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Let's Play a random Touhou fan RPG!
Clarste

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Stage 17 the temple of evil elementals, or how the land gauge can ruin your day
I made two pseudo-promises to you last time, and I'll have to break both of them. And they're both Reimu's fault. First of all, I said I'd try to use Reimu more effectively in the future, which sadly turns out to be impossible. Second of all, I said that the next stop would be the Lakebed Temple, and even had a screenshot of Reimu shouting such, but alas it was not to be. First we have to go through the Genbu Lake. Which is a cave. Given that that's three "en route to" stages in a row, I'm thinking the temple itself is going to be at least a Disc One Final Dungeon. Or the real final dungeon; I already have a good 50 hours sunk into this game.

Before we move on though, I'd like to make it clear that the last two stages have been pretty boring. The bosses were easy, and the enemies, while not exactly harmless, have become somewhat routine in their difficult. I can fairly quickly sort out their archetype and I deal with them in fairly standardized ways. I've even been switching around my party, which is now composed of 4 characters around level 50 and 8 around level 40. Level 50 requires more than double the experience of level 40, by the way. The point is that the dungeon experiences have become fairly unmemorable compared to early on, and while I'm fine with playing that, it makes it harder to write a liveblog for.

Which why I'm thankful for this dungeon, for taking my pre-conceptions and bludgeoning them to death against the wall. Well, not quite that extreme, but it marks a return to the earlier era where I actually had to routinely figure stuff out, both for the normal encounters and for the boss. Thank you, Strawberry Bose, for actually making a decent game instead of just generic RPG #374658 with Touhou characters thrown in to promote sales.

Anyway, my initial party set-up here is Sakuya, Reimu, Nitori, Marisa, and Patchouli. The dungeon is sort of a generic cave in the same style of the previous dungeon, and the enemies are still octopi. Actually, I'm still fighting mostly the same enemies at this point and the stage introduction banner hasn't shown up yet, so technically I'm still in stage 16. After taking a few attempts to get past the first enemy with this party and then dying on the next one (remember those Sirens that I said were harmless despite their status ailments? yeah), I decide that Sakuya isn't defensive enough to be a tank and switch her out for Youmu, who will continue to be your tour guide this evening. Notably, I could have barely squeezed a win if Nitori hadn't missed twice in a row. So I load her up with hit accessories.

Entering the stage proper, it's... a bluish cave. It looks distinctly different from the previous room, but it's still just a cave. The music doesn't change, and I start to realize that it sounds familiar, but I can't quite put my finger on it. The Gensokyo the Gods Loved? Maybe? The enemies are still octopi though. The very first enemies I fight are a pair of Otohimes, purple haired girls holding seahorses like bows. And they're strong against all elements. And they're dragons. Why oh why did I switch Sakuya out?!

Switching Sakuya back in for her Dragonslaying, I head downstairs. And now we're underwater. There's no explanation for how we can breath and run around and fight and eventually talk underwater, but magic. But what ab— Magic. This is the part where it gets fun, by which I mean every single battle nearly kills me.

There are 2-3 basic categories of enemies in this dungeon. Water elementals, which are vulnerable to fire, aquatic youkai, which are vulnerable to lightning, and robots, who are just there to screw with you. These enemies have synergy so I'd like to explain their individual natures. I love explaining things, sorry.

In the elemental category, we have Waters and Undines. That's what they're called, Water, written in katakana. Waters just use normal attacks, but their attack is physical-water elemental. Undine (pronounced Andain in romaji, which either means that Tales Of Symphonia pronounced it wrong or that I pronounce it wrong along with Japan) is a tougher elemental with more HP, but spends her time healing. Both regenerate with water land energy.

In the aquatic category, we have Mermaids, Crabs, and Catoblepas (which is a cow-monster, but it's vulnerable to lightning so it counts!). Crabs have tons of physical defense and are otherwise just really annoying. Catoblepas has a ton of health and is just sort of a dangerous big enemy. Most dangerous of all is the Mermaid, which casts Water Field, which instantly pumps the land meter up to max water affinity. This is ridiculously scary.

