Heh, seems I finished my hard run just in time then.
Hard mode was..interesting in that I found chapter 1 on hard absolutely brutal (I actually had to buy potions in town...the humilation), got easier in the subsequent chapters despite some iffy moments and by the 4th chapter I had done a bit of grinding in preparation for Fost but seemed to have got carried away... Fost didn't last long against a well geared lvl18 loren and hardest fight turned out to be the 1v1 with amukiki vs saren (and by hardest i mean i actually had to go reload my save to unequip the guy and even put the game difficulty on easy just for that fight >< And even then it was a close close fight)
Updated character impressions:
Amukiki: I was asked before if I thought he needed buffing. Having put him through his paces in hard, I can answer he likely doesn't, the guy tanked hard mode like a champ. All his defensive abilities pulled their weight and even started to appreciate battlecry for its high chances of hitting and low energy cost. Just a shame most tough enemies are immune to fear, but was useful in battles vs orcs.
By the end of the game I had him decked out in great if cumbersome armor and he was just a living brick wall. Which worked against me when saren had to 1v1 the guy but well, thank goodness for being able to change difficulty in game ><
Loren: As awesome as ever. Only real difference is this time I grinded my loren and she was well geared in this game, ended up hacking Fost to pieces.
Draco: The only times I tried using him was in chapter 1 and he just got slaughtered, doing little damage and contributing little. Guess in hard he might need to be developped before he starts pulling his weight but in this game I ignored him.
Myrth: Officially best mage in the game as far as I'm concerned. Cheap aoe magic attacks (draco and apo's equivalent aoe spells cost an arm and a leg and are 3rd level) and heals in 1 half naked package that's easy on the eye, if she had stuns too then you wouldn't need any other mages, ever.
Apolimesho: It's all about that paralysis spell with him. 1st and 2nd levels of elemental magic are decent enough but for his 3rd level of spellcasting, shares the same problem as Draco in that Myrth casts the same aoe spells for much cheaper (sure it hits a little weaker, but myrth's spells hits all enemies from the very 1st lvl for a measly 20 mana, whereas equivalent spells from draco and apo cost 75 mana). Used him more as a support mage this game around and proved fairly useful. He is troll incarnate when facing bosses who ain't immune to paralysis (drakes) just as in normal.
Took cure and clarity to reinforce his support role, but whilst cure proved to be awesome and better imo then saren's neutralize (cures 1 status effect regardless of how long it lasts) but didn't find clarity as viable due to long delay casting it. Found it more efficient to go for saren's energy restore skill, you get massive delay too but at least energy/mana is instantly refilled.
Karen: I used her like a big noob this time tbh :\ Found a better spear so placed her on the frontlines (back row was taken anyways) and she had a tendency to die very quickly in most fights (then again, that's why I made saren take life 2, might aswell be using it). Problem is despite placing her up front, I stuck to picking skills from the left side of her tree, which in retrospect would go better with an archer/ranged karen then a frontline one, who would likely be better off with that whirlwind attack.
Never the less, she remained extremely valued party member for her speediness and the always awesome focus target (max leveled of course, 45% more damage on an enemy for 7 turns is beastly), though break leg and that other ability where she targets an enemy for a % of their hp all saw great use.
Ramas: It was a big relief to finally get this guy in chap 1, I needed someone else to be upfront with loren during those tough early parts of the game. Stopped using him when I had all team members though, so will likely make a concentrated effort to use ramas in next playthrough.
Dora:Ignored her this game, so will be using her in the next.
Rei:Whenever I had free space in the backrow, I'd use rei. Was mainly to gauge him for use in future playthroughs and liked his performance. Fatality is fast becoming one of my fav skills, having a very suitable sound effect and a high chance of trigering. Didn't reach fatality lvl3 though as Rei only went up to lvl13 in this game :\
Guy was doing some nice damage with the master crossbow too, next playthrough will likely use both rei and dora and see how they compare.
Thief Saren: I used him as a mage really. Didn't like the thief skills so concentrated 100% on the hero skills, picking at least the 1st lvl of each. Only skill I didn't use so much was elemental ward but that's cos I picked it late in the game in chap 4 and by that time, my team was well geared enough to not really mind demon elementals, but otherwise the hero skillset remains as useful as ever.
Main problem I found with thief saren is he takes up a valuable backrow space, so isn't as easy to fit in teams as warrior saren was. Then again compared to warrior saren, thief saren being so speedy means more regular hero ability casting and long cooldown abilities like energy restore become more viable when cast by ninja saren.