I wound up replaying this, so I thought I’d share what I saw. Also I wanted to see what others found out. And just allow for general forum dialogues–maybe someone can do something similar for another entry.
So there are a lot of ways to approach 4x4 Archipelago, but I wanted to provide 1) people who had played with an overview and 2) give people who might not have played a shot at seeing as much as they could and, of course, 3) see what other people’s strategies were. This contains spoilers, and lots of them, so be warned. My hope is to just stir up general chat as well as maybe help someone get through quicker the second time. Or maybe help people who worry they’ll get totally stuck early on.
I put in a lot of details here, but I know I missed some (including one possibly overpowered observation,) and so I hope people can add what they find relevant. I’ve played through several times. I think the strategies I’ve written show the game is very balanced.
Here is a list of starting classes
The very first piece of advice? Visit the hub isle and remember where it is. It may not always be the center of operations, but it’s a good place to start. Later on, the isle where you can hunt bandits is a good place to grind.
Best starting classes
The Battle Mage seems like it is best overall, and it’s the most fun in combat, because you can unload MP, then beat your enemy up, and inns are cheap to stay at. Later on you can get a marginal replacement for magic spells. And you can’t use both combat and magic skills at once. So that nerfs things a bit.
I think charisma is a good skill to have, since it allows you to chat at every island pub and return to the hub island to find new quests, visit the library, and so forth. You can keep track of stories in your journal. “You have recorded…” means you got that story. If you return all the stories, you get a nice cash bonus and 1 Renown. It’s more or less useless after that, but it’s such a quick boost. Also, one inn will have a healer, who can heal 40 HP per combat. They’re nice, particularly against quest monsters who have lots of HP, though for big fights, healing potions work better.
I also think combat is a good skill because it keeps easy combats easy, and the level 2 skills are quite strong.
However, the game is balanced. Trading is valuable short-term, because you can sell rare items recovered in random fortunate adventures for a huge markup, and also long-term. Eventually you’ll have more silver than you can spend, and bribing tough monsters gets you 1/2 of the fight’s experience, which is very handy on the random isle where you can hunt bandits. You can save time in real life BRIBEing with excess money, going to mines and then coming back later once the bandits repopulate. Or weaker players can beat up a few weak monsters and then bribe a tough one. Bribing always seems to work, and since tougher monsters take several rounds no matter what, you might as well spend your excess silver.
Magic takes a while to be really good. You don’t have enough MP for long fights, to start. But it’s very powerful once you do. Survival has some fun side quests and lets you avoid traps and also explore some optional treasure places you couldn’t otherwise. It also lets you study monsters for weaknesses–this information seems to be saved on replay, though. So perhaps running as a Barbarian first pays off later. It’s really useful to have monsters’ strengths and weaknesses.
By this reasoning, Druid is the weakest, slowest class. If you’re feeling like a challenge, go for it.
I found quick starts were more important than initial power, since you can always get a third skill later, though I also found that you didn’t need it with well-planned-out play. If you get in the doldrums, you can beat up weak bandits on the isle that lets you hunt for bandits. Or you can search for positive quests. Even bankrupt players will eventually turn up items while sailing, or the island quests that put you through dangerous terrain eventually turn up something valuable.
What stats to improve
I generally improved fortune to 2 to start, because it was pretty quick and I could avoid fights. I have no metrics, but you want to hit the good random adventures early on, and I think (?) fortune helps. The right ones can make you really strong in a hurry.
Then as a fighter I held off on stats to improve combat, because the level 2 skills are really good. If you have magic, go for level 2 magic. Spell power then focus is great. Otherwise, brawn then vitality. The new skills you get with new combat/magic really transform your character, and at the low levels, there are still lots of ways to get experience without fights. However, you may wish to improve brawn/vitality or focus/spellpower to 1, because of the very low cost of each. I prefer improving brawn and spellpower first as opposed to vitality/focus, but I have no metrics on what is best.