Last of all, we have the robots: Prototype and Adamantoise. Adamantoise is actually a turtle from Final Fantasy, but he's vulnerable to water so he's a robot. Prototypes are robot snakes that are vulnerable to water. Normally they're pretty harmless, albeit strong against physical attacks, but when the fire gauge gets high they start spamming some all targeting lasers, which can quickly wreck your party. The Adamantoises have really high defense against both magic and physical, and cover other enemies.

You may be able to put together a picture of what this place feels like. You've got your Mermaid-Water combo, in which the mermaid fills the land gauge allowing the Waters to one-shot people with their water-elemental normal attack. You've got your Undine-Adamantoise combo in which the Adamantoise tanks for his healer while you're forced to let the Undine regenerate by pushing the gauge towards water. You've got the Prototype-Elemental combo where you have to choose which enemy to buff because killing one with its weakness will make the other stronger. And then you've got the Otohimes screwing everything up by being strong against all elements.

Each battle is a new puzzle! They didn't repeat very often either. When I first got here I thought I was so clever for having all the elemental attackers in the same party, but if only it was that simple. On the other hand, you need to take advantage of the elements to kill them before they kill you. Prioritizing targets, while always a factor in this game, becomes extremely delicate, and all because of the land gauge. I'm sorry land gauge, I've been ignoring you for almost the entire game, and you were starting to feel kind of pointless. Don't feel bad, you're a great mechanic, you just need the enemies designed around you.

Back to the dungeon design, it's an underwater cave and the passages are very narrow. It's pretty much impossible to dodge enemies here, so while ultimately it ends up being a pretty short dungeon I had my fair share of battles. In one room there are these little holes in the wall guarded by stationary octopi, who end up being sort of miniboss combinations of enemies. After you kill them, you can go into the hole and open a hidden treasure box. You can't see them, but luckily my first instinct when going into holes is to spam the search button.

One of these holes has a demon in it, who is a miniboss in that I never encountered another one. My party proved insufficient to kill it given that it's strong against everything but light and can kill two party members per turn, so I create a custom party designed to kill it. That would be Sakuya with the Godslayer and Byakuren to enchant Sakuya's weapon with light. That ends up working, although it's a close battle, and at this point I think maybe it's time to stop being so experimental with my party and just choose something that works. So I return to my old party of Youmu, Sakuya, Sanae, Marisa and Patchouli. Except Patchouli is dead from losing too many Lives, so I take Nitori instead.

The trick of this dungeon's design is that there's one room with lots of split ups, but taking any of them causes spikes to sprout behind you, blocking your path. You then take stairs upstairs out of the water to a larger room with lots of exits but they all lead to dead ends blocked by spikes except for one that leads back to the beginning (originally block by a gate, but there's a switch on this side). The only way to reset the spikes is to enter the room from that one particular entrance that I came through in the first place. So there's only three rooms but you have to run through them a lot in order to explore everything.

And that's it. There is no path forward. It's quite bizarre. Just path -> spikes -> stairs, rinse and repeat. Every single path is a dead end. This was quite confusing for a while, until I realized that some of the areas were inaccessible from the bottom because spikes would appear in front of you, but appeared to be normal dead ends when I came down from above. Thinking this was suspicious, I tried the classic "run into every single wall" and it paid off! There was an invisible passage leading down and around.

This led me to a golden key, which would've been awesome and let me progress, if only I had discovered a golden door. A key without a door didn't help much, so back to square 1. Now knowing that this place wasn't "fair" though, I quickly managed to discover another hidden path leading to a new room, in which I could see the golden door. Except I couldn't reach it without another hidden path. At this point I'm thinking the dungeon design is pretty schitzophrenic, but apparently that's it. Ominous heal point and teleporter back to the beginning of stage 16.

Cutscene: It's a Greek-style temple. On the bottom of the lake. After everyone oohs and awes at it, Patchouli starts explaining how the building must have been moved from outside, because its architecture doesn't match the rest of Gensokyo, which is Japanese. "Umm... you mean like our house?" asks Sakuya. Yeah, pretty much, except this isn't just a mansion, but a temple, built to worship Western gods.

Which means...?

Byakuren starts speaking, claiming to given this and what Tenshi-sama said  * there's only one conclusion we can come to, which Patchouli agrees with.

