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Stage 23 the abyss gazes back
Creeping Calamity

The ominous malice that has been corrupting your friends and Gensokyo is now gathering in the Forest of Magic. Reveal its true form!

The first thing I do is explore the side labyrinth thing that I mentioned last time. As expected, it's a large area filled with nothing but enemies. I can only assume it exists to help you grind or something. I suppose exploring it gave Yuugi a head start on levels, but mostly it's a waste of time. Incidentally, Yuugi's Last Word turns out to be "Roar of the Oni God" which increases the party's attack power considerably. For that turn only.

In other news, for some reason I'm actually really tired right now. And, for similar reasons, I'm not feeling: "oh god, I need to sleep, but I must write liveblog, must write liveblog", like I did for most of these installments. I'm actually experiencing some kind of writer's block here. Which is really weird because I spent most of the time while I was actually playing the game thinking: "oh, this part will make a great story, I can't wait to write about this." I'm not really sure what's going on. It's not like there's a lack of interest in the game or the liveblog, but I just find myself stopping to stretch or aimlessly looking around the room an awful lot. As if I'm writing a paper on Kant.

Hopefully writing that paragraph will jump-start my momentum, but we'll see. I have very little editing process, so even though I'm writing this for myself in order to get my fingers moving, you're going to be reading it anyway. That's the price you pay for following my liveblog.

Next up, we jump straight to 6 stars. The location is the Forest of Magic, the boss is "?". And there goes my momentum again. You can't see it, but there was a 5 minute break between those two sentences. I'm not sure what happened there.

Okay, let's back up. The next stop was not actually the 6 star quest. The next stop was supposed to be Mystia. "The World Baka-Quartet Only Knows." I'm guessing it's supposed to be four youkai known for being weak or stupid, but Cirno's in my party so I'm not sure how that works. And I never found out how it works because there was an insurmountable wall in my path: they're in Eientei. The first half. In order to walk around there at all I'd have to split my party up. And I find that really annoying.

First of all, I don't even know which half she's in because I always get the words for left and right confused, and then after I figure that out I realize that I'd have to set up my party before I encounter them. If I encounter them, discover I need some sort of ability, and run away, then I'd have to go all the way back the beginning and redo my entire party from scratch. Plus I'd have to set a up a dummy party for the other route even if they don't do anything. One Adamantite Fragment just doesn't strike me as worth it since I don't even know what the fragments are for exactly. I've never seen a recipe using them.

Returning to the quest board inspires similar malaise. There's a new series of 7-8 star quests featuring giant dragons or robots that drop ultimate somethings, but I consider those a bit beyond my reach. Rounding out the list are some more duels (this seems to be the standard way to acquire character-specific materials) which again I don't want to spend forever figuring out. Now that I realize that I'm supposed to be farming them, my victory over Kaguya feels even less meaningful. Heck, I could fight her again right now.

I need dungeon. I require it. The juicy XP, the switches, the item boxes. I have not the patience for that which stands between me and dungeon. So I choose the "Creeping Calamity" in the Forest of Magic. This happens to be third time we have to go to the Forest of Magic (not counting side quests), and luckily it happens to be a completely new third area. That also happens to look exactly like the one next to it with a layer of purple miasma on top of it.

The miasma does not extend to the actual dungeon appearance though. It looks very similar to the previous time we were here, but I really like the use of shadows so I can't complain too much.

The dungeon design is... interesting. Just like stage 15, there are a number of pipes leading to an underground area. Unlike stage 15, these underground areas are usually pointless dead ends. What the pipes are actually for is to return you to the beginning whenever you take a wrong turn, or sometimes when you take the right turn. These are one-way "exit" pipes that have many more entrances spread throughout the dungeon. So instead of one linear dungeon you have a number of branching paths that all lead back to the beginning. Hopefully by the time you come back you have a key to open a new path. Or at least some treasure, that works too.

