An Intermediate Powerthrough For Challenge Runs
This collection of rough suggestions, put together for v0.22.0.1 of the game, exists to help intermediate players to clear more challenging runs of the game. They could be runs such as clearing a Challenge Rank 10+ game, a 600%+ difficulty modifier game, or runs aiming to beat one of the alternate endings. As the basis for the powering-through remains consistent, specific applications for each separate case will be omitted.
This does not exist to enhance the fun of the game - rather it explains one of the ways PoP has been fun for a player in too many words. The author hopes to showcase the extent to which strategic elements of this game can come together to achieve overwhelming effects. In different words, this guide will be a platter of finely aged cheese.
Since the core elements of the powerthrough relies on a few key unlockables, new players will not be able to follow this guide entirely. Non-negotiable ingredients will be kept minimal if possible, however.
This mash of strategies is made possible due to several distinct effects:
1. The Prince is able to summon and develop spirits rapidly. One of his upgrade nodes in the Magic tree, Spirit Power, allows him to summon base spirits at Level 5 and evolve them into several different forms.
2. Shadow spirits as a spirit species include several members that spread shadow tiles inherently, such as Shadow Bringers, Shormies and Shadow Nymphs. They will create a high number of shadow tiles simply by being active in combat.
3. The Synergist trait, an unlockable MC trait from game setup, allows the player to imbue spirits with a base species gene. This permits a team composed only of spirits to enjoy base species Team Bonuses.
The second and third core elements of this theory require a few things to be unlocked in previous playthroughs. The ability to summon shadow spirits off the cuff requires the player to unlock the shadow affinity at game setup (this can be achieved by raising a shadow spirit to a high level, relatively easily done with Hildy's help or via the Elementalist profession). The Synergist trait requires the player to have entered combat with two separate full Team Bonuses. Playing as Evolution or acquiring Blood Fairies as the Prince can expedite this achievement.
Now that the fundamentals of the theory have been laid out, we can think about how they create a powerful synergistic effect: the Prince can acquire four separate shadow spirits (preferably a team composing of a Shadow Bringer, a Shormy, a Death Fly and a reshaped Shadow Spirit) as soon as he unlocks the Spirit Power node, who can all be imbued with the Shadow gene to achieve the Shadow 4 Team Bonus, allowing the player's allies to soak incoming damage with shadow tiles they naturally spread.
Let us take a look at how this can be actually played out in high-challenge runs.
Naturally, following this guide requires the Prince to be the chosen Main Character. Other MC options can follow the strategy to some degree, but they will suffer tremendously in the extreme early game. Lessening the suffering of this phase is the juicy part of the strategy, though, and as such that may end up being counterintuitive. Selecting Shadow as the chosen elemental affinity is the next natural choice. The Elementalist profession can free up this requirement if necessary. In fact, Elementalist is strongly suggested due to the flat bonus the profession gives to summoned spirits.
One trait that can only be chosen during the game setup is absolutely non-negotiable: the Synergist trait. This trait is what ties the Prince's ability in creating distinct spirits and shadow spirits' passive terraforming together. Spirits of the identical type will not contribute separate Team Bonus progress even when they are all imbued with a base species gene for the same reason two Beast Girls do not contribute 4 Beast Girl Team Bonus points. The Shadow Team Bonus that allows allies to soak incoming damage kicks in at 4, meaning the player needs four separate spirits. The Prince is the only one who can have four separate shadow spirits without getting wrecked in early battles in high difficulty runs.
Your starters can be devoted to picking up useful traits or for economic uses. Since Shadow damage will be extremely common in this strategy, choosing two Shadow Ghost hybrids may make things easier. The starter essence from two Shadow Ghosts ensures that weather never debuffs shadow damage. The sun is overpowered and can easily frustrate a shadow team expedition just by shining. Taking all available help is recommended, especially at the extreme end of the difficulty scale.
With CR10+, 600%+ and other such demanding runs, even the easiest fights can destroy an under-prepared party. Training at Town is the recommended, less frustrating option. As of v0.22.0.1, only the Main Character can level up from training in town, but thankfully only the Prince needs to level up right now. Make sure that the level type is set to Magic and hit the gym until the Spirit Power node is unlocked. If the player chose the Easy difficulty modifier or Endurance MC trait, they should comfortably reach that point by Day 2 - when the first essence portals open.
Right after unlocking Spirit Power, summon four Shadow Spirits. Take a look at their genes and traits and evolve or reshape them accordingly. Preferably, one with mobility-enhancing traits should become a Shadow Bringer, one with damage-enhancing traits and genes should become a Shormy, one with debuffing traits should become a Death Fly, and the last should be reshaped for rapid training, in descending order of importance.
