Friday, 28 February 2014

To Kiccigiorgi in Search of the Black Samurai (Shin Megami Tensei IV)

Isabeau on the roof

Last we left off, Flynn and the gang started hearing rumors about a black samurai going around spreading literature to the Casualries of the kingdom. They were largely works of fiction, but this style of writing was unknown to most people here. By the looks of things, what people can read is tightly controlled, focusing on history, fables, and educational material. This revelation certainly paints the Kingdom of Mikado in a darker light and the literature is making some people question their lot in life and why Luxorors have the authority while Casualries do not.

So, after Flynn was done hanging out with Jonathan and Walter, I had him turn in for the night. Shortly thereafter he was awoken by his two friends who wanted him to accompany them to the roof once more. Apparently Isabeau was up there reading all by herself, and they wanted to sneak up and startle her. Walter was too talkative, though, and she noticed them pretty quickly.

We did get a peak at what she was reading, and it was manga of all things. This too doesn't exist in their world. I'm not sure if it's viewed as negatively as literature here. The game hasn't really said. Isabeau seemed to be enjoying it quite a bit, as she was very enthusiastic when telling everyone else about it. The conversation also put things in perspective as to their world being different from Earth. She mentioned that the manga she was reading took place in a fictional country called France, so my guess is that they're either in a different dimension or time. In any case, it was a nice moment because it showed a more human side to Isabeau. She's usually very serious but here she let her guard down as she gushed about the story she was reading.

Leanan Sidhe
Leanan Sidhe has been a
wonderful addition to the team.
Just then they noticed a fire off in the distance. It looked like one of the nearby villages was being attacked, and it was Kiccigiorgi, Flynn and Issachar's hometown. With that the four of them rushed down to the courtyard where they saw several samurai running around preparing to leave. They were going to see what was wrong at the village. Of course, everyone wanted to go too, especially given that it was Flynn's home that was in danger. The senior samurai there at the time was against it since the four hadn't received orders to mount up, but then Hope arrived and gave the okay for them to come along.

When we arrived in Kiccigiorgi things were in a shambles. Houses burning, terrified villagers, commotion everywhere. Talking with one of the locals, he explained that they were attacked by demons. He thought they were the stuff of legend, so I've gotta assume that up until now demons have been contained within Naraku. In any case, a number of the villagers fled into the woods to try and escape the monsters, and it was up to the samurai to go in there and save them.

While wandering around the forest we encountered a number of new demons that were a fair bit stronger than what we'd been facing in the upper floors of Naraku. They weren't terribly difficult to deal with and it was a good opportunity to try and do a bit more recruiting as well as some fusion depending on who joined us. I brought on a few more demons and they opened up the door for some interesting new possibilities, so it was off to meet Mido so we could fuse them together and make some extra fancy minions. The main ones that I scored out of this, and who are fixtures in my party now, are a Gremlin and a Leanan Sidhe. The former has been great for it's mix of offensive abilities, the latter for her ability to both enhance everyone's defense in combat as well as having a healing spell that hits everyone. This does mean that Leanan Sidhe in particular can wind up consuming a lot of mana but her spells have been a huge help to the team.

As we slowly rescued the villagers, Flynn and the gang were able to get a better idea of what happened. Issachar returned to the village and the thing he was so excited to show everyone was literature. The Black Samurai had gotten to him, and now he was spreading the word. While on the surface it looked like these books may have some good ideas, pointing out societies inequalities and such, the problem with them was that it turned those who read them into demons.

Kiccigiori forest
There were some nice demon recruiting opportunities in the forest
surrounding Kiccigiori.
Relaying this information to Hope, he ordered everyone to head deeper into the forest to try and find the Black Samurai. This lead to a single winding path with a treasure chest along the side and a cliff that we could jump off of, leading to another treasure chest. After helping myself to the contents of the chests (nothing exciting, just some earrings and a revival leaf if I remember correctly), we reached the end of the path.

Here we encountered Issachar who was obviously quite angry at the world and the inequalities in it. After giving us a talk about how wonderful literature and the Black Samurai were he revealed that he was becoming a demon, so we had to put him down. The fight was pretty easy and there were times where the action would pause for more conversation and I was given the option as to what to say. I went with being the nice guy and Issachar started to feel bad about what he had done. I also tried to show him some mercy when he asked to be killed, saying we'd find a way to help him. This split the party in terms of how they felt about it. On the one hand Walter didn't like it because he felt we should have killed Issachar right away. He was a demon now and could not be saved. Meanwhile, Jonathan was very understanding and felt it was more important that Flynn show compassion to his friend.