The other notable feature of this dungeon is the extensive use of paths covered by trees. Or otherwise just not visible for whatever reason. While previous dungeons generally treated these kinds of things as secret paths, in this dungeon they're all made ridiculously obvious, not secret at all. And most of them are dead ends. And they're all filled with enemies. You can never know for sure until you check though, right? I tentatively approve of this new form of sadism.

Basically, everything I've said so far in this installment leads to one unavoidable conclusion. I hate editing my random battle party, or rather I don't even know where to start. Unlike the main game, I don't have a "primary" party that naturally developed from which I can create small but measurable deviations. Furthermore, I have a number of characters who, while they have mostly caught up in pure levels, are woefully far behind in terms of Power Growth. This dungeon is filled with sadistically placed unavoidable enemies. Lastly, the dungeon periodically boots me back to the entrance, so I might as well heal while I'm there.

There is only one choice. Operation Chaperone has become formalized. Rather than simply choosing the lowest level people, I create a party that always involves every single low-Power character and from there can switch out the two remaining slots with 2 characters who can somehow make the party work. Reisen stays in the commander slot for now because her ability to create preemptive attacks is really awesome.

The enemies here are mostly new. In general, they've graduated from all dying in one hit to 6666 damage, but that just means the other characters have to poke them a bit first. An annoyingly large amount of them have instant death properties on their attacks, but the only really dangerous ones are the beholders. ____ indeed Lithos, ____ indeed.

Beholders have a random chance of stunning everyone at the beginning of a turn, can counterattack with instant death, and overall just make my life very annoying. Reisen's free turns help a lot in this regard, and Alice spend her time covering the rest of the party so the killing of enemies can actually occur. Unless she dies first, in which case I'm screwed.

For most of the dungeon I just stick with the tried and proven Lithos/Alice chaperone, but for the final stretch I start running out of MP and bombs. With everyone in my party. So I switch Reisen into the active party for Cirno (who is the least useful without MP) and replace Lithos and Alice with Sakuya and Mokou. And then Youmu when Sakuya runs dry. It made me feel all warm and fuzzy to be doing things like this: and I was actually killing the enemies without cheesy strategies!

And then Reisen crashed my game. "Lunatic Banquet" was too much for my poor computer to handle. It's not much of a surprise really: that Last Word always causes a lot of slowdown and stuttering. It involves the most animation of any spell I've seen in this game. Little shadowy Reisens appear behind each enemy individually and attack. And not just a modified Reisen sprite, a fully animated CG monstrous thing.

As it turns out, having the game crash is exactly like dying. I guess that's just how the auto-save works. I got booted back to the beginning and lost everything in my inventory. Which was somewhat annoying since I'd found a decent looking sword off of a random enemy, which is now lost forever. Unless I want to fight more of those enemies, but who does that? Ah well, my ultimate goal is to get the character-specific weapons for everyone anyway, so who needs swords?

Taking my loss in stride and making a mental note to use "Lunatic Banquet" less often (oh yeah, there's a new 2.03 patch now, maybe that fixes it), I just head back as if nothing happened. As a consolation prize, I get a cool new accessory, also from a random drop. Strong resistance to all status effects, awesome! Most bosses or enemies that do status effects have a variety of them at their disposal, so generally I have to choose which one is the most dangerous. This lets me block everything at once and frees up the other single-status accessories for other characters. And then I die in the next battle and lose it. Forever.

My rage was heavily, heavily tempered by the fact that this makes a pretty funny story. In pre-retrospect. In fact, my first thought when this happened was that I'd have something interesting to write about here. Furthermore, I spent the next minute or so crafting the "tempered rage" line in my head while I was walking back. I have a sneaking suspicion that I'm playing the game wrong now. I really should not be proud of my failures.

Perhaps sensing my good mood, the game then conspires to kill me repeatedly. Remilia is a survivor. Unfortunately she then gets charmed and kills herself. What happened to your charisma Remilia? What happened to the dream? I eventually make my way back to where I was before, and get killed again (by beholders, of course). This happens about 3-4 times, and I start getting really tempted to actually create a party designed to deal with these things, probably with Sanae for status resistance. However, my inertia is pretty strong by this point.

