In case you're wondering what I've been busy doing in the past few weeks, I've been playing Exist Archive The Other Side Of The Sky, a game developed by tri-Ace. This game is a Japanese import I have been eager to pick up since it was announced last year. Exist Archive presents itself as the spiritual successor to the Valkyrie Profile series, a series which spawned the legendary Valkyrie Profile 2: Silmeria, my favorite game of all time and naturally I have waited for a sequel (or in this case a pseudo sequel) to this wonderful game for years. So does Exist Archive manage to deliver the same amount of quality that Valkyrie Profile 2 managed to capture?
Well I'm going to get straight to the point and put it bluntly. The answer is unsurprisingly no, it doesn't. So how much quality does this game deliver to us, the player? Well that's what we're going to look into right now aren't we.
Now before I start I want to make all of you aware that comparing Exist Archive to Valkyrie Profile 2 is just plain unfair. How could I possibly compare such games? I mean, Valkyrie Profile 2 is a masterpiece, how could that game be topped? Oh and I'm not saying that as a close minded idiot who is blinded by nostalgia, I'm saying it as a rational individual who is well aware as to how quality is measured up but I will tell you one thing. Exist Archive doesn't seem to realize that sometimes, less is more and believe me, if I told you I didn't get my money's worth out of it, I'd be lying. Exist Archive is an excellent attempt at not only reviving what seemed to be a dead franchise but also refining it to a degree. It's one of those games that tries it's damn hardest to squeeze all the juice it can from what little it has.
Mmm… juicy goodness
However we have to remember that tri-Ace are not independent developer's like they used to be, they are a subsidiary now. Not only that but all of their games with the exception of maybe Judas Code has been published under other companies, like most game development teams so forgive me for having very little sympathy when I say that Exist Archive could have done a lot better.
Or could it? This is a tough question isn't it. We now find ourselves in a whole new territory as Japanese publisher Spike Chunsoft has taken the reigns. Now I don't know very much about Spike Chunsoft (which is probably for the best since most publishers I know are just plain savages towards consumers) aside from the fact that they've published handheld games such as Pokemon Mystery Dungeon.
"It's one of those games that tries it's damn hardest to squeeze all the juice it can from what little it has"
However with this new, lesser known publisher at the helm, it is very difficult to set our expectations high for lesser known publishers tend to be financially unstable. As a result, to expect a localization for this game is absolute fucking bonkers so I bought it off of Play Asia anyways so that I could take a gander for myself and write this review in hopes that I could re-live the experiences of the Valkyrie Profile series once more.
So before I get on with the more intricate points in the review, I want to briefly cover the story. Now first of all, I don't understand a single word of Japanese and although some of the cutscenes manages to make me chuckle somehow, I still don't really get what's going on. However this is not to the game's detriment rather it is my own detriment. As such I can't really recommend this game as a whole to those who cannot speak the language.
The premise (from what I can tell) seems to be the JRPG equivalent of a fantasy world reality TV show which throws a bunch of school kids (and a few older folks) into a fantasy world where they must survive the harsh wilderness infested with monsters designed to look like cutesy chibi plushies (well... some of them). Take this for what you will but I cannot deny that it's quite an original story concept for a JRPG, somewhat ambitious one could say.
Nevertheless, I personally find Japanese depictions of schoolkids to be annoying, plus I find the execution of the early game plot to be somewhat repetitive as it revolves around a recurring plot device known as existence crystals. I'm pretty sure the devs were going for something here but my lack of understanding of the Japanese language left me unable to decipher it's worth.
Now there is a bit of abstract in there. It seems they took a page from Valkyrie Profile 2's book which is admirable. There are optional existence crystals you can interact with in dungeons for some extra dialogue revolving around what appears to be flashbacks of the other characters. A rather innovative and ambitious attempt at developing the characters for sure though as to how well it does, I cannot say. It is nice that they're there though and they appear on your collections screen.
