This is it: Ike’s showdown with the Black Knight. The fight occurs at the very end of the stage, though, which adds a layer of tension to it; having him hit his special skill twice in a row while Aether eludes you can quickly lead to Ike’s death and give you a game over that means losing all of your great level-ups for Mia and Zihark and Boyd and Nephenee leading up to that point. Ugh. Needless to say, I died on my first run through this stage because I ran into some bad luck when fighting the Black Knight (and running away, while an option, isn’t something I’m willing to do), and the second time around everyone’s level-ups were pathetic. As is always the case.
Tibarn tells Ike that while they were distracting the troops during the last stage, the Black Knight showed up and took out an entire unit. This is the game warning you in advance that the fight is coming up and that you should do your best to prepare.
In a base conversation with Titania, Ike explains that he’s been carrying Ragnell around ever since Ike-dad was killed, thinking that it would bring the Black Knight to him and offer an opportunity to get his revenge. This is dumb. Ragnell is indestructible and powerful, and yet he’s been making me buy swords for him all throughout the game? I’m not made of money. Talk about a dick move.
Something I remembered about the fight against the Black Knight is that Mist randomly shows up for it. I don’t remember if he targets her or not, but I figure it’s a good idea to promote her early with a Master Seal (picked up from a chest back toward the end of chapter 21) despite only being level 15. She’s not important to the sequel, there’s no way she’s hitting the level cap, and the game is almost over, so this is kind of a no-brainer. Most importantly of all, she’s a horse-mounted unit after the class change, which means that she can heal and then retreat to safety.
Remember a second ago when I said I wasn’t made of money? That might not have been entirely true. This chapter is all about Mia and Zihark leveling up, so I decide to forge Mia a ridiculous silver sword with all of the stats jacked up as high as they can go. It costs over 25,000 gold, but I think it might actually be better than the Vague Katti. This sword makes Mia a serious threat despite her fairly low strength.
Elincia has a unique bond with Ike and Mist in this game that I remember feeling was somewhat missing in the sequel, and while I can overlook that because I don’t regularly use her (and Radiant Dawn is a better game for the most part), it’s still kind of sad. Her new armored portrait that shows up during dialogue is cool, though.
This is an “arrive” stage, but it’s hard to rush through it quickly because there are a lot of pesky locked doors and chests. There are a bunch of mages with long-range magic, too, so Volke can’t come along for this one. That means it’s time to finally start using up all those door and chest keys in the inventory! As for the boss, his name is Hafedd. He has a Brave Lance and a Miracle skill (which means there’s a chance that he won’t die when you go to finish him off). They won’t save him.
The goal here is to finish up as quickly as possible while getting units that need experience—Boyd, Nephenee, Zihark, Mia, and Soren—as much as possible. The first time I went through this and Ike died to the Black Knight at the end, I took 30 minutes getting through the first part. This time, I only brought characters into the stage who I intended on using and threw them into risky situations, moving Mia and Zihark into crowds more than capable of killing them if they failed to dodge and trusting that they’d find a way to make it through. Same with Soren, who almost died, but dodged the potentially fatal attack. Rushing sped things up by several minutes.
Before fighting Ike, the Black Knight confronts Ena and intends to kill her on behalf of the king. He only manages to wound her before Ike shows up, though. Once the Black Knight is defeated, some soldiers activate a giant trap that’s like a self-destruct mechanism (I guess?), and it destroys the entire castle and everyone inside. Except for us, obviously; Nasir shows up at the end of the fight (he later explains that he escaped from our camp because he dragon-sensed Ena and went to look for her) to warn Ike and Mist to get out, and even Ena manages to get out.
“Yeah, I know. I was there too, idiot. Remember? Healing you so that you didn’t bleed to death after he cut you open with that giant sword? Ungrateful jagoff.”
We find out that Ena is Nasir’s granddaughter (because he’s a dragon laguz and they age much more slowly—he even tells us that Prince Kurthnaga is around 100 years old), and it makes sense that he’d betray us when you consider that she was effectively being held hostage. There’s more to it than just that, of course, but he refuses to go into details. Despite that, he agrees to fight with us as a sign of loyalty. This only happens if you win the fight against the Black Knight. Otherwise, Ena joins.
But we Aethered our way to victory, so Ena is resting comfortably. Before the chapter ends, Nasir mentions that Ena knows where Leanne is being kept, which means that we have one last stage full of experience for key characters to soak up (except for Boyd, who hit the level cap during this chapter) before we finally head off and start stabbing Ashnard in the face. It’s going to be a big one for Zihark and Mia.