banned since she wasn't supposed to have it. Fortunately Tiamat has one well-known weakness:

She's vulnerable to poison/stone element which is why players can go for the infamous kill with BANE out of the Bane Sword. The odds for the spell to hit successfully aren't great, roughly 10-15% on each attempt, but that's a heck of a lot better than the 1 in 200 odds which would otherwise be the case. I've always wondered if the developers left this loophole in the game to allow underpowered variants to get past Tiamat since literally any build possible can make use of the Bane Sword in this fashion. In any case, this is the cheese solution for defeating Tiamat but a solo White Mage can't always afford to turn her nose up at some spicy chedder.

Hope nearly leveled from the victory over Tiamat and shortly thereafter found herself at Level 42. This was close enough to the level cap at Level 50 that I took the time to add the final eight levels before venturing into the Temple of Fiends Revisited. The best place to gain experience remained the Sea Shrine thanks to Thor's Hammer shredding everything inside and the town of Onrac having a convenient inn right next door. It took about five minutes to gain the experience needed for each level, followed by another five minutes or so to guarantee a Strength increase at those 1 in 4 odds via constant reloading. Even with the stat manipulation, this was about as fast of a leveling process as I can ever remember - it's super helpful that solo characters level at an incredible rate in this game.

Soon enough Hope had reached Level 50:

Thanks to my stat manipulation, she had the maximum possible Strength score of 54 for a White Mage; for sake of comparison, the average value for this stat at Level 50 is only 30 points. 24 additional points of Strength above the average translated into 12 more points of Attack which I knew Hope was going to need before the end of the game. Agility and Intelligence were not stats that I'd deliberately tried to increase and therefore both of them were right around their expected values (30 for Agility and 49 for Intelligence). I will point out that all that extra Intelligence was translating into noticeably more damage from spells now that Ozmo has added Intelligence scaling to the mechanics; Thor's Hammer was sometimes hitting for as much as 210 damage against lightning-vulnerable targets when the theoretical max damage for LIT2 should cap out at 180. I also saw the Heal Staff sometimes restore as many as 28 or 29 HP when the benefit from HEAL should be limited to 12-24 health, nice!

Vitality was the other stat that I'd gone out of my way to increase whenever I didn't need to emphasize Strength and that was reflected in having 42 points in the state as compared to an expected value of 36. As a reminder, every 4 points of Vitality grants another 1 HP on each level up which means that stacking Vitality early in the game has the greatest benefit. If you have 8 Vitality above expected by Level 15, that's +2 HP on the next 35 level ups = 70 more HP by the end of the game. Hope wound up with 744 HP which was a good bit above the average value of 676 HP for a White Mage; it's possible to get over 800 HP if you force Vitality increases for each level but it was tedious enough just manipulating Strength, much less going for the 1 in 16 odds to increase both stats at once. Finally, the Accuracy (Hit Percentage) and Magic Defense stats go up by 1 point and 2 points respectively with each level and can't be affected in any way. It really stinks that the mage classes get less Magic Defense than the melee classes which makes no sense from a thematic or gameplay perspective. Why are Fighters and Black Belts better at resisting spell effects than White Mages and Black Mages?!

Here's a quick look at the equipment that Hope had assembled for the final dungeon. She was going weaponless as I mentioned above which allowed her to hold Thor's Hammer and the Mage Staff along with the Defense and Heal Staff for utility purposes. One of the Fighter corpses being dragged along helpfully had the Bane Sword and Wizard Staff stuffed into its backpack for potential situational use. Over on the armor side, Hope ran her max Absorb setup as the default option to minimize incoming damage. Most of those additional armor options held by the dead Fighter would never be used (there was no reason ever to swap in the White Shirt or Zeus Gauntlet) but the Black Shirt and Power Gauntlet were potential options that I thought I could use in the upcoming dungeon. One nice thing about only running a single character is that there's finally enough inventory space to hold everything that you need.

