Solo Cecil

I've been playing a lot of Final Fantasy lately, and having a lot of fun with various different challenges. Unfortunately, I've also run through most of the ideas that I wanted to try, and I'm not willing to do something completely crazy (solo Thief!) just to pass the time. In other words, I'm pretty tapped out on the original Final Fantasy right now, but at the same time, I still want to keep playing something similar, if that makes sense.

That's when I got the idea to go back to a different Final Fantasy game, and try a different challenge that I've been meaning to undertake for ages. All of the SNES Final Fantasies are fantastic games, and I might get around to FF 5 and FF 3/6 eventually. At the moment though, I plan to explore the older Final Fantasy 2/4 in more detail, by doing a solo Cecil challenge. For simplicity's sake, I'll refer to the game by its proper name of "Final Fantasy 4", even though I originally experienced it as a kid under the FF2 name, and still think of the game as FF2 most of the time.

Why a Solo Cecil game? Well for one thing, Cecil is the only character who stays in your party throughout the entire run - it would get pretty silly if you tried to do a solo version of one of the other characters! Since I'm not nearly as familiar with this game as the original Final Fantasy, I'd also prefer to do something simple and skip the exotic variants - at least for the moment. In fact, playing with only one character will help simplify the gameplay, and actually reveal some of the workings "under the hood" that get missed in the rapid-fire action of managing the usual five characters. Finally, Cecil's one of the better FF lead characters. If the game had been made in 2001 instead of 1991, he would have been an effeminate wuss moaning about how he never knew his parents (complete with extensive cinematic flashback sequences). But thankfully this game was made before Square ruined itself with visual eye candy and bizarre anime-quality storylines. Cecil is just a badass, and nothing more need be said.

One more thing I need to mention: I'm playing a translated version of the original FF4, instead of the easier USA version that became FF2. Mostly the game is the same, but there are some extra abilities in the Japanese version, and a few items that never appeared in the American port. I'll explain the differences as they crop up. Anyway, here's the starting status screen for our hero:

When I played this game as a kid in the early 90s, the only thing I ever looked at was the experience and "for level up" numbers. There's actually a lot more going on here, of course, so... uh... if you're not interested in what these stats mean, better go ahead and scroll ahead a few paragraphs, OK?

Still with me? Good. Surprisingly, there are only five stats in this game - the same number as in the original Final Fantasy. They function completely differently though. Strength increases physical attack damage as it goes up - makes sense. Agility increases the speed with which characters attack (FF4 uses an "Active Time Battle" in which there are no "rounds" of combat). More agility, the sooner you attack again. It's patently obvious in the early game that most monsters have virtually no agility, as you get to attack two or three times to their one. Unlike the original FF, Vitality has nothing to do with hit points! Vitality increases physical defense (what was called Absorb in the first game). Yes, in this game you can increase your armor simply by leveling up - which was impossible in the first game. This is something that would take me some getting used to. Finally, Wisdom and Will affect black and white magic power, respectively. Even if you can cast magic, characters with low scores in these stats won't be able to heal or cause much damage. Since Cecil is a fighter and not a caster, I won't be talking much about these numbers.

Now the numbers on the right side of the screen are where it really starts to get interesting. Obviously the attack number is how much physical damage Cecil does. But what does the "2x" mean? There's surprisingly little information on the Internet about the basic calculations in FF4, and I could never find a complete formula that answered this question. As best I can tell, this number lays out how many "hits" Cecil can do when attacking, just like how fighters would get "2 Hits!" in the original Final Fantasy. It appears to be possible to land 2, 1, or 0 of those hits when attacking, just like before. That's determined by the Attack % number listed just below. Again, I don't know what the actual calculation here is, but I would imagine the game compares the attacker hit percentage minus the defender's defense percentage to see if a blow lands. Put another way, at low levels Cecil was definitely missing more than 18% of the time - it's a bit more complicated than that!