It turns out to be unnecessary though, for the very next hidden enemy alcove turns out the contain the path forward to the save point. I told you I was checking them for a reason! I walked into every single one of those things on the way here, and absolutely none of them contained anything but a painful death. But here I am, vindicated by my thoroughness. They thought they could trick me, but they were wrong. My one regret is that this one was like 2 steps away from where I died and lost the accessory. Anyway, teleporter, ominous heal point, etc.

There is no cutscene. There is only Zuul. Marisa seems to have joined the party though.

Unlike the little, um... firecracker worm... thing? What is that? I have no idea. Apparently they're called "Hatred Thought Bodies" which I'm sure I could I make sound better if I wanted to but when confronted with a long string of kanji I have the spiteful urge to share the pain. Anyway, unlike the thing in the cutscene, the boss is the Abyss Dragon.

Frankly, I'm pretty sure that the malaise I've been feeling is the direct result of this guy. As you can probably guess, it's not a Touhou character. It's just a big dragon. And not a particularly interesting looking dragon either. Heck, I've seen normal enemies with more creativity in this game. It's like they took the most generic dragon from the D&D Monster Manual and painted it purple. As the boss of a stage, let's just say I'm not impressed. I can only hope that they're saving the cool bosses for later, and didn't just decide to scrap, say, Suika in favor of a big purple dragon.

He does manage to kill me pretty thoroughly though. You gotta give him that. Yuugi tells me to watch out for his Breath attacks, which is pretty sound advice, especially when compared to ____.

Wait, Breath attacks? Is that what buresu means? Well, surely it doesn't always mean that: Byakuren's attack buff makes a lot more sense as Weapon Bless instead of Weapon Breath. But this actually explains a few things, like Mokou's unique armor bonuses (percentage damage reduction against breath attacks) and some of Aya's fan abilities (reflect breath attacks). And all this time I had been wondering what the heck a bless attack was. All it took was the context of a giant dragon killing me. Wait, reflect breath attacks? That sounds useful! And lo, Aya was useful. Not in the commander slot this time either.

The boss fight is pretty simple, but also really annoying. Annoying in the sense that the game designers hate me, personally, and decided to throw a wrench in all my traditional strategies. Ultimately I suppose that's a good thing though. Can't have me getting complacent, now can we? This liveblog would be much shorter if I had single lines saying "and then I killed the boss".

The dragon is accompanied by 4 little Hatred-Thought-Body things. They have about 10,000 HP each, which is enough to survive a few AOE attacks but not a whole ton. They have low magic defense and absurd evasion, so your only hope of killing them is magic. Not that there's much value in killing them, as they reappear every turn at full health, up to a maximum of 4. So every time you kill one, another one immediately replaces it, causing you to have wasted your time. Each of them can attack one person, with either physical or magic. In addition, they can cast paralysis, confusion, or various stat downs. Basically, they exist to annoy you a lot while the dragon does his thing. Everything they do is darkness, and they're weak against light.

The dragon is... this. He has a whopping 1200 defense, which translated into normal terms means that you're not hurting him with physical attacks, at least not without buffs. He's got no magic defense, but he's strong against all elements other than light, which he's weak against. Killing him is actually one of the most annoying parts of the battle.

He gets two actions per turn, and has enough attack power to kill a weaker character in one blow. Other than physical attacks, he can cast Paralysis (same spell as the little guys), Bio (single target high damage magic attack, does poison), Meteor (500 damage to all) and Dark Breath (also 500 damage to all). Because I can stack Dark resistance, meteor is his most dangerous normal attack.

Other than that, he has two really dangerous "charge up" abilities, although unfortunately the charge happens as a free action at the end of his normal turn. There seems to be no pattern to it, it's just completely random. Sometimes he'll do it every other turn and other times he'll skip it for quite a while. Luckily you can tell which is which from the kanji before he actually does it. Regardless of which charge he does he can start the next turn with mass dispel, which both dispels my buffs and his debuffs. So I can't use my classic strategy of casting attack down with Byakuren, nor can I rely on defensive HP buffs. That's the first part of the "anti-Clarste" boss design.