Existence Crystals are essentially the JRPG equivalent of audio logs though to be honest I think it's mostly used as a replacement for Valkyrie Profile 2's einherjar. They are also fully voiced through the PS4's controller. An interesting idea for sure though I kinda feel sorry for those who want to record footage of the game. Nevertheless you have gotta give it to the developers for making the effort as these scenes don't seem to be half-baked.
So overall, regardless of my feelings of the game's story as a whole, I'm going to abstain from making any judgments on it due to my complete and utter lack of understanding of the Japanese language. I do apologize if this bothers you but at least you know whether or not it's worth importing or not if you don't understand Japanese.
Visually the game is quite stunning, once again they have taken a page from Valkyrie Profile 2's book with this one. The level of detail in many of the locations is staggering. The backdrops are also incredible to look at. The enemy designs are quite unusual. One of the enemies looks like Solo from the new Strider, another enemy looks like Ardjet from Zone Of The Enders. There are quite a few enemy designs despite many people's complaints. Some are better looking than others.
Exist Archive suffers from what I like to call Final Fantasy II syndrome, no I'm not talking about the repeated usage of spells to make them stronger and level up, I'm talking about the shameless re-usage of enemies. Like one minute you're in a boss fight against an enemy, the next minute that boss fight becomes a regular enemy in future encounters, usually re-skinned.
In fact I was shaking in fear once I saw the enemy that looked like Solo in a regular battle as that guy kicked my sorry ass when I fought him the first time. Then I kicked his ass and I wondered how he had gotten so weak. Needless to say, he was just a re-used asset. Well Tales Of Phantasia did it too and I didn't complain so I don't think it's too much of an issue.
The biggest problem with Exist Archive's visuals are the character models. Though to be honest we are digging knee-deep into the realm of controversy when we talk about this. A lot of people shunned this game at launch for its Xbox Live Avatar compatibility. I don't know why people showed such disdain at this somewhat innovative feature which allowed me to bring my now short-white haired Xbox live Ava- oh wait... this is PS4 isn't it? How!? Sony, you have a lot to answer for, you stole Microsoft's idea didn't you! On second thoughts... why am I rooting for Moneysoft when I despise them so much?
In all seriousness, let us take time to celebrate the long-awaited return of big head mode! Remember those times where you could enter a cheat into the game and when you activated it your character's head was puffed up like a balloon? Well tri-Ace saved us the trouble and gave us this feature right off the bat. Thanks tri-Ace, you know what we gamer's want. I'm not going to touch on the character models any further because... well I don't mind them. Do you know why? Because I don't nitpick every single little tiny thing about a videogame and base my judgement solely on it! You got that? Good, let's move on.
It’s morphin’ time!
The music in Exist Archive feels somewhat unusual compared with Motoi Sakuraba's usual work. There are some nice tracks in there, some even reminiscent of Valkyrie Profile 2's style. The music that plays in the main hub area at the top of the tower is very relaxing. The dungeon music seems to follow the first Valkyrie Profile's style in the sense that is dynamic and somewhat catchy.
The only issue I have with the game's soundtrack is... well, there's just not enough of it. The bonus soundtrack that came with the game has 11 tracks in it, that's almost half the number of tracks found in the game itself. This is quite worrying. However quality over quantity comes to mind here and I will say for what it's worth, the soundtrack is quite enjoyable nonetheless.
Speaking of quantity over quality, this game doesn't seem to realize when enough is enough when it comes to filler content. I swear you will go through so many dungeons in this game and since the dungeons themselves are mostly re-skins of other dungeons, this can quickly become quite dull at times.
Now to add to this, it is also impossible to save inside a dungeon, rather the game expects you to get through it in one sitting. This can be a bit of a pain for those who have OCD when it comes to fighting every single enemy in the dungeon without a break and after doing it for a significant amount of time, it does get quite tiring after a while. Heck I still haven't finished this game yet whilst writing this.
