Exist Archive: The Other Side of the Sky Review for PS4 and PS Vita

Posted October 20, 2016 by Josh Brant in Video Games

Developer: Tri-Ace

Publisher: Aksys Games

Release Date: October 18, 2016

Platforms: PS4 (reviewed), PS Vita

Exist Archive: The Other side of the Sky is known as the spiritual successor to the Valkyrie Profile series, and was developed as a collaboration between game companies Spike Chunsoft and Tri-Ace. Many fans of Valkyrie Profile are very excited and hyped for this new title which has a lot of promise from both old and new fans alike. With series veterans Yoshiharu Gotanda and Masaki Norimoto at its helm and Motoi Sakuraba composing the soundtrack, the game’s developers have made their desires to revisit the series clear through this spiritual sequel.

Through The Looking Glass

You know this title is not messing around, as Exist Archive sees the player assume control of a character who dies right at the beginning. This is in no way, shape, or form your typical happy opening. It takes place in a strange futuristic world where natural scenery is blended together with a futuristic setting, making for some beautiful backdrops throughout the course of the game. It also features a gorgeous art style and character design which is straight out of an anime. For instance, there are animated cutscenes featured throughout the game which serve the purpose of advancing the plot.

The plot threads in Exist Archive are initially compelling. It showcases the fragile balance of an uncomfortable stalemate scenario which has no easy answers unless sacrifices are made. Characters’ motivations, ideals, and backgrounds are all conveyed through collectible Essence Crystals providing glimpses of a character personally in a few bits of dialogue. Their relation to other characters and the preexisting conflict are given brief spotlights throughout the game.

Exist Archive is in some ways beautiful and in other ways visually off-putting. Its floating islands and sun-dappled forests are a sight to behold, somewhere between fantastical and grounded in reality. The characters’ striking designs really pop in their artwork, but their in-game models are a strange hybrid of anime sensibilities mixed with a chibi art design. They sport smooth motion capture animation, which unfortunately ends up looking a bit unsettling with their exaggerated proportions.

Similarities Abound

Exploring stages is identical to what the Valkyrie Profile series offered, which incorporated exploration on a 2D plane and leans on platforming mechanics to gain footing on higher platforms. Progressing through the game unlocks more tools to traverse stages easier and gain access to previously unreachable areas. From a double jump, to crystallizing enemies on the field, to use them as propelling boosters, it controls well enough, though the feeling of low gravity takes a bit to get accustomed to.

Presented as a side-scrolling RPG, Exist Archive features a unique style of gameplay that works well compared to many turned based gaming and action JRPG’s. When it comes time to head into battle, each active party member has their abilities tied to a different face button. The sweeping victories you are seeking can be sought after by planning out your character combos wisely, targeting an enemy’s specific weakness, and choosing the right moment to defend. Slashing down multiple enemies with a sweeping sword slash or clearing out an entire field of hostile wildlife with a magical fire shot looks and feels adequate. Upgrading your party members means you will need to rely on a basic AP/equipment usage system, but employing those acquired skills during fights brings out the game’s best mechanics and complexities.

The combat is divided in two different phases: Attack and Defend. The first phase is the attacking phase which deals with the attacks dealt by the party members. All attacks depend on the amount of Ability Points which are available to the player. These points diminish depending on the amount of attacks executed during the attack phase and will automatically replenish in the next turn. After the attack phase ends, you have to deal with the Defend phase, which involves blocking the attacks executed by enemies. In this phase, ability points are used to defend enemy attacks, and since each character can be individually attacked, you have to make sure to only defend the character which is under attack at a given instance.

As fun as the combat can be, unfortunately, you will be seeing the main menu many times in Exist Archive. Here you can utilize Amatsume’s features, speed run boss encounters for items, and access stages for plot or exploration purposes. It’s also the way in which the story is presented. Any time anything is completed in the game, whether it is key events, stages, boss encounters, etc., they will be displayed back into this main menu.

Repetitive Nature

The main problem with exploring this world is that dungeons and combat, suffer from repetitive design. You will notice some sections of dungeons look like they could have been copy and pasted into others, with only a different visual filter to distinguish them from one another. Since it’s technically a new area though, with a different map layout, players will be running around familiar looking vistas, caverns, and platforms time and time again with alternate lighting. It’s a shame, since the endgame areas are all-new environments which introduce more complex map designs, but by then your intrigue into the setting may be lost.

You should also prepare yourself for many game over scenarios due to the difficulty spikes which occur at random times during your adventure. Getting ready for bosses who can clear you out in just a few turns will force you to grind relentlessly. This can definitely cause you to give up exploring the same areas and battling the same bosses repeatedly on your quest to attain a new level. Repetition is definitely a sore spot in Exist Archive for all major categories, but at least most of it is fun and rewarding to pursue.

Overall, Exist Archive: The Other Side of the Sky successfully blends the Valkyrie Profile series’ best characteristics. It adopts its clever mix of side-scrolling dungeon crawling and battle mechanics which lends itself to more action-heavy affairs. The story itself pulls you in with a strong introduction and will keep you going all the way towards its closing moments to see if all 12 personalities make it back home. Unfortunately, like stated before, repetition rears its ugly head with monotonous fetch quests which revisit reused dungeon designs for many hours. However, if you are a fan of RPG’s, you could do worse.

About the Author

Josh Brant

I love God, my family, friends, sports, and the greatest hobby of all: video games! You can reach me on twitter @minusthebrant.