A long time ago, I revisited the Epic Battle Fantasy series. It’s a flash game RPG series by kupogames that’s been going strong since 2009 and was the first real RPG I’ve played, so you can blame that for my RPG brainrot. Back in my revisit, I also checked out the fifth game, which was the latest entry of the series. It was a brief visit, but it was a visit that left a good impression.
So, because I have RPG brainrot and my friend talked to me a bunch about the game, I decided to finally settle down with Epic Battle Fantasy 5.
Epic Battle Fantasy 5 is the culmination of the decade long series. As with all the past games, it’s made in Flash, as kupogames is a longtime advocate of it. And you know what? As somebody that stans RPG Maker to an unreasonable degree, good for him. If it works for you, go for it.
This fifth entry seems like a soft reboot of the franchise. You start out with swordsman Matt, downgraded to a deadbeat thief who was just kinda chilling until some meteors fall out of the sky. Suddenly, more monsters than usual are everywhere, empowered by the mysterious black monoliths from the crash landings. He joins up with the mascot No Legs, the more conventionally heroic Ana and Natalie and also, uh, actual fascist Lance on a quest to investigate these mysterious monoliths.
Epic Battle Fantasy 5 is a turn-based RPG with a strong focus on gameplay. You fight with three characters at a time, but the game really starts to shine when you have the full party available. You can readily swap out characters mid-fight as long as they haven’t taken a turn yet, and you’re actively encouraged to swap people out because people in reserve heal between turns. While healing during battle is still important, simply swapping out your injured guy for a fresh one is a valid tactic in keeping up the momentum.
Actually, let’s talk about this party first. The party is very versatile, with each party member having an array of elemental skills to take advantage of weaknesses. So, even if you don’t have the optimal equipment for it, you always have at least one party member that can cover a weakness. While versatile, the party members all still have specific niches to be mindful of. Matt is a powerhouse for physical offense. Natalie excels at magic attacks, particularly holy skills. Anna is more specialized in dealing status effects and is a good balance between Matt and Natalie statwise. Lance has a stronger specialization in bomb skills than anything else, with a kit more aimed at crowd control and managing cooldowns than the others. No Legs has a specific set of skills that hits multiple times and lets him hit more when an enemy is downed, making him really ideal for fighting the weaker encounters, whilst also having his own long cooldown moves aimed more toward support. While you can theoretically use any party make-up, knowing when to take advantage of the more specific niches helps fights go smoothly.
And you’ll really have to learn how to make the best of these characters, because the battles can actually get pretty difficult. Encounters throw multiple waves of enemies who have pretty versatile movesets. They’re not afraid to throw buffs, debuffs and status ailments around – and since enemy scans show the honest likelihood of a status effect landing, you may as well do the same too to keep up.
Movesets aside, there’s some weirder aspects that the game’s not afraid to delve in. There’s a set of enemy dolls that resemble the characters who will take damage as they do, forcing you to take things slow unless you want to waste a turn reviving. There’s the line of turtle enemies that ping pongs between your party and its allies, hurting them too (or healing them depending on elemental typing). There are some enemy attacks that actually hit offscreen to hurt reserve party members, there’s a unique status effect that makes you immune from physical damage but take double magical damage and vice-versa, etc. This isn’t even getting into certain optional encounters, some of them pretty much demanding that you understand the specific mechanics in play to fight them properly. Point is, Epic Battle Fantasy 5 actually gets pretty experimental with what you can do with encounters, and it’s always welcome and infuriating to fight them.
The difficulty especially holds true for challenge areas, where enemy strength actually scales to where the party’s at. If you want to get through, you gotta get good at using the battle system. And honestly, even if you aren’t aiming for 100% completion, it’s still worth poking into the challenge areas to get some of the rarer loot and weapons hidden inside.
The difficulty of the battles though is balanced out by the fact that resource management isn’t really a thing in this game. Ordinarily, an RPG dungeon is full of encounters meant to wear you down for the boss, wasting your valuable items or MP or etc. But like the previous two games, you heal to full outside of battle, so you’re not getting worn down in a metagame sense, Additionally, stepping away from the other two games, there’s no longer any MP; some of the more busted skills have a justifiable cooldown, but otherwise, you can just go to town with your ideal fighting style.
Epic Battle Fantasy 5 also brings in two new mechanics for the series. The first is weather, which passively changes the state of the battlefield. So, I kinda took this new mechanic for granted when I initially checked out the game and now, I’m… kinda divided on it? So, weather causes an effect at the start of every turn. If it’s sunny, everyone becomes dry and weaker to fire attacks, and if it’s radioactive, everyone’s defenses lower while suffering burns. It’s interesting in that it can force you to re-equip everyone with clothes to counteract effects like dressing up for weather in real life, but a lot of the time it feels arbitrary. Especially stuff like “missile strike” weather where people just randomly take damage from missiles. Fun.