So when Strength goes up, the attack power goes up, and ditto for equipping more powerful weapons. However, oddly the attack multiplier (i.e. number of hits) also goes up as Strength increases - and when Agility increases too! Every 8 points of Strength, and every 16 points of Agility, Cecil gets an additional hit. Leveling up also grants additional attack power and attack % independently of the stats - one point in each every 4 level ups. So unlike in the NES Final Fantasy, where finding new and better weapons was far more important for the fighter than adding more levels, in this game Cecil's damage output is hugely dependent on his level. You can solve pretty much every problem in this game by leveling, it seems. Not sure if that's entirely a good thing, but whatever - you better know the rules if you want to play the game!

Defensively, every two points in Vitality adds another point of defense. (Think of this as another point of Absorb, for you FF vets.) Every 8 points in Agility adds a defensive multiplier - so from 1x to 2x, 3x, etc. I really have no clue how this works - are these like the defensive "shields" to offensive "hits"? Obviously having a higher multiplier is better, but how does the exact calculation work? If an attacker has 3 hits and the defender 2 shields, are the first two blocked and then the third comes through at full damage (?) If someone knows how this works, please email me and tell me! I'm really curious. As for the Defense %, you'd think this would work like Evade from Final Fantasy, but nope! Agility has nothing to do with this stat whatsoever, and it only goes up and down based on the armor Cecil has equipped. Agility only affects the defensive multiplier, not the to-hit calculation.

Long story short: leveling up makes your characters a lot better. You probably didn't need me to tell you that, right?

Anyway, the first thing I had to do was kill off Kain:

Ha - take that! Serves you right for getting hypnotized over and over again! (Much as I like this game, the whole "mind control" plot is dreadfully bad writing.) It took forever to kill off Kain, a good indication of how strong the starting two characters are relatively to the initial enemies. Once he was finally dead, Cecil could get to work. The various Imps and SwordRats in the Mist Cave posed no challenge at all, just free experience as I looted the treasure chests. I should mention that I put Cecil in the back row at the suggestion of one of the guides I looked at online. Although that cut his damage output noticeably, it also slashed the damage enemies could do to him enormously - none of the early foes could do more than one damage! And Cecil starts with 200 hit points. Guess how that turned out? Long battles, zero danger. Like the Iron Fists variant of mine all over again!

Even the Mist Dragon couldn't do more than one damage when attacking, except for the irritating mist breath when Cecil attacked at the wrong time. Stuck in the back row, and without Kain's help, this fight took ages to complete. I think the dragon transformed into mist six different times! Still, there was no danger at all; I played it safe, and Cecil won without issue.

Burn down the Mist Village, take Rydia to the desert town, yadda yadda. (I'm not making any effort to avoid spoilers, because this game is almost 20 years old. If you don't want to know what happens, don't read this story!) Nothing makes you feel more evil than killing off a little girl right after she's joined your party. Then again Cecil is a Dark Knight right now, hehe.

It was very clear early on when Cecil would land either one or both of his two hits. A little over half the time he would land only the one hit, and dish out 15-20 damage. Somewhat less often, he would land both hits and do roughly 35-40 damage. Never anything in between, just the one or the other. That lent more credence to my belief that Cecil was actually landing separate numbers of hits, rather than just having an attack "multiplier" take place, as so many online guides seem to claim. Right upon entering the Underground Waterway, Cecil hit Level 13 and Strength 16, which meant a third hit. This damage was immediately noticeable:

Each hit was clearly doing about 15 damage; Cecil would do right around 15 damage, 30 damage, or 45 damage per attack. One, two, or three hits. While empirical evidence doesn't amount to proof, I was starting to feel as though I had a good grasp on how Cecil's attack worked, and what to expect when fighting.

Met up with Tellah, and amused myself by having him blast himself out of existence with Thunder:

I really feel evil playing this variant. It's most fun. I was irritated when one of the game's programmed events revived everyone when Tellah used a tent. So I had to kill them all a second time, hehe.

It's pretty easy to run from battles in this game. Cecil was having no problems whaling on the enemies though, so I didn't. It was pointless to focus much on levels at this point, since Cecil was going to lose them all later when he became a Paladin. Still, that was no excuse to skip the random encounters that did come along either. The only battles I ran from were against the frogs that could cast "Toad" on Cecil, and the zombies - which were invulnerable to his Dark Sword.

