Hard Mode! (some big bugs here)
I think I'm gonna have to retract that bit about making alchemy more expensive to use, at least not all of them. The increased monster stats mostly balances things out (though resistances for some enemies like bone buzzards could definitely be increased). I wouldn't increase enemy evade either, because the added to hit% works in the same way with enemies cancelling out even your lvl 3 charged attacks with their normal attacks.
Prehistoria - I decided to focus on melee this time so after beating Salabog I grinded the weapons to lvl 3 using the first jungle area. I also tried to not buy ingredients, just use what I found, but had to drop that idea by the time I got to the volcano as I got too low on Water.
This period isn't much slower than before up until the volcano, where the Vipers really felt like a chore to fight in melee. The Tar Skulls in the bugmuck didn't seem worth the time either. Also the raptor trap in the cave was much harder here, a pretty big difficulty spike.
Four Dinos - Pretty tough now, I pretty much lucked out and the dog died.
Thraxx - The biggest challenge here, and it made me wish I hadn't focused on melee for a bit.
Salabog - This one isn't much harder, it just takes way longer to kill. It doesn't need the added HP, but maybe the Wisps could be stronger.
Magmar - Not that much harder with the weapons at lvl 3, but still a good fight.
Got a question here btw, if you keep leveling a weapon that's at 3:0, do future uncollected weapons still gain points from it?
Antiqua - Grinding for money just didn't feel worth the time, so I skipped it, and it wasn't since I got an Egg from buying pots in the market after like 10 minutes.
In this period I used the entrance to Colossia to grind the axe and sword to lvl 3, and had to grind the dog for a bit after that since it hadn't leveled at all from me stealing its kills.
Halls of Colossia is where the game got pretty tedious, since the dog didn't have enough evade and kept dying against Dancing Fools. I started using alchemy much more in the Pyramid and afterwards and it's just as effective against fliers as before, pretty much.
Question #2: Is the market timer supposed to reset if you get out and go back to Crustacia (to buy bronze gear), then return?
Minitaur - To be honest this is how tough I think it should be on Normal mode.
Megataur - This guy managed to kill me with a physical+alchemy combo I wasn't prepared for. Pretty good fight even though it's very similar to Magmar.
Rimsala - The tough part is keeping the dog alive so it gains exp, but it's nearly the same otherwise.
Aegis - Again this is how tough it should be on Normal I think.
Aquagoth - Not noticeable harder. I did notice the sword would only hit if a lvl 3 attack is used, and the dog still won't attack the main body.
Gothica - I got low on Gold here and without a quick non alchemy-way to grind for it until I got to the chessboard (though could've somewhat helped that by not buying a Gold Plated Vest or Defender). I'd say the Firepower and One Up formulas aren't really worth getting since Heal and Lance get so strong.
One odd thing I noticed is that the fliers under the chessboard are pretty weak, doing only 0-1 damage.
Foot Knight - I'd say he could be this tough on Normal. Not that hard either way though.
Evil Twin - Pretty good. He could also be this tough on Normal, perhaps.
Timberdrake - This was pretty tough. I was low on some key ingredients from before and was at 300 max HP while his fireball did like 305 damage when singeling the boy out. I discovered a pretty good way to dodge fireballs though, using Essence right before they hit. Some other items seemed to work as well, but not as reliably.
Verminator - I leveled my weapons to 3 before this one. Pretty good, but Lance takes care of him pretty quickly.
Sterling - Only somewhat tougher than before.
Mungola - Toughest boss so far and I died a couple of times trying to use the sword as main attack, then went mostly with Lance/Lightning Storm instead. The lag makes it much harder to dodge/block his fireball and it's pretty easy to take two hits in a row here (the evade cap really comes into play here). It gets kinda tough to keep track of all the status effects; am I missing some text info in the interface or was there never any?
I went back and reloaded a state before the Mungola fight to try other tactics and encountered a major bug here where the I couldn't input any actions. If you let the purple puppet live, it sometimes moves down from the stage and stays there, only healing Mungola occasionally which makes the battle much easier. However after a while it turned into a different puppet (your design?) and when it up to the stage the bug happened.
Edit: Tried the fight again and it apparently happens without freezing if you just keep killing the puppets - they both get black and white clothes and orange faces, but after a few seconds both them and Mungola die. Then the game continues normally.
Another bug when looking for the Gauge: Right after bouncing up over the volcano and landing, when I went down to go back to the windwalker, I noticed the dark raptors acted as if I wasn't there. This was fixed after I went into the cave/item shop in the same area though.
Coleoptora - Pretty much the same, would've been easy if I focused on alchemy attacks.
Omnitopia - More of a struggle to trek through, and the Rimsalas are pretty tedious to fight. It's more of an issue with the scrolling and dog AI combined with the tight spaces though.
The final fight is very tough and pretty overwhelming. On my first attempt there were lots of spiders and the game didn't seem to wait until one enemy type was gone until the next one appeared, which didn't happen the second time.
Unfortunately there's a major bug: Just when Metal Magmar appears and stands up in the middle of the room, the background goes white and the game assumes you've won the entire fight. I tried two more times to see what caused it but I'm not sure. Sometimes Nazi Carlton appears along with Magmar and sometimes Magmar doesn't disappear and keeps attacking you while the ending cutscene starts.
FYI I'm using the same rom as before and it gets a checksum fail on startup but there hasn't been any other big problems up until this playthrough.