After starting the game, you'll get a little text dump for an intro.
So sets the stage for Alisia's tale of revenge.
Every stage also has this neat eyecatch at the start. Blink and you'll miss her!
(These eyecatches also have a unique jingle per stage!)
Stage 1 starts in the forest, and this opening area teaches you all about Alisia's thunder attack in the first couple of seconds. The very first enemies that attack you are waves of insects flying in formation. Holding the button to spray some of your thunder magic at them for a second or so should be enough to take out the whole wave, homing in on each of them in turn. They'll also appear behind you, but with enough time inbetween waves for you to turn around and blast 'em. Just watch your meter so you have enough lightning juice to take out all of them! It's only a brief moment, but probably the best way to help ease new players into the somewhat unconventional attack mechanics.
Shortly after those waves, you'll find some spore-spitting monsters on the ground accompanied by flying beasts. These seem really rough at first- they spit out four spores that grow into mushrooms that explode, and they cover the ground pretty liberally. The trick is, the spores won't hurt you while they're in the air, so just try and jump past them while shooting the flying enemies (if you take too much damage, there's two Potions and Beef after this section). As you make your way past the two huge trees in the background, though, the music dynamically changes! It'll wait for an appropriate moment to do a complete tempo change rather than do so instantly, and you can hear it in this video at 1:38. It's a completely unnecessary bit of flair but it really helps set the mood, as does the subtle change in background- the blue skies give way to darkness as you venture deeper into the forest. Shortly before the end, bats and giant centipedes also join in, but while the centipedes are resilient, they won't really be a problem. Just blast 'em and head to the right to the next area.
Now here we go, the next area gives you your next lesson in being a dragon sorceress, discovering secrets. The enemies here aren't too much to write home about, though- the basic magicians that teleport in as you approach their spawn points are more nuisances than anything else as a quick spray of lightning kills them almost instantly (before they can even fire their tracking magic), and the ceiling's littered with slimes that explode into flames that drop on you when you destroy them, but nothing to really worry about. Instead, you must explore! You can just scoot all the way to the bottom if you like and make your way to one of the game's few cutscenes, but exploring the areas to the right side (there's nothing to find going to the left) will get you some really important items, at least partially setting you up for the rest of the game. Not all of them are obvious, though, and some of the routes seem blocked!
The first optional path to the right has some healing items plus, if you jump up at the far right, you'll find a Star. The second seems to be a dead end, but you can jump through the pillar which hides an alcove with Meat and another Star, which means you can completely level up one of your animal buddies if you like (just watch out for the fake floor by the items). The third one is next to a set of stairs, and you need to be careful- enemies spawn on these stairs, and one spawns as you jump towards the optional path. Jump towards it then back off to spawn them and take them out, otherwise you'll get hit and miss it, with no chance to try again- you'll want this one, it's a Alisia Doll for an extra life! Finally, the fourth split has a pillar to jump through, then a pillar to jump up for a Star, and jumping near the end of the tiny hallway has a HP Plate and a Thunder Power. It doesn't seem like much of an upgrade at first, but Alisia's thunder has several levels of power, so be sure to grab all of these! Don't worry though- the game doesn't rely on invisible walls or anything for this sort of thing, except one specific stage.
Making your way to the end triggers a confrontation with Ornah and the cocooned Baldour. So early in the game, too.
Ornah can't even get a full sentence out before...
Alisia is a lady of no words, all action, and this moment says so much without a single word.
Sadly, he's unfazed, and he continues.
Yep, it's the ol' 'you're too late' speech but maybe they're right this time?
Alisia don't care, though.
Even as he attacks her, she's at it again! Doesn't work, though.
Alisia Dragoon accepts your challenge, heartily and with great courage.
Oh bless, they think she won't live long enough to fight them. They've got such an ass-kicking coming their way.
We'll be seeing these guys later in the game- much later- but for now, Alisia struts out the crumbling temple.
She has a long journey ahead of her...
