While I busy myself with mopping up the Star Crest tower, let's have a word about the game's structure so far.
A lot of the time, when you're thinking about a JRPG, you're thinking about going to a village, getting directed to a dungeon, beating a boss at the end of the dungeon, earning some plot, traveling to the next village, etc. I'm not saying that's bad, I'm saying that's a formula.
What about Dragon Warrior II, then?
1. We chase our cousin around for a bit, going to an introductory underground dungeon on the way, then join forces with him.
2. We get the Silver Key because it has intrinsic and immediate value to us (it's not a MacGuffin in the least), but we don't actually have to. And all it takes is to reach the bottom of a cave and walk back out.
3. We reach Hamlin and Moonbrooke, investigate a ruined castle, get some neat geographical clues, find a hidden artifact to break a curse, and join up with our second cousin.
4. We're introduced to tower dungeons, and we're given an item with a unique, flavorful mechanic related to these dungeons.
5. We go west to Lianport, and fight our first battle that's obligatory to progress. It's not even strictly a boss, it's more of a "you must be this tall to ride" test to make sure we're strong enough to handle sea travel. It earns us a ship.
As linear as this first portion of the game is, it still feels like someone said "let's do away with the JRPG formula, let's do something more free-form where you don't really ever repeat an objective". If something that experimental was made today, we'd call it post-modern, or a deconstruction, but it's really more pre-modern. The ideas just hadn't congealed yet.
And even after we get the ship and the world opens up, the game avoids turning into a vast stage select dealio where you just decide in what order you're going to beat the dungeons. There's the dungeon we just beat, and there's Charlock, yes, but there's also a bite-sized combat challenge in Osterfair, and sort of a cute sorta puzzly thing in Zahan to get the Golden Key, and the quest to find the wreck of the Relentless, and the whole thing with the Jailor's Key in Wellgarth, and exploration rewards us with info about the artifacts we'll need for the endgame, and...
It feels varied, and almost even free-form. And this variety and freedom make the world feel bigger and more open than it really is, which is an excellent lesson in doing more with less.
It's also extremely impressive that even through all this, I haven't strictly been obligated to grind yet. There has never been a point where every path available to us was blocked by foes we just couldn't defeat without killing easy enemies for 45 minutes. A great many games since have solved (or tried to solve) this potential issue with non-linear games with enemy scaling, but that's not a solution available to DW2, and it still somehow manages to work. (So far, at least.)
Aaaaaaanyway. Back to it for now. What did the rest of the Star Crest tower look like?
It turns out the other three staircases from the ground floor lead to a collection of loops and dead ends, with a single chest containing a Chain Sickle.
At the risk of repeating myself, I gotta say I'm amazed at how the difficulty here has felt so right. We got into some real trouble here and there, those Dragon Flies don't mess around, but we're not in the introductory portion of the game anymore, and they're definitely teaching us to respect fire-breathing critters coming in large groups.
As we were clearing the tower, Gwen reached level 15, for 1 Strength, 3 Agility, 7 HP, 6 MP, and a new spell.
For 8 MP, it restores one ally's HP to maximum. It is the best healing spell in the game (there are no healing spells with more than one target), and only Gwen gets to learn it.
In other news, right now Gwen has 75 max HP, while Glynn only has 72! This probably won't last for very long, but I didn't expect it. She has 56 defense power to his 59, too, so they're about equally durable. (Other than Glynn's Magic Armor reducing incoming spell damage, that is.)
: Well that was a fun little diversion, wasn't it?
: Yes, sure, let's call it that.
: I presume we're headed for the lake south of Moonbrooke now?
: That's right. We should be able to sail right over the tunnel to the desert.
: Alright then. Hoist the mainsail!
: It's the big one.
: And... we do what with it?
: We hoist it.
: Just raise the sail, Zed.
: I don't know why you couldn't just say that in the first place.
: My chamberlain once said I was strong as an ox. And the king of Osterfair said I was as strong as... several of those. I guess I'm moving up in the world.
Hibabangos are about as strong as Basilisks, but they have nearly twice the HP. They can roll crits, as well as cast Surround and Defence. They're fairly resistant to Surround, but only slightly resistant at best to other magic.
Graboopis have nearly the same Strength, but are slightly less durable, and trade crits and spells for the ability to call for help. They're immune to Surround and Defense, very resistant to Sleep, and weak to damage spells.
This kind of encounter is where Firebane is highly useful, as you want to take out the Hibabango before it Surrounds Zed, but you can't neglect the Graboopi calling for reinforcements either.
: Hmm, we've been here already.
: Right, we saw it as we were going down the coast here, when we were returning to Zahan.
: There could be a town here one day, with a harbor, to trade between Moonbrooke and Osterfair.
: In better days, maybe.
: Well, there's more to this lake yet, let's head back west.
: Rhone is definitely on the other side of this mountain range. We were right to figure Hargon would be attacking from somewhere nearby.
: Not that this guess has been particularly useful to us, in the end.
: Alright, lubbers, we continue on foot from here!
