Sburb. Great game. Magnificent game. Odds are good if you’re reading this guide, you’ve been convinced by one of your friends that it’s just flat-out fantastic, started up your first quickplay game... and lost your first several games to Death By Meteor. If you’re a real masochist, you might even have gotten to your first Denizen before getting slaughtered, giving up, and running to the Internet for help.
There’s no lying about it: Sburb’s learning curve is more or less vertical, and it’s part of why the game got such a murderous panning on release. The user interface is a nightmarish mess of confusing terminology, inventory mismanagement can lose you the game before your first character ever leaves their room, and the only way to get an in-game tutorial more understandable than Nostradamus is to prototype a future self, one of the least intuitive aspects of the game. These factors combined to make the number of reviewers who actually managed to get one of their characters into the Medium in the low tens, and the number who completed the Mobius Reacharound two or three, depending on if you believe the GameBro reviewer wasn’t actually just playing an old copy of Chrono Trigger he found lying around the office. A few of us, though, stuck through it, and found an incredibly deep and adaptive narrative that helped us to look past the fact that if the game kept track of the number of PCs it’s killed the counter would have probably hit six billion by now.
The biggest problem, to my mind, is that manual character generation is deliberately obtuse, and while I haven’t seen a Quickplay party yet that was mathematically incapable of beating the game, it comes up with some -damn- terrible ones sometimes. (Rogue of Time. Heir of Mind. Bard of Space. Warlock/Witch of Frost. Yeah, good luck with that one, kids- sure, just this side of nothing’s going to kill your Heir, but a Rogue can’t WTS worth a damn, the Witch has a pretty lackluster set of debuffs to play with, and your Bard has nobody to SSC but himself.)
Now, I’m not going to give you the most broken combination possible- every other guide out there does that, and they give you a party that will wipe the floor with the final boss but is going to have some real fucking trouble with its first denizen. What I -will- tell you is what character combinations make for entertaining parties, and let you make the rest of the decisions for yourself.
2. Basic Terminology
Manual character creation gets a little technical. Here’s the key bits.
Class: First word in your character’s title. Class denotes the progression, max level, Challenge, God-Tier Challenge, and most of the mechanics your class operates under. For example, the Heir class has Slow* progression, High max level (the highest in the game, actually), the Challenge “Become Worthy,” and the GTC “Accept the Mantle.”
Aspect: Last word in your character’s title. Aspect denotes which of the game’s fundamental forces the character interacts with via the mechanic of their class; admittedly, these get a little obscure. Breath denotes life as well as wind, Light denotes luck and fate as well as the classic spears of energy, Blood denotes emotional unity as well as an emphasis on combat, you get the idea.
Strife Specibus: What you use to fight with. As an amateur character you might have allocated something like Pillowkind and assumed you’d completely screwed yourself up forever. Not so. By and large, your Strife Specibus is a cosmetic choice; it doesn’t matter which Kind you take, the game will provide you with an escalating series of weapons no matter how esoteric you pick them. All weapons fall under one of the major five Kinds: Heavykind, Fastkind, Rangedkind, Magickind, and Puppetkind, with a few interesting exceptions.
Kernelsprite: That thing that pops out of the Alchemeiter and starts hovering around. Half of the specialist guides out there are prototyping guides, so I’ll just keep it real simple for you: ONLY PUT ONE THING IN THERE BEFORE ENTERING THE MEDIUM, UNLESS YOU’RE LOOKING FOR AN EXTRA CHALLENGE. Also, for the love of god, DO NOT PUT ANYTHING EVEN REMOTELY LIKE A CLOWN IN THERE. Your midgame gets a lot easier, but your endgame gets absolutely fucking ridiculous.
Update: Thanks to EctoBiologist for pointing out that if your party includes a Heir of Breath, Heir of Time, Knight of Void, or Witch/Warlock of Light, the game makes a special point of populating their home with multiple harlequin images to maximize the chance you trigger this outcome. Protip: don’t use any of ‘em. Unless you have all three of those it’s possible to have at once, in which case fuck it, you need -some- challenge past the early game.
