Perhaps an odd topic (and my longest post) for my first AtariAge thread started in 13+ years, but this past October through January, I played a game of Adventures of Mana (specifically the PSV version of this remake of the Game Boy's Final Fantasy Adventure, but it's also available for iOS and Android) in which I tried to see at how low a level I could beat the game (I haven't played the original FFA, but the remake's boss fights at least are often quite different, so keep that in mind if you've played FFA). This is an action RPG where enemy encounters can usually be avoided, meaning you can minimize how often you level up. At the time I started, though, I had not actually seen the entirety of the game yet, so rather than selecting level-up stat increase methods tuned for specific game requirements, I leveled up stats evenly. That is, leveling up to even-numbered levels increased either STR or INT more than the other stats (i.e., choosing Warrior or Mage increase methods, respectively), while leveling up to odd-numbered levels equalized all stats (i.e., of Warrior and Mage, choosing the increase method which had not been used at the previous level-up). Playing this way, which results in a more well-rounded character but a higher overall level than absolutely needed, I beat the game at Level 19 (which I'll shorthand as "L19"; all level numbers below will be written thus, too)--with the caveat that I broke my "even out all stats at odd-numbered levels" rule when I hit L19 and instead boosted STR to 22, rather than matching up all four stats to 20; I decided to stack the odds of winning in my favor, because the final form of the final boss was a rough go.
But several parts of the game were rough goes, as you will see because what I'm posting below is the complete log of my minimum-levels run! So yes, spoiler alert! Still, I only mean "complete" as in "contains all EXP/GP changes and all Mattock and Key stock changes," not walkthrough levels of detail. After the log, I'll add what I think is the absolute, idealized minimum-levels record (and explain why I think it's just about impossible to achieve in reality).
First, a reference for what amounts of EXP result in level-ups:
- EXP)Level-up - 15)2 44)3 90)4 161)5 263)6 402)7 584)8 815)9 1101)10 1450)11
1865)12 2355)13 2925)14 3582)15 4331)16 5178)17 6131)18 7194)19
Also, note that amounts of EXP and GP yielded by enemy kills can vary a bit in this game. These are just the numbers I got in my run, though I did often redo fights until I got EXP yields low enough to satisfy me.
Here's the general record format:
- new_total_EXP, new_total_GP, level_before_fight->level_after_fight: enemy/enemies_killed: acquired_EXP, acquired_GP
The level numbers are boldfaced if a level-up is involved.
- 0 EXP, 50 GP, L1: game start - After beating the Jackal twice, neither fight yielding any EXP/GP.
- 3 EXP, 53 GP, L1->L1: kill 3 Myconids: +3 EXP, +3 GP - Mushroom enemies, story-required. I'm using enemy names from http://www.seikens.com, assuming their original source is reputable.
* receive 1 set of Mattocks free (7 Mattocks per set)
* use 1 Mattock
- 3 EXP, 38 GP, L1: buy 1 set of Keys (4 Keys per set): -15 GP
- 23 EXP, 63 GP, L1->L2: kill 5 Lizard Men: +20 EXP, +25 GP - Story-required.
* use 3 Mattocks
* Ropers (tentacled pink blob enemies) on a narrow path in the screen right after the wall descent are hard to avoid, but it's possible if there are only 2 and they're bunched together at the far end. Re-randomize the screen's enemy count and positions by paging between the previous screen and this one until you get only the enemies you want and roughly where you want them.
* use 2 Mattocks, 1 Key
- 33 EXP, 161 GP, L2->L2: kill boss Hydra: +10 EXP, +98 GP - At this part of the game, you're not perpetually one hit from death yet, so it's not a bad fight--except for the sloth-like speed of recharge of the limit gauge, so just whack away with the Sickle at every opportunity in this fight. Use your companion as a decoy (Hydra attacks whomever is closer).
- 33 EXP, 101 GP, L2: buy 1 set of Mattocks: -60 GP
- 81 EXP, 141 GP, L2->L3: kill 1 Werewolf: +48 EXP, +40 GP - Story-required. Incidentally, separate from this minimum-levels run, this is the only point in the game where killing one enemy can potentially level you up twice, because the Werewolf's EXP yield is more than the EXP difference between L3 and L4, making it possible to jump from L2 to L4.