The third and final area of the first stage has another batch of important items to find to get yourself in good shape, along with some new enemies- more powerful versions of the sorceresses (sorceri?) from before will probably get their shots off this time, in particular. You're supposed to go up the stairs at the start, but stick to the ground for another HP Plate down a corridor, then once you're up the stairs, go all the way to the left to find a Potion and, right at the very end, another Thunder Power. Back on the beaten track, the bridge to the right splits into an upper and lower route, with you being hassled by rock-dropping monks if you go low, and teleporting spear guards on both routes. The upper route isn't quite as important if you already have an animal buddy you're comfortable with at max level, but there's an extra Star in it for you if you march all the way to the right. Otherwise your destination is the lower bridge route, just watch out for the low-flying beasts along the way.
Time for our first boss encounter, and if you grabbed both Thunder Powers from earlier, this isn't much of a fight at all. These assassins try to take Alisia out with flying knives (they'll spin in-place in the air and move in Alisia's direction after a while) and by teleporting to leap on to of her. You are surrounded in this fight, but there's really not much to it- just pummel 'em with your magic and they'll explode in no time at all. Feel free to switch to Ball O'Fire if you want extra protection, though. In any case, we're heading out of here!
Stage 2 takes Alisia to the swamp, which is a bit more straightforward than the previous two areas- no real optional paths to deal with, but there's still a few hidden items here and there. First and foremost, immediately turning left at the start and jumping around in the alcove reveals a Red Fairy, granting you invulnerability for a generous amount of time. Use this to zoom past the venus flytrap lilypads and magician ladies on your way to a midboss, a gigantic snake which emerges from the depths of the fetid waters once you see the skies start to darken in the background. If you really book it, you'll have a few seconds invincibility left when you reach it. The easiest way to deal with this fight is to switch to Ball o' Fire and stay crouching on the central platform- the snake will jump out the water from a few set positions telegraphed by bubbles, and if you move accordingly you can avoid taking damage (for instance, if the bubbles appear on the far right side, move close to the right edge and it'll sail over you). The Ball o'Fire will be able to damage it too, and take less damage than the other buddies who'll just get clobbered by it. When it's dead, watch out- its corpse takes a while to explode and it can still hurt you!
Afterwards, you'll find a special Red & Blue Fairy item that generates a platform to the next area.
(Once you're up there, jump up to see an item bubble hiding an Alisia Doll!)
From here on, there's no Red Fairy to help you out, so you'll have to deal with the venus flytrap lilypads properly- you'll need to use them as platforms to cross the water (as there's something lurking there, indicated by bubbles- they'll hurt you) but after you step on them, they'll snap at you so be quick. As well as the magicians and insects, you'll also be attacked by soldiers on strange flying devices (despite how it looks, you can't jump on them once you dismount them... Except the first one at the top of the hill, jump on it for a ride to a Thunder Power icon!) who fire lots of bullets at you and try to ram into you. Best to save your Rolling Bolt to take them all out at once. There's one optional path here that's worth taking- drop down between any of the platforms to find an alcove full of endlessly-respawning frogs (jump down with a full magic charge for the best results) for a Potion to the left and a Revive and HP Plate all the way to the right. Picking that last item up means Alisia now has her max amount of health! All that's left is to beef up her thunder magic and she'll be more than ready for the rest of the game.
While we're here though, just gonna make a note about what makes this game's upgrade design so great- obviously here we've been listing as many of the upgrades as we can find, and so early on we're nearly ready for everything. However, there's still plenty of HP Plates, Thunder Powers and Stars throughout the rest of the game (although significantly less on Hard difficulty) that even if you just want to blast through the game, you can do that and still remain in pretty good shape. Additionally, the health for both Alisia and her monster buddies are restored at the end of each stage, and dying doesn't remove upgrades. The only way to actually lose stats is for one of your helpers to die and grab a Revive, as they'll be back at Level 1. This doesn't make the game too easy as you still have a lot of tricky enemies to deal with, but it gives you a nice fighting chance without being too much. Anyway, let's carry on!