Once evolved and reshaped, set all spirits' genes to Shadow. Having the four of them in the party will grant you the Shadow 4 Team Bonus. This bonus is critical because every shadow tile on the battle map will make up for 1 point of incoming damage, removing it. The Shadow Bringer's LargeShadowTrail can create up to 6 shadow tiles upon moving a single tile and usually more than 3 per tile moved. If the player chose to teach it MistForm, the amount of shadow tiles the player can create on the very first turn can reach dozens. This turns a unit being one-shotted on the first enemy turn to the battle map getting a bit brighter. Shadow tiles that remain do not dissipate either and the Shadow Bringer can keep stockpiling shadow tiles every turn.
Now that this critical bonus is unlocked, take the spirits for a spin at the Arena a few times if stamina and time permit. Early fights may last a while since only the Prince and the Shormy do real damage right now, but with virtual invincibility that the Shadow Bringer provides, every fight is only a matter of time.
The first essence portal should be achievable with this setup in place. Clearing it will most likely have reshaped the remaining base Shadow Spirit once or twice, who can bet on evolving into a Shadow Djinn or a Void Bringer depending on the genes and traits.
The most demanding part of high-difficulty runs the author sees is the very early game. If the player can clear the first essence portal, the party is most likely already ahead of the curve. Regardless, some choices can ensure that the team is always ahead of the scaling.
The Prince can continue to level up under the Magic level type and unlock the Finalize node. A Shadow Bringer can be Finalized with the Speed bonus. GrassTrail that the unit learns is entirely useless, but the flat Speed boost of 4 is simply incredible. Another critical node is Adaptation from the Dexterity tree.
Devoting time and resources to raise a powerful Void Bringer is always worth the cost. Eventually enemy parties will deal such high damage with each blow that Shadow Bringer's shadow tiles stop being virtual invincibility and become reliable damage soak. Having a Void Bringer (with Consume!!!) before that point will keep fights manageable. Usually its incredible slowness is the only weak point but, with a full shadow spirit team with several units knowing ShadowBond, that weakness becomes inconsequential.
A Shormy that has been Finalized at Level 1 with Potential can serve as the secondary melee fighter in the team. As useful as the Shadow Bringer is in this team composition, that unit provides nothing in terms of offense. Shadow spirits can do powerful magical damage but a series of drawn-out high-Hostility fights in later unstable portals can turn a Shadow Djinn a mere liability.
That said, the Shadow Djinn is still a powerful unit. If the Prince learned the Catalyst genetic trait in the process, raising two separate Shadow Djinns, one with MagicMissile and one with ShadowWave, and fusing them via Catalyst can net the player a Shadow Djinn that knows ShadowBlast, ShadowWave and MagicMissile. The Djinn can burst down chunks of enemies before the Void Bringer and the Shormy move in for a wipe-out.
The biggest complication of this strategy is that the player cannot usually have two of the same unit. One reason is that the Shadow Team Bonus must come from entirely separate units. Another is that Elites cannot enter portals with another team member of the same type. This is more of an annoyance than a limit, but this is unavoidable.
The sun is overpowered. Without the Shadow 2 starter essence, weather can cripple shadow damage that the team puts out. Not only that, sunny days will spawn light spirits who can destroy shadow tiles just by walking around them. Radiant damage is extremely effective on Dark units; Shadow damage is extremely ineffective on Light units. If the player encounters a Holy Spirit, one of your units will die on the first enemy turn and take out all shadow tiles in a single blow. The sun is overpowered.
Another elemental weakness is fire. Likewise Fire is extremely effective on Dark units, but Shadow damage is ineffective against most units that deal Fire damage. What makes Fire more difficult is that Fire units have a more explicitly offensive kit compared to Radiant.
The Prince has a hidden unlockable skill node in the Magic tree. Imprint imbues spirits and Seedlings with a soul fragment. Luckily, the Prince's soul fragment bonuses boost spirits tremendously. Unlocking this node requires a very challenging run in the first place, however.
A Shadow Ghost can participate in the team. This would free up a unit slot since the base Shadow Ghost brings in 2 points toward Shadow Team Bonus. It is uncertain if the Shadow Ghost can contribute to the team composition significantly, however.
Instead of shadow spirits, any other spirit species (aside light spirits) work actually. Of course, as long as the Shadow Bringer is in team. Avoiding the curse effect of shadow tiles requires the ShadowAffinity genetic trait, though, and waiting until the Hell Beast, Rock Crab and Sea Serpent can pick up this one trait via Catalyst might defeat the whole purpose of the strategy.
The sun is overpowered.