Looking back at Epic Battle Fantasy

The time is almost here. No, I’m not talking about this site’s game awards, but you should totally still vote for that.

I’m actually talking about Flash. If you’re not in the know, browsers will stop supporting Adobe Flash after this month. While there are preservationist efforts that will make sure that a lot of the more notable works are still accessible, it’s still kinda dispiriting to see things thrown to the wayside. Like yeah, blah blah flash doesn’t work good – have you ever been on a Fandom wikia lately, because those work like shit.

So, in honor of the coming end of flash, I’ve decided to go back to a flash game series that I really liked as a kid and somewhat holds up today. Unless you count a Yu-Gi-Oh game I had on the GBA, this series of games was my first exposure to RPGs, a genre that has become my favorite. So, let’s take a look at the Epic Battle Fantasy series. Let’s see how it grows and also come to terms with the fact that the creator might have extreme centrist brain worms.

The Epic Battle Fantasy series is made by Matt Roszak, also known as Kupo Games. He started out as an animator on Newgrounds since 2004, making flash animations of things he liked – mainly based around Final Fantasy. While he made a few games beforehand, Roszak would start the Epic Battle Fantasy series in 2009.

The first Epic Battle Fantasy is a gauntlet of RPG battles, with chances to buy items at the start and midway points of the game. You play as two characters, a knight named Matt and a mage named Natalie. Matt might be a self-insert for Roszak? It’s kind of a weird thing because the character is designed and named after Roszak, but he’s treated as completely distinct and really just seems to be cast in the starring role alongside Natalie solely because they’ve been used more in his past animation work than anything else.

Matt and Natalie have a variety of skills to use as they advance through the game, being representative of two RPG characters that reached the endgame. Matt can notably spend a turn to switch what weapon he’s using to change his stats and effectiveness with certain skills. Natalie is more static, but she’s consistent in dealing damage and putting out heals.

The game is representative of an era where people just threw whatever they wanted in games without worrying about copyright strikes. It’s immediately apparent getting into the game, with the title screen being Matoya’s Cave from the first Final Fantasy and the first battle theme being the FF IX battle theme. It goes further with that, utilizing characters from different properties like summoning Mog to use free healing items and summoning Canti from FLCL to do a strong guitar swing. At one point, you end up fighting two of the “Regi-” Pokemon, and can even get Natalie to summon a third to blast at them.

The game is also indicative of the early Newgrounds era. There are a few quick references to old flash stuff that made me mad to see when my bones weren’t crumbling to dust. There’s also the Beholder enemy, who is a walking tentacle rape joke that becomes recurring through the series. Also, if horny anime stuff bothers you, just know that the series is pretty horny about Natalie in general with some character designs and the fact that her breasts consistently bounce.

There is one more thing, one glaring elephant in the room, but we’ll get to it later.

While later games are still very referential, it’s not to the egregious extent of the first game. I’m personally not sure how I feel about it. However, this is coming off the heels of forcing myself to watch Channel Awesome movies for Patreon and seeing snippets of Ready Player Two, so I kinda went back into Epic Battle Fantasy angry about references.

The game also ends with one big reference to not just another licensed work, but Roszak’s other works. At the end, Matt and Natalie are attacked by a zombified Goku armed with swords and guns. Goku had showed up in his previous flash works, getting killed over and over, becoming more like an edgy OC Saiyan than Goku.

After his defeat, Goku blows everything up… which leads directly into Epic Battle Fantasy 2. Besides Matt and Natalie being made to survive the explosion, the game retcons Zombie Goku’s existence to make it look like a vague being destroyed the world, which also represents the series beginning to make steps toward being its own thing instead of just being an amalgamation of things the creator likes.

With the world fucked up, somebody rises to the occasion to unite people in the name of peace. Unfortunately, the guy is a neo-Nazi whose idea of bringing peace is forcing order through a fascist dictatorship. Matt and Natalie, after a long period of recovery, set out to deal with him with new allies that conveniently replace all the ones that were licensed characters.