Approaching the end, the clouds start to move wildly... An ill wind blows this way, bringing forth a boss fight.
This foul creature of the swamp is quite the spectacle, eh? Fortunately the pattern isn't too difficult to learn, it's just a case of execution. Once it rises up, it'll start by spitting out fast-moving projectiles at you- jump to avoid them while firing at his mouth, its weak point. It'll submerge, then re-emerge and spawn some of those frogs (including a few off-screen) before sinking and spawning them a second time (sometimes it'll emerge facing the other way). Finally, watch for the bubbles and get ready to jump- it'll move towards you as it rises, so hop over it and attack if you can (you can make it over it if you jump as it rises), and again, it'll do that a second time (usually from behind you). From there it starts from the projectiles again and repeats the pattern, so just keep at it. You don't get much feedback If you want an animal buddy suggestion, Dragon Fyre can pelt the monster most of the time for damage, but Boomerang Lizard is useful for hitting the mouth when it's not facing you, as is Ball O'Fire for when you're jumping over it. The choice is wide open on this one!
Afterwards, Alisia wastes no time and hitches a ride with a mysterious flying fortress passing this way.
For what purpose? To trash it, of course!
Stage 3 is a giant enemy battleship that seems to be a living being that Alisia is gonna have to take down by herself. She's up for the task if you are. The start is probably the trickiest part, honestly- you don't have much room to manoeuvre and you're dogged by turrets that always aim directly at you. Best to take it slow and destroy each turret before moving on and scrolling more on to the screen. Also, the Dragon Fyre is perhaps the best buddy choice as its fire does a lot of damage to the turrets. Once you're done, hop up and go to the left (fighting insects as you go) for some Potions, a Revive if you need it and another Star, then head back to the right. Here, you need to take out the monster riding the flying vehicle (it'll shoot powerful magic at you so be careful). Once you do, its little contraption will stay on screen, and you'll need to jump up to where the teeth are (don't worry- they won't hurt you).
Once you're up in the mouth of whatever this is, there's some Meat, a Potion inside the mouth and a Star on top of the head (if they haven't died before this point, all your animal buddies should be at max level!) but scroll the screen up as far as it'll go and you'll find a Blue Fairy! This means your thunder power won't drain, so either hold the attack button to home on to every enemy, or tap it for constantly power blasts! You should be able to make it to the end of this platform before it runs out, so the few enemies that appear (mostly the purple guys that drop from the top and try to hug you- shake 'em off if they get close) won't be an issue. There's also a Potion at the end here, but look around for a secret item bubble with an Alisia Doll. As you're climbing up the cylinders, be sure to grab the Thunder Power you'll find along the way, we're still a few pickups away from full power but this'll do for now. There's a little platforming before we meet the boss, with those flying contraptions showing up again- be careful jumping across though, they move about a little so it's easy to lose your footing, you have to wait until the platforms are in position before you leap, and sometimes they'll fly into you. Once you're across, though, make your way up to the top-right corner!
The boss this time is the battleship itself- a whole bunch of gun placements and weird creatures who seem to be the brains of the operation will appear, and the reason you want to get to the top-right is because this is the safest spot and gives you the best vantage point to hit what you need to hit. Specifically, take out the two gun placements in that corner then crouch and aim to the left and right. The boss creatures appear in the top-left and top-right, firing bullet spreads at you, while the gun placements fire bullets that turn into giant orbs that home in on you but are easily taken out with your magic. The weird creatures are your priority as those spread shots are nasty and they're the key to ending the fight. Once you've taken two of them out, there's a third one further to the left, so take your time to clear out some of the gun placements before finishing the job off. The Thunder Raptor might be helpful here to shave off health of all the different parts, or you can use the Ball O'Fire to protect you from the storm of bullets.
However you choose to finish the fight, the flying fortress starts to go down in flames...
Wait, how's Alisia gonna get down from there...?