But then there’s the second new gameplay mechanic: capturing monsters. If a monster is sufficiently weakened, you can capture and summon them as a move in battle for the SP you gain from defeating enemies. There’s a bunch of kinda meh ones that just do elemental attacks to cover weak points. No, to me, the real ones are the ones that grant utility. There are plenty of monsters that debuff the enemies or buff the party when they attack. There’s a few ones with more specialized skills like the Cat Ninja, who essentially copies No Legs’ ability to give someone another turn – and its busted counterpart, the Viking Monolith, who does the same for the whole party.
Most importantly, besides a few limit breaks, summoning monsters is the only way to change the weather and actually use it to your advantage. Fire enemies reliably healing off of the lava flow weather? Get that replaced. See a boss with, say, an ice weakness? Get that Seaweed Chomper out to get it raining to make enemies wet to make ice attacks hit even harder. While summoning can already shake up battles in interesting ways, the ability to manipulate the weather also helped make the weather mechanic start to click for me.
As you fight and travel around the game world, you gather a lot of materials and equipment to use those materials for. Now, you aren’t upgrading equipment for the stats, no. You’re upgrading them for the elemental resistances and the unique traits the equipment can gain. Some things makes attacks of a certain element stronger, but then there are others that can grant you a counterattack and ones that plays a move at the start of the turn, like one of Lance’s default gear getting his tank to gun through enemies or a hat that gives a passive chance to heal each turn. Plenty of them add effects to the basic normal attack or defend, turning these boring options into something incredibly practical.
There’s a neat sense of discovery with the game’s equipment, because besides the joy of collecting them, there’s the hidden potentials that you can uncover as you upgrade. By the endgame, you can have resistances so high that you can heal off of attacks and have a bunch of special moves activating before you can lift a finger. It’s really satisfying when everything comes together. Honestly, it’s the first time in a long time that I was interested in a sort of crafting system because the incentives for engaging in it is pretty strong.
But enough about gameplay, let’s talk about writing! And unlike Cosmic Star Heroine, another gameplay first RPG, I think Epic Battle Fantasy 5 has more to talk about with regards to writing – for better and for worse.
In my eyes, the Epic Battle Fantasy series has the energy of a 2000’s game webcomic, and the 5th game doesn’t change that. In an alternative world, this would be 8 Bit Theater. It’s even referential like an old webcomic, which is honestly kinda cringe if you hate that stuff.
Matt is the personification of the joke about RPG characters walking into people’s homes to take their stuff. He already was like that, but it’s pretty exaggerated here. Meanwhile, Natalie feels like she’s more of a Girl character and to be honest, I actually liked her depiction more in the past games; while she was more level headed than Matt and Lance, she was blatantly just as morally corrupt as they were, and shaving that aspect of her off makes her Boring. She even gets made into a damsel in distress for a bit, that’s boring, get outta here with that.
Anna in the meantime comes off as a normal young RPG character. In another RPG, she’d be boring, but in this game where almost everyone else is a cartoon, she’s a nice contrast. I will say though, it makes me dislike the changes to Natalie even more because she just comes off as a less interesting version of Anna.
No Legs isn’t really a character but a funny little guy mascot character. I like him.
So we finally talk about the elephant in the room: Lance. Him and everything surrounding him are also probably the most notable parts of the plot to actually talk about.
Lance was a part of the earlier games that I really didn’t think aged well. In the second game, Lance is a villain that fashions himself in Nazi garb in a fascist takeover of the world after somebody that totally isn’t Goku ravaged it in the previous game. Beating up people like him? Cool! But then he joins the party at the end and goes on to be a staple in the next two games which… felt really weird.
Lance’s depiction in this game felt like an attempt to reconcile his original role. It also feels like it’s meant to be commentary on the time, as the game was under development during 2016, when there was a general rightwing lurch worldwide and fears of modern fascism that’s still present today (condolenses to Italy).
And well, the commentary is some kinda Saturday Night Live stuff. While the fascists are cartoonishy evil, a lot of the specific things that’s associated with this kinda evil are dialed back besides the focus on militarism. The specific people opposing them are also cartoonishly ineffectual, only really showing up with protest signs and talking about yelling online. The strongest force is actually Anna, who’s portrayed as a bit of a nut, since she attacks Matt on sight believing that he’s a fascist. It feels like some lib both sidesing, which is kinda not far off from the creator’s beliefs (at least from around the time he started making this game).