And so, we enter Epic Battle Fantasy 2, released in the same year. It is still an RPG battle gauntlet, but it’s now one that takes steps to establish its own identity. From this point on, instead of licensed music, the Epic Battle Fantasy soundtracks are composed by a composer going by Phyrnna. I generally think their music is alright, though I personally think their best work are the battle themes in 4.

2 expands the amount of status effects in the game and allows you to inflict them yourself… and they actually hit pretty reliably! Accuracy has become a gameplay element and you can blind enemies pretty easily to keep them from laying hits on you, and poison actually takes decent chunks of health out of enemies.

Matt and Natalie also aren’t static, because after stages you get the choice of increasing stats and choosing passives for them. You can get some useful passives for longevity like making it so that Natalie’s weak basic attack also drains MP or making moves stronger or more effective. Stacking counter passives on Matt while having him holding swords that drain HP or MP? That’s free real estate.

In general, I feel that the fights in this game are more dynamic than its predecessor. There’s some more mixing in enemy waves, encouraging you to switch out Matt’s swords more often, and the frequency at which enemies throw out buffs and ailments encourages you to do that yourself. Bosses are also more dynamic, with fights against people that summon flunkies, can change their own weaknesses, etc, which all feel more engaging over the first game’s bosses who just feel like big meat walls that hits hard by comparison.

It’s also here that I realize/remember that the creator has extreme centrist brain. The neo-Nazi, Lance, gets defeated and his threat to the world is gone. In response, Matt reveals that he honors his fighting spirit like Joseph in Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure: Battle Tendency did for Actual Nazi Stroheim and Lance is adopted into the crew. Additionally, if you look at the art gallery, the background image of Lance in his Nazi tank is tagged as “Communist imagery,” which is some real horseshoe theory thinking.

When I played Epic Battle Fantasy 4 a bit a few years ago, I had some complicated thoughts on this that I did not have when I was younger when I found Lance’s clothes from this game as equipment and remembered that he was some Nazi. In fact, I started questioning if this was an okay series to go through for a retrospective. In looking for tweets, I don’t think that the creator himself is a fascist but is, at worst, the kind of centrist that I hate to see on a regular basis.

Epic Battle Fantasy 5… might be reflective of this fact, at least based on some things I’ve seen? At least at the start of the game, Lance is back to being a villain, once again forming what seems like another fascist plot to counter a bigger threat. When he rejoins the gang, he’s treated more as a prisoner that’s only being kept around for usefulness instead of as an actual friend. It’s still a narrative I’m iffy on, but it’s still better than how Stroheim Battle Tendency is used.

My problem is, is Roszak aware that what Lance does is bad, or is Lance a sincere attempt at making a well-intentioned extremist? Is he aware that the promise of peace and order is a promise that actual fascists make for power? I kinda doubt it, to be honest.

However, I decided to continue on with this project. As I said, I think Roszak is just a lousy centrist at worst. In fact, looking at more recent tweets I do think he’s capable of changing or is at the very least, not a flat-out shithead. If he does some real shithead stuff in the future though, I’ll take back everything I said.

And so, I cautiously headed into a brief replay of Epic Battle Fantasy 3, which originally released in 2010. So, the second game brought more depth to the first game’s battle system, so what can 3 offer? Well, how about a fuller RPG experience?

Epic Battle Fantasy 3 opens with our heroes waking up in a foreign land, sent there after accidentally awakening a demon that robs them of everything they had. Various adventurers are setting out across the land to slay it, and our heroes may as well do that too while getting back what they lost.