The first big upgrade in Cecil's equipment came when he found the Darkness Sword towards the end of the cavern. This weapon took attack percentage up by 5%, and damage up by 10 - from 17 to 27! Wow. That was a rise of over 50%, and it was immediately noticeable as Cecil starting killing enemies in one turn rather than two or three. He was doing roughly 30-35 damage per hit against most foes, and it was really obvious when all three would hit and do 100+ damage. The rest of the Darkness armor (also called "Hades" armor in this version of the game) followed in later chests, although this was less important because the enemies were still all doing 1 damage per attack.

Octomamm was a joke:

He couldn't do more than 1 damage to Cecil, just like everything else in the game so far. Meanwhile, Cecil was smacking him around for crazy damage, roughly 70-80 PER HIT! Obviously the boss had a lower Absorb stat than most of the monsters I had been facing; how else to explain the 240 damage attack from Cecil that didn't include any critical hits? Anyway, Cecil took a grand total of 13 damage during this fight, which was about the easiest boss fight I've ever done. Isn't a solo game supposed to be a challenge?!

Man, I had forgetten just how awful Edward is in this game. He's probably the first in what would become a long line of emo characters crying over lost loved ones. At least you lose him early in this game and never get him back. I didn't feel any remorse about killing off this character!

The Antlion Cave was rather simple as well. All the enemies in there used physical attacks, which did little against Cecil's heavy armor and back row standing. I looted all the chests and gained two full levels in the process. (Cecil was now around level 18.) The Antlion itself shoots needles out in a "Counter" attack every time it takes physical damage. Unfortunately, that's all Cecil had! I just attacked as usual and took the punishment, which was roughly 20-30 damage in retaliation. This was independent of positioning, so I moved Cecil up to the front row for this battle, and did slightly more damage. Had to use two potions, and won without any real danger.

After getting Rosa back in the desert town (Kaipo), the game revived my full party again! Look, just stay dead, alright? Sheesh! Mt. Hobbs was up next, one of the first areas in the game with real monsters to fight. The Gargoyles there would occasionally cast Weak ("Tornado") on Cecil, dropping him down to 7 hit points! Ouch. I targeted them first. I just ran from the Spirits (who cast Fire endlessly), since Cecil didn't have much magic defense. Cecil could actually fight the undead Skeletons; however, his damage output was so low that I usually just ran from them too. Although I did strap a rubber band around the "A" button for one such fight and went to get something to eat, hehe.

About halfway up the mountain, Cecil leveled up to 19 and picked up another point in Agility. That gave him 16 Agi. total, and another defense AND attack multiplier. Now he could do up to four hits! With more total hits possible, I started getting fewer misses and fewer "1 hit" attacks, which was welcome news.

I had to kill off Yang in the Mombomb fight, which wasted a couple early rounds of combat. When it came time to attack the boss, Cecil suddenly started going crazy on the damage again. A normal hit against regular monsters was doing something like 35-40 damage, and then against this boss it suddenly doubled! All four hits have landed here, and done an average of 75 each. What's up with the bosses in this game (?) Cecil certainly wasn't fighting like this against normal critters. Maybe these bosses were weak against the Dark element on Cecil's sword. Anyway, when almost dead this boss splits up into six small bombs. I kept healing Cecil with potions and waited for the enemies to blow themselves up. Eventually, they did. Overall, this fight required some minor skill... but mostly it amounted to attack, attack, attack again. I continued to expect the game to get harder - so far it wasn't.

I should mention one other thing: in the Japanese version of FF4, Cecil the Dark Knight can use an ability called "Dark Wave", which hits all enemies (similar to Yang's Kick) while causing damage to himself. Here's a picture of it in action:

I used it against large mobs of weak enemies, like the one above. It's pretty fun, not sure why it was cut from the American version. The graphics are the same as the blue thing that Dark Knight Cecil shoots at Paladin Cecil when you class change on Mt. Ordeals. That little scene makes a lot more sense in this version!