With nothing else remaining to be done, it was time to travel 2000 years into the past and enter the Temple of Fiends Revisited. The first couple floors have some of the most dangerous random encounters before things get easier on the elemental-themed basement levels. Hope had a simple fight against a Worm to start followed by this extremely deadly battle against four Gas Dragons. They have a nasty melee attack which forced Hope to use the Defense for RUSE protection but that did nothing to stop their frequent POISON ability that kept hitting for 30-60 damage per use. (By the way, that's the damage with a Ribbon equipped - POISON can easily do 200 damage against unprotected characters.) There was no point in trying to heal with CUR3 because the dragons could outdamage Hope's healing capacity and unfortunately this is one of the few unrunnable encounters in Final Fantasy. I had no choice but to damage race the Gas Dragons with repeated spamming of Thor's Hammer and Hope ended up winning with 4 health remaining. That's not a typo: she survived with 4/744 HP, sheesh!

Fortunately other random battles were nowhere near as dangerous. Chimeras and Jimeras did minimal damage into Ribbon defenses while Slimes were weak against fire element and easy prey for the Mage Staff. The Phantom couldn't kill Hope with any of its instant death spells and was worn down with repeated Mage Staff casts. I had one fight against four Frost Dragons which thankfully popped up with "Chance to strike first" for a free escape from combat. Once Hope reached the earth floor, it was much easier to use the Defense and then heal up against Earths and MudGols. I wanted to conserve Heal potions after needing to burn so many from that Gas Dragon encounter and these next few basement levels were pretty friendly for Heal Staff usage.

Lich is the first of the four fiends revisited and he's dangerous for precisely the reason captured above: he can cast the NUKE spell. Lich will cast a spell 75% of the time and his specific spell order is NUKE-STOP-ZAP!-XXXX followed by endlessly repeating the same spells again. While the three instant death spells were irrelevant against a character with the Ribbon, NUKE deals 100-200 damage and has very high odds (about 70%) to double its damage with an additional 100-200 damage on top of the initial amount. NUKE's damage is non-elemental and there's no way to defend against it so that meant Hope had to rely on her offense for this fight. I did not waste time using the Defense as Lich rarely attacks and any round he spends using his melee strikes is a huge gift to the player. Instead, I used Thor's Hammer immediately in the hopes of bursting down Lich before he could get off the second NUKE. Lich is not weak to fire element here in the refight although I suppose that I could have used HRM3 for more damage since he is undead; I was trying to save those charges for potential CUR3 use against later bosses. In any case, I wore down Lich across six or seven rounds of combat and managed to kill him after absorbing two NUKEs but before the third could be launched. This was one of those times when having 700+ HP was a big help.

The monsters on the fire floor are kind of a joke and this was a good place to use the Heal Staff to recover from the beating that Hope had taken from the NUKE spell. Normally Kary is the weakest of the four fiends during the refights but she presented her own problems for Hope. Although Kary's strong physical attacks can be locked out via Defense usage, she also casts FIR3 pretty frequently which can wear down a solo character in 30-40 HP chunks. The bigger problem for Hope was Kary's own defenses as the boss resists fire, lightning and ice elements while also having enough Absorb to make physical attacking impractical. My solution was to give up the ProCape for this fight to put the Black Shirt in Hope's inventory. Repeated casts of ICE2 would deal 25% more damage than repeated casts of FIR2 or LIT2 and that would make a difference over a long, extended fight. So that's how this duel went, Hope getting her RUSE shield in place and then hitting Kary for 30-40 damage per round with the Black Shirt, slowly eating through her 700 HP. I wouldn't say there was any real chance of dying in this fight but it did take a while to complete.

The water floor was another fairly easy area, aside from a "Monsters strike first" combat against five Waters that nearly killed Hope before she could get the RUSE protection in place. Generally speaking, I could use the Defense for physical safety and then use the Heal Staff to get back to max HP even if the process took a while. Lobsters and Sea Snakes and GrSharks simply were not scary opponents at this stage of the game. Someone who was scary was Kraken though, as I desperately hoped that I could get RUSE evasion in place before he crushed Hope with his melee attacks. I certainly went back to the ProCape for this fight to have maximum Absorb available. The boss fight began and...