That said, it’s probably for the best that the game doesn’t delve too much into fascist belief, because if the game actually addressed that, Lance being a party member would be far, far worse!
But if there’s something to say about the game’s depiction of fascism, it’s that it does identify how it could brew. Fascism can arrive in the time of legitimate disasters, advertising itself as the fix to the solution – for those that’s accepted, at least. Lance’s rise comes from him trying to capitalize on the legitimate crisis the world is facing; while this was also the case in the 2nd game, the fact that there’s NPCs around and a town directly affected by the crisis gives more weight to this.
It also does try to portray the kind of person that’d be fascist. Even if Lance has reasonable concerns, that’s outweighed by Lance’s violent and power hungry nature. Lance is also a misogynist, having kidnapped multiple women for a harem and doesn’t think too highly of the women party members – up to a point. Multiple pieces of incidental dialogue also points him toward believing in conspiracy theories, which is often a thing that people get radicalized through.
All I’m saying is that Lance would be a QAnon guy if he was real. He’d wear the QAnon shaman guy’s gear to increase his resistance to ice and improve his buffing skills, probably.
And while I’m iffy about him joining the party to investigate the dark monoliths, he’s very clearly not forgiven by the world. Natalie and Anna often quip their satisfaction at him getting owned whenever they’re in the same party, and while Matt’s more ambivalent toward him, he’s not eager to help. Multiple NPCs also get shocked that he’s in the party and Lance is also like, “dang yeah, you guys are really letting me off easily.”
All in all, Lance is like a better handled version of Stroheim from Battle Tendency, with the worst aspects shaved off. Yeah, it’s still Weird, but welcome to the team I GUESS. Go Team Centrism.
Outside of Lance, the game’s story structure is pretty much like an old RPG. However, the characters have a pretty strong presence. Characters will quip in battles depending on party make-up, what they have equipped, what’s happening in the fight, etc. The crew will occasionally have a conversation when entering a new screen, showcasing them slowly getting used to each other.
Is it high quality writing? Not necessarily. In fact, I kinda rolled my eyes at Natalie and Ana talking about breast size because it’s extremely “anime for guys that stack no paper and get no bitches” energy. But for the most part, it’s nice to get something.
Thing is, compared to Cosmic Star Heroine, which was also a game that was high on gameplay but low on story, I’ve actually found this one more engaging. The characters have a consistent presence in the world, and the gamer webcomic feel of the whole thing sets my expectations to only anticipate that kind of writing instead of making me wish for something more substantial like the premise of Cosmic Star Heroine did. It might not be your cup of tea, but also, STUFF is actually happening and the characters actually exist, as two-dimensional as you may find them.
Toward the end of the game – especially if you’re doing some side stuff – Epic Battle Fantasy 5‘s narrative gets meta. Now, it’s an aspect that I think would be hit or miss with people, because really, it only works if you’ve played this series for a while. Like, if this was its own standalone game I’d think it’s cringe garbage, but as the fifth major entry in a years long series, it’s stuff that kinda prompts reflection. You earn the right to get meta if you’ve been at it for so long.
And so, even though the story definitely isn’t the primary draw of Epic Battle Fantasy 5, I thought it was nice. I will definitely say that the story is more flavor than anything, so if story is the main draw of RPGs for you, this game won’t be a good fit.
So, you may be wondering, “Dari, why’d it take you so long to write about this game?” Well, thing is, the game is fucking long. This is especially if you’re doing the side stuff, which I did a bunch of because to be honest, the most interesting fights is in the side material. Just going through the main game itself is already 20+ hours, and according to HowLongToBeat, the projected time for 100% completion is, uhhhh 70+ hours.
And honestly, the game in general is aimed at the people willing to make that insane time commitment: the big fans. There is a museum in the game whose areas open up based on how many achievements you have – and a large chunk of them come from playing on “Epic” difficulty. And your reward for this effort? Well, besides new loot, you also get to check out submitted fanart from across the series, which the characters actually comment on. It’s a really cool way to show appreciation for the fans of the series and to honor the people that love this game enough to see it through.
Even with the eyeroll-y bits of writing and the sheer length, I really enjoyed playing Epic Battle Fantasy 5. It’s a really great grand finale to this decade old series, and anyone that’s played these games back in the dominant era of flash should check this out. I’m not sure where it ranks on my list of favorite RPGs – after all, I’m primarily a story first kinda boygirl – but for people that like mechanically strong RPGs, this is a pretty decent one of those.