Well, now we get to move into some of the finer points of Challenge mode. This section is basically for strategies, tips, etiquette, and other things that one should know in Challenge mode, but are a bit more complex than what you would find in a simple newbie FAQ. So with that in mind, let's delve into the finer points of Challenge!Note: There's a LOT of text here, and some people may not feel like reading the Challenge mode "wall of text", however I at least hope that everything here is useful, how much of it you wish to learn is entirely up to you. ;) Because there's so much text here, I've actually put a Table of Contents on this page. Now wasn't that thoughtful of me? =P
Table of Contents
Part 1: The Roles of the Classes & How to Play
Part 2: Challenge Champions: The Best Classes
Part 3: Item Distribution: "HAI GUYZ I FOUND A SABER+1!!!"
Part 4: Puzzles, Buttons, Switches, and Enemies
Part 5: Section IDs and Maps
Part 6: Mags
Part 7: Miscellaneous Information
In Challenge, each class is basically required to do the specific job assigned to that class, in other words, Hunters must kill things, Rangers must provide support through cover fire, and Forces must provide support through Techniques. Unlike in the regular game, you don't have the ability to go to the shops and buy items to beef up your Mag, nor can you transfer items to pump up your character- there is no real way to create a "melee Force" or anything like that. Because of the limited nature of Challenge, each class is forced to adhere to the basic purpose of that class, branching out is not very effective.
The role of Hunters
A Hunter's job is to kill things. Pretty simple, huh? Hunters are the power houses and should always focus on making sure everything is dead as quickly as possible. There's really not a whole lot to explain here, but efficiency is key. Recklessly trying to kill is not effective; one must be able to dish out damage while taking minimal damage from the enemies. Clearing one room quickly won't be of much help if you run out of Mates doing it and then die in the next room. ;) Limit yourself to only two hit combos or Normal-Normal-Hard combos if you have trouble with frequent missing, and always try to attack from behind enemies so they can't hit you without taking the time to turn around. Keeping yourself from wasting Mates is of the utmost importance to succeeding as a Hunter.
The role of Rangers
A Ranger's job is to keep Hunters safe by keeping the enemies busy with cover fire. Rangers aren't really strong enough to dish out significant damage, but they do have the ability to stun enemies over and over, which gives Hunters the ability to attack with less fear of getting pummeled. If a string of Normal-Normal-Normal attacks is best at keeping an enemy from attacking, use that combo and let the Hunters worry about doing damage. If you see a Nano Dragon about to fire its laser, attack it so nobody gets hurt. If you see a Sinow ready to pounce on someone, stun it and keep it from jumping.
Rangers should always focus on staying out of the fray and seeing "the big picture" from a distance- size up all the enemies in the room, determine which is the biggest threat to the Hunters, and keep them busy until the Hunters can move in and kill them. In some situations you may be able to forego your sniping duties and join the Hunters in pummeling enemies (especially if you're a RAcast), but never neglect your primary responsibilities. A Ranger should rarely, and ideally never, take damage or use Mates. If you're properly playing a Ranger you shouldn't be taking much, if any, damage and if the Hunters need more Mates you should have plenty of spares to donate to the cause.
The role of Forces
The Force has perhaps the most difficult job, Forces must support both Hunters AND Rangers with their spells. Particularly Forces must try to keep their teammates Shiftaed at all times to maximize their damage potential. In the later stages, it is also possible for Forces to have Resta and heal their teammates to prevent them from running out of Mates. A Force can also improve the team's damage potential by casting Zalure when available. Apart from that, the Force can knock flying enemies down so that Hunters can kill them, and sometimes kill weak enemies such as Poison Lilies with Foie. These are basically the only combat duties of a Force, however since the highest level Techniques you can ever really hope to get in Challenge are level 5 or 6, they're pretty much full time because of the extremely limited range of support spells at those levels. Forces should try to tag as many enemies as possible by swinging their Cane once and then running away so as to get some EXP, because a level up means a free TP refill.
Managing your TP can be tricky; ideally you want to use as many Techniques as possible during the stage so that when you clear the last room you've just run out of Fluids and TP. Of course it's very difficult to time things this closely, especially since you never know quite how many enemies will be in each room. Try to help kill things as much as possible, especially if there's a lone enemy that the Hunters aren't focusing on. For example if you see a solo Poison Lily at one end of a room while everyone is busy killing things on the other end, go ahead and spend the TP to kill the Lily. You can save the Hunters the time of backtracking to kill the Lily, and every second counts. Your most important duties, of course, are support via Shifta and Zalure/Resta when you actually have them. Don't waste TP on Deband and Jellen, they make very little difference and only drain your TP for little effect.