Corrupted Issachar
Things have gone terribly wrong for Issachar.
With Issachar out of the picture we went a little ways further into the forest where we encountered the Black Samurai. She seemed to want to tempt people with knowledge and felt that most of the people of this world were sheep doing what the authorities told them, not really seeing things for what they were. I get the impression that she's from another place or time judging by how she talks, and also by the clothes she wears as its the same military jump suit from the cover of SMT: Strange Journey. I haven't played that game yet, so have no ideas of the implications of this. Guess I'll find out soon enough or I'll need to go through the DS game in order to connect the dots.

Just as we were about to engage her in battle, the demons she summoned cast a powerful charm spell and all of the men in the group were rendered unconscious. Here Flynn encountered Stephen in a weird dreamlike plane where he was directed to have a conversation with a young girl that needs his help coming into the world. Lots of ominous stuff going on and I'm not terribly inclined to trust them just yet. Stephen was helpful in the demon domain but that girl, how do I know she isn't some sort of destructive deity or something?

After this brief chat with the girl, Flynn regained consciousness and everyone was fine. Isabeau managed to deal with the baddies herself and Walter and Jonathan were feeling better as well. At that time, Hope contacted everyone on their gauntlets and ordered them back to the village for a full debriefing. After being appraised of the situation, he had everyone head back to the castle for some shut eye while the senior samurai and clergy discuss what transpired at Kiccigiorgi.

On the whole, I rather liked this bit of the game. It was a welcomed change of pace from Naraku. Sure, there wasn't much in the way of exploration, but it did a good job of advancing the story. I'm very curious about the Black Samurai, Stephen, and the girl. Who should I trust? Everyone seems to be hiding something that may or may not be sinister. The trip was also a great opportunity for getting some new demons. I especially like my Leanan Sidhe. She's doing a fantastic job!

The Black Samurai
We've finally met the
Black Samurai. She's so
mysterious!
Waking the next morning, everyone was summoned to the courtyard for an update on the whole Kiccigiori incident. It wasn't only top samurai here were there, though. Members of the clergy were also present, and it was they who did the talking. They expressed their concern about demons being found outside of Naraku and the trouble that the Black Samurai had caused. It was their opinion that the Unclean Ones were on the move. Basically the humans of Mikado's ancient enemy.

The only way to stop this was to delve deeper into Naraku than any samurai had dared venture in centuries. This will lead to the Unclean Ones' city where I assume the clergy would like to take the fight to them. However, this has caused a good bit of consternation among the samurai, as it generally goes against their code to go where they're being sent. There are even warded passages and the like to prevent it. However, given the extreme situation that they now find themselves in they have no choice.

It's also being speculated that the clergy are pushing this as a pretense to gather more technological relics from the area that are on par with the samurai gauntlets. They would never outwardly admit such a thing, but some of its members don't exactly strike me as being on the up and up. One of their monks in particular comes of as being pretty slimy.

Before we headed down to the dungeon we popped by K's bar since we needed to hit up the the black board and officially get the quest to go so deep into Naraku.  Jonathan, Walter, and Isabeau were already there so we decided to team up again.  We also grabbed what extra side quests we could, and with that we headed out.

Getting to the fourth floor of Naraku took a little while, as it's a bit of a hike. The stairs were just past were the entrance to the demon domain we'd been in early. Heading down, the next floor was a lot less finished. Already we were seeing a transition from well constructed, bricked walls to simple caves on the third floor. The forth had seen hardly any improvements made to it. For the most part the area was caves with subterranean waterfalls and only the occasional ladder or bridge installed to make travel possible.

The Minotaur of Naraku
The Minotaur was one tough cookie.
The demons were stronger once again, though there were some repeats of stuff that we'd encountered in the forest. I recruited a couple along the way but was mostly concerned with seeing how far I could go into Naraku. Eventually we came to a massive door. Burroughs detected a powerful demon on the other side, but we decided to forge ahead. When we entered the next chamber things seemed pretty calm but then a massive Minotaur appeared before us. He was the keeper of the gateway that we'd just passed through.