* use 3 Mattocks, 2 Keys
- 101 EXP, 151 GP, L3->L4: kill boss Vampire: +20 EXP, +10 GP - Evade the first attack from the Vampire, and then just hit him with the Chain Flail every time he changes screen position; he'll never get to attack again.
- 110 EXP, 163 GP, L4->L4: kill 1 Blood Owl: +9 EXP, +12 GP - GP grind: you'll shortly need a bunch of money, and the most EXP-efficient way to get it this early in the game is by selling the Blood Owl's random drop. Kill one, and if it doesn't drop a Crystal, exit to the game's title screen and reload the auto-save to try getting a Crystal dropped again; repeat as necessary until you get a Crystal. I should note that these enemies are in the screen to the right of the one where you fought the Vampire.
- 110 EXP, 13 GP, L4: sell Crystal: +500 GP; buy Battle-Axe: -150 GP; buy Rust-B-Gone: -500 GP - The Battle-Axe and Rust-B-Gone are story-required items--check out how little GP is left!
* use 4 Mattocks
* Tarantulas (spider enemies) on a narrow path in one outdoors screen of this otherwise underground area are quite hard to avoid, but you can sometimes take one hit, survive, and pass them while briefly invincible if they only number two and are together . . . or you can get as unbelievably lucky as I did and pass one while it's right next to you at the entrance end of the screen, then pass the other while it's at the exit end of screen, the only two parts of the path where you and an enemy can fit side by side. Re-randomize the screen's enemy count and positions by paging again--though you'll also do it by dying repeatedly.
- 112 EXP, 48 GP, L4->L4: kill 1 Mimic: +2 EXP, +35 GP - GP grind: you'll need a lot of money again soon, so exit and reload the auto-save until you get a Mimic yielding Gold Dust to sell. The Mimic (when dropping Gold Dust) is the most EXP-efficient means of getting money in the game. Incidentally, this is the screen right after the narrow path mentioned above.
- 157 EXP, 202 GP, L4->L4: kill boss Megapede/Ankheg: +45 EXP, +154 GP - The safest way to survive this fight is to wait on the vine ladder until your limit gauge is fully charged, then come down and hit Megapede/Ankheg when his head is reachable. I used eight full-charge Fire attacks, but maybe the Broadsword's super dash (limit break for swords when you attack while walking) would do it more quickly.
- 157 EXP, 275 GP, L4: sell Gold Dust: +750 GP; buy 1 set of Mattocks: -60 GP; buy 3 sets of Keys: -45 GP; replenish MP: -10 GP; buy Mythril Blade: -562 GP - You need a mythril item to progress, and the Mythril Blade is highly recommended, to avoid taking forever against the upcoming bosses. Replenishing MP is not absolutely necessary (you can opt to use a Key to get into a room with a healing spring before you next need to use magic), but the budget is looser now.
* use 2 Mattocks, 2 Keys (use no Mattocks until the Shifting Sands (Medusa) area!)
- 245 EXP, 345 GP, L4->L5: kill boss Medusa: +88 EXP, +70 GP - That Mythril Blade gets put to use, via super dash attacks--these will be the main attack against bosses now, because the double hit from sword weapons' super dash seems to deal far more damage than every other weapon type's limit break. Use your companion as a decoy to keep Medusa's heat off you (like Hydra, Medusa attacks whomever is closer).
* use 2 Mattocks, 2 Keys (or 1 Mattock, 3 Keys, which is preferable)
- 342 EXP, 454 GP, L5->L6: kill boss Davias/Mind Flayer: +97 EXP, +109 GP - There are safe points relative to Davias/Mind Flayer's position when he does his starburst attack (imagine he's at the center of vertical and horizontal axes, and stand slightly clockwise to any of those four lines), so you can wait at those points when he launches them.
- 344 EXP, 487 GP, L6->L6: kill 1 Mimic: +2 EXP, +33 GP - GP grind: I did this one to get money, via Gold Dust sale, to buy the Wind Spear for reasons I'll discuss later, but I turned out not to need it; superfluous EXP/GP earn.
