It's been a while since I've played a true traditional RPG. I've not particularly taken to the RPG Maker trend and even stalwart supporters of the genre, like Square Enix, have edged their games into more action-oriented mechanics. Ironically, at one point in the Playstation age, I felt the genre had become saturated and stale; nowadays, I'll jump on anything that strips back the gimmicks and offers a wholesome predictable journey.
Epic Battle Fantasy 4, as you have probably determined, is part of a long running series none of which have graced Steam before. Luckily, there's absolutely no reason why you can't just jump in if you haven't played the predecessors; the storylines are simple, rather trope-filled affairs and all the better for it. They're wrapped up by the end of the game and the only continuation between the titles are the main characters and cameo moments that serve as fan service. If you're looking for an epic tale of tyranny, betrayal and sacrifice then you might be disappointed. If you have the time for a charming, genuinely funny and surprisingly deep RPG experience then EBF4 provides in every sense.
Your team of four party members aren't limited to class setups like most games. Instead, you'll develop each character using a huge selection skills that eventually make every character capable of wielding devastating spells and life-saving buffs. This flexibility keeps the combat interesting throughout, with enemy resistances calling for constant experimentation and fluidity of tactics. For a game with such an irreverent tone, you'll be greatly punished if you don't approach the battles cautiously. The ability to rush through battles spamming physical attacks is at an absolute minimum and while some battles drag on longer than I'd have liked, it's always preferable to feel engaged at all times.
Surprisingly, I had most of my fun with EBF4 in the world map. Most areas you travel across throughout the game will have a handful of chests, optional battles, NPCs with sidequests and incredibly well-hidden secrets. Scrubbing the screen with the cursor, looking for a hidden package of loot became quite the obsession and really reduces the tedium of back-tracking or getting lost. With items that grant new skills and powerful equipment on offer for those with a keen eye, it's easy to get swept up in the mechanic and see the battles as a distraction. Thankfully, the monsters appear as sprites on the map, so if you feel that way, they're easily avoided.
Grinding is kept at to a minimum, with the rare moments I felt under-powered quickly corrected by fighting a few mobs I'd opted to pass a few screens ago. There are many options to improve your party's powers if you're struggling. The less common stat-increasing foods are a viable source of instant power, spells can be trained using AP accrued from each fight and gear is improved by crafting upgrades using miscellaneous loot. There's always something new to aim towards, especially if you have an interest in achievements; there are some great situational challenges and the developer did a fantastic job of avoiding a conventional and dull list.
The care and attention put into EBF4 is impressive; even when an enemy could be considered a palette swap, there will be little touches to the model to suit the change in power or element. The Zelda-esque key items that can remove obstacles encountered earlier in the game encourage a lot of exploration and reward players generously. With it taking upwards of 20 hours to complete everything, it's surprisingly to see even more work put in to encourage multiple playthroughs. The value for money takes it from being a budget purchase for genre diehards and into the arms of anyone that's ever launched a Firaga into a flan's face and loved it.
Despite being a fantastic game overall, there were moments of frustration. The occasional enemy will throw instant death moves that feel a little cheap, though nothing compares to bosses that can heal themselves. These situations are few and far between thankfully and do little to overthrow an RPG that remains so consistently enjoyable.
With so little competition in the world of traditional RPGs, EBF4 could get away with minimal effort and still be devoured by starving fans. As such, it's hugely refreshing to see so much love and attention combined with a proficient and challenging adventure. There's little I can say against the game which, in turn, is one of the best things I can say in its favour. If you fancy something traditional that isn't entirely predictable then I'd say there's no better choice on Steam than Epic Battle Fantasy 4.