The fighting scenes at Fabul always entertained me. Obviously they're heavily scripted, and of course there's no way to "win", but I always found them to be really well done. Fun stuff. I didn't even mind having to kill off my allies yet again. The fight in the crystal room again Kain was interesting; Cecil's level was significantly higher than it would usually be, and Kain's jumping wasn't enough to kill me. After about five normal rounds of combat, Kain seemed to double in speed, jumping two and even three times before I had a chance to act. Eventually the game simply cut out of the fight without any resolution in the action. I've heard it's actually possible to win this battle, if Cecil's level is ridiculously high; not sure if that's true or not. Either way, you're still going to lose Rosa and the crystal in the end.

After the battle, I upgraded to the Black Sword (which is called the "Death" Sword in this version - I can see why the original translator decided to change that name for the kiddies!) This weapon increased Cecil's damage by ten, from 30 to 40, and further increased all stats by 5 points! That was enough strength gain to pick up an additional hit, now five of them overall. Excellent. Cecil was now kicking even more ass than before. I had earlier bought the Cecil-specific armor on sale in Fabul, so Cecil's stats overall were now (5x) 41 Attack, (3x) 32 Defense.

I don't think this needs a caption, hehe.

The plot advances, Cecil ends up in Mysidia, and heads to Mount Ordeals. Palom and Porom are amusing characters, it was a shame I had to eliminate them immediately. I never cared much for Tellah, and didn't feel bad about offing him for the second time. This was the first area where I had to skip most of the battles, at least going up the mountain, because Cecil's Dark Sword was useless against the undead. I ran into something similar in the boss fight against Milon. ("Scarmiglione" in the Japanese version - the four Fiends in this game are based off characters in Dante's Inferno, and they lose a lot in the translation from Italian to Japanese to English.) The first fight against Milon comes with an attending horde of 4 undead in tow. How to hurt them with Cecil?

Answer: use some of the "items as spells" that only exist in the Japanese version! The items that Cecil uses on board the Red Wings in the intro sequence can be found in chests, plus a lot of extra ones not seen there. Here I'm using a "Bomb Fragment", which essentially casts Fire 1 on all enemies. The item torched three of the four Revenants, and I killed the final one by using Potions (Cure1s) on it. Against Milon himself, every time I attacked he would counter with a casting of Lit 1. There was no way to avoid it, so I moved Cecil into the front row and kept using High Potions (Cure2s). After a little over a dozen rounds, he finally dropped dead. Although this still wasn't quite at the level of hard, it was indeed requiring some more creativity to win in timely fashion.

Milon's second form did nothing but physical attacks, and was therefore much easier. His attacks also caused poison, which did something like 95% of the damage Cecil took in this fight. I didn't even need to use potions in this fight, just attacked until the boss dropped dead. Easy.

Here are Cecil's new stats after turning into a Paladin:

The Legend Sword that Cecil starts with is really quite nice - it does just as much base damage as the former Black Sword. The only reason Cecil does less damage initially is because he drops all the way back to two hits, and a dozen rapid level ups would solve that problem quickly. (Cecil would pick up an extra hit at 16 Strength, and another at 16 Agility.) In other words, Cecil the Paladin is pretty much superior to Cecil the Dark Knight in every possible way. I do wish I could keep the Dark Wave ability though!
Know what's even more fun that having Tellah kill himself with Lightning? Having him do it with Fire 3!

Yes, everyone in the party was revived after the class change event. Once they were killed off, Cecil slowly fought and killed the seven undead. He got over 2500 experience and gained NINE levels - wow! By the time I made it back to Mysidia, Cecil was level 16 and just slightly weaker than he had been before class changing (3x Attack at 48 damage). I also noticed that Cecil's magic defense was vastly better now than it had been before, as well as higher stat growth in Will and Wisdom. Talk about instant gratification from class changing!