- 344 EXP, 87 GP, L6: sell Gold Dust: +750 GP; buy Wind Spear: -1150 GP
- 446 EXP, 196 GP, L6->L7: kill boss Metal Crab: +102 EXP, +109 GP - Metal Crab always tries to jump on you if you're far away, so just stay away from him to control where he's jumping next (then get out of the way once he goes airborne). Mythril Blade likely still the best weapon here.
* use 1 Mattock, 1 Key
- 518 EXP, 256 GP, L7->L7: kill boss Cyclops: +72 EXP, +60 GP - This is the boss that made me restart my whole run to get the Mythril Blade, because I first spent ~90 minutes attacking with fully charged Fire magic and Chain Flail attacks, only to die from a sloppy mistake. At the upper left corner of the screen, you're safe from his attacks, at least once you've gotten him to go to the lower right corner.
* use 1 Key
- 616 EXP, 424 GP, L7->L8: kill boss Golem: +98 EXP, +168 GP - If you stay just out of his laser eye's range and attack non-stop with the newly acquired Morningstar, there's a good chance he never switches to another attack--but if he switches to his invincibility attack, you're almost as good as dead (note: I didn't find this particular strategy on my own but rather first saw someone do it in a YouTube video).
- 636 EXP, 516 GP, L8->L8: kill boss Chimera: +20 EXP, +92 GP - Evade the first attacks, then repeat this: get right up in Chimera's face and do a Morningstar attack, then immediately run counterclockwise around the area's perimeter to outrun his fireballs, circling back to your attack position.
* use 2 Keys
The next boss, Dark Lord, is one of the three most difficult in the game at low levels, for several reasons. Firstly, he is always chasing you; outside of times when he's launching one of two types of long-range attacks, he is chasing you down non-stop for a short-range strike. Thus, there is no safe spot and no respite in this battle. Secondly, he doesn't stagger when hit, meaning that while your attack animation is finishing up, he continues to close the distance between you, and so you might die before you can start running again. Thirdly, he is totally immune to what should be your best bet in this fight, the Mythril Blade; it does him 0 damage (hence why I thought I'd try out the Wind Spear). This is quite unfortunate, because sword weapons' super dash attack is the best fit against his non-stop pursuit (hence why I gave up on the Wind Spear): when your first dash passes him, he turns around to keep chasing you, meaning that when you finish the return dash, he's farther away than he would be had you attacked with any non-sword weapon. But if the Mythril Blade were not an option, and the only other sword you had were the starting Broadsword . . . you would be in for a long battle. You could conceivably try to take him down with Lightning, the most powerful magic at this point in the game, but experience shows that he has an uncanny ability to evade about half of all attempts (and he's immune to the only homing magic, Fire), meaning a huge waste of MP (to say nothing of the amount of Ethers you would first have to get GP for and stock). So, rather than going straight for the Dark Lord battle, I chose to take a detour to first get the Blood Sword.
- 1453 EXP, 914 GP, L8->L11: kill 6 Dark Stalkers: +817 EXP, +398 GP - Glaive Castle knights. The Blood Sword room is difficult to survive because of all the knights prowling it, but multiple well-aimed Lightning blasts can, with luck, clear them out, raising you to L11 and earning you the (relatively) powerful Blood Sword.
* use 1 Key
- 1619 EXP, 924 GP, L11->L11: kill boss Dark Lord: +166 EXP, +10 GP - Even being L11 and armed with the Blood Sword, it still took me a ~15-minute fight to take down Dark Lord, one of the longest (successful) boss fights in this run, probably due to long waits for safe and guaranteed hit opportunities, and also due to rampant missed attacks nevertheless; how long--and how many failed attempts--would it take to do it with the Broadsword at L8? I failed so many times even with the Blood Sword at L11 (usually from eventually misreading an attack and not getting out of range fast enough) that I nearly gave up.