Which class you pick to play in Challenge mode is largely up to you as any class is capable of succeeding in Challenge mode. Many people will try to get their main characters through Challenge mode regardless of whether they are the "best" classes or not. However if you decide to make Challenge mules for extra S-Ranks or don't wish to play Challenge as the class of your main character, here's information on the classes and how they relate in Challenge mode:Organics versus Droids
Now, we can go into specifics about the various classes:Hunters
HUcast is the best Hunter by far. He has the most ATP and the most ATA, so he can do the most damage while also missing the least. Add to this that he can see Traps and can't be Poisoned or Paralyzed, and you can tell why he's the favourite Challenge mode Hunter.
HUmar comes in second best, he's not as powerful or as accurate as HUcast but he has enough power to get the job of killing things done. Since he lacks HUcast's ATA he has a more difficult time using Autogun and Mechgun than HUcast does, plus he can be Poisoned and Paralyzed and can't clear Traps without Trap Vision.
HUnewearl is by far the worst Hunter as she has very low ATP and ATA, so not only is her damage potential severely lowered but she is unable to use guns nearly as early as a HUcast can. Also her female animations are a hinderance, the fact that the female Saber animation causes you to step forward after the last attack leaves her wide open to getting hit by enemies. Her advantage over HUmar is her high EVP, she does have the ability to block attacks quite well.Rangers
RAcast takes the best Ranger title as he has the best ATP and so he has the potential to do some useful damage along with keeping the enemies busy. He also can clear Traps, which is one of the key jobs of Rangers, since they always have a gun available to shoot them.
RAcaseal isn't as good as RAcast, but a close second. She sacrifices some ATP so she's not as useful damage wise, but the loss isn't huge. She can still clear Traps so she adequately fills RAcast's spot.
RAmar is the most lacking Ranger, and by far the worst. He has terrible ATP and basically all he can do is keep things busy, plus he can't see Traps without Trap Vision. RAmar fills the basic Ranger requirements, but he doesn't excel at all.Forces
Forces are the difficult classes to rank, because they really aren't much different. Some people would say FOnewearl is the best Force because she has the highest MST, others would say FOnewm is the best because he casts quickly when he's unarmed, and others would say FOmarl is the best because she is the most physically robust and least likely to die. There's no clear winner here, and it doesn't matter greatly which Force you choose. I would say that probably FOnewearl does the Force's job best- the highest MST means the highest TP and thus the ability to cast the most spells and do the most damage.The Ultimate Team
Now that leaves just one more matter to discuss, and that is what makes the "best" team for Challenge mode. There's a few different ways to look at this question, mainly they are:
We can tackle the first question first. Different stages do have "best" teams, or teams that will be able to clear them the fastest and with the greatest ease.
Now we can tackle the second question of what the best all around team is:
HUcast, HUcast, RAcast, FOnewearl.
This team will allow you to start at Stage 1 and move all the way through Stage 9 while both getting good times as well as not having too much difficulty on any one stage. Two Hunters allows you to be able to kill fairly well on any stage, a single Ranger can handle cover fire, and the Force can provide Shifta during Stages 2-9, Zalure in Stages 5-9, and Resta in Stages 7-9. While you are compromising your ability to get the best times possible by using characters that are unnecessary in certain stages, you ensure that you aren't ill prepared for any one stage by giving your team variety.
The Class Disclaimer
I should mention that I've listed the best classes possible, which is why you notice I never mention HUmar, HUnewearl, RAcaseal, RAmar, FOmarl, or FOnewm. This is because HUcast is the best Hunter, RAcast is the best Ranger, and FOnewearl is the best Force, where the term "best" means that they have the best stats out of all the characters in their class, thus can perform the job of their class in Challenge mode better than the other characters of that class. Since this particular section is dedicated to how to make the "Ultimate" team for Challenge, the characters with the best stats should be used. This is in no way implying that if you use a HUnewearl instead of a HUcast or a RAmar instead of a RAcast that you will fail or get a horrible time, it merely means that you are sacrificing some ability to kill swiftly and may make clearing the stage more difficult by picking characters that do not have the highest stats.
