“The Greek word for “return” is nostos. Algos means “suffering.”
So nostalgia is the suffering caused by an unappeased yearning to return.”
– Milan Kundera, Ignorance
“The following is a guest post by the Brave Blue Mage.”
We currently live in an era where there are more games to play than hours in the day, which can at times become a double-edged word. As technologies have developed, graphics have intensified, and the possibilities have proliferated beyond imagination, we often find ourselves returning to our retro staples of the past. With the Final Fantasy VII remake not far off on the horizon, the Epic Battle Fantasy series fills a void left by one of Squares most memorable franchises to date.
Twenty years have gone by in a flash and fans still yearn to experience that golden era in RPG history. One doesn’t have to look very far to see the impact FFVII has left on impressionable followers, many of whom have gone on to successful careers within the gaming industry themselves. Look closely at League of Legends, one of the world’s most successful MOBA at the moment. It is quite easy to see the inspiration behind many of the games beloved characters. Riot Games has made billions by taking very familiar characters from FFVII, and some more obscure ones in Mace: The Dark Age from N64 (both from 1997), put them into a blender, and pour them into a DOTA shell. A character roster comparison shows far too many uncanny similarities to be just a mere coincidence one might say.
The Final Fantasy VII Cast: Cloud = Riven. Barret = Graves. Tifa = Vi. Aeris = Soraka. Yuffie = Sivir. Cid = Jarvan IV. Cait Sith = Nunu. Vincent = Vladamir. Stiltzkin = Teemo.
The Mace: The Dark Age Cast: Al Rashid = Malzahar. Koyasha = Akali. Lord Deimos = Morkaiser. Namira = Karma. Rangar Bloodaxe = Olaf. Takeshi Tsunami = Master Yi. Taria De Castillo = Katarina. The Executioner = Scion. Xiao Long = Xin Zhao.
It is quite surprising that neither Square or Atari have ever spoken out seeing how literal their character creations resemble each counterpart. The inspiration or plagiarism is not hard to see.
Part requiem, part love letter, Epic Battle Fantasy is a tribute to turn-based gaming that evokes strong feelings of nostalgia. Unabashedly taking cues from the Final Fantasy of yesterday, Matt Roszak aka KUPO707 aka matt-likes-swords returns with a sequel and steps up his game in the process. If the first attempt played like a demo version of things to come, Epic Battle Fantasy II goes a step forward giving players a refined, streamlined three act Free-to-Play RPG experience. Sometimes a concise game can be just as rewarding as a larger open-world excursion; it is all about condensing the essential elements down into an easy to enjoy experience for anyone to play.
Second outings are always memorable. The setting and characters are already familiar, the stage has been set, and we get to hit the ground running. One of the downsides to the Final Fantasy series is once we leave a world, we do not get to go back to it. Only in recent years have we been able to return to familiar locations or continue a story where we left off with multi part adventures.
The events from the last game resulted in a cataclysmic event no one saw coming. The victory was bitter sweet as the “win” prompted the event that pushed the post-apocalyptic world into a more perilous position, as a wave of mutating radiation covers the planet. Epic Battle Fantasy II is a meta-narrative wrapped inside a Free-to-Play mini-game that checks so many boxes along the way.
The framework of the original game still remains, but immediately one notices some major upgrades. Matt definitely took notes and the feedback. As with any series, the journey is just as important as the destination. With part one firmly under his pirate belt, Matt has stepped up his storytelling, humor, and the gameplay considerably. Epic Battle Fantasy II takes what was accomplished and fine tunes it. Immediately the game begins with exposition, something lacking the first time around, setting up the story as a direct continuation of events. Time has passed, allies have long gone, and some familiar faces are set to join the ranks. It feels good to see the characters again.
The dynamic duo of Matt and Natz return, well rested and ready to continue on their wondrous adventure. These creations are literally the personifications of swords and sorcery. It is really refreshing to see a paired down cast of characters work so effectively together.
The most visible aesthetic change are Natz’s latest fashions. Gone are her classic white mage vestiges, now replaced with crimson attire, with a new staff hinting that her magical repertoire has expanded. The new and improved Natz is joined in her quest by an entirely new cast of summons.