So, it was time for another boss fight and this one was a doozy. He has very strong physical attacks and one swing can cause a ton of damage. What makes him particularly difficult is that he has one ability called Labrys Strike. It's an attack that strikes multiple times in one use. When he does it and the hits are split between party members it's not too bad because the damage is spread out, so people tend to survive it. Things get tricky when the hits all stack on one person, as this means they're going to take a lot of damage and will most likely die. It just sort of snowballs from there because he'll start getting critical hits that give him extra attacks during his turn and he may well get a smirk boost in the process.

Flynn and his demons were around levels 10-12. The end result was us meeting an untimely end, so I figured it might be a good idea to level up a bit more, doing some side quests, and maybe try fusing a few more demons in order for everyone to get stronger before trying again. This actually worked out quite well. There was a decent fetch quest we could hand in for Fuxi Feathers, which I had a ton of in my inventory.

Fighting Ares
Challenging Ares was a nice
distraction.
We handed those in and Flynn leveled up. Having been sitting on some App Points, I decided it was time to spend those, and plunked them on Fundraising, as money was always tight for the group and I wanted Flynn to buy some decent gear as well as pay for one of the special fuses that I'd been keeping an eye on. This ability has been really helpful in earning extra coin when combined with the side quests. We even got a quest from one of the demons in Naraku after Flynn started fundraising. I haven't done it yet because the game is giving me messages saying I'm under leveled for it, so that's on the back burner for now.

There was one other side quest on my plate that I thought I'd give a try, but this one required going all the way back to Mikado Castle. Apparently one of the gauntlets that the samurai wanted to use for future recruits was inhabited by a demon, Ares, who would only leave if bested in battle by a mighty warrior. No one else had managed this yet, so Flynn and the gang gave it a shot. It was a pretty tough fight, and took a few tries to win, but we managed. It largely came down to Strigoii saving the day with his Bad Company ability. Ares managed to kill a couple of my demons fairly early on in the fight, so I needed to use this ability as a means of replenishing my ranks as the battle wore on. I had to do this twice, but after that it was a no go since Ares managed to take out Strigoii. Thankfully by then we had him on the ropes and a round later we emerged victorious.

Between our fundraising ability and these side quests Flynn had managed to accumulate a nice chunk of change, so it was time for a shopping spree. Our first port of call was Q's Blacksmith where we snapped up a new sword and armor. For the sword I opted for an Athame. It's not the hardest hitting weapon out there, but it allows for multiple strikes in one attack, and doesn't completely break the bank in terms of cost. For armor, I grabbed Ahazuya Red (that name sounds like it should be a trendy drink =p ). It had some okay stats and resistances, and made for a decent replacement to Flynn's stock samurai garb. The remainder of the money went toward a special fusion to make a Fortuna. She has some nice abilities like Sukukaja which help party members evade better when cast as well as some good heals, so I thought she might be good to have in the reserves when taking another stab at the Minotaur.

Fortune Megami
I haven't done anything with Fortuna
yet, but that may change soon.
Heading back into the dungeon stronger than ever, I thought it was time to try my luck with the Minotaur once more. It was still Strigoii, Gremlin, and Leanan Sidhe fighting alongside Flynn. The Minotaur is actually weak against ice attacks, and since Strigoii had Bufu and Gremlin Mabufu, I figured they would be must-haves in for the fight. On the way back through the dungeon, Strigoii gained a level and I had an opportunity to gain an ability through whispers, so it seemed like a golden opportunity for Flynn to learn Bufu himself and really stack the deck against the Minotaur.

When we finally reached him, the first try was a bust once more because Labrys Strike was stacking again. We made it pretty far through the battle, but ran out of steam toward the end as people fell. On the second go, things went a lot better with Labyrs Strike being spread out a lot more. Leanan Sidhe was keeping everyone's defense up while casting media to keep the party's health topped. Meanwhile everybody else just spammed their Bufu spells like it was going out of style. This gave us a bunch of extra attacks each turn since we were striking the Minotaur's weakness. Strigoii and Gremlin were hitting hard, but Flynn was just shellacking the monster. This is in no small part due to my having poured a ridiculous number of points into magic each level up.

After a little while, we finally managed to beat the Minotaur. It was still a stressful, hard fought battle despite hammering him with ice magic, and it felt great to win. Now Flynn and company find themselves venturing into uncharted territory, going where no samurai has dare tread in centuries. What will they find there? Will they meet the Black Samurai again? I can hardly wait to find out.