My arms have been hurting the last few days so I haven't really been able to do any playing of Final Fantasy II. I have had plenty of time to think about it though! I've been trying to figure out how I want to setup my characters so that I know what I need to grind and what I want to buy from each town when I get to them.
To start, the odds of getting a sneak attack or getting sneak attacked is based on the evade percentage of specifically Firion. This means my top priority is making sure he's maxed out. Maria starts with 15 intelligence versus 10 for the other two characters which means she should be the black mage if I want to have one. 5% extra chance to land a toad cast is pretty big! Everyone starts with the same spirit so they're all equivalent for being a white mage. Firion is going to have to have a shield on so he's going to have a massive spell accuracy penalty so he's really not going to be setup to kill undead with the life spell. Having Maria do both is a reasonable choice, but having Guy do the white magic is probably a better bet.
Then I need to decide how I'm going to win fights fast. On my last casual run I killed things by making use of the berserk spell along with basic attacks. It's way better than any other spell for doing damage, though it has the downside that it's forced to be single target. I said next time I played I'd want to use even more berserk along with maybe haste to just rip through enemies. But that was playing without power leveling with the cancel trick which is certainly in the cards for a speedrun. I guess all the bosses are going to be single target fights anyway, so a good plan could be to run from most fights, use level 16 toad to one shot things I can't run from, maybe life on undead. Then burn down a boss with berserk. That involves leveling a fair number of things though, and squeezing out more speed is probably going to come down to minimizing the time spent cancel grinding.
There's also a weapon called the blood sword. It looks terrible on the surface since it has no attack, no accuracy, no evade, and a massive spell accuracy penalty. But it has the upside that every hit drains 1/16th of the enemy's life. No matter how much life they have, and even if my strength adds no damage at all, they're guaranteed dead in 16 hits as long as they aren't undead. You can max out your sword skill at level 16, which I believe gives 16 swings in a round but might give 17. Those aren't all going to hit, but it really feels like half of them should and therefore any non-undead monster in the game should be dead in two attacks. Oh, and there are two of these swords in the game. And in the PSX version I'm pretty sure you swing with both hands. So one person with 16 sword skill and 2 blood swords will swing 32 (or 34) times per round. Which should be a round one kill... So all I actually need is someone with 16 sword skill and either enough agility to go first or enough health to survive one round from the boss and bosses will be no problem at all.
Which means it's going to come down to random encounters. Which ones can I not run from? What do I need to deal with them? Those are things I'm only really going to find out by trying things out in the game itself.
But one thing the blood sword does point out is I don't necessarily need more than one character. Power leveling health and mana on multiple people will take extra time. It's entirely possible that one character with max sword/shield skill can just straight up beat the early bosses with regular swords and then switch to a blood sword when you get them to trivialize the rest of the bosses. There is certainly the issue of dealing with the fights you can't run from since shields have such ludicrous spell accuracy penalties (-70% for all shields). One possibility is to use elemental damage spells where the enemy is weak to that element. Those spells are guaranteed to hit regardless of your accuracy and hit for double damage. Every undead monster in the game except one has a weakness to fire, for example. So I could quite reasonably wear a shield and still kill them with a high level fire spell. And if I can't run from non-undead there's always the option of killing them off one at a time with a regular sword. That's slow, but depending on how often it comes up it might be faster than powering up three times as many characters. I also save on inputs in combat if I get to kill off most of my party and only need to control one person.
I wonder... The site I've been reading says it's Firion's stats that matter for ambushes, but it doesn't mention if he has to be alive or not. It's possible I want to level just his shield skill to the point where he has 99% evade with two of the starter shields and then murder him. And then probably use Guy since he starts with the highest strength and stamina and therefore will be better in the early game with a sword and will need less time to twink out his health to the same level. His agility sucks, which is unfortunate since agility is the best stat, but if he still uses one shield and has 16 shield skill he'll have a near max evade anyway. (The sword will give 17%, a base shield will give 68%, his base agility of 5 will give 5% for a total of 90%. So he needs 9 extra agility ups or to to use the second shield in the game to max out.)
Actually, I can only use the cancel trick with Guy once I get a 4th character. And since I think I want to get the toad spell before I get a 4th member he's probably out. Which would mean Maria if I end up casting spells that need int for accuracy, or just running with Firion regardless. He'll be running with 99% evade in his standard setup anyway so I guess I don't really gain an edge by not using him.
It's all theory for now, but I think a single character setup might be viable. And if it is viable it's probably going to be the fastest unless it involves jumping through too many hoops just by virtue of saving so much time not grinding the other characters. So I think I'm going to head down that road and see where it leads.
A single character is going to need to level:
Sword - 16
Shield - 16?
Health - 2000?
Mana - 300?
Toad - 16
Cure - ???
Osmose - ???
Life - ???
Fire - ??? (And maybe other elemental spells too? Thunder/blizzard/scourge.)
Warp - 1
Esuna - 3??? (Probably not needed if a ribbon is obtained early via toad 16.)
Swap - 1???
Teleport - 1
As far as gear goes, they don't need much. A starter shield, the best sword I can get at any stage in the game, 2 blood swords, and a ribbon. As I get better shields and exceed the evade cap it becomes possible to use gear with evade penalties too, so maybe I want a power sash and thief gloves or black garb and power armlet. (Either combo will give 10 extra strength and 10 extra agility which has to be good.) I also need to get enough gold to buy the spells I want and I have no idea right now how easy that will be. It's possible killing captains for a toad scroll will give me all the money I need for the entire run!
It's also possible that this whole toad minigame plan isn't needed. The early ribbon might be critical, but with only one character I won't need the 2 extra ones and could therefore eventually use the 1 you find in a chest. Same with the aegis shield. If toad isn't useful for killing fights I can't run from then grinding it all the way to 16 has a lot less value, but to start I want to run that strategy and see what happens.