- 1619 EXP, 899 GP, L11: buy 1 set of Keys: -15 GP; replenish MP: -10 GP - MP was required to be used for a puzzle shortly before the Dark Lord battle, but paid replenishment was not really necessary, since a healing spring would be coming up.
* use 3 Keys (there was a path that would have only needed 2 Keys, but I didn't notice soon enough)
- 1785 EXP, 1028 GP, L11->L11: kill boss Marilith/Kary: +166 EXP, +129 GP - A much easier battle than Dark Lord's, the only thing you really need to watch out for here is outrunning the occasional homing freeze attack. Blood Sword continues to be your friend here.
- 1785 EXP, 1013 GP, L11: buy 1 set of Keys: -15 GP
* use 1 Key
- 1990 EXP, 1133 GP, L11->L12: kill boss Kraken: +205 EXP, +120 GP - A pretty easy battle, thanks to there being hiding spots at either end of the screen. Curiously, Kraken is immune to the Ice Brand that Marilith/Kary's defeat granted, so the Blood Sword is still the weapon of choice here.
In the Undersea Volcano after Kraken, an environmental barrier appears: a pool of lava that you must cross to progress. Unlike an early spike floor in Glaive Castle, the lava does not simply take off half of your current max HP, and it can outright kill you at the first step. Changing armor doesn't change the amount of damage, so the HP lost seems to depend not on DEF but just on the raw VIT stat. With no choice but to first level-up before I could cross, I headed back out to the World Map and fought Lich.
- 2182 EXP, 1349 GP, L12->L12: kill boss Lich: +192 EXP, +216 GP - A fairly difficult fight because of Lich's teleportation and his support gun summon, it's survivable if you keep in mind which parts of the screen he never teleports to, and if you keep track of time when the support gun appears, to know when it will fire. Lich is reachable anytime after beating Dark Lord, and in a test run, I did beat him at L11 right after the Dark Lord fight.
* use 1 Key unnecessarily due to coming back past Subterranean River after detour to Lich
- 6337 EXP, 4239 GP, L12->L18: kill numerous Fire Moths and Earth Elementals: +4155 EXP, +2890 GP - Also yielded 1 set of Keys. Upon reaching L18, I had 19 VIT and 55 HP, and the lava only took off 54 HP, finally allowing further progress. Incidentally, the ground enemies are listed as Ice Elementals at www.seikens.com, probably because they "melt" into and out of the ground, but while they may have looked like ice in the colorless original FFA, they are clearly dirt-colored in this remake, hence my calling them Earth Elementals here.
* use 1 Key
- 6549 EXP, 4494 GP, L18->L18: kill boss Ifrit: +212 EXP, +255 GP - Lich was immune to the Ice Brand, like Kraken was, so this was its first use, thus also the first boss fight in a while not to rely on the Blood Sword. Ifrit's attacks rarely hit the upper part of the screen where he spends most of his time, so attacking from there is fairly safe.
- 6751 EXP, 4736 GP, L18->L18: kill boss Mantis Ant: +202 EXP, +242 GP - Another of the three hardest fights in the game, in spite of the powerful Dragon Buster sword found a few screens before the boss fight, it took 9 super dash hits to kill Mantis Ant. At least it's a short fight, but most attempts resulted in getting in 4 hits or less before the boss got me--his charge attack has an extremely wide range, such that if the charge occurs along the horizontal center line of the screen, all points of the screen are covered, and you're guaranteed to die. I only survived once, at last, because he happened to not charge along the horizontal center line until I'd gotten 8 hits in (he had even attacked in the complete wrong direction earlier in the fight, twice), and I got in the last hit while he was finally doing it. Incidentally, this fight's screen has an environmental barrier around it, an electric fence that does the same damage as the lava did, but while you can stay outside the fence and hit Mantis Ant when he comes by to visit, you definitely can't stay alive there for the entire length of time needed to beat this boss at L18.
- 6751 EXP, 893 GP, L18: buy 1 set of Keys: -15 GP; sell 3 Mattocks: +12 GP; buy 4 Hi-Potions: -640 GP; buy 5 Hi-Ethers: -3200 GP - All these purchases were precautionary measures that ended up not being used; even with the best defensive equipment in the game, the harder final battles still had me dying in one hit.