Pichu is sadly gone, but has been replaced by a familiar face from the previous outing. It is nice to see The Beholder, the game’s malboro-type summon getting a good guy treatment for once. Already a formidable elemental mage, the addition of the Scanbot summon gives the team a tactical advantage showing enemy weaknesses and making elemental attunement much more devastating.
The upgrades don’t stop at the summons. Her abilities have grown across all her specialties. Her white magic spell Cleanse now casts on both party members, and new spell Flare deals area damage but more importantly blinds the enemy team for several turns. This proactive casting allows for some aggressive maneuvering reducing the chances of taking physical damage considerably.
On the black magic side of the spectrum, the new spell Toxic deals a high burst of damage with a sustained poison effect that comes in handy during those longer boss encounters, boosting Natz’s already considerable damage output. Compared to classic Final Fantasy Tactics, Natz commands the abilities of a white mage, black mage, summoner, and oracle all in one powerful package.
What Final Fantasy VII homage would be complete without limit breaks? Having access to the classic limit breaks is a welcome addition to the game. Not only does Natz’s Aeris inspired limit break bestow upon the team a considerable Healing Wind effect with a Breath of Earth bonus, but also it applies a diverse set of defensive buffs which last for several turns. With a cutscene to boot, Natz is quick to break the invisible fourth wall asking the player “is that enough fan service for you?”
Matt returns to the fray with a total of 11 swords, an assortment of weapons gathered from slain adversaries and fallen friends. Commanding the epic sword of the Super Saiyan final boss from the first game is a nice Easter egg. Gaining access to the legendary sword Razorback from fallen summon Canti is a more sobering touch.
The new bushido ability Unleash releases a unique effect from each sword in the arsenal. The limit break is no other than the classic Cloud ultimate ability Omnislash. Mog is no longer around to help the team out with potions, but NoLegz is a welcome addition to the party. The enemy boss fought in the first game has turned over a new leaf, but his past is not far behind him. Redemption is a strong line that runs through this narrative.
One standout feature of Epic Battle Fantasy II is the numerous options in strategy. The characters have such complimentary play-styles, it really is fun figuring out what combinations dish out maximum damage. In true turn-based style, the setup of a skill chain is just as rewarding as the payoff. The tune up provides a refinement of the original battle system. Each component is nicely animated, gone are the waves and waves of enemies, now condensed into quick challenging bursts depending on which difficulty is chosen.
The pacing of the game is another notable strong point, running so much smoother the second time around. The three act structure is spot on. None of the game’s segments ever drag on for too long, players are swept up in the gameplay and humor. It is easy to see why this indie homage has become so successful. This is a mini game that a player can dive into for a couple of hours and complete, offering up a condensed version of a turn-based RPG with all the enjoyable elements, complete with a side game to boot.
Epic Battle Fantasy II finally brings with it the addition of the most important part of the RPG experience, the character customization. Not only do players get to distribute skill points regularly, each level clear grants the characters access to new abilities, stat boosts, and buffs. An MP drain ability was only accessible to Matt in the first game. The Mana Leech upgrade is available for both players to learn, granting MP drain to basic attacks, encouraging players to use special abilities to their hearts content without fear of running low on mana in the middle of a boss battle. Alternating attacks and spell casting keeps the mana flowing and the action going.
On the last outing, the omission of leveling up was one of the few points that were lacking from the experience. An issue addressed front and center in this sequel, the options for character advancement really enhance the experience. The first game was not light on options, but the addition of more depth and the game’s sense of humor really pushes this fan franchise forward, carving its own place on the internet.
It is the series’ little winks and nods to the fandom of the role playing genre in general that gives this franchise such charm. It is not taking itself seriously, it is an enjoyable adventure. The player gets to make it as easy or as difficult as they so desire. The minimal time investment and cost free nature of the game make it a great stopping point for a few hours of internet gaming fun. Who doesn’t love an extra open tab with an online RPG to switch to?
Epic Battle Fantasy II pays homage to the classic turn-based experience in a condensed form. On the internet free to play arcade it delivers that retro experience so many people enjoy. With millions of plays and a strong following, Matt Kupo has created something nostalgic and memorable for a large fan base that desires this type of experience. Variety is the spice of life, but there is something to be said about the familiarity of home cooking that always makes us feel our best, soothing the soul. Games from our past can have a similar effect.