Hunters are a bit stronger than Hibabangos, with slightly more HP and slightly less defense. They only have a standard attack, though. They have low magic resistances all around, except a moderate resistance to Sleep. I'd say they're definitely worth a Surround if they're not alone.
It's pretty amazing to still see Magidrakees this far into the game. It's one advantage of having force-multiplier critters around; they're versatile and their threat scales with their companions. We let them live past the first turn at our own peril.
That fight earns Glynn level 19, for 1 Strength, 6 Agility, 7 HP, and 3 MP. Despite the low attack increase, I'd say it's a pretty good level, given that if we want him to do a lot of damage, Firebane is right there.
: Aw heck, another tower.
: I wonder what it might have been built for.
: Not to hold a crest, that's for sure.
: ...eh what?
: It looks like this is a dead end after all.
: Where would that river empty into? Not the lake for sure. And it certainly doesn't flow north either, or we would have seen it when we crossed the desert.
: Probably into the west side of the continent. We haven't sailed along that coast yet.
: It sounds like that's our next destination, then.
: Man, when I left Midenhall, I didn't think tracking down Hargon would take me across the world like this.
: Ha, would you have preferred the trip to be easy?
: Well, I would have preferred if Hargon hadn't shown up at all. But travelling with you guys sure beats training in the courtyard all day every day.
: It's a shame it took this disaster to get us to start spending time with each other, isn't it?
: ...yeah, it is.
: What's done is done. All that's left is to preserve a future where everyone gets to spend time with anyone they like, right?
: Right! Let's get a move on, then. To the west!
We sail between the Dragon's Horns again, and follow the coast south.
: Oh hey, we can land here!
: I thought we were looking for a river.
: Well, yes, we are. But this is still a way in to the continent.
: Better check it out. We'll kick ourselves later if this was the correct path.
: Right, good point. Let's get to it, then.
: Welp, never mind.
: There's our river, at least.
: It must flow into the sea further to the south. Let's return to our ship.
Puppet Men are upgraded Mud Men, about as tough as Orcs but doing a bit less damage. They know the strange jig of course (this fight cost Gwen almost 50 MP), but they can also cast Increase. They're immune or highly resistant to all magic, except with a mere resistance of 3 against spell damage. And most notably, they can drop extremely valuable Wizard's Rings.
: Land... ho?
: Hmm! What's that island over there?
: I'm not sure. Let's get closer.
: Oh! This is... the travel shrine! The one in the woods!
: Wow, you've got to be kidding me.
: Well this is fortuitous. You know, we could postpone the river trip and see if there's a way to land on that island. What do you think?
: I for one am not keen on seeing another Puppet Man anytime soon.
: Yeah, sure. It's not like we know for certain the tower has anything interesting going for it.
: And if nothing else we can use the shrine to return to Lianport and get some rest.
: Alright then, it's decided. Find us a beach, captain.
: These reefs are no good, but at least now we know it's not mountains all the way round. We could be on the right track.
: Ah-ha! Here we are.
Yeah, we can deal with these a lot more easily now.
: Holy crap, a town!
: Yes, we had already guessed that Hargon is more dangerous than an Ozwarg or Hibabango.
: Yikes, this dude must have done something seriously bad to get put in here.
If we had found a reason go after Roge Fastfinger before we actually tracked him down, this would probably be real disappointing to hear.
These new tiles are traps that drain 30 HP per step! Fortunately Glynn's Stepguard rises to the occasion.
: Uh... sure.
: We know someone for whom it'd come in handy, hmm?
: I'll let you guys know if I find a sword that you don't need to be any good at wielding to be effective in battle.
: ...point taken.
Well hey, it's good at least one person can give you directions to go there.
The female shopkeeper runs a standard item shop. And the suspicious-lookin' fellow...
Nothing new here, but it might be more convenient to come here through the travel doors than to sail all the way to Wellgarth for a Shield of Strength.
That's a lottery kiosk. We got a ticket off a monster at some point... but we lose.
Ah, right, this might be the only place where the game tells you what that does. And if you haven't found the World Tree yet (or if you saw it but didn't think to check it out), it might clue you in.
30 per person, not a problem.
: Eh? Alright, I'm listening.
: Seek the Fire Monolith and thou shall find the Sun Crest.
Ah, whew, okay, someone does point you towards the Sun Crest after all. It's in a monolith, and I think it's also the only one with a flame inside.
: Nah, I'm not good with hours.
: Good grief, if you didn't want to hear a no, why did you ask?
: A little courtesy never killed anyone.
: Sir, we're early in the morning, an hour and a half after sunrise.
: I thank thee very much indeed.
Ah, nice. Beran will be a good Return point for exploring the region.
She certainly means the island with the World Tree on it. The Leaf is an important item, it's good that the game insists on letting you know where it is.
: Or the Prince of Midenhall, actually.
Man, this town's got all the important info we don't need anymore!
: If we knew how, that is.
: It's a shame that we don't.
: It truly is!
: I'm a fighter and I'm a wizard and apparently I'm also a sailor! What else do you want from me?
Ah, a fancy House of Healing. Let's check out that door in the back.
It's a jail door, and we can't forget our Stepguard.