The above quote is probably one of the most vexing things to hear people say during a stage. Learn this now: never say "Hey I found item x!" The reason for this rule is quite simple: it disorganizes the team. Suddenly people stop killing things or moving towards the next room and start backtracking to see what it was that dropped and if they can use it. It's quite simply a waste of time. The almighty rule of Challenge mode item distribution follows:
When you find an item that you won't benefit from, say nothing. Pick it up silently and drop it at the door to the next room, and then the person who should have the item will pick it up there when they move into that room.
It's simple, and far more efficient than shouting out that you found something and having everyone scramble around to see it. So then, what items should go to whom? Well, most things are pretty simple. Obviously Sabers, Swords, Daggers, Partisans, and Slicers go to Hunters, Rifles and Shots go to Rangers, and Canes, Rods, and Wands go to Forces. The exception to this is when you find a Saber that is not needed by the Hunters, but would be useful to the Ranger of the team. There are some items that you might not know who to give to, though:
Forces also are generally the "box characters" - they are in charge of breaking boxes, picking up the useful loot, and distributing it to the characters who need it. Because Forces have limited abilities for killing things, a Hunter should never be going into side rooms and breaking boxes, he should be going to the next room and killing things. Rangers also generally provide more useful support in Stages 1-6, so unless a team has only Hunters and Rangers, the Force should always be in charge of getting boxes. If there's no Force the Ranger should take care of box duty, and if the team is made up of only Hunters the weakest Hunter should be on box duty. HUcast > HUmar > HUnewearl in terms of power.
Now then, we move into Materials. Material distribution is also pretty simple.
Unlike regular play, Challenge mode features many puzzles as well as random buttons and switches. Here are a couple tips that pretty much apply to every puzzle:
Damage Cancel is a term not very often spoken of on Ver.2, but I'll explain it here. Basically if two people attack the same enemy at exactly the same time, the enemy doesn't take any damage. On PSO GC people talk about this all the time, however it's so rarely spoken of on Ver.2 I'm not even sure it happens. I think it might, but I personally do not consider it a big deal. It's pertinent to Challenge mode as some people would say that ganging up on certain enemies is bad, as your attacks are simply being damage cancelled. Personally I think that ganging up is a good idea, as even if damage cancel does exist/occur, you're probably going to do more overall damage to the enemy having multiple people attack it and having some of their attacks cancel than if a single person must fell the enemy alone. Plus when you gang up on enemies it's more difficult for them to retaliate, so that also helps. Judge for yourself whether damage cancel affects your ability to kill things.
Leveling up in Challenge may not be an accomplishment that travels from stage to stage with you, but it does have benefits, mainly the restoration of HP and TP. Keep an eye on the EXP you need to level up- if you're low on HP but also close to leveling try to tag as many enemies as possible and level up to avoid using a Mate. As a Force, try to manage your TP if you know there's a Healing Ring coming up or if you are going to level up soon. Once you level your TP will be completely restored so avoid using a Fluid if you're close to leveling if at all possible. Don't let your desire to conserve Fluids cause you to neglect your duties as a Force, though.
In Challenge mode, Section IDs determine more than just the drops you get, they also have an effect on the maps you get, too. Remember that though the room layouts and puzzle locations stay the same in each stage, the enemies that spawn are completely different each time you play a stage. Again keeping in mind that the goal of Challenge mode is to complete each stage as quickly as possible, getting a good map is key to getting good times. (If you don't know what a good map is, then you should refer to the beginner's guide to Challenge mode to find out.) Certain IDs tend to generate good maps on certain stages and bad maps on other stages, so it is very helpful to have a team with a variety of Section IDs, and particularly the ones that yield good maps.
Do note that you're never guaranteed to get a good map, IDs that often give good maps can also give bad maps, too. Under some circumstances it may be desirable to "size up" the map you've received- play the first few rooms and observe how bad the spawns are in terms of number of enemies per wave, number of waves, and types of enemies that spawn. If the first few rooms have multiple spawns of really annoying enemies, it might be worth your while to have a party member commit suicide and remake your team to try to get a better map. (Remember: when you get sent back to the Guild, if you select "Retry" you'll load back into the stage with the exact same map you just played, to get a new map you must remake your team and load the stage again.)
As for what IDs are good, I can give a bit of advice based on experience I've had with various IDs on various stages. Different stages that occur in the same are are, in my experience, the same in terms of IDs that work well or poorly for them. These are in no way the best IDs or the worst IDs to use on any stage, but merely some pointers. There's probably some master list of best and worst IDs that the Japanese players use, but I don't have it.