* use 2 Keys + 2 more Keys unnecessarily due to coming back up Dime Tower after the recovery item stock-up
- 6967 EXP, 1155 GP, L18->L18: kill boss Garuda: +216 EXP, +262 GP - Much easier than Mantis Ant was, helped by the recently found Dragon Shield blocking Garuda's basic feather attack (but do run from the wind-boosted version). Time your Dragon Buster super dashes to hit him when he swoops down and when he charge-attacks, and you'll be done in no time. Note that beating Garuda is the game's point of no return (i.e., no more World Map or shops).
- 7132 EXP, 1357 GP, L18->L18: kill 1 Demon: +165 EXP, +202 GP - Equipment grind: exit and reload the auto-save until you get a Demon dropping a Samurai Helm (+23 DEF over current, starting Bronze Helm). This is not required, but since my level wasn't going to change from the EXP gain, and the timing of the next level-up was also not going to be affected, I figured I might as well boost my chances of survival. The new helm did make it possible to take one hit from the next two bosses . . . both of whom can be evaded without too much trouble, though.
* use 1 Key
- 7132 EXP, 1609 GP, L18->L18: kill boss Dragon: +0 EXP, +252 GP - None of the dragon bosses yield any EXP, and this first one is pretty easy.
* use 1 Key
- 7132 EXP, 1884 GP, L18->L18: kill boss Red Dragon: +0 EXP, +275 GP - Red Dragon is somewhat harder than his predecessor, but good positioning (and the Samurai Helm's DEF boost if you do get hit) will let you survive his arcs-of-fire attacks.
* use 2 Keys (only 1 Key if no interest in replenishing 2 MP)
- 7132 EXP, 2401 GP, L18->L18: kill boss Zombie Dragon: +0 EXP, +517 GP - Zombie Dragon's variety of attacks, especially the homing kind, make him much harder than the other two Dragons, but using the bottom center of the screen as a base position left me lots of evasion space. It took 8-10 Dragon Buster super dash hits to take this boss down, but maybe non-stop Chain Flail hits would take longer but be safer? Most of Zombie Dragon's attacks can be nullified by weapon swings, so staying at a distance and constantly whacking him could be a less stressful path to victory.
- 7340 EXP, 2673 GP | 7540 EXP, 2933 GP | 7740 EXP, 3188 GP, L18->L19: kill boss Julius (first form): +208+200+200 EXP, +272+260+255 GP - Level-up only occurred after all three first-form Juliuses were beaten, despite the level-up EXP threshold being crossed after the first one was beaten. I recommend taking out starburst guy first, then "no attacks after two lightning balls" guy second, and "slow mini suns" guy last. For the L18->L19 level-up method, contrary to what had been the typical, equalize-all-stats level-up pattern for odd-numbered level-ups, I did the same as I'd done in L17->L18 and focused on STR, resulting in 20 VIT, 22 STR, 18 INT, and 20 MND. Maybe this helped in the end.
- 7740 EXP, 3351 GP, L19->L19: kill boss Julius (second form): +0 EXP, +163 GP - Once you know his pattern and timing, this fight isn't too bad. For his first phase, stay at the bottom of the screen, directly across from him, to attract his slide-kick attack; if you're farther away from him, he uses a carpet-bombing lightning attack that's harder to evade. For his second phase, run whenever he suddenly jumps straight up, then attack once he's back down. Much of this fight is spent evading while you wait for the limit gauge to fill, so get the timings right.
- ---- EXP, ---- GP, L19->---: boss Julius (third form): +- EXP, +- GP - Fittingly, the final form of the final opponent is one of the three hardest battles in the minimum-levels run. This third form can be beaten at L19 if your companion (the heroine) doesn't get hit too often. The two lightning-type attacks are avoidable if you run from one side of the boss to the other, then launch a super dash for a bit of invincibility time; the rapid-fire attacks are avoidable if you invoke your companion's assistance right as the attacks start, nullifying most of the shots--but your companion, who is just as weak as you, often gets in the way of enemy attacks and gets temporarily knocked out, meaning this strategy may be unavailable when you need it. I got lucky on one try and only briefly had to deal with that situation . . . and then the final boss suddenly died earlier than expected a few hits later! I'd expected the same number of super dash hits as the second form had taken, which was about twenty.