Epic Battle Fantasy 3 has switched from RPG combat gauntlet to a more standard RPG experience where you wander around maps and talk to NPC in-between fights. The vast array of weapons and abilities that Matt, Natalie and Lance showed off are all gone and their strength is down to the level of a standard RPG starting character. In recollecting weaponry, the gang also collects new pieces of armor that offer different benefits and appearance changes, getting stronger while getting fresh new looks. All of these also aren’t strong by default, as now there are resource items to collect to upgrade them (and use for sidequests) in the vague hopes of recapturing the strength they once had.

Interact with an enemy on screen and a battle starts. Because there’s now a third party member, the game is confident in throwing a lot more enemies at you. However, because this isn’t a gauntlet like the past games, you can get through whatever number of waves an encounter throws at you with the promise of getting fully healed afterward.

To force you to make use of the free after-battle healing, battles are hardly a “spam normal attack” affair. Even early on, enemies will gladly make use of buffs, and it can snowball through you if you’re not on top of things. You pretty much need to actually use the arsenal of skills you acquire if you want to get anywhere. As you have to unlock skills out of battle, you also have to be mindful of what skills you invest in for future fights unless you want to spend time level grinding.

I forget how far I got through the game when I first played it years ago, but even now I found it pretty engaging. Well, except for the writing. Epic Battle Fantasy 3 kinda feels like a standard gaming webcomic in terms of writing, so it feels extremely hit or miss. Also, Lance switching out his officer uniform for a generic soldier outfit for his default clothes seems better, but you know, militarism is still a big tenant of fascism. Again, don’t know if the creator was aware of that.

So, I’ve generally enjoyed the art style for these games. Even if you don’t like the series’ art style, it’s hard not to appreciate the amount of work that goes into the visuals from this game onward. Equipment changes reflect on the characters and enemies also have random visual variations that make them feel more lively, which is something that I don’t really see in a lot of games?

As for this playthrough, I got as far as the first boss. Unlike the other games, I can’t power through it, because hey, I was not lying when I said this was a fully fledged RPG experience – its projected playtime is 10 hours.

Then came Epic Battle Fantasy 4, in 2013. While the typical flash game sites offered a free version, there was an upgraded, premium version if players paid for it on Kongregate (rest in peace). The game furthered its steps toward the commercial realm by later having a release on Steam.

Years ago, I had completely forgotten about the Epic Battle Fantasy series until I saw this fourth game in a Humble Bundle when I was still going to college. I’m pretty sure there were some other cool games in the bundle, but I picked it up solely for this old RPG series I was really into. And, well, I’ll try to pick up from how I remember it besides me quickly going in to take screenshots of where I left off, because listen, picking up from the middle of an RPG you haven’t played in a long time is feels off.

Epic Battle Fantasy 4 introduces a fourth character, Anna, a ranger that acts as the starting character. After the events of the last game, the main trio got high off of their success and have just been stealing people’s stuff. When a sacred jewel from her village gets stolen, Anna pursues the heroes under the assumption that it’s their fault. However, they’re actually innocent of this particular crime. With a mysterious other threat lurking behind the scenes, they all join up to get to the bottom of things.

If I remember, Epic Battle Fantasy 4 actually makes a greater attempt at implementing lore. Hey, ever think it’s weird that almost all of the cats you see in the series has no arms or legs? The reason for that is actually central to what’s going on.

4 is a bigger, bolder version of what was present in 3 in many ways, which I can easily see from comparing them from my brief dives back in. Summoning is a completely separate skill that everyone can access, fueled by points you gain from killing enemies. Flairs have been added as an additional equip for further customizability. Readability is much better across the board, from the equipment menu making it easier to see what changes when you change equipment to enemy scan information being simplified to the point that you can easily parse what’s effective or not at a glance. And of course, a new party member with her own set of skills expands the party building possibilities.

Also, this is the start of the series making cutscenes presented in a really cute paper cut-out style. I’m actually really into it.

As you can see, I last left off in some place with lava. As I said, the vibes of getting back in the middle of a long RPG after a long absence feels really off, so if I was to get back into this, I’d have to start over. However, I’m honestly fine with that.