Again, these are just some general ideas you might consider for what IDs should create each stage's game, and which IDs you should specifically avoid when creating the game for certain stages. Personally I never fret too much over it, I usually use Purplenum on Stages 2-4 and 7-9, Redria on Stages 5-6, and whatever is available for Stage 1. Feel free to experiment, you never know what you might get. You might find a particular ID that seems to yield good maps on a certain stage.Part 6: Mags
In each stage you start with a Mag of a certain level with certain stats, but people rarely know if they should do anything with the Mag or if they should leave the Mag alone. Though you begin the later stages with evolved Mags, they do not have Photon Blasts, nor can you feed them enough to my knowledge in any stage to make them level up and learn one, except probably Stage 1. You should never try to make your Mag learn a PB, it's pointless. Feeding your Mag is generally also not a good idea, as it consumes items that would be useful for healing. The only time you really want to feed your Mag is if it starts with an odd number of DEX. DEX gives 1/2 ATA for each point of DEX, so an odd number of DEX doesn't do anything. Feeding your Mag Antidote, Antiparalysis, and Sol Atomizer can increase its DEX and get you back to an even level and give you ATA+1.
In particular, Hunters and Rangers should feed their Mags, Forces never need to do so. If a Hunter or Ranger wants to get enough ATA to use a new gun (particularly HUcasts who need more ATA for Autogun or Mechgun, and also Rangers who want more ATA for Lockgun) nobody else should feed their Mag, and instead give all DEX raising items to that one player to ensure they have enough food to level up their Mag. This is an advantage of having droid Hunters and Rangers in the team, as they can easily give up their Antis for Mag feeding, but organics cannot unless they are certain they won't get paralyzed or poisoned. (An organic probably cannot afford to give up their Antis for Mag food in Stages 2-4 because a Poison Lily could afflict them at any time.)
Another Mag trick is Mag swapping, which can be particularly useful for giving Hunters a big ATA boost. It's really only applicable in Stages 5+ where Mechguns can be found; if a Mechgun drops but the Hunter does not have nearly enough ATA to equip it, the Hunter and Ranger can switch Mags as Ranger Mags have high amounts of DEX on them at the start of the later stages. This is likely to give the Hunter enough ATA to use the Mechgun, however it can adversely affect the Ranger, as he may no longer be able to equip his main gun without the DEX of his Mag, and he will probably not have enough ATA to upgrade to a better gun should one drop during the stage. Even so, the sacrifice is well worth it for the speedy killing of a Hunter with a Mechgun.
This is quite old school and rather corny, but I still do it. When playing with the Japanese Challenge players on Sega's server, they would always begin each stage with the Word Select:
Good to see you!
Not every room is what it seems, many rooms in Challenge mode have fake walls like those found in Towards the Future. Sometimes these fake walls lead to rooms with items (sometimes the items are optional, other times they are necessary), sometimes they lead to shortcuts, and sometimes passing through a fake wall is required to complete the stage. You can tell a wall is fake because as you walk into it you see a blue, semi lightning-like visual effect as you pass through the wall.
There many things that are annoying in Challenge mode: getting killed while you're trying to heal, getting stuck and ambushed, getting hit by enemies that you didn't notice, and so forth. However there are few things as annoying as clearing a stage, getting a good time, and then moving on to the next stage only to get FSODed or crash for some odd reason, and then not only be forced to redo the stage you were doing, but also lose the time on the previous stage when you could have kept it if only you had saved your game. PSO DC saves when you enter a team, but PSO PC does not. To remedy this on PSO PC, make sure you run out to Pioneer 2 and talk to the bank lady and then cancel out of the bank menu to make the game save. Then you won't have to worry about losing your time on the previous stage, and it's also faster than quitting in the lobby and logging back on.Graving
On difficult stages some players may wish to perform Graving to ease their progress. Since Graves can drop items, players will sometimes take turns dropping their Scape Dolls and getting killed in the first room of a stage until everyone has died once, then they will start the stage "for real" and collect Mates and Fluids from the Graves of each player to help them avoid running out of supplies later. While this can't really be considered cheating or anything like that some people may consider it "weak" or only used by novices, plus it takes a while to set up and puts needless deaths on your record. Add to that that Graves don't always drop items anyway, so you're not guaranteed to get anything at all. If your team is having a hard time on a certain stage, it may be worth your while to try this, but never rely on it to clear a stage.