Let us take a step back for a moment and rewind time for just a bit. Sixteen years ago, developer tri-Ace released a RPG on the original PlayStation - Valkyrie Profile. It would soon become one of the most beloved classics in the realm of RPGs not only for its intriguing premise and characters, but also for its unconventional gameplay systems. Even though Valkyrie Profile received a few sequels, nothing seemed to quite nail what made the original one so special.
While not Valkyrie Profile in name, tri-Ace and Spike Chunsoft’s Exist Archive: The Other Side of the Sky is certainly aiming to scratch the itch that series has left. 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.
Exist Archive’s story starts off on a grim note; a mysterious accident hits modern day Tokyo and a few of the protagonists get wrapped up in it as unfortunate casualties. Death is only the beginning of their troubles though. The main hero, Kanata, wakes up in the lush planet of Protolexa after his untimely passing on Earth and meets an enigmatically gentle amnesiac, Mayura.
An evil god by the name of Yamatoga is attempting to resurrect himself; pieces of his soul are scattered in the 12 unlucky humans that were transported to Protolexa and granted all of them immortality as a result. Protolexa’s guardian, Amatsume, has the power to guide the people back to Earth, but wants to prevent Yamatoga’s resurrection at all costs on that planet. Meanwhile, the leader of the antagonistic Chasseur faction, Zenobia, wishes to see Yamatoga’s goal come through to fulfill her own agenda.
The plot threads in Exist Archive are initially compelling. It showcases the fragile balance of a stiff stalemate scenario that 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 again and again throughout the game.
Exist Archive’s conceptual design in writing is all fascinating. The pillars are there to support a strong foundation, but its presentation points to where the cracks are. What starts out as a promising tale filled with deceptive hooks soon turns to a gigantic fetch quest for Amatsume. In his search for the other humans on Protolexa, Kanata and the other party members are reduced to seeking random Essence Crystals to enhance Amatsume’s power to send them back home.
A few party members also suffer from joining so late into the game that I found it difficult to care about them as well. While the main story does eventually become engaging in its final chapters, the journey there is a slog. Thankfully, the constant cutscenes of character interaction greatly help in making the trip there entertaining; there’s a handful of characters that play well with one another.
Players will be seeing the main menu a lot in Exist Archive; they 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 be key events, stages, boss encounters and so on, they’ll be dumped back into this main menu.
Exploring stages is, as you’d expect, identical to what the Valkyrie Profile series offered - a 2D plane that 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 floatiness of the character takes a bit to get accustomed to.
Navigating areas has honestly been an unpleasant experience though. One of Exist Archive’s major downfalls is its heavily repetitive environmental design. Though the map menu labels different places in Protolexa’s regions, they’re nothing more than reskins of a pool of environments just in different times of the day or a weather effect applied to it. Since it’s technically a “new” place though with a new map layout, players will be running around familiar looking vistas, caverns, and platforms again and again with alternate lighting. It’s a shame too since the endgame areas are all-new environments that introduced more complex map designs, but it was way too late.
Exist Archive does excel in providing a visual treat though. Its color palette is vibrant and meshes contrasting colors in a pleasing way; the costumes of its cast particularly stands out with persistent neon color exemplified in their portrait. Suzaku’s outfit comes to mind in which character designer Mino Taro playfully displays how how clothing design can convey a character in unique ways. Thus, it was disappointing to see the relatively basic doll-like 3D models of the characters; they’re lackluster, but serviceable and their battle animations make them a tad adorable at times.
Speaking of its battle system, tri-Ace has also taken the formula of Valkyrie Profile’s combat DNA and expands it in intelligent ways within Exist Archive. Battles take place with up to four members assigned a face button; they take up arms with their Xeno Factors thanks to Yamatoga’s power. Turns are split into Attack and Guard Phases and an action bar dictates the amount of times a player can unleash attacks or defend against incoming attacks; this bar replenishes in between phases.
Players can configure a character’s attack string in relation to their class-type. Most classes are able to execute three different attacks while mages can only assign one attack to a face button, but they have full access to their arsenal via the magic menu during battle.
Exist Archive’s battle tempo is aggressively delightful. Characters, aside from mages, are allowed to attack as many times as they want as long as the action bar has not been completely depleted. It accommodates a wide variety of playstyles that players are free to experiment with endlessly. Battle formations can be rotated mid-combat with characters at the front more prone to attacks while those at the rear are obviously less prone to getting hit at the expense of reduced attack power.
Attacking and overkilling enemies carry a lot of benefits as well. Special super attacks called Demon’s Greed have their own separate gauge in which several can be stocked at once and fired off in quick succession. Experience crystals can also drop from additional hits that raise the experience multiplier at the end of combat encounters. Item drop rates and the Risk item-quality multiplier can also be more easily increased on downed foes that are continually being hit; think of item drop rates & Risk as opposite sides of a coin. One affects the probability that an item will drop while the other influences the quality of the drop.
Much like its repeated environments, enemy designs also suffer from largely being recolors of the same creatures once more. They also have recycled attack movesets and patterns that hit slightly harder.
There’s also a Learning feature that weaves characters’ affections with one another toward a probability that they inherit a skill from another person they’re on favorable terms with. This opens up the ability to not only switch classes, but also learn that class’s moveset, attack extensions, and support skills as well. This allows players to allocate skill points into completely different things for characters and eventually have all of them learn from one another in a domino-like fashion.
Fiddling with the inventory is a bit of a nightmare in this game. Though Amatsume eventually opens up a shop with basic equipment, the primary way of upgrading weapons, armors, and accessories all depends on upkeeping the bonuses that the drop rate and Risk provide throughout consecutive battles. This means that every time you complete a dungeon that you’ve fought a lot in, expect a gigantic pile of weapons, armors, and accessories to wade through and checking to see if there’re any worthwhile upgrades to your current setup for each character.
This would be a whole lot easier to bear if the game had more quality-of-life options that perhaps let players sell items in dungeons. There is an option for a character to automatically equip optimized items, but it’s unreliable when aiming for a specific stat to boost or equipping proper defenses against specific ailments or enemy types. I usually had to spend an additional 5-10 minutes after every dungeon to make sure my offensive and defensive arsenal were always the best that they could be..
The English voice acting does a splendid job bringing out each character’s personality, though Yamatoga and Mitsuhide’s performances particularly stood out to me. There is also a Japanese voice option too for those who want to listen to the original voices. You really can’t go wrong one way or the other. Almost every piece of dialogue is voice acted too!
It’s important to note that the game’s PlayStation 4 version runs at 60fps, while its PlayStation Vita counterpart is capped at 30fps. Visuals between both are almost identical, though the Vita exhibits slightly longer loading times in some cases. Exist Archive lends itself well to gaming on-the-go as a dungeon run can be knocked out in 30-45 minutes usually.
I found Exist Archive: The Other Side of the Sky to be a lovely little RPG that rides on the wings of Valkyrie Profile despite noticeable flaws. Its narrative hooks are undeniably riveting as it presents an unconventional premise of a flimsy stalemate that’s ready to break down at a moment’s notice. With a fast-paced battle system accompanied by 2D platforming sections, this successor to Valkyrie Profile is a fairly good game barred down by a monotonous overall fetch quest that revisits reused dungeon designs for many hours.
Versions tested: PlayStation 4
Disclaimer: A copy of this game was provided to RPG Site by the publisher.