Which is...?

Alice exasperatedly informs Marisa that Western temple being moved in = Western gods = we're going to have to fight Western gods. Before we move on, I'd just like to note that Byakuren reminds me a detective in this story. She's always latching onto clues, interrogating enemies, and summarizing evidence. She also reminds me of Itsuki, in that she talks a lot without saying anything.

Reimu notes that she's never met a Western god before, so maybe instead of standing around speculating we should just go inside? Except when she tries we're interrupted by a voice from inside. Someone's been watching us.

It's the crab! Uh... what was her name again...? Songye can't believe we already forgot, but reintroduces herself anyway. Despite this, Reimu just keeps calling her Crab. So, uh... what are you doing here, Crab? Didn't we just beat you?

Didn't I tell you before? I'm the gatekeeper for this temple. And you're intruders. So I'm gonna guard it. It's not like you beating me changed anything, losing is just something that happens sometimes. This time, I'll show you girls a loss!

Not gonna happen. Won't this just end the same way? Patchouli agrees with Marisa's assessment, adding that the odds aren't exactly stacked in Songye's favor in the first place, being 5 on 1 (Or 12 on 1? How does this work narratively?). What can you hope to accomplish alone?

She's not alone! It's the turtle! Um... what was his name again? Genjii goes crazy, as expected. Didn't you just remember me two stages ago?! I thought we already did this joke?! After a bit of teasing about how Sakuya had assumed that Genjii would have retired by now, Genjii claims that turtles are fine for 10,000 years, so he's as fit as a fiddle. Moreover, now that we're underwater, turtles and crabs have the home field advantage. Nitori chimes in with a "but I have the home field advantage too..." but she's drowned out by the yelling.

So begin Round 2, final Round! And they kill us.

As you might expect, the battle against Songye and Genjii is pretty much the previous two boss battles combined. I wonder if that's why they seemed so easy, but if so it seems like a waste of stages when they could have been minibosses. Well, it's not quite the two battles combined; both bosses start with a limited moveset but when one dies the other is healed to full and gains more abilities. Nothing unreasonable there.

For the first phase, both of them pretty much just do normal physical attacks, which is also pretty much what they did in the first place. Genjii still has his defense but no reflect, and Songye is still vulnerable to lightning but seems to have somewhat higher defense. Maybe. When either of them reaches about half health, they cast buffs on themselves that last for the rest of the battle: Genjii gets a defense buff and Songye gets an evasion buff. Both of them regenerate from the water gauge, and Genjii sometimes uses a water spell. I brought Satori along for my first attempt, because scanning bosses is quite useful, and in the process discovered that poison overwrites regeneration. That's not useful in this battle, but is interesting to note for earlier bosses that regenerate, like Iku. I guess that's another strategy.

I decide to kill Songye first because she has less defense, but that turns out to be a bad idea. When she dies, Genjii goes crazy and kills you. He hijacks the land meters and casts powerful all targeting spells of the buffed elements, two a turn. This remind me of the classic "you die now" abilities from older bosses like Utsuho and Komachi, but since it takes two hits to finish me off I'm guessing it might be survivable in some sense. Patchouli has an ability called "Chameleon" in her Spirit Magic tree that makes her immune to favored land elements, but I'm not sure if you can build a strategy around that. Either way, I decided to just avoid the problem entirely.

Songye's berserk mode is relatively easy. While she regains her AOE spike ability that can easily kill weaker party members, she also spends a ridiculous amount of time dispelling buffs. I'm pretty sure she never had that ability in the first place (Genjii did), but in this battle it's not uncommon for her to use it twice a turn. So that's a lot more relaxing than instant death, although it does prevent me from using the enchanted weapon strategy I used last time.

The party I decide to use is Alice, Nitori, Sanae, Marisa, and Patchouli. Alice tanks the ridiculous amount of physical damage they put out (most people die in one hit), Sanae buffs and heals like always, Marisa and Patchouli do elemental magic damage and Nitori follows them with Chasers. Mostly she regenerates though, which is one of her skill trees. By regenerating I don't have to spend to healing her, so while she's kind of weak she's also low maintenance. Also, isn't this her home field? Go Nitori! Rah rah rah!

