Exist Archive: The Other Side of the Sky is a JRPG developed by Spike Chunsoft and Tri-Ace and published by Aksys Games. Even though Spike Chunsoft was involved, you can tell this is mainly a Tri-Ace game as soon as you start playing. For those who don’t know, Tri-Ace are a popular game company known for RPG classics such as Star Ocean and Valkyrie Profile. Exist Archive is meant to be a spiritual successor to the Valkyrie Profile games, and while neither of us have played them, we understand the significance of the series coming back at least in some way after years of being dormant. While Exist Archive is a standalone game to any of Tri-Ace’s previous games, there are many elements that were designed as a love letter to Tri-Ace fans, and you can really see how passionate the developers were while making this. The real question is, though: Does every interesting idea work well, and is it a good game at the end of the day?
Brett, Played on PS4:
When I first heard we were getting to play the new Tri-Ace game, I was internally psyched. Their recent pedigree alone, including being responsible for two of my favorite games last generation in Resonance of Fate and Final Fantasy XIII-2, is enough to get me giddy anytime I see their name attached to a project. I even got a brief little heart attack when it was reported they were acquired by a mobile gaming company, fearing they wouldn’t be making console games again.
Because of this, saying I’m thankful for this game’s very existence, pun completely intended, is a bit of an understatement. Their flair for stylish, fun gameplay mixed with the currently on-fire SpikeChunsoft’s penchant for quality storytelling and character work seems like a match made in heaven for any RPG fan, and Exist Archive, for all intents and purposes, seemed like a sure bet to be this year’s Lost Dimension, an out-of-nowhere surprisingly brilliant RPG that would (again) fill the void left by Persona 5’s delay.
At first glance, it does fill that void incredibly well. The PS4 version is absolutely gorgeous to look at, for starters, with breathtaking environments that still mesh well with the chibified character models. Everything moves at a crisp, consistent framerate as well, with only some slowdown when there’s a ton of attacks and effects happening at once. The character designs are also pretty well done, and special shoutout has to go to Suzaku’s utterly ridiculous cut-out skull face shirt. Seriously, who comes up with these things, and how can I send them a rose and a box of chocolates?
For the most part, I enjoyed the sound design as well. Motoi Sakuraba is back, as usual when it comes to Tri-Ace titles, and his signature sound certainly helps add some energy to the game, especially in the side-scrolling platformer bits of it. The dub was handled quite well, too, with some pretty big names like Wendee Lee and Patrick Seitz turning in great performances. With more and more arguably bigger titles not getting dubbed in this day and age, seeing a smaller title like this end up with such a good quality dub is a pretty wonderful thing.
Starting off, the gameplay itself is pretty fun, with 12 individual party members, each with their own unique styles and weaponry. There are tons of different skills to learn and upgrade as well as character classes, and the amount of options you have to customize your characters’ loadouts are rather staggering at times. The 2D dungeon crawling is pretty fun as well, and the levels almost beg for repeat playthroughs given the map exploration gimmick, similar to Final Fantasy XIII-2’s take on cartography.
Despite all these positives though, nearly every area of the game runs into the same issue: It’s just all too repetitive. The dungeons, while gorgeous, reuse the same maps and design assets far too often. The music for a good chunk of the dungeons and battles, especially early on, are the same couple of songs that go from good to just static after a while. Battle strategy doesn’t really have a reason to change that much, and once you’ve found a team you enjoy, there’s really no reason to switch characters out aside from maxing out Affection rankings. As an extra nitpick, the extended battle animation is unable to be turned off, making it one of the more annoying things about random battles in the game.
The most disappointing thing, though, is that the story and characters just didn’t suck me in at all. Usually I can find at least one character to latch onto even in the most mundane of stories, but it just wasn’t happening here. No one is necessarily bad or anything, but no one really stood out either, aside from their VA’s performances.
The story takes its sweet time really getting going as well, and while I’m usually pretty patient with long, slow-burning JRPGs, those also usually have a character or two I can preoccupy myself with loving while waiting on the story to kick in. That’s part of what made Resonance of Fate work so well, to use another Tri-Ace example. That story took ages to truly kick in, but the interplay between Vashyron, Leanne, and Zephyr made the wait much more tolerable, and sadly, nothing like that really happens in Exist Archive. It’s not even that the writing or anything is particularly bad. It just sort of… Exists, really.
At the end of the day, all I can really say is that Exist Archive can be a pretty fun game if you can get past the just-there story and the repetitiveness of literally everything else. It doesn’t quite reach the high standards I’d set for it, and I definitely can’t recommend it to everyone, but if you’re a hardcore RPG fan, it’s at least worth a try.
Cullen, Played on PS VITA:
My opinion on this game ended up being a bit more positive than Brett’s, but I can still definitely point out that this game is far from perfect. I was looking forward to this one for a while, since most niche JRPGs that miraculously get localized usually catch my eye. Action RPGs especially usually interest me, as it’s nice to get a break from the turn-based combat system that so many RPGs stick to, and Tri-Ace is able to beautifully merge both kinds of gameplay in a way that has interested me for a while. I’ve been really wanting to play Valkyrie Profile on PS1 or PSP for years, but the high price that physical copies go for and the lack of a digital version on PSN have kept me from enjoying what I have been told is a hallmark of RPG excellence from the 90’s. I’ve enjoyed some of their other games, but the Valkyrie Profile series in particular have interested me the most, and hearing that Tri-Ace was working with Spike Chunsoft to make a spiritual successor to those games got me pretty excited. I enjoyed this game a lot, even though I can say that it has its fair share of flaws.