: We'll really need that Eye.
: Yep, that's a dead end alright.
: I remember someone in Wellgarth saying the road to Rhone started from there. What is this, then?
: We didn't investigate that region very thoroughly.
: Yeah, the critters down there were something else.
: Let's map it out the next time we go that way, shall we?
: Right, we'll know better once we see the place with our own eyes.
We return to Beran, with only a couple Hunters and Magidrakees standing in our way.
: Ready to look for that river again?
: Yeah. If we don't find a clue towards the Moon Fragment in that region, we might be in trouble.
On our way back to the ship, we run into a bunch of Titan Trees, and they dance Glynn's MP from 68 to 27. Good thing we're carrying a couple Wings.
: There's our way in.
: Oof, are you sure about that? It looks pretty narrow.
: I can manage it. The mosquitos will be a bigger worry than the river, I think.
: Not if the Staff of Thunder has anything to say about it.
: Welp, time to find something to stuff in my ears.
We run into a Hawk Man and a Gas early on, but there are Puppet Men and Hunters showing up deeper in. We can manage, but it's not trivial.
: I think that's a village over there.
: But the river's blocked. I'm not sure... Is that a sluice gate of some sort?
: It doesn't look like there's anything we can do from this side. Maybe if we go around?
: There was a fork earlier, let's try the other way.
: Looks like we're leaving the river behind.
: There must be a way through the mountains north of here.
: We are getting fairly close to that tower, too.
: Good news all around, then.
: Or not.
: How...? Hmm.
: This is a different river from the one we've followed so far, right?
: There's another branch downstream, near the sea, but there's a bridge over the other side of the fork there, we're definitely not sailing underneath.
: Could that other branch also flow into the sea, but in a different spot? Further up the coast maybe?
: It's worth a look.
As we go back, Zed reaches level 21, for 6 Strength, 3 Agility and 6 HP. It doesn't really mean anything special here, but this is the level we were at when we defeated the Dragonlord in the previous game.
: Bingo! This must be the one!
Oooh, there are Metal Slimes up here too. Zed kills it with a 19 damage regular blow, and it feels crazy good.
This part of the mountains must share an encounter zone with the desert in the north, because we also run into Carnivogs, Baboons and Ghost Rats.
: Gah, finally.
: There's no going to that tower without getting that river open.
: We still have that key from Fastfinger, right?
: Hmm. Of course.
: Oh, isn't this where this Don Mahone fellow lives?
: Right, the guy who makes "the finest Water Flying Cloth". I'm still not sure why we should give the finest Water Flying Fu-
: ZED! Language!
: Well then, here we go.
: Maybe you can get him to teach you a thing or two, Glynn.
: Not. Interested.
That's a regular House of Healing. I do like how they're all architecturally different from each other.
: Ooooooooh yeah. Just what we wanted to hear.
: Now we're in business!
Ah, the Falcon Sword. It has only 5 attack power, which is between the Bamboo Stick and the Club. However, its wielder attacks twice per turn. Both Zed and Glynn can equip it, and it is in fact the only weapon stronger than an Iron Spear that the Prince of Cannock can wield. We'll definitely get him one... sometime.
The Falcon Sword is an interesting weapon in that it almost entirely relies on its user's Strength for its damage output, and it doesn't do as well against high-defense monsters as a hypothetical single-hit weapon with twice its effective attack power since each blow has to overcome that defense separately. (Random number generation aside, two 50 damage hits against an enemy with 30 defense deal 40 damage total, while one 100 damage hit against that same foe deals 70.) I think at some point it still becomes the best weapon in the game for the Prince of Midenhall as well, since it employs his ludicrous Strength twice, but I hope we won't have to grind him up that high.
: You could say that.
: Well, he stole the key to our watergate, the scoundrel. We would dearly love to have it back.
: What kind of idiot steals the key to a watergate?
: The "asshole" kind of idiot.
: It lies to the south.
: Um... Sure.
: ...oh! Of course!
: I shall weave thee a Water Flying Cloth, but it will take time. Please come back in a day or so.
He's not kidding about that. We can stay at the inn as many times as we like, but he won't be done until we save our game, quit, and reload. At least for now he takes the Loom and the Yarn off our hands, so that's two inventory slots we get back.
The inn is 40 gold per person, still not a problem.
: Yyyyeah, I get it.
We haven't found that watergate yet though. But if we try to go north to check on the dog here...
...we can see there's more to the village than first appears.
: ...your wife wants to name your dog after her father?
: Well, we should not judge the traditions of foreign lands.
: Oh boy, I am definitely staying out of this nonsense, thank you very much.
: I wonder if Orwick and his girl ever found each other.
: Ah, here we are.
The Watergate Key isn't in our inventory anymore, again giving us welcome free space.
It's a bit of a dick move, but we can't actually save in Tuhn. We'll be Returning to Beran to save, quit and reload, then we'll sail all the way back here through the now freely-flowing eastern branch of the river. The mysterious Water Flying Cloth will be ready by then, and we'll be able to reach the Tower of the Moon, where hopefully we'll find one of the last few key items we need to open up the endgame. Can't wait!