You can leave the dungeon at any time but if you do…
However I decided to make a start on this review and finish it off when I have finished the game. By the time this review is up, I will have already finished it, so bear in mind that I never review unfinished games... OK, I lied, I did it once with Warhammer 40K Space Marine but I got to the last boss in that game and could never beat him. I promise not to do so again if I can help it.
Now to end this review on a high note, the gameplay of Exist Archive is where I start singing praises. Exist Archive's battle system is reminiscent of the original Valkyrie Profile but with a few ideas from Valkyrie Profile 2 thrown in there too (thank god they brought back the AP gauge, praise be to tri-Ace).
Like Valkyrie Profile, the battle system is turned based and the characters attack using the face buttons. You control every character on the field and can press the menu button (options) to use certain spells and items. Sound similar to Valkyrie Profile doesn't it? Well the similarities end there.
Rather than focusing on comboing enemies, Exist Archive's battle system is more strategic and forces you to think more. Though it may lack the flashiness of Valkyrie Profile 2's combat system, it makes up for with it's simple, yet somewhat intricate combat system which manages to keep players on their toes. There is so much to like about Exist Archive's battle system and so much to cover, so let's get straight to business.
First I'd like to touch on the differences between Valkyrie Profile and Exist Archive's battle system and this lies in the enemy placement and the weapon range. Enemies are all bunched up together. Some are more further apart from others, some are stronger than others. The gauge on the bottom left hand side of the screen (the one shaped like red diamonds) is the demon's greed gauge. To fill it up you have to attack enemies, just like the heat gauge in Valkyrie Profile.
Unlike Valkyrie Profile however, the demon's greed gauge isn't drained when you're not attacking so rather than focusing on chaining your combo's your focus is to target either specific enemies or groups of enemies and deal the most hits and damage.
Attacking multiple enemies simultaneously can help build up your demon's greed faster however it may be important to target specific enemies first, particularly if they are spiked enemies who deal damage to melee. As such, each battle requires a different approach in order to bring in the best results.
Your tactical choice can depend on your setup. Exist Archive is probably the first game of its kind to offer a class system. Yes, much like Final Fantasy V your characters can change classes with other characters by gaining affection with said characters. Gaining affection works similar to private actions in the Star Ocean series... but without the private actions.
The more you battle with people, the higher your affection grows. Eventually once your affection is high enough you will be able to share skills between your party. This is extremely handy as unlike Valkyrie Profile 2 where you had to grind for skills. In this game you pick a skill for each character and once their affection is high enough, everyone will learn each other's skill. Pretty neat if you ask me.
Each class has its ups and downs and it's up to the player to find the right synergy, much like Valkyrie Profile 2. Swords are well-balanced weapons, they're pretty fast and cover a wide area though their damage is pretty average. Katana's deal heavy damage to enemies but cover a shorter range than swords, their attacks vary in speed and their attacks require precision to get the most out of them. Whips however cover a very wide area and can also deal multiple hits to enemies, they're great for gaining heat but they're not very powerful.
In addition to melee weapons, there are ranged weapons. These are mostly gun-based classes and are used to attack enemies from afar. This can be useful for breaking an enemy's guard with a barrage of hits allowing you to avoid getting intercepted. They can also be useful at hitting spiked enemies as they won't take damage when attacking unlike melee.
Mage classes are based on multiple elements. These are fire, ice, wind and lightning. Fire magic deals the most damage to single targets, wind magic is often best for dealing with multiple enemies. Lightning mages deal decent damage but also have de-buffs which can be handy. Ice mages have buffs and are mostly single target casters like fire mages.
Your current setup not working out for you? Time for a class change!
You can't rely on a single class type throughout the entire game, you will need to experiment with multiple class combinations and find what works for you. The class change system allows you to bring your favorite characters into the party and change their class on the fly, keeping their levels and demons greed. The class system could be seen as detrimental to those who want the characters to have more individuality but if that doesn't bother you, it's a pretty cool addition.