Early exploration and trading tips
Listen to rumors on each island. There is no downside. Sometimes, the rumors are just flavor text, but other times, they can help unlock quests. Note that the quests on each isle are set beforehand, so saving and restoring doesn’t do much good. All quests are useful, but some are particularly nice. I think all give something if you complete them… Newer players can gain experience and renown that way, though you may be blocked from the renown-gaining options by having the wrong skill, or not enough skill. I had fun save-and-retrying to see multiple paths through.
But you might not even want to act on those quests right away, or even seek out fights. Notice the traders’ markets. They’re really good. There are seven. The Great Market doesn’t count–it doesn’t buy anything at a markup, and it doesn’t sell anything.
Each local market sells one of food/crafting/luxury items and buys one of them at an extra markup. There are six such buy/sell combos, and each is featured in one of the seven markets, with the seventh being random. Note the game excludes buying and selling the same thing, because that’s no way for the local merchants to make a profit. Note buying and then selling at the lesser markup works well, too, but the greater markup gives 80% more profit(570-300/450-300=270/150=1.8).
Here I advise you to make a small 4x4 graph of which market is where so you can buy everything at the traders’ markets and sell them for maximum markup. It’s worth the time spend. Each place has ~5 items you can sell for 570 after buying for 300. That’s a profit of 27*350>10000 silver, if you are diligent. The places do eventually slowly restock, which is nice for some quests.
A small finesse here: try to have 300 silver at all times for random hunter/merchant encounters. You can buy food/crafting/luxury and sell it to flip a quick profit. The markets can wait for you to buy them out. The random encounters do recur, but if you can, you’d like to take advantage of them.
With this silver, you’ll probably want to buy the Saint’s Hauberk, which is great for ease of play since it has the resurrect mechanic. (Note: one random quest gives better armor.) The Trident of Storms the mer-folk sell is also usually worth it, even if you don’t have Magic skills. It does a lot of damage. But again, another random quest may eventually give you something better.
Also note you may not wish to sell everything at once. Some quests require crafting materials or food. And when you don’t have much silver, you may need a few more trips to buy out each island, but that’s okay.
Easy Experience Early
One neat thing with this game is: you get experience for talking to or helping the right people and for learning information! So fighting is not so critical. You can flee a lot.
First, since you start with 500 gold, you may wish to buy your way to level 1 fortune at your local inn. Each drink costs 10, and you get 15 experience the first time you hear advice. There are 18 different pieces of advice. So you can just hear 17 and still have 330 gold left over, which will let you buy from random hunters or mer-folk.
Always talk to the Priestess the first time you see her. Her stories get you 200 experience. She is extra likely, as she appears on random sea or land adventures.
Similarly, talk to an old man walking around if you see him. That seems to happen in many islands, and you get 100 experience for each isle. It adds up. Anything you can get without fighting is a huge boost.
If Alba or Ivory Isle is in the game, you have a one-time boost of 200 experience at the Crimson Field or the Elephants’ Graveyard.
Renown vs. experience vs. silver
Renown is tough to find. It helps push the story forward and eventually allows access to the Academy, without which you need silver or expensive items to pay for a quest item, but the game’s still winnable. Certain random adventures improve renown. You can get renown clearing out tougher dungeons. You should also note that some quests are counted as Great Deeds (I peeked in the source) and after 3 you can confront an enemy who, if you defeat them, gives 2 renown more. I may detail them later.
Renown is most valuable, but experience comes next. You should note that sometimes you have a moral option in quests. Always be good and decent and give up your silver. You can replace silver with fights. Experience too. But not renown. One thing about renown is, once it gets to a certain level, it can jump quickly. For instance, the random minstrels won’t charge you 3000 silver to make up a song about you if your renown is high enough. Also, silver will be cheap enough that you can donate all of 15000 to the academy, which gets you 3 renown. This, however, may not be fully necessary if your renown is over 12, though there may be little else to spend silver on.
Once you hit 15 renown, you don’t need any more. And once you gain enough experience, you can’t really use it, except at the experience converter. And silver – well, there’s one item worth buying a lot of.
To save scum or not to save scum
I do. Some quests are quite nice for treasure/renown, and if you miss them, they won’t pop up again. Also, another longer quest is easier if you do. It doesn’t break the game either way.