Mobius Reacharound: The game's term for successfully getting all characters into the Medium. Generally seen as the dividing line between the early game and the mid-game.
Denizen: Mid-game bosses. Big. Nasty. They’ll share the Aspect of the character they belong to.
Battlefield: The location of the late-game and final battle.
Alignment: Always gets truncated P or D, this interacts with Aspect to determine what flavor of buffs/debuffs are available to Seers, Warlocks/Witches, Bards, and Rogues. Generally speaking P results in buffs, D results in debuffs, though it’s reversed for Thieves.
Challenge: The scenario the game will keep throwing at a character until you get it right, unlocking high-level techniques. Stays the same across Class.
God Tier: Ever played Fire Emblem? Basically, it's possible to achieve a level beyond max level if you perform a one-time-per-character Challenge. I won’t spoil the way they usually work, but trust me when I say you’re not very likely to get it for any classes that aren’t Heir or aspects that aren’t Light. Don't worry, it's more a bonus than it is anything else.
GTC: God Tier Challenge. The one-time (barring very, very few exceptions) challenge whose passing will trigger God-Tier.
WTS: Weird Time Shit. The Time Aspect’s chief use is for this, and it’s the reason very few compositions are unsalvageable; judicious use of WTS can get you out of just about anything. I’ll mention a class’ utility for Weird Time Shit.
SSC: Space SuperCharge. Generally used with Seers, Witches/Warlocks, Bards, Rogues, and Thieves; regardless of alignment, Space comes with some really good buffs. SSC a Knight, watch him clear half the Battlefield in one flashstep. SSC a Rage-Aspect and you can probably take off a third of a Denizen’s health in one shot.
WVS: Weird Void Shit. Newbies don’t tend to notice this, but Void-Aspects come with a lot of hidden buffs based on class. I’ll mention a class’s WVS when I give it a rundown.
3. Character Generation Mechanics
First things first: Select Number of Characters, minimum number three, default number four, maximum number twenty. General consensus is the sweet spot’s around six for a nice steady challenge curve; higher numbers mean you have to either be unreasonably lucky or pull off a Mobius Double Reacharound to get to the midgame, and that’s a little much to deal with for first-timers. Also, the final boss tends to just sort of look ridiculous for any numbers higher than ten.
Gender: What kind of bits your thirteen-year-olds have. Other than helping determine what kind of objects populate the character's home, its only real application is for picking which of the two options the character's Class is if they take a paired Class- Prince/Princess, Lord/Lady, Warlock/Witch, Page/Maid. Honestly the only one of these with a meaningful difference between the two is Page/Maid, and that's only if you're trying to make one of them Void or Time.
Class Selection: The list will be randomly populated, but you can reroll it. You’ll notice very, very fast that Heir always shows up. This is the nicest the game’s ever going to be to you, so enjoy it while it lasts. I personally advise rerolling until you see at least two of Knight, Soldier, Witch/Warlock, Maid/Page, or Bard.
Aspect Selection: Same thing, but this time Time and Space will be the two mandatory aspects. Really, there’s not a lot of them that are flat-out bad, but if it’s your first time you probably want at least one of Breath, Void, Blood, or Rage- they’re pretty hard to screw up and and decently powerful in the bargain.
Lunar Auspice: Leave it on random. If you’re trying to minmax like crazy you can refer to ArtisticCathedral’s relationship matrices on the subject, but it doesn’t have all that profound an effect on gameplay.
Ecto-Recombine: SELECT MANUAL, that's the whole point of you looking up this guide, yes? Now comes the fun part. Look up your Classes below. I’ll give you the rundown on what combinations are busted good, which ones are good, which ones are fun, and who they synergize with. I HIGHLY advise you don't read through them all at once- I'm no TentacleTherapist, but this is still about as far from succinct as you can be and still have an end in sight.