Once you reach a certain point in the game you are able to access a new feature called greed mode. I love greed mode, more games should have greed mode. Heck I think games should also provide the same level of empowerment and challenge that greed mode offers. Rather than forcing players to grind for power leveling, greed mode gives a higher rate of chain encounters. This means you have one long battle of up to 5 encounters stacked on top of one another.
You can make this faster than simply fighting multiple battles by conserving your AP and demon's greed for the next battle which allows you to end it quicker. At the end of the battle gauntlet, you are given bonus experience for your efforts, the higher the chain encounter, the more xp you acquire.
This can make you very powerful very quickly without the need to grind. Sadly this doesn't manage to completely counteract my OCD when it comes to fighting every single enemy in my path. Nevertheless it is a wonderful addition to the game which more games should employ. Consider it a revamped version of Star Ocean 4's bonus board but better in every way.
However greed mode isn't all fun and games. Once you are in greed mode, you are unable to heal up your party with spells/items. So you will have to survive a gauntlet of monsters without healing making it kinda like a risk/reward gimmick. It can make battles a lot more exhilarating though when you know there are more battles to come and you have to survive them all by taking minimal damage. One way to reduce damage is by guarding.
Guarding in Exist Archive is extremely important, unlike Baten Kaitos and Eternal Sonata however, you do not have to time it perfectly. Instead Guards last for a certain period of time and continue until you are guard braked. When you are guard braked you may re-instigate the guard but only at the cost of AP. So you have to guard sparingly as it otherwise will cost you precious AP which you can use to get demon's greed.
However Guarding proves especially useful for farming drops as there is yet another feature in the game's battle system. The risk gauge. Your risk gauge is depicted as a number in a similar fashion to the d-ratio in Breath Of Fire Dragon Quarter. When you accumulate red gems, instead of replenishing charge time or replenishing AP, red orbs increase the drop rate of items through the risk gauge. The better you time your attacks and combo your enemies well, the higher the risk you obtain as well as the chance to gain drops.
This replaces Valkyrie Profile 2's breaking feature which was awesome but sadly it's no longer present in this game. Regardless, the risk gauge will carry over between battles. As such it feels even closer to the bonus board from Star Ocean 4 in the sense that if you get hit by an attack you didn't block or get intercepted by a guarding enemy, you have a chance to get a bonus break which reduces your risk gauge and also any magic crystal XP gains to zero which you don't want to happen.
With proper timing, you are able to intercept enemy attacks by guarding.
As such you are encouraged to block quite often in Exist Archive, however not all attacks can be blocked through normal means. Magic attacks and breath attacks can pierce your blocks. I'm not sure but I think I heard there was a skill that allowed you to block magic attacks but I'm not all that sure as I couldn't read the Japanese text properly. Just something to keep in mind.
"The better you time your attacks and combo your enemies well, the higher the risk you obtain as well as the chance to gain drops"
So all in all, the risk gauge and greed mode manages to keep players on their toes in battle and makes battles all the more intense and rewarding. In addition to drop rate increase, by increasing your risk gauge to a high enough percentage, you are also eligible for title drops. These drops are enhanced versions of regular drops which have additional factors and bonuses.
There are two tiers of these drops, title and title rank. Title rank is simply a better version of a title drop as it enhances stats or applies extra factors to your equipment to make it more powerful. As such, it's rather satisfying and quite rewarding to get new drops. Better yet, unlike Valkyrie Profile, the weapons actually have cosmetic alterations too which is cool.
The skill system of Exist Archive is reminiscent of the first Valkyrie Profile as it allows you to put points into skills rather than learning from equipment runes like in Valkyrie Profile 2. The skills themselves however are rather interesting. Rather than simply boosting stats, skills can be used to alter certain actions in battle. Each skill is split into categories and you can equip 1 skill in each category. For example, defensive skills alter your guarding ability and offensive skills add modifiers to certain attacks to give them extra hits etc.