But still, that's it, Game Complete at L19. Not an easy journey, mostly one hit away from death, but doable with plenty of luck. Banzai! My final save, just before the final battle, was 10 hours, 44 minutes in, so including the full final battle, total game time was probably about 11 hours.
However, L19 is far from the theoretical minimum level at which the game can be beaten. I believe that's L13, if you only kill bosses, lower enemies required by the story, and the Blood Owls and Mimics killed for random drops sold to buy items required by the story. Here's what the character stats for that would look like (the number in each row that's boldfaced/italicized is the stat that got the focus of the level-up):
L - VIT STR INT MND Boss encounters fought at this level
1 - 2 2 2 2 -
2 - 3 4 2 3 Hydra
3 - 5 5 2 4 Vampire
4 - 7 6 2 5 Megapede/Ankheg, Medusa
5 - 9 7 2 6 Davias/Mind Flayer
6 - 11 8 2 7 Metal Crab
7 - 13 9 2 8 Cyclops, Golem
8 - 15 10 2 9 Chimera, Dark Lord, Marilith/Kary
9 - 17 11 2 10 Kraken
10 - 19 12 2 11 Ifrit, Lich
11 - 20 14 2 12 Mantis Ant, Garuda
12 - 21 16 2 13 Dragon, Red Dragon, Zombie Dragon, Julius 1
13 - 22 18 2 14 Julius 2, Julius 3
Early level-ups would (mostly) focus on VIT (i.e., the Monk stat increase method) to survive the Undersea Volcano's lava and Mantis Ant's electricity fence via VIT becoming 19 (55 max HP) once you reach L10 upon beating Kraken. Max MP would be stuck at 6 for the entire game, which should be okay because the max MP expenditure (to unlock doors and such) before any replenishing opportunity seems to be 4. You would have to use the Broadsword's super dashes against Megapede/Ankheg instead of Fire magic, the Broadsword against Dark Lord (ha!) instead of the Blood Sword (which would never be acquired), and the Mythril Blade against Marilith/Kary, Kraken, and Lich instead of the Blood Sword. Up through the Chimera battle, the STR stat compares well against what I had in my L19 run, but every fight from Dark Lord onward has less STR and ATK in play, significantly so starting from Ifrit. VIT/DEF/HP would be better, but the game's latter half would probably still be one hit away from death. Perhaps most importantly, though, the MND stat, which controls the recharge speed of the limit gauge, would be much lower in the later stages of the game, meaning that battles already long because of weak STR/ATK become even longer. Long battles are bad not only because of the risk of lost concentration, but also because they give more opportunities for guaranteed-kill attacks to be chosen by those bosses who have them. Maybe the four level-ups in the table that go to STR (Warrior) could be split between STR and MND (Sage) for some semblance of balance, but that might simply result in both being insufficient rather than one being almost okay and the other awful. Later boss fights in this path might go as long as (longer than?) that 90-minute fight against Cyclops that I had--though hopefully they would end better. What kind of absurd luck would be needed to last that long against Mantis Ant and the third form of Julius? Well, perhaps not that long against those two, since you would still have Dragon Buster and Excalibur against them, respectively, but even so, the fights would be hamstrung by the lower STR and MND stats, and the battles that had previously depended on the Blood Sword could still take forever. I don't think it's doable in reality, though I guess there is a fraction of a fraction of a chance that the particularly dangerous bosses could go the entire length of their fights without ever choosing their inescapable attacks. Crystals (instant full limit gauge) dropped by Blood Owls could be useful to quicken battles, meaning fewer chances for the bosses to choose the more dangerous attack patterns, but you could only carry so many, and the EXP earned from repeatedly stocking them could push you to unwanted levels.
If anyone out there is crazy enough to give this theoretical minimum-levels run a shot, please do post your results here! And if you've actually made it all the way to the end of this post, congratulations! You haven't leveled up yet!