Kraken wasted the first turn casting LIT2, haha! Kraken actually has higher odds to do something other than attacking during the refight, with 38% odds to cast LIT2 and then another 15% odds to waste his turn using the INK ability. By throwing away his initial turn, Kraken lost any chance to stop Hope before she was able to get the RUSE protection in place. I actually used the Defense a fourth time to be absolutely certain that Hope had maxed out evade, then began hitting the big octopus repeatedly with Thor's Hammer. Kraken is no longer weak to lightning element in this second battle, however he doesn't resist the element either and it was more than sufficient to wear him down over about 8-10 rounds of further combat. Kraken was therefore a really weird boss fight for Hope: exceedingly dangerous on the first round, then a complete nonentity afterwards once she had her anti-physical defenses in place.

The air floor was the last remaining part of the game with random encounters present. Hope ran into more Worms and Rock Golems here plus occasional fights with Vampire/WzVampire pairings and Nightmares hanging out with Evilmen. There's one dreaded random encounter on this floor that can hold up to six Sorcerers with their deadly melee blows. Hope hit that exact battle only to have me laugh out loud when all of the Sorcerers once again turned tail and ran away from combat! They actually have a low morale stat for this point in the game and Hope's maxed out Level 50 status was enough to induce them to run away. Nothing else posed anything approaching that amount of danger and Hope was able to defeat or run away from all comers while making her way to the ultimate prize:

That would be the Masmune, the best weapon in the game. I've always thought that it was a stroke of genuius on the part of the developers to make this weapon equippable by everyone, almost as if they knew that some players would engage in wacky variants and provided them with a method that could still beat the final boss. The Masmune grants 56 Attack and 50 Accuracy which was enough to take Hope to 83 Attack when combined with her innate Strength; this was why I had spent the whole game grinding out those Strength increases on each level up. The 50 points of Accuracy were enough to reach 4 hits while unfortunately not being close to the 5th hit which would require reaching a score of 128. The Masmune also has 10% odds to crit and that's the biggest change here in Final Fantasy Renaissance where the infamous crit bug has been fixed. In the base game, the Masmune is listed in index number 40 which gives it 40% odds to crit; I could immediately tell the difference with the weapon critting much, much less often than what I remembered from past parties. Ozmo also appears to have made an error here because the status screen only listed 5% odds to crit. Either the status screen is displaying the wrong number or the gameplay is incorrectly using half the intended crit rate. I actually think it was the latter case because Hope's crit rate was very low and seemed to be more like 1 in 20 as opposed to 1 in 10 odds.

Now that Hope had a real weapon to wield, she suddenly became a whirling dervish of death. A typical melee attack saw her hitting 4 times for 400-500 damage which was easily enough to one-shot any non-boss opponent. I had a giddy feeling of no longer needing to hide behind RUSE protection and slowly chip away at enemies with LIT2 castings, instead Hope could get in their faces and cut them to ribbons! Or she could for the last five minutes of the game anyway, heh. It's too bad that she couldn't gain access to the Masmune until the absolute last minute. One opponent that Hope could use as target practice was Tiamat; after using the Defense three times for the standard RUSE evasion, Hope then went to town with her sword against the dragon. She averaged 200-300 damage per round against the higher Absorb on Tiamat and quickly dispatched this last foe before reaching the final boss.

Unfortunately Chaos was not going to be easy to defeat even with the Masmune. I did have one unorthodox tactic available thanks to the bug fixes in Final Fantasy Renaissance:

Behold, an actual use for the Power Gauntlet! This item was bugged and does nothing in the base game but now correctly casts SABR when used in combat to grant 16 more points of Attack and Accuracy. Although this sadly left Hope slightly short of getting a 5th hit on her attack, the extra 16 points of Attack were equivalent to 32 more levels of Strength gains. Her Attack was therefore raised to 99 for a damage range of 99-198, lowered to 1-98 damage per hit against the 100 Absorb on Chaos. With four attacks per round, Hope would average about 200 damage per swing and I could reasonably expect her to cut through the 2000 HP on Chaos in about eight rounds of fighting, less than that if she could hit some crits. The tricky thing would be surviving long enoug to deal that damage while working around the innate healing capabilities on the final boss.