The 8-bit Review
The art style, character designs and all the animations are executed by one person, Matt Roszak. Such a mammoth undertaking is not for the faint of heart. Evoking the familiar stylings of early 90’s anime, this side-scrolling RPG has a lot of charm with the less is more approach. The constantly changing backgrounds and different enemies give the game enough variation to keep it from getting stale. While the art style may not be for everyone, it is appropriate for an all ages demographic.
The first Epic Battle Fantasy used licensed music. For this sequel, Matt employed the help of Phyrnna (credited in the game as HalcyonicFalconX) who scored each stage with different music. Tracks oscillate between an up tempo Euro-disco sound to more baroque Castlevania sounds. The score for Area 3 was the most successful, with an icy mysterious instrumental. The double dragon level boss came complete with a medieval choir singing in the background. Employing the talents of a composer was definitely a smart decision, bringing the total of creatives working on the project to two.
In fine tuning the combat system from the first game Epic Battle Fantasy II is a gem of a game. Increasing the number of swords to 11, players really have control on how they want to play. The variety of skills and spells are all available right from the get go encouraging experimentation, and the addition of limit breaks will put smiles on any face. The pacing has been fine tuned, as the adventure moves quickly. Leveling options after an area clear deliver a vital ingredient that was much needed. The game can be completed in one sitting, the difficulty level is entirely up to the gamer.
Epic Battle Fantasy II makes a departure from the first outing by beginning with exposition and enough gravity to set a tone without detracting from the upbeat experience. Between exposition points the characters espouse one-liners and little emotes, there is no voice acting one has come to expect today. These emotive devices can be seen as quite realistic, now more than ever people communicate with emojis and abbreviations just as much as sentences. The game plays out like a silent comedy with a musical soundtrack. What is the most provocative is the final act. Without giving anything away, the game becomes a metanarrative that could easily be seen as playing out today in real time. Moving from a straightforward quest to vanquish an enemy becomes much bigger, proposing several questions for introspection. Is there room for redemption in our society? Can people turn over a new leaf? Do we embody the traits of compassion and forgiveness? The game really throws a curve ball one isn’t expecting from an adventure with such an upbeat art style, adding a weight within the simplicity. The narrative moves from formulaic into something that touches very close to our current zeitgeist and transcends your typical Free-to-Play mini-game.
It is hard to get more accessible than a Free-to-Play browser game. This is an adventure that appeals to hardcore classic RPG fans, and equally to newcomers who haven’t experienced the joys of a good old turn-based battle system. There is nothing to download, and with a local save players can come and go as they wish. In a world where so many games have much darker undertones, it is nice to play a colorful, and humorous miniature game which caters to such a wide audience.
This will be subjective, but playing the game on hard mode everything was going just fine until it wasn’t. Staring at the black game over screen not even halfway through the adventure was a wake up call. The various difficulty modes do make for very different experiences of the same game. The customization options from leveling up really do come into play, so utilizing strategy and timing are important parts of the process.
Epic Battle Fantasy II is a game I have enjoyed playing over and over again. It is like a digital stress reliever of sorts, the streamlined nature of the adventure mixed with the diverse variety of play-styles makes each playthrough a completely different experience. The level of attention put into this game makes it far from a throwaway.
My Personal Grade: 8/10
The Epic Battle Fantasy series has a special place in my heart. As someone who has spent almost 10 years without a video game system, online Free-to-Play has been a go-to area of the internet for a very long time. Recently having had the opportunity to play and complete Final Fantasy XV, I found the game to be lacking in two elements that are synonymous with the Final Fantasy series: charm and quirkiness. It felt so strange to play such an expansive, and gorgeously rendered game that was so emotionally hollow. Returning to Epic Battle Fantasy II, I found myself constantly smiling at the one liners, in jokes and silly emotes.
If nostalgia is the suffering caused by an unappeased yearning to return, maybe this retro inspired franchise is a place I might strangely consider calling home.
Aggregated Score: 8.0
The Brave Blue Mage is the globetrotting creative director at large for the 924COLLECTIVE who tirelessly ventures off the beaten path in search of all things weird, wild, and wonderful.
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