PEGBJRE: Ephemeral Tale and Epic Battle Fantasy 4
RPGs for Monday. Which means these will be long.
Ephemeral Tale is an adventurous JRPG-inspired… classic RPG made by Dawdling Dog, ltd., a solo indie dev based in the United States who has also done a bit of work with asset packs. This title is currently within Early Access, with a demo available through Steam and the 1.4 version available via itch.io (courtesy of the bundle) with relatively constant updates to the itch.io as it moves towards completion. So with that in mind, this overview might be a bit out of date in the near future depending. For now, let’s cover the core concepts, involving a hero awakening within an mysterious cave and being told to vaguely stop the ‘End’.
Upon starting, Ephemeral Tale involves the player as their own character and their adventure to gather three blessings across the semi-open world that has been opened up to them. To do so, players will wander around regions attempting to solve the issue that may be plaguing the area, usually in the form of a puzzle involving the collection or rescue of items or characters. During these travels, players will come across many individuals that are having their own troubles, and can be assisted with such usually through the same idea of acquiring something for them. They can be completely ignored, but by helping them they may help the player in some regard. On the opposite end of the spectrum are arguably a staple to JRPGs in random encounters, where the game will jump in to a turn-based battle UI. As seen prior in the bundle, players will have the ability to attack, use magic, defend themselves, utilize the items they’ve collected or simply run away depending on their own status. Enemies defeated have a chance of dropping loot which can be acquired after successfully defeating them, but running will cause all loot to be forfeit. Now, I’ve said my piece a few times about my general dislike for random encounters, and while the core mechanic is still here I found myself less disenfranchised with its execution here. I only found myself in an encounter maybe once or twice per ‘map section’, sometimes completely avoiding an encounter the entire time. Encounters didn’t feel that terrible either in part thanks to the speed in which each turn is done due to lack of ‘fancy’ animations, but also because of the polish of the existing animations. They would zoom in when the hero would be attacked, but only briefly to give a sense of danger. It was quite refreshing, if I’m honest.
Now there are a few divergencies that I found in the formula — at least, I think they are divergencies, again I’m not really a big JRPG player so this might just be me being unfamiliar with many others. The big alteration is in the power system, which is treated similarly to exp but is also a currency as well. This power is accumlated while fighting enemies, and can be traded in at a mysterious hooded figure found near the refuge for skill crystals. These skill crystals are then utilized in a massive linear progression tree that upgrades stats and grants new abilities, but is only available for access at a bonfire. My mind immediately shot towards my times with Fromsoft titles, which was hard to ignore the similarities — an exp-like system utilized as a currency and a way to upgrade stats and skills, the latter being accessible only at a bonfire which full heals and replenishes refillable healing flasks? All I needed was a darker tone and I could’ve sworn Miyazaki had a hand in this. However, this isn’t a knock on the series by any accounts, as I actually found this system to work really well in its favour, specifically the stat upgrades via skill crystals. Levelling up isn’t as impactful as in other JRPG titles, as players need the levels more to access farther in the skill tree less than they need levels out on the field. Making it back and upgrading oneself all the way from level five to ten is a massive leap forward in stats and abilities, and the farther one goes the more abilities can be unlocked to augment gameplay. Since that power is needed to create the bulk of skill crystals, random encounters serve as loot, exp AND a source of power doubling down on my lack of frustration.
As it usually is with JRPGs, there’s way too much to talk about in a general overview without delving too deep in to their mechanics thanks to the abundance of them, and Ephemeral Tale is no exception — regardless of its EA status. There’s the mountains of loot one can acquire, with its randomized statlines to alter how a build may look, as well as durability to ensure that players don’t adventure forever with no repercussions (I didn’t find the durability to be that annoying, honest). There’s the secret plot of understanding the constant mentions of ‘Beginning and End, with the between’ while entering three unique areas, or the fact that each area is only unlocked after the one prior is completed. The friendly individuals found may have items that they need that may be found in one specific location, making choosing which land to go to next extremely important to whomever you may be trying to help first. It is just exhausting the amount of content that can be found within this little tale, giving a slice of what is to come on its full launch. That isn’t to say that I didn’t have a few odd gripes, like how the refuge where all the friends and travellers go was just far enough from the three portals to get annoying to run to, or just how lost I felt in Oasis.