The fight against Yang in Baron was easy. The fight against the two Baron Guards that proceed him was the tough one! They have the ability to cast Mini, shrinking Cecil down into a tiny, helpless version of himself. Fortunately the first two castings missed, and I had exactly one of the recovery item needed to cure Mini for the one time that the spell succeeded. This was the closest I had come yet to being wiped out. Moral of the story: Cecil is weak against magic attacks. Anything physical isn't even worth worrying about.

The underwater path to Baron was a great dungeon for building up Cecil's stats. Everything in there was easy, almost all physical attacks, and really good experience for a character fighting solo. I fought every random encounter while looting the treasure chests, and gained about seven levels along the way. (The fights took minutes on end, however, as Cecil slowly hacked down a half dozen monsters!) Cecil got a big increase in power at level 20, picking up two additional points of attack, one additional point of defense, and an extra offensive and defensive multiplier! He was now doing (4x) 50 Attack and (3x) 35 Defense. Let me tell you, the difference was obvious. By the end of the dungeon, Cecil was level 23 and had picked up a fifth hit on offense - wow! What a monster.

Baron's castle doesn't have any random encounters, but does serve up two boss fights. The first one against Baigan was the most interesting boss yet. Baigan has a central body and two hands; the hands do most of the attacking, and he will revive them from time to time throughout the fight. Therefore, you pretty much have to ignore them and go after the body. They cast a number of troubling spells, the worst of which was a version of Hold:

It missed about 50% of the time, which still meant I spent a lot of time with Cecil paralyzed sitting around waiting to act again. Baigan also cast Haste, Drain, and did decent damage with his physical attack. I mixed up attacking with occasional uses of Cure 2 throughout a lengthy fight. Once Baigan went down, his arms cast Self-Destruct and blew up! Whoa, forgot about that. I had just enough time to get off a Cure 2 between the two explosions and save Cecil from certain death. Whew. Interesting stuff.

I made sure to go back and save at the resting point in the Baron Waterway before moving on to the next boss. Kainozzo ("Caignozzio") is the second Fiend in this game, and put up one hell of a tough fight. As the water fiend, he collects up water for a Tsunami attack that hits all party members; what you are supposed to do is hit him with Lightning attacks from Tellah and Palom to break his water shield, then have Cecil and Yang wail on him. Obviously... that wasn't an option here. With Solo Cecil, all I could do was attack, attack, attack. Kainozzo responded by casting Tsunami over and over again, repeatedly. (The extended boss fights reveal how shallow the AI programming is in this game. Kainozzo simply repeated Tsunami and Haste over and over again endlessly.) Each attack would do about 200 damage to Cecil, and since it didn't matter where he was located, I moved him up to the front row. I healed the damage with Cure 2:

We settled into a pretty steady rhythm: 2 attacks from Cecil, followed by 1 round of healing up with Cure 2. Since I could do this indefinitely, with help from Ethers in stash, I was feeling pretty good about the boss fight. But when Kainozzo was down to his last legs, he began retreating into his shell and healing himself:

Again, you're SUPPOSED to cast Lightning magic on him at this point, which breaks the cycle. Since Cecil's attacks were only doing 150-250 damage each round, I quickly found myself in an impossible situation. I could not do enough damage to break through his healing and deliver the death blow. I hoped that Kainozzo might eventually run out of magic points, but ten minutes of long fighting eventually dashed that hope. I don't think enemies even have magic points in this game, just "abilities" that they can use endlessly. What to do?

I started spamming some of the "items as spells" I had stashed up in inventory. How about using the Zeus Gauntlet item, which casts Lit 2? For whatever reason, it only did 1 damage to Kainozzo - guess they put something in the game that doesn't let you use it on bosses. Great. How about the Hermes Shoes, which cast Haste on Cecil? That helped, but I still couldn't do enough damage to get through the boss' healing. Finally, I tried using my one Berserk item, casting the spell of the same name on Cecil. It increased his speed and attack power significantly, and Cecil got a 400+ damage critical hit on his second attack - score! That did it! Made it past the boss on the first try, with no real clue WTF I was doing. All the guides on the Internet say that the solution here is to go power-level for a while. No it's not - the solution is to have a better strategy, ha!