Location: Outside of Gatrea
Party members: Badger, Ferret, Ultimecia
Opponents: Goblin, Hornet, Leg Eater, Tonpole, Screamer, Grey Ox
Items: Horse Rock, Antidote x4, Phoenix Down, X-Potion, Tent x2
BGM: The Wind Sings of a Journey (Legend of Mana OST)
A nondescript forest surrounding the small village of Gatrea, normally ignored by all and sundry who pass through it. Unknown to all those preoccupied humans, however, this little forest actually contains one of the greatest civilizations (if you listen to Ferret) ever known: the esteemed Ferret Empire!
Preparation: Watch Ferret's HP carefully until she gains a few levels. Her parameters are never going to be that great, but they're going to be especially low when she's several levels behind Badger and Ultimecia. Some of the enemies here (namely the Tonpole and the Grey Ox) can one-shot Ferret with startling ease, so be sure that Badger keeps the sanitary sovereign topped off with Cure spells at all times. Ultimecia is strong enough to handle damage-dealing-duties alone as long as you conserve her MP, so this shouldn't prove difficult.
Goblin, Hornet, Leg Eater, Hornet, Goblin
Goblin, Tonpole, Goblin
Goblin, Screamer, Leg Eater, Screamer, Goblin
Leg Eater, Leg Eater, Leg Eater
Screamer, Screamer, Screamer
Grey Ox, Grey Ox
Goblins, Hornets, and Leg Eaters are neither new nor impressive; Ferret's multi-target megaphone physical attack should be able to one-shot them even at level 1. It's the new faces you actually have to concern yourself with in this dungeon: Tonpoles, Screamers, and Grey Oxen.
Tonpoles are luckily rather rare, but pretty nasty when they appear. They have high HP, Strength, and Defense, which makes them difficult to damage and hard to outlast, and also cast Water, which is their way of one-shotting Ferret if you're not careful. Irritatingly, once you get a Tonpole low on health, they have a 66% chance of using Yawn to restore their HP to full (the other 33% of the time, they'll cast Water). At least the spell puts them to sleep after the health restoration.
Tonpoles would probably be unbeatable for Badger and Ferret without Ultimecia around. Fortunately, the creatures are weak to Thunder, and Ultimecia has that lovely little tool called Thundaja in her inventory. Tonpoles have too little magic defense to survive Firaja either, despite being resistant to it, but Thundaja will produce higher damage numbers, and we all like seeing higher damage numbers, right? Sketching them is unwise, as the portrait will likely use Water, which the Tonpole absorbs. Stick to Thundaja.
Despite this easy way to one-shot Tonpoles, it is well worth your time to get a Tonpole to low HP at least once so that Ferret can see Yawn, as this is the very first Blue Magic skill she can learn. Although Yawn's uses are limited, this early time where her HP and damage output is so low is definitely one of the places where it shines: if Ferret takes a heavy hit and Badger's turn isn't up, use Yawn to restore her to full HP immediately. It might save Ferret's life, and since she probably isn't doing much damage anyway, her falling asleep isn't going to cripple your team.
Anyway, enough about Tonpoles; on to Screamers, which are apparently radishes with vocal cords. They'll alternate between a regular attack (50%) and a regular attack that can induce poison (50%) every odd-numbered turn, and either do nothing (50%) or use Shriek (50%) every even-numbered turn. A Screamer's Shriek is identical to Ferret's Shriek; that is to say, it has a good chance of Paralyzing your party. Fortunately, Screamers have stultifyingly low Strength and Magic, so even if they manage to paralyze your entire party, the chances of their being able to kill you before the paralysis wears off are slim to none. Kill them with fire, that is, Firaja, which they are weak to.
The last enemy in this area is the Grey Ox. Unlike Tonpoles - which I highly recommend you use Thundaja on - or Screamers - which should be Firaja'd just to save your time and patience - Grey Oxen are actually dangerous. They have almost twice as much HP as Tonpoles and more Strength than Ferret will have in ten
levels; all they do is physically attack, but that's all they need to do to ensure your grisly defeat. Just to sweeten the deal, these lovely animals will always appear in pairs. It doesn't matter whether you grill them with Thundaja or bake them in Firaja; whatever you do, just do it fast, because it only takes one attack to fell Ferret, two to bury Badger, and three (maybe four) to unhinge, yes, even Ultimecia.
If, for some reason, Ultimecia is out of MP or (heaven forbid) dead, your only hope lies in Grey Oxen's vulnerability to status effects. Ideally, slap Mini on them with Badger's Compression to change the situation from fatal to laughable. Ferret's Shriek might paralyze the beasts, which can give you time to Compress them to a more manageable size; Ultrasonic is an even better solution, should you have it, as the Grey Oxen will begin attacking each other and finish the battle for you. The preferable solution, however, is a nice, high-temperature -ja spell from Ultimecia.
To recap: use Ferret's physical attack to clear any battle of Goblins, Hornets, or Leg Eaters. Badger should stay on healing duty; if healing is DEFINITELY not at all necessary, he can physically attack, as Sketch is mostly useless here. Ultimecia should ALWAYS save enough MP for Thundaja in case of an encounter with the Grey Oxen; when she gets low on MP, use Draw on Tonpoles or Screamers until this is no longer the case.
Let's talk for a moment about two special drops that can be received here. Grey Oxen have a small chance of dropping the Oxen Stone, a handy accessory that raises the Strength and Defense of its equipper. Should you be lucky enough to get one, give it to Ferret immediately; she needs every defensive boost she can get. Tonpoles have an even smaller chance of dropping the valuable Water Jewel, which offers a Magic boost and an extremely valuable resistance to Water. The Magic boost makes this item perfect for Ultimecia, but its drop rate is so low that it's unlikely you'll get one.
The Woods are not exactly complicated, but they are quite long and circuitous, particularly if you're looking to pick up all the items squirreled away in them. If you're just looking to advance the story as quickly as possible, head north from Gatrea to enter the northern section of the Woods straightaway. The path meanders north to the lake, bestowing two fairly obvious Antidotes and a Phoenix Down in chests along the way. The boss will overtake you close to the lake, so once you see the save point in view of the water, take a moment to heal up with Cure and Potions.
If you want to pick the Lakeside Woods clean of all its contents, it's best to start on the east side. Located underneath an overhang of rock in a small clearing is a Horse Rock, the same accessory you could have obtained from a Crazy Horse outside of Cornelia. The Horse Rock, again, raises the equipped character's Strength and Speed, making it a great option for Badger or Ferret. Pick this item up first, then proceed through the rest of the Woods in a clockwise manner, picking up:
An Antidote and the Horse Rock in the eastern Woods.
A Tent and a rare, well-hidden X-Potion in the southern Woods.
Another Tent and a fourth Antidote in the western Woods.
Once you move beyond the save point in the northern Woods, Ferret begins chattering about the beauty and majesty of the Ferret Kingdom...until she is abruptly interrupted by an insect of immense proportions.