Hope inevitably had to start the battle with Chaos by following her usual pattern of triple RUSE casts to lock out his powerful melee blows. Then it was time to break out the Power Gauntlet for the single casting of SABR (which is limited to one use; Ozmo does not allow stacking the spell in Final Fantasy Renaissance), followed by looking to shift over to the offensive. On each round, Chaos has 50% odds to use one of his spells, 25% odds to use an ability, and then 25% odds to attack normally. He always casts spells in the same order which is ICE3-LIT3-SLO2-CUR4-FIR3-ICE2-FAST-NUKE before cycling back to the beginning again. The most dangerous spell there is CUR4 which restores 2000 HP and heals him to full on each casting, repeatable infinitely since Final Fantasy doesn't have magic points for enemies. The timing here lined up pretty well for Hope though: she would spend the first few rounds using RUSE and SABR while Chaos went through his initial spell progression, then she could hopefully slip in a round or two of healing with CUR3 before going all-offensive once the CUR4 appeared. How fast Chaos goes through his spell progression is one of the biggest RNG elements of this battle and I knew that I'd have to play things by ear and adjust my tactics according to what the boss did.

There was one aspect of the battle that I didn't anticipate, however: the SLO2 spell!

This is the anti-FAST spell, removing extra hits from the target instead of doubling them. Hope was nailed with the initial casting of SLO2 from Chaos and I quickly realized that it dropped her down to a single attack - ugh! Hitting for roughly 50-60 damage per round on average wasn't going to be enough to get the job done, not with Chaos eventually cycling back around to CUR4 again and removing all damage taken. I tried my best but couldn't deal sufficient damage and eventually perished on my first attempt at the final boss. Afterwards, I looked up the odds of SLO2 hitting against Hope's Magic Defense and calculated that the odds were right around 50/50. (Technically 148 base chance + 64 accuracy on SLO2 - 118 Magic Defense on Hope = 94 / 200 = 47%.) That was pretty disappointing, another giant dice roll RNG element at the very end of the game? It would seem to be the case, sigh. I would have to start over again from the beginning of the Temple of Fiends Revisited and try again.

OK then, Attempt #2 was going well until reaching Kraken on the water floor. He went first in this battle and hit eight times for 932 damage and an instant one-hit kill (!!!) That had to be two different attacks going critical on his part, incredibly unlucky give that Kraken has 1% odds to crit. Welp, not much to be done about that (I was so stunned I missed the screenshot), all I could do was try again. Attempt #3 made it back to Chaos only to fail the SLO2 dice roll a second time. I kept track of Hope's attacks and she tallied up 965 damage before the second CUR4 arrived and wiped out all her progress. That was good news overall: she would deal four times as much damage when not tagged with SLO2 which looked like it would clearly be enough to defeat the boss. Attempt #4 saw Hope's luck flip in the opposite direction as the SLO2 spell finally missed this time around. I perfectly timed working around Chaos' CUR4 spell, healing Hope to full and then attacking second in turn order on the same round that Chaos healed himself to full. Hope was banging out 346 damage, 161 damage, 282 damage, then landed a crit for a whopping 705 damage blow. With Chaos approaching NUKE in his spell order, I paused one turn for a CUR3 to take her above 400 HP for safety, then delivered the final strike to complete the variant:

Victory achieved! I really enjoyed how I had to approach this final boss fight with a real strategy (and get a little bit lucky in terms of dodging SLO2). The biggest factor here was the fixing of the crit bug; in the base game, all it really takes is getting a character to Chaos with the Masmune and then the constant critical hits will down the boss without much worry. Hope was critting either 1/4th or 1/8th as often as the old buggy rate and it made a massive difference in terms of damage output. She only had a single crit in the entire victorious Chaos fight which is extraordinarily different from how the base game plays out. Combine that together with the fixing of the running bug, which made it vastly harder to escape from enemy combats, and I have to think that this was more difficult than playing the same variant in the original NES game. I think that it was more rewarding as well though and I'm quite happy that Ozmo put this game together so that I could experience Final Fantasy as it was meant to be played.

This is a variant that I've wanted to complete for about twenty years now and I'm glad that I could finally accomplish it. Solo White Mage has been done innumerable times in the 35 years since this game was first released but I may be the first person ever to complete this challenge in Final Fantasy Renaissance with the bugs fixed. That's a nice feeling if it proves to be the case. As always, thanks for reading along - I hope you enjoyed Hope's story!