As for the actions themselves, his first one is "Diabolic Breath" which hits for about 800 dark damage. This will kill most of my characters. The second one is some sort of magic buff that gives him two options. He can either shoot a laser at one person for 2000 damage or cast Comet for 1000 damage to everyone. This will often kill all of my characters, and is by far the scariest part of the fight.

Ignoring his attacks, your natural inclination for this fight would be to say: "Strong against physical attacks, weak against light, eh? Maybe I should use light magic on him!" Well, that was my natural inclination anyway. Just ramp up a good Light land bonus and go to town like I used to on Bio and such. As a side bonus, that'll weaken all his darkness attacks. Win-win! What could possibly go wrong?

What can go wrong is that the Land gauge is a two-way street. There are four worms spamming darkness attacks plus a giant dragon using breath attacks. At best, I can get 2.5 people spamming light, and they'd probably spend half their time buffing or healing. So basically, no matter what you do, it's impossible to get the land gauge in your favor here. It's edging heavily towards darkness at all times, which causes your light magic to do half damage and the dragon to do double damage. Not a good thing. Hijacking the land gauge is anti-Clarste boss design part 2.

Part 3 is that I pretty much have to use Aya here. I think. Her ultimate fan ability, "Favorable Wind", will reflect breath attacks. While the breath does very little damage when reflected back onto the dragon, breath attacks in general seem to ignore defenses and such, or at least be really strong. Diabolical Breath is certainly strong (although less so than Comet). As I have made it known in the past, I find Aya to be pretty useless. She's a fighter with rather low attack power and pretty weak abilities. She's got some weird utility like being able to make the party go first or reflect breath attacks, but ultimately she's just pretty weak. In this fight especially, where it's very hard to kill him because the only thing he's weak against does half damage, it feels very constricting to have her in my party. On the other hand, I'd do even less damage without her because I'd have to heal a lot more.

So basically this fight took me out of my comfort zone in a number of ways. And because it was a dragon instead of an actual Touhou character, I was less interested in fighting him too. So shortly after trying it a few times I took a break and went to bed. Unfortunately for me, I couldn't sleep because I was constructing party formations in my mind. Incidentally, that's why I'm so damned tired right now. I've been Blessed With Suck.

A number of different strategies popped out at me immediately. First of all, I buy an up-to-date weapon for Aya. This causes each of her attacks to hit twice, more than doubling her attack power, when she does normal attacks anyway. She's still kind of weak, but not ridiculously weak. My plan here is to remove the tank to increase total damage output. Alice and Mokou are both harmless kittens for this fight, so as long as the person in the center can survive what the dragons and his minions throw at her all should be well. Ish. I choose Remilia for the role because she's good at dodging and can pierce through physical defense. Also, I kind of like Remilia as a character and want her to do things.

When buffed with Byakuren's light enchant, Remilia can do upwards of 6,000 damage on the boss, which is more than anything else I've ever managed to do on this guy. She can also heal herself with drains and is naturally strong against darkness. However, this strategy is really unstable. One unlucky hit and I have to start all over again. I can only get the dragon down to around half HP like this. Which is actually surprisingly good compared to my later attempts.

My second strategy is the classic light magic strategy. This quickly fails due to the land gauge issues described above. Interestingly, elemental weapons and enchants seem to be unaffected by the land gauge. This must have been changed in the expansion because I don't remember it working like that before.

My third strategy starts to reach a bit. One of Reisen's abilities causes her stat down effects to be undispellable. Given that a big part of my problem was the boss dispelling himself, that sounds kind of useful. Unfortunately, Reisen doesn't have enough Growth points to get both that and bonus CAS and attack power. Given that I need the CAS to do the stat down anyway, her attack power becomes negligible and she does 0 damage. Even after a get a new weapon just for her. Especially after I get her a new weapon, because the boss is strong against piercing damage. I didn't know that at the time though.