Regardless, however, this is definitely a JRPG for fans of the era and those looking for a new one to sink their teeth in to. If it sounds like I’ve been describing you, then try this out and see for yourself where this adventure will take you.
Epic Battle Fantasy 4 is also an adventure turn-based RPG made in the glorious Flash (RIP FLASH) by Matt “Kup” Roszak, indie dev and creator of the entire Epic Battle Fantasy franchise that started back in 2009. The titles were crafted for web play back on websites such as Newgrounds and Armor Games, and I distinctly remember seeing the thumbnail at least once during my times playing across those websites. With that nostaliga out of the way, players will be following this fourth installment as a new protagonist in Anna as she attempts to rescue the Greenwood Jewel from thieves, and possibly save the world along the way.
Do note: when installing EBF4 it will give you a version of Adobe Flash to work with and run — however utilizing the itch.io client made it unable to create local saves and sometimes made it unable to load the next level (as in it would just give a black screen and be unable to do anything). Running the Adobe Flashplayer Windows exe from the folder and then dragging in the swf file makes it run like a charm.
As it was with the previous titles in the series, EBF4 has players exploring an open world full of mystery and danger with enemies standing idly awaiting players to arrive and attack them. No more messing with random encounters, meaning that players could dodge out fights if they didn’t feel the need to go the way that the enemies may be blocking off. Single enemies do not represent the amount of enemies fought, however, so players might run in to an encounter and fight multiple waves of enemies to win, so do keep that in mind when running in and starting a fight. The number of ‘waves’ is indicated at the bottom, for convenience and transparency. Combat has tons of options, from attacking wildly with the default weapon, tactical abilities for retreat and defense, skills and specials utilizing MP to activate to devastating effect, summoning pets/monsters to fight along side and breaking the limits of the character to destroy all foes. New skills can be acquired through acquiring AP, which can unlock and enhance skills to futher destroy all those who oppose Anna. Everything is done with a mouse in this title, so no need for confusing controls with other buttons; click everything to find out what it does.
Once combat is completed, players might also notice something a bit interesting; health regenerates outside of combat. Rather than struggling against the constant need to find health and worry about resources, EBF4 instead balances the encounters and gameplay around the combat being exciting and dynamic while outside of combat is exploratory and roleplay focused. This means having combat the focus of item usage by making combat encounters lengthier with hordes of enemies to fight off and having item usage not be punished in combat. Outside of combat is for solving the puzzles of the world, finding hidden passageways and exploring the world that has been created; it doesn’t want players to be constantly worried about being attacked or being unprepared and since random encounters are gone, might as well heal them up so they have no fear entering combat.
Epic Battle Fantasy 4 retains all of its influences while attempting to push past them in favour of being more ‘laid back’ while still containing the endless customization and hours of content that the older titles had. Fans of Final Fantasy will recognize many of the same systems (that I have been told at length since I haven’t really played one) from the different kinds of bars filling to perform special attacks, both parties visible on either side of the screen and a victory score that sounds beautifully similar. Speaking of the sound track, the music is easily reminiscent of the older RPGs with primary focus on singular instruments carrying sweet melodies and giving a sense of wistfulness. Granted, there’s a bunch of sweet guitar riffs that get layered on to increase the intensity and add excitement even while just exploring a lava land, so kudos to Phyrnna for this OST.
As stated with the prior title, JRPG-inspired titles are extremely compact and have many systems that I could go on for hours about, and Epic Battle Fantasy 4 definitely delivers on that front; it advertises 25 hours of gameplay excluding NG+, which if you are like myself, only indicates about half of the time that you’ll spend within thanks to switching up armor, looking for hidden pathways, and generally ensuring nothing has escaped you. It’s a staggering amount of content to adventure through, but it will give a fantastically nostalgic feeling to both crowds of individuals that loved the older Final Fantasy/JRPG series and those that played many Flash games before that was taken from us. If either of those two categories sound like you, then you might want to try this out — granted, you could also grab the fifth installment as well, which just so happens to be getting a mobile port. As of right now, it’s about 60% of the way done (so says the EBF wiki) so if you are looking to wait a bit and get it for mobile, that might also be a fun way to experience this over the top fun.
Linkers for today
Ephemeral Tale is a classically inspired RPG for the modern age, featuring hand-crafted dungeons, classic JRPG-style…