Exist Archive: The Other Side of the Sky Review

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Game Title: Exist Archive The Other Side of the Sky
Developer: Tri-Ace, Aksys Games (Publisher)
Platform: PlayStation Vita
Game Type: Vita
Download: 3.3 GB
NA Availability: Retail | Digital Download
EU Availability: Digital Download

In my long journey through RPGs, I’ve experienced a lot of games. In childhood, I experienced Pokemon Generations 1 and 2. Then came Final Fantasy, Chrono Trigger, Parasite Eve, and Digimon World. Later when being introduced to the PC world, I experienced Fallout 1-2. Later years to come, I came into the world of Kingdom Hearts, Star Ocean, Tales, Valkyrie Profile, and many more.

In those years, I came to love two JRPG developers, one being Square Enix and the other being Tri-Ace. Final Fantasy will always remain my favorite series, but Tri-Ace games really shined for me. The original Valkyrie Profile and its sequel that brought PS3-level graphics to the PS2. Star Ocean 1 and 2 being remade on the PSP along with the addictive Star Ocean 4 on PS3. Not many new Tri-Ace games come out these days, but when they and composer Motoi Sakuraba team up, I take notice.

Their recent teamup is why I’m writing to you today. The newest RPG from Tri-Ace has released on the PS4 and PS Vita, and it sent me through a nostalgia trip. Here is my review of the handheld release of Exist Archive: The Other Side of the Sky!

Story

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Exist Archive revolves around a group of teenagers from Tokyo, Japan. On a seemingly-normal day, natural disasters hit the city and this group disappear from the face of the planet. Some time later, they wake up in a strange world filled with floating islands and crystals. Soon after, they realize they’ve been taken to an alien planet for being holders of the soul of an alien being with virtually no way of ever returning home.

The plot of Exist Archive is interesting, as it shows modern and realistic characters thrown into a fantasy scenario. Tri-Ace has always been good with science fiction, and the plotline really develops well, both as a story on its own and not being too similar to the developer’s previous projects.

Gameplay

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Exist Archive is a bit of an odd duck among other Tri-Ace RPGs. It is a mission-based dungeon-crawler RPG. You’ll be taking on missions as you go through the game, crawling through 2D dungeons and fighting enemies as you explore and reach goals and boss fights.

Progression in the game is mission-based. As the story progresses, more areas begin to unlock that you can go through. Each of these areas takes you through a dungeon leading up to a boss fight. Some of these are story-focused, dubbed “Main” and are used to advance the story. As you go, you also unlock “Free” missions, letting you revisit dungeons to complete side-quests in order to better equip you for future story missions. This is pretty standard from the time you start the game until the very end.

This method of accessing dungeons as well as actual dungeon progression takes a lot of inspiration from the original Valkyrie Profile. Dungeons are side-scrolling and platform-oriented. You move around in each room of the dungeon, trying to find the end area where either a boss or a story scene awaits you. As you go towards it, though, you’ll encounter item capsules, healing pods, teleportation pods, and of course, enemies.

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Enemies float around stages as giant red orbs. Running into one or attacking one as you go through will start up a battle scene. When battles begin, you are placed in a 3D stage with a group of enemies. Combat goes in turns, where you have an Attack Phase, letting your party attack and a Guard Phase, which lets enemies attack and you have to time guards to not take more damage than you have to.

This is also heavily inspired by Valkyrie Profile. When you attack, each character is set to a face button. You have lots of attacks, from magic spells, launch attacks that send enemies flying into the air, slashing attacks, and all of this incorporates timing. One character’s attack can send the enemy flying and if you time your magic attack wrong, it could completely miss them while they’re falling back down to the ground. You have a limited amount of energy per turn, so it’s all on using your energy well for who should attack and how to attack.

The Guard System is also something to take note of. Each turn, you gain energy either to be used for attacks or guards. You can guard every turn before enemies attack you to receive less damage. Or, you can time your guards perfect and get out of taking any damage. Enemies can do this as well, so you have to be careful about attacking guarded enemies without Guard Breaking them to do normal damage again.

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When you finish a battle, you have a normal experience-based system. You gain EXP and can use that to level up and increase your stats. Though you also gain special Skill Points when you level up as well. Skill Points can be used at will to learn offensive and support skills as well as unlocking new classes to further enhance your combat abilities. Remember Sword Art Online: Hollow Fragment’s extensive skill point system? It’s very similar to what is shown in Exist Archive.

Now, with things coming together, fighting all enemies you see as well as doing side-quests are key to keep going in the game. The difficulty increases at a fairly rapid rate, so you can’t just rush through story missions and expect the next to be doable. After a few missions, things start to get harder. The level requirements on story missions are meant to be taken seriously, as bosses start off easy, but will gradually get harder. This is shown early in the game, so it’s easy for you to pick up on and get used to.

As far as length is concerned, expect to spend a few dozen hours on the overall experience. You can easily spend 4-5 hours just in the first couple chapters of the game. A lot goes on from start to finish, and this will keep you busy for quite some time.

Controls

Controlling the game isn’t hard to do. One thing to note is that this game support the PlayStation TV, so players can play on the go or on the big screen. Since Exist Archive doesn’t use the touch screens, there’s no need for extra controls when using a controller.

Moving around in dungeons is done with the Left Analog Stick. The D-Pad is used for navigating menus as well as swapping targets in the middle of combat. The Right Analog Stick isn’t used and the L trigger is used for pulling up the map when navigating a dungeon.

Then, of course, the face buttons are used for various characters in combat. Outside of combat, though, X is used for selecting menu options and Circle for canceling. X is also used for jumping in dungeons and Circle is used for attacking. Triangle can interact with items and warp points. And start can bring up the customization menu.

It’s certainly not standard JRPG format, but it works once you get used to it.

Presentation

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Visually, the game looks really nice. Backgrounds move and some of them look downright beautiful. From the opening scene of the vast world in the background to moving trees when you’re in the forest. The character models look good as well. There’s the occasional jagged edge here and there, but overall, the game looks beautiful.

The main problem here is that the frame-rate isn’t the best. When I played through the first few battles, the fps was nearly perfect. The more I played, however, the more I noticed that the game struggled and hiccups when loading the customization menu and in certain dungeons. It’s certainly not game-breaking, but it shows a clear sign of struggle as you go through the game.

Summary

Exist Archive: The Other Side of the Sky is, if nothing else, the results of Valkyrie Profile being brought into the sci-fi world. The game hiccups and struggles on the Vita, but that doesn’t stop you from enjoying the beautiful world and unique combat system that fans of Tri-Ace are sure to enjoy.

9/10

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