Anyway, it could theoretically have been worth the loss of damage if her stat downs saved the day, but they didn't. While they couldn't be dispelled, there was nothing preventing them from running out at inopportune moments on their own, and they weren't nearly as game breakingly powerful as Byakuren's anyway. While it was a nice thought, and I certainly felt clever doing it, it's not nearly enough on its own. Sorry Reisen, it's not your show yet. Maybe if I didn't require Aya too.

Fourth strategy, ignore everything and let Sakuya do her job. While the boss does have really high defense, Sakuya can pierce through a bit of it and, well, she has a really big sword. That counts for something, in these parts. The party is Alice, Aya, Sakuya, Sanae and Reimu. Alice taunts and does the 75% guard to reduce both physical and magical damage. She also uses Little Legion to tank the dispels so the other people can keep their buffs. Aya does normal attacks and Favorable Wind when the breath is coming. Sakuya just hits a lot. Sanae buffs and heals, while Reimu heals and block the Comet with one of her barrier spells (she has something which can make the party immune to either physical or magical attacks for one turn).

It's a really defensive strategy, but through a combination of perseverance and luck I manage to finally kill the dragon. It only took all of my MP and a ton of time. That's what I get for ignoring weaknesses, but at least I won, right? Right?

Wait a minute, why isn't the battle ending?! It's the Hatred-Thought-Beings! I have to kill them too! Okay, no problem, Sakuya still has her full buffs including Sakuya's world and Sanae's buff-buff, so she actually does quite a lot of damage and has very high hit right now. I can just play this slow and steady and... they still respawn. I had kind of assumed that the dragon was a part of this procedure. Actually, I hadn't thought that far ahead, but isn't it reasonable for them to slow down when the dragon's gone? Well, either they're unreasonable or I'm just wrong because they don't. Sakuya's buff runs out, I can't even hit them anymore, and they're slowly regenerating from the land gauge.

It's a slow and painful death. ____ indeed, Sanae. ____ indeed.

So apparently I need some kind of all-targeting magic to kill them all at once. And I need to be able to get to that point with enough MP and bombs left to actually use said all-targeting magic. Which brings us back to the light magic caster strategy, which as you may recall was doomed from the start. Unless, that is, there was something I was overlooking. Something utterly simple, yet vitally important. What are the odds of me missing something like that? Given this liveblog, I'd say about 90%.

The key is the land gauge, and how it hates me. The land gauge is not my friend in this fight, it's my enemy. My goal isn't to raise it towards light, it's to lower it away from darkness. And guess who can do that? The answer is here in this liveblog for you to figure out on your own, but I don't expect you to go scrolling around. I certainly wouldn't bother if I were you. Lithos' 1 bomb commander ability, Purification. Resets every element to neutral. Conveniently enough, I have her equipped with stuff giving her about a dozen bombs. Which is a lot. I can basically spam this every other turn or so.

So light does double damage, darkness does half damage, and everything is sunshine and rainbows. I use a slightly refined version of the pure caster strategy (Alice, Aya, Reimu, Sanae, Byakuren). It's not exactly easy, but it's certainly more reasonable than the first time I tried it this way. Also, by taking less damage from darkness, I spend less time healing and more time casting light magic, which further reduces the rate of darkness land growth. It's almost a lighthearted feeling after all the other attempts. There's an amusing moment during which every party member procs their last word at exactly the same time, but that just clinched the deal towards an already assured victory. Surprisingly, when fully buffed Aya can keep up with the light damage spells. Well, I suppose getting 4 attacks per attack will do that (new fan + her Last Word).

Timing it perfectly, Byakuren finishes off both the dragon and the worms with the same spell. And the day is finally won for justice and love and all that.

No cutscene after the boss.

27th Jan '11 11:00:30 PM flag for mods
Marisa is officially in the party but Alice isn't? Weird
Hylarn 12th Jan 11
Clarste, my friend, I'm starting to worry a little about what this liveblog does to your health.
Fawriel 12th Jan 11
Don't worry, it's been overcome through willpower.
Clarste 12th Jan 11
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