On the subject of ridiculous physical damage, I think I should probably explain how defense works. Defense is a flat subtraction from damage taken. The manual lists the damage formula as simply attack - (defense/2), but I'm pretty sure that there are some multipliers in there, in addition to the random factor. Anyway, since it's subtraction the more defense you get the better it is. Subtracting 10 more damage from 200 isn't going to make a difference in how many hits you take, but subtracting 10 more from 20 is going to make you twice as durable. And from there it's a short step to 0.

This is mostly relevant because of blocking. As you may recall, each character has a shield slot, although using spells or 2 handed weapons prevents you from blocking on that turn (which is why Sakuya is bad defensively). Shields nowadays have about a 40% block rate, and when a block happens the character is surrounded by a transparent bluish sphere, a "ting" sound happens, and the shield's defense is added to the character's defense for that hit. Shields have a lot of defense, so this is a very good thing.

This is relevant because Songye hits very hard. Even Alice could die in one turn unless she blocks both hits. Luckily, her skills provide a means to ensure this. In addition to having passively increased block chance and block value (she takes ~200 on hit, but 0 on block), she has a certain skill in her Manipulation tree that increases her block chance by 1000% when she's covering for someone else. So by spamming cover on Sanae, who's sort of next to her, I can guarantee that she'll always block the spikes when they aim at her as well as keeping the healer alive, which is always nice. So I'm granting this victory to Alice.

So, plan assembled and kinks worked out, the battle begins. The first target is Genjii, but he has very high defense. Nitori does 0 damage. Marisa can do okay with her spells, and I decide to have her pump fire to nullify their regeneration. The key to killing Genjii is Patchouli, who can cast the ever popular Silent Selene for massive damage. Really massive damage, because she has a skill that lets her crit with magic. She hits him for 3000 something, putting her at third place behind Youmu in the massive damage competition, and that's without a magic power buff. She can cast it every other turn, and it turns out that dark land energy prevents Genjii from doing something, just like I speculated last time.

This leaves Songye, who dispels a lot and uses her aforementioned powerful physical attacks, hopefully on Alice. She's got an evasion buff, but by lucky coincidence Nitori is stacked with hit accessories so it works out. Songye also seems to have quite a lot of physical defense though, so Nitori's contributions are about half as effective as the magicians spamming lightning. Oddly enough, her Chasers are more powerful than her Last Word, which makes me sad.

The first time I tried this I ran out of commander revives from Mokou and then Sanae died, but this time Alice is protecting Sanae with her life so that's not a risk. The going is slow, I think because Genjii heals her for more HP than she started with, but eventually I finish her off, proving that losers shall remain losers.

After celebrating their victory, Reimu leads the party inside. Which somehow takes me back to the world map. Which now has the supposedly underwater temple just sitting in the middle of the forest. Oh well, at least it's convenient.

Pictures! Here's the full gallery, if you like. At first I was planning on uploading every single dialog picture in a single folder, with another folder for everything else, but then I noticed that I had 140 pictures. So no, not happening. That's why it starts with the cutscene though. You can't tell this, but I got about 30 sequential pictures and then just cherry picked ones I liked for the rest of it.

This is Reimu's Last Word, which means I'm done taking pictures of these things. Remind me if I missed one; I wouldn't mind just showing them all again next to each other for easy comparison. These are pretty much the only graphically interesting things in this game, other than animations which I can't really show in a still shot.

Cave. New cave. Gate. Underwater. Octopus hole. Spikes.

Old and new. Note the water in the top right. Nitori misses, with deadly results.

Otohime. Undine + Waters. Adamantoise. Lastly, the face of doom. Oh, a team of scuba diving centaurs for some reason.

Genjii kills me when left alone.

New party, ready for round 2. And 3 and 4 and 5. She's hurt, but all hope is lost. I dunno what that "C" buff is. She casts something that says bomb in its name but it doesn't do anything. Maybe she'll counter bombs? I dunno.

I just realized that paired bosses give twice as much power, but that makes no difference whatsoever. Alice levels up twice and learns Straw Doll Kamikaze.
27th Jan '11 10:55:02 PM flag for mods
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