Epic Battle Fantasy 4 Review

EBF4 4I feel as if I missed the prime time of Newgrounds as I did not discover the site until about 2006, when I promptly enjoyed a plethora of… it was mostly just sprite and somewhat shoddily drawn animated video game parodies along with stuff like TTA.  The reason I bring this up is because I watched some of the flash animations of a similar nature done by the same artist, Matt Roszak, back in the day, and they were awesome to me back when I was thirteen  So in short, I saw something that I found a bit nostalgic, picked it up for about four dollars, and played it for fifteen hours.

Epic Battle Fantasy 4 Review
Platform: PC
Developer/Publisher: Matt Roszak

Following the events of the first three titles in the Epic Battle Fantasy series, which I did not play, a group of three adventurers defeat a big bad one day, and spend their days mucking about the world, causing mischief as nobody would dare stand in the way of the heroes.  It’s actually a pretty novel premise, but the proper plot involves those heroes being quickly wrangled into the party of a new main character who is on the hunt for some special rocks which are kept separate to prevent something bad from happening, and the backstory is never really brought up after that.  As for the rest of the story and dialog, I could say that it is a dime a dozen JRPG plot with some web based humor thrown in, which it is, but the specific breed of humor honestly struck me as interesting.EBF4 8

Not to derail too much, but humor is one of those things that constantly evolves for many different demographics, and it eventually gets too muddled for somebody to even understand why it is funny.  I bring this up because I briefly felt like I was playing a game from the middle to late ots while going through EBF 4.   Something about its writing really does remind me of that period, and having those jokes and gags be delivered so straightly by something that was made in 2013 actually did manage to peak my interest.  That said, I did not find it to be particularly funny, as a lot of people grow out of certain forms of humor after seven years.EBF4 11

Patience is also another thing you tend to have a lot of when you are thirteen, and I would probably be a lot more tolerant of this type of JRPG if I still had more free time than I knew what to do with.  By ‘this type of JRPG’ I mean one that is not designed around optimizing the player’s enjoyment and is designed around a level of complexity that could be viewed as depth, but I feel that busywork is a far more apt term.  For example, equipment management involves sifting through about two hundred unique items that you accumulate as the game goes on, each with their own strengths and benefits, and each with their own list of required materials for upgrades.  While this alone is complicated, especially when you consider that there are a total of twenty-nine factors to consider for each piece of equipment in addition to bonus abilities that can be invaluable, but simply finding the materials feels like a chore, as they are dropped from enemy encounters, and you cannot figure out what enemies drop what materials.EBF4 7

This vibe of user unfriendliness, and usefulness of a guide continues with the investing in and levelling up abilities.  In short, you get abilities that may be used by multiple characters in your party, but if you want to forget and reset these abilities, called Specials, you lose the points you invested into them.  This discourages the player from using this mechanic without an outside source that will let them know what is the best for each character, and what will be the most elementally diverse moveset for each character.  Even the basic battles can get on my nerves due to enemy waves, basically a row of up to five enemies stacked on top of each other.  I am actually in favor of this idea, but the fact that if you defeat the final enemy in a wave with your third character allows the entire wave of enemies attack your party soured me on this idea.  Instead, it is better to just barely leave one foe standing and have the third character defend while either character number one or a random equipment based attack defeat them.EBF4 19

You may notice that I flip flopped right there about the number of characters, and that’s because you can only use three characters at a time, and the fourth is a backup character who unintentionally feels like a last resort that you will never want to use.  As such, it falls in with summons, which are powered by their own meter, as something that suffer from the ‘I May Need That Later’ principle that discourages players from making use of what they have.  Limit Breaks follow the same principle and as such I only ever sued them during boss battles, partially due to how they take quite some time to fill up.  I also only ever used revival items, and never touched my normal healing items as you heal automatically after battle… sort of.  You slowly regenerate HP and MP, but if you save, and you can save anywhere, and quit, your HP and MP will be full.  It is a minor annoyance, but when you do it after every battle, I only began shaking my head in confusion over how the Matt Roszak didn’t see how people would abuse this.EBF4 16

With that explanation out of the way, I honestly was not that enthralled by the battles the game is named after, as at best they involve a series of buffs being placed on your party members with a series of status effects and debuffs on the boss while pelting them with the most powerful moves at my disposal, which I do really enjoy planning and executing in a JRPG , but it is more or less the norm I have come to expect, and then I did not need to worry about as many elements, worry if my equipment was the right fit, or fear that the boss will pull out a super powerful attack and I will need to turn my dedicated mage into a healer because I apparently should not have given them the healing spell that can be used by multiple party members.  Or to sum up its gameplay in a nutshell, EBF 4’s complexity makes me want to play just about any other JRPG at my disposal as then I could hopefully not be filled with anxiety whenever I open up my mess and have confidence in my actions.EBF4 13

One thing about this title that I do like, and I love in just about every one of its incarnations, is mouse based controls, which work wonderfully.  It makes menu navigation far easier and EBF 4’s tile based overworld works very well for point and click based movement.  That said, I really am not a fan of the User Interface.  It’s functional, but simple things like going back to the Bestiary after looking up a single enemy take one too many clicks, and I would have liked to see the upgrade and equipment menus joined into one as they already share a lot of elements.  The battle menus follow a similar trend of being functional, but their size and how they sort abilities rubs me the wrong way.  And while the ability to quickly use your past six abilities, the game does not save them after you reload, which you should do to quickly restore your HP and MP.EBF4 21

Now, the art style is more or less what attracted me to the game, but I really don’t think it’s that good.  I do like the base style, but when walking around the overworld every human character has this crudely drawn chibi representation of themselves, and even the main characters look sloppy in this art style.  Strangely, the enemy sprites on the overworld look fine in this style and the backdrop looks appealing, at least when considering how formulaic their themes are.  The battles, meanwhile, actually look quite good and clearly had a lot of work placed into each enemy.  Although, the faces of the main characters, which are seen quite a bit in the form of dialog bits on the overworld, look pretty bad, as it their base had been established years ago, and have not been updated despite the artistic evolution in other areas.  Although, based on a brief glance at the earlier titles, I’m guessing that asset recycling is the reason to blame for this.EBF4 14 I always feel a bit bad when I lack positive things to say to what amounts to a small title developed by a single person, but the novelty of that has long since past in my mind, even though I would have easily believed this was a game from 2010, when terms like “Indie” truly meant something.  Epic Battle Fantasy 4 is very clearly a loving tribute and homage to many JRPGs of old and the genre in general, and is a nice little time capsule of a certain time and group, but there are better examples of the genre.  Its attempts to shake up the formula don’t go quite far enough in regards to convenience of breaking up the repetition and the monotony that sadly sulks around the genre.  Yet for what originated as a free flash game before being given the odd price of $12 for a Steam version, I suppose that it is more than a little impressive.

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