Exist Archive: The Other side of the Sky is the latest work by Japanese developer Spike Chunsoft with some assistance from Tri-Ace, who are well known for their Valkyria Profile and Star Ocean series.
Exist Archive sees the player assume control of a character who dies right at the beginning. Sounds weird? Well, for starters, 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 feature a gorgeous art style and character design that is straight out of an anime. Speaking of which, there are animated cutscenes featured throughout the game that serve the purpose of advancing its plot.
The most appealing aspect of Exist Archive is that it feels like the closest thing to a spiritual successor to Valkyria Profile, as the battle system and the exploration are inspired by the latter series. Players have the ability to attack their opponents by pressing a button and each of the party members is assigned one of the DualShock 4 face buttons that can be pressed to start a chain of attacks.
As explained earlier, the game begins with the death of the main cast of characters that appear to die in an explosion in Tokyo. The circumstances surrounding their death and their purpose remain a mystery and it is slowly uncovered throughout the story. Without spoiling much, they are essentially stuck in a Limbo where they have to come to terms with their death back on Earth.
Exist Archive is not a traditional role-playing game in terms of exploration. Since the game was developed by former Valkyria Profile developers, they appear to have taken a lot of inspiration from their past work and this can be seen in the exploration section as well. The player can move to the left and right side of the screen like in a platformer on a 2D plane. This segment also feels Metroidvania-like with its cut-off sections that can’t be explored until you gain more abilities, such as Double Jump. There are items scattered throughout the world map, which have to be unlocked in percentage terms. Unlocking and uncovering more parts of the map rewards the player with items.
The battles can be triggered by getting in touch with enemies during exploration. Just like it is the case in other action RPGs, we can get the upper hand on an enemy by attacking it first instead of a head-on collision. Enemies are represented on the map in the form of floating red blobs that chase after the player.
The battle system is actually quite fun once you get used to it. Attacks are executed with button presses and their usage depends on the amount of ability points that are accumulated by the party. Each button press basically puts character attacks in a queue based on the sequence in which they were triggered. The characters begin executing their attacks in succession, which can also lead to chain combos. Building a successful chain combo is fun and there is a large variety of attacks, allowing for potentially greater mix up combos.
The combat is divided in two different phases. The first phase is the attacking phase which deals with the attacks dealt by the party members. All attacks depend on the amount of AP (ability points) that 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 that is under attack at a given instance.
There are around 12 characters that gradually join the party as the story progresses. What makes them fun to use is that each has their own unique set of skills and attacks that can help in chaining new combo attacks. The characters also have their own specialty with weapons. Kanata uses a sword as his main attack while Mitsuhide uses a gun. Timing the button presses for enemy encounters can keep the combo chain going longer.
The game is available for the PS Vita and PS4. It also offers cross-save functionality between both versions. Unfortunately, without any cross-buy, this is a rather expensive purchase if you want to utilize this feature as you will have to buy the game individually on each of the platform. In terms of visual differences, the art style truly shines on the PS4 with gorgeous character models and backgrounds that are rendered in native 1080p. The PS Vita version also looks great but lacks the clarity seen in the PS4 version, but with the advantage of portability. You choice between either version will largely depend on how you prefer to play long-term RPGs.
While Exist Archive offers plenty of customization options, a fun battle system and an intriguing storyline, it is often held back by some restrictions. The battle system, while fun to use, can get repetitive with the same enemy encounters. The level design gives the impression that plenty of the asset work is recycled for use in later levels, and this is where the game starts showing signs of its lower-budget.
Exist Archive: The Other Side of the Sky is available now for the PS4 and PS Vita. It was developed by Spike Chunsoft and published by Aksys Games. This review covers the PS4 and PS Vita version of the game.
Exist Archive: The Other Side of the Sky Review (PS4/PSV)
Exist Archive: The Other Side of the Sky feels like the spiritual successor to Valkyria Profile series, but without the added depth and complexity of the story and characters. Those who were hoping for a good action RPG can still have an enjoyable experience.