And so, we finally arrive at Epic Battle Fantasy 5, which released in 2018. Because I already owned 4, I got a Steam coupon for it when it first launched. I’m a sucker for deals, so I bought it and wound up not playing it… until now!

From the get-go, Epic Battle Fantasy 5 seems to be a soft-reboot of the series. Instead of being an experienced yet ditzy swordsman, Matt’s a loser and is someone that steals for necessity instead of just kleptomania (he still really loves stealing, though). When a sudden meteor strike causes all sorts of problems, like monsters going berserk and fascists rising, Matt sets out to see what’s up since it also took out his electricity.

There’s a lot of big changes in this game. First things first, after being a side character for years, No Legs the mascot becomes the fifth playable character. No Legs has a unique niche where his moves strikes multiple times and can gain extra hits with each enemy he kills, so if you set things up right, you can get him to combo straight through an enemy team.

Going into the battle system, you’ll see that MP is completely gone. While some of the more powerful moves have cooldowns, you can just use whatever you want, so there’s no reason to not fight with everything the game offers. Summoning has also been completely revamped. In this game, you can capture weakened enemies to use as summons in battle, so there’s a whole new monster collectathon element to this series. On one last note, there’s a new weather element that inflicts status ailments on enemies, like rainy weather making everyone wet, making electric moves more effective.

There’s also new mouse controls, which is clearly meant to be for the sake of a mobile release, which is apparently still being worked on. There’s also more coming with the game, as there’s a developer endorsed mod coming over the horizon – and this is after the fact the Roszak released a big 2.0 update early this year.

I have to say, I’m really into what I’m seeing so far in this game, and I definitely plan on playing more of it in the future. However, I really fucking hope that there isn’t some clown shoe wearing garbage about the apparent fascist element.

And all this isn’t even getting into the tangentially related spin-offs. There’s Adventure Story, a platformer spin-off where Matt sets out on a quest to rescue Natalie from Lance. Then there are the two Bullet Heaven games, which are big shmup spin-offs featuring Epic Battle Fantasy theming.

I’ve chosen a pretty good time to make this post. As it happens, Roszak is working on an Epic Battle Fantasy Collection to address the coming death of flash, making it so that the games will be available for everyone without an external player. Besides the first two Epic Battle Fantasy games, all of Roszak’s early games will be included in it, with needed bug fixes and added content. Along with a collection of old art and prototypes, it’s shaping up to be a love letter to a career that’s lasted more than a decade.

Diving back into this series was honestly a blast, and I’m fairly tempted to just start going through the bigger RPGs on my spare time. When it comes down to it, the only things that I hate are some of the edgier elements and the tone-deaf usage of fascist imagery. I think that these are good games, and I don’t think Roszak’s outright negated my good will toward his works as opposed to, say, the Heartbeat team’s attitude toward trans people. But again, this is only if he doesn’t become a huge asshole.

When it comes to flash games, I feel that Epic Battle Fantasy was a great pillar of that era, and it’s good to see it persist on even with its ideological flaws. However, recognizing those kinds of flaws are important when you’re looking back on the past and it’s better to acknowledge that those flaws exist than to deny them or claim that Hatsune Miku made it to avoid having to examine your relationship with a work.

2 comments

  1. I can’t remember anything about the fascists that doesn’t make them the butt of the joke in 5; the only thing good about them is that they were right about the whole space invaders thing (obviously), and even then the entire plan was to find as many hot girls as possible to repopulate the earth with, with no thought toward protecting the existing people.

    There’s even a scene where Matt is incredulous at a couple of hippies who are protesting them nonviolently; he says that even he knows that the only way to get rid of fascists is to beat them up.

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  2. […] found Indie Hell Zone in January 2021, and one of the first articles that caught my eye was Dari’s end-of-an-era dedication to the Epic Battle Fantasy series. My first thoughts went to another RPG from the early flash era that deserves to be remembered, […]

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