Shopping in Exist Archive works like Valkyrie Profile. This would be rather sad if it wasn't for the premise of the game. As such, it makes sense that they wouldn't include conventional shops like other RPGs. Instead you shop in the main hub where you can buy items from Amatsume using a currency you gain from selling items you acquire from enemies (AMP). The items you can buy are mostly potions and usually outdated equipment. I kinda find shopping to be pointless in this game aside from replenishing your potion supply but at least it gives you a place to dump all your unneeded loot which is nice considering the fact that there is an inventory cap.
Seriously of all the games to do this, why does a game like Exist Archive have an inventory limit? It's just annoying to have to constantly be removing items from my inventory after every battle just to fit new ones in. Can't we just have a bottomless inventory like most RPGs? I mean why does this game of all things try to be realistic when it comes to inventory storage when it has you fighting dancing plushies which explode on contact and pull out giant pots which shoot bullets at you right out of their mouths? It's nothing more than a painful ordeal that I tire of having to constantly deal with.
Anyways back to the battle system. Like I mentioned before, you can stack up to 4 demon's greed attacks (one for each character) and they can be activated by pressing the L2 button at any moment during an attack. Your demon's greed is reset after every battle. However like I mentioned before, your demon's greed gauge doesn't reset after a combo so you can save it for when you need it, should you choose to do so. As such, unlike in Valkyrie Profile, you cannot chain your special attacks if you only have 1 crystal lit up as you can only use 1 character's special attack. However if you rise it to 4 crystals (which is maximum) you can use all 4 of your characters attacks in any order you choose.
This can be really handy in chain encounters as it doesn't reset after each wave. Oh and in case you didn't already realize, yes your demon's greed attacks are essentially the replacement of soul crushes/purify weird soul attacks from the Valkyrie Profile series and whilst they aren't as flashy as Valkyrie Profile 2's soul crushes, they're still pretty cool to look at. I love how all the special attacks summon part of the god's power stored inside each character.
Button mashing is fun… but Namero takes it a bit too far…
Combat aside, the game's platforming sections are handled quite well in this game. As you progress through the story, you will unlock more actions you can use to reach certain areas in the map (as well as other features found throughout the game).
The platforming seems to follow Valkyrie Profile 2's style but rather than using photons to solve puzzles, Exist Archive allows you to transform enemies into come kind of boost mechanism, kinda like the cannon barrels in Donkey Kong which shoot you in the direction you choose.
Ultimately, the gameplay for me was the most stand-out feature in Exist Archive and that is never a bad thing. It's a shame I was unable to truly experience the game to its fullest especially considering the story-driven nature of this game. I can only hope that this game was successful enough to warrant localizing it later down the line. There are so many scenes that looked interesting but because I couldn't understand what was going on in them, I feel like I only played through half of a game which probably damaged my review in the process.
Oh and one more thing, I notice that this game has a few bugs here and there. The devs have been working to patch them. The only bug I encountered was at the end of battle where I pressed the demon's greed button right before the battle ended and I was stuck on the results screen. Just something you might want to bare in mind.
Nevertheless, this game has given me a lot to write about and although the budget constraints have caused to fall short in some areas, I still think it stands up as an enjoyable RPG and a great homage to the Valkyrie Profile series. If anything, this game is a message to Square-Enix telling them that Valkyrie Profile is far from dead and that they should continue it.
I strongly recommend this game if you can understand Japanese and enjoyed Valkyrie Profile. If you cannot understand Japanese and are intrigued by the gameplay, I’d say it’s worth a try too as I got my money’s worth out of it. If you’re not a fan of Valkyrie Profile and can’t speak Japanese, I doubt you’ll care to pick up this game and no matter how much I try to convince you to, If you can’t understand Japanese, there’s no point.
Story/plot: Didn't understand a word of it... but I'm sure it's fascinating
Lifespan: Decent Length (but most of it is filler)
Would You Replay? Maybe
Overall: Great (from what I understood of it)