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I have had the opportunity to read about many of your experiences with ally AI, but I was hoping to get some advice on the most effective ways to set up tactics. I just picked up the third party member and wanted to get some feedback about what worked best for all of you.
Also, this may be a stupid question, but is there a way to access the tactics menu outside of battle?
There is not that I am aware of, an annoying oversight to say the least.
As far as tactics go my setup was pretty simple. Give each party member a one very defensive familiar and put in in each member's first. In my case that was dino on Oliver, lumberwood on esther, and monolith for swain.
I then kept them both on don't use abilities for everything but a boss fight so they didn't waste their mana way in a single fight.
Then when you need to heal you just throw out an all out defensive order and she will heal even though you have told her not to use abilities, and the same goes for an all out offensive for using offensive abilities.
Using this I was able to beat the game without much issue.
There is alway a "regen stone" before a boss, so to put your partner on do nothing to save mp is useless. Just go all out, better chance of succes to get to the next regen spot.
Also, some boss have some small helper but can call only a limited number in a fight, so to put the AI on attack the weakest can help reduce their number faster.
You should also consider have at least one familiar who have a healing move on everybody. The Ai prefer to use a familiar than the character, so, for exemple. if esther don't have a familiar who can heal, even when her tactic is put on healing duty, she will rarely heal. BUT you should not rely on the AI to heal you effectively.
Finaly, alway have a huge stock (20-30) of the best hp and mp healing item you can buy at the shop when quitting a town, that would make you almost invicible.
Side note, by pressing L!, you can quickly see you partner mp, i recomend that you do it every once in a while in a fight to see if your partner are in need of coffe.
i try to write the best i can, but dont forget my main language is not english
Having them able to use abilities in regular fights was a massive issue for me for a long time. I would start exploring, do one fight, and their mana would be all but gone. Not so great for the next fight.
I had much more success telling them not use anything, then just heal them with oliver after every other fight or so. I very rarely had any issuewith any random fight with this method, and almost never had to use any recovery items, just the occasional coffee for oliver but 9/10 he would either level or I would hit a stone before he would run out of mana.
To save on MP during random battles simply remove all the tricks you don't want your familiars to use. I have Esther and Swaine on the default AI with only healing spells and Yoo-Hoo and don't have MP issues with them. Oliver is set to "use no skills" because I have his familiars set up with war cry, cut loose, earsplitter, etc. and don't want the AI to use those when I'm trying to tame or steal.