The story is something I really enjoyed and has a premise I don’t think I’ve ever seen in a game. The protagonist Kanata Kujo and 11 other youths die during an explosion in modern day Tokyo and awaken in a world called “Protolexa”. They are possessed by a deity named Yamatoga, and are given the power to battle the monsters in this world and find their way home. Without spoiling too much, I can say I really enjoyed the story and characters in Exist Archive. Kanata was refreshing as a protagonist, as he didn’t just feel like another bland, “trapped in parallel world” main character that is loved by all and is good at everything. At first glance, he seemed like he could’ve been generic, but he was written well enough that I enjoyed his input to the plot. I really liked the entire cast, even if it took me a while to warm up to certain characters (I’m looking at you, Ren). The pacing was slow, and it takes a couple of hours for significant things to actually happen, but I felt it was worth it. With great characters, a well-written story, and multiple endings, you’ll have plenty of hours of quality content to keep you interested.
The exploration of this game takes place in MetroidVania-style levels that you access through quests in a menu, and while there you can attack enemies on the map to get into battles. Battles take place in a half turn-based, half combo-based battle system where each of your four characters have actions associated with a face button. There are two phases, Attack and Guard. During the Attack Phase, you are on the offensive and the enemies are on the defensive, and during the Guard Phase it’s the opposite. Attacking and guarding take up a certain amount of ability points, and when you use them all up it goes to the next phase. It’s always really fun to see what combinations work out against enemies, and proper strategy is vital to surviving the hard fights in this game. If there’s one negative about the battle system that I had to point out, it’s that if you kill an enemy during a combo string and have extra attacks set up, you just end up losing those extra attacks since there’s no enemy to use them on. While this did have me playing more strategically, it took me out of the immersion every time it happens. Slow pacing also affects the gameplay, and not necessarily in a good way. It takes around 8 hours for you to get abilities that expand how you can explore environments (like double jumps, slides, etc.), and it means that the first few hours can be a bit of a drag if you don’t have patience.
The presentation is absolutely incredible on this title, and both audio and visual design are on point. The game looked gorgeous on Vita, and while it only runs at 30fps, it still felt really smooth. The environments are so unique and feel alive, and while the 3D models seem a bit cartoonish at first, I was able to adjust to them quickly. There is sadly slowdown in battle on the Vita version when attacking large amounts of enemies at once, but it wasn’t bad enough to take me out of the experience in my opinion. The music was absolutely beautiful, and seemed to call back to an older era of game music while still feeling futuristic and perfectly matching the tone of being trapped in a foreign world. I was actually very surprised to see that this game had gotten an English dub, and while it wasn’t the best I’ve heard from Aksys, I think it’s still a solid dub. Since it has dual audio, I was switching between them quite frequently, and it’s hard to really say whether one is definitely better than the other.
While the positives are pretty numerous, I think it’s also important to focus on my personal negatives for this game. The game expects you to go through a rather lengthy tutorial, which could have been better implemented into the story than it was. Even after that, there’s still a lot that the game expects you to figure out on your own, and I’m not sure if I despise that as a mechanic or just was bummed that there were things I didn’t figure out by myself. For example, it took me 10 hours to figure out that you could buy and upgrade skills and classes with points that you gain from leveling up. I definitely wouldn’t want the system simplified to the point where it ends up being easy, but I feel certain aspects could have been conveyed just a tad better. The difficulty also spikes rather randomly at times, and it felt that every time I was in a groove my party would get wiped and I’d have to restart a quest. It was like for every two good things I would discover about this game there’d be one minor crappy thing that I just couldn’t overlook.
All in all, I enjoyed this game despite its flaws. You’ll need to be very patient with it, but I think the payoff is an enjoyable JRPG you’ll be able to sink hours into. It’s surely not for everyone, but if you are able to get past a couple of annoyances here and there, there’s a lot of heart to this game. It’s a very ambitious game that takes a lot of risks, and while it doesn’t succeed in everything it attempts to do, I still found myself loving the world and characters presented to me.
- Exist Archive is better than Star Ocean V, but isn’t as good as Valkyrie Profile (I’m going to assume here).
- If you get Addicted to this, join me in my search for a cheap copy of Valkyrie Profile! I mean… there has to be one out there right… right?
- A better name for this game would be There’s an Angry Asshole in My Head and He Sounds Like Dio. Help!
- Buy/Rent/Avoid: I’d say buy this game if you are able to be patient with a JRPG that takes its sweet time establishing itself.
- Brett may lie to you and tell you Suzaku is the best girl. You might be inclined to believe him too, but he’s wrong. Follow in his footsteps, and you will be lead astray down a path of horrible girls. Who do you ask, is best girl? Mayura, Mayura is indeed best girl.