"Sadly, while bright spots like the level art, musical scoring, and item crafting left me intrigued, they were all but completely overshadowed by the rest of the game’s defects."
Epic Quest of the 4 Crystals has many of the things that made older JRPGs so appealing: detailed dungeons to explore, unique monsters to battle, and a soundtrack that distracts from the game’s more tedious moments. But it also relies on some of the worst tendencies of those games, including awkward writing and a story that forgoes developing characters or the plot in favor of endless grind sessions.
The game eschews a three act structure but with nothing to replace it. The starting town is full of NPCs to talk to while the rest of the game is nearly devoid of human contact by comparison. With the exception of exposition dumps mid way through the game and towards the end, players will spend the majority of time hurtling themselves at an impoverished variety of monsters and far too many dead-ends.
Preceded by three previous games, Epic Quest is the latest in a trend of shrinking ambition on the part of developer RosePortal. While earlier titles like Whisper of a Rose and Sweet Lily Dreams were longer and more involved, Epic Quest is, despite the name, decidedly smaller in scope.
As the player, you’re tasked with chaperoning four poorly established caricatures through a series of distinct caves and climates, in search of four magical crystals. Theodore, and his childhood friend Sarah, are caught up in a tide of world changing events when the “Empire” comes knocking at their village’s doorstep, forcing them to flee and find out just what exactly the emperor is up to and how they can stop him.
Epic Quest is billed as an intelligent parody of classic RPGs, and occasionally the game lives up to that promise. Genre tropes like the ever convenient traveling merchant are called out by in-game characters, whose explanations amuse less through wit than by the sheer weight of their absurdity. The characters are also prone to making fun of the predictable journey they find themselves on. Clever up to a point, the game’s attempts to subvert its own derivative story can't hide the overall superficial player experience. Strip away the four-wall-breaking banter and knowing winks and Epic Quest reveals itself to be a perfect example of the one-note RPG it likes to make fun of, something no amount of charming art and nostalgic presentation can hide.
Taking place over a range of environments, from magical academies to giant mushroom filled valleys, it’s clear the game's levels were imaginatively designed. An array of handcrafted assets placed throughout these areas make them feel original and lived-in. Unfortunately, it’s not clear that there’s anyone actually living there. After the game’s starting village, every other location is inhabited only by the player and a sea of enemies.
With few individual monster types stalking any given area, and even fewer effective means of dispatching them, battles quickly descend into mindless repetition. Despite a each character's seemingly diverse repertoire of abilities, only a handful are truly worth employing, leading to an endless cycle of déjà vu. Though monsters appear on the map as patrolling wisps of black smoke, and can often be avoided if the player chooses to do so, the extreme difficulty of mandatory boss fights makes it fruitless to do so.
In the absence of skill trees or more than a single equipment slot, the only real customizability afforded the player is a momentarily intriguing crafting system. The otherwise useless loot dropped by enemies can be combined with traditional items like potions and ethers to bestow them with secondary buffing effects. But the system is woefully underdeveloped, more useful as a means for occasionally staving off boredom than mixing concoctions which might drastically change the course of battles.
Sadly, while bright spots like the level art, musical scoring, and item crafting left me intrigued, they were all but completely overshadowed by the rest of the game’s defects. A lack of substance and uneven pacing means that far too little content is spread over far too much space and time. Hours can be spent battling through dungeons with only two or three lines of dialogue to break up the affair before plunging into the next maze of enemies.
That’s not to say that diehard fans of classic, old-school RPGs (of the early 16-bit era and before) won’t find many things to like in Epic Quest. Just that every bit of pleasure to be gleaned from this game must be diligently fought for. Many who pick up Epic Quest for the 4 Crystals will have to put far more into the game than they’ll ever get back out of it.