In a lot of Japanese RPGs as of late, the typical aim of the main characters is to make their way towards a titular goal or defy their predestined fate, but usually always that happens when they’re alive and kicking. That isn’t the case in developer tri-Ace’s latest JRPG Exist Archive: the Other Side of the Sky, in which the entire cast finds out they’re already dead. So how does that happen, you might ask?
If this idea seems somewhat similar vaguely in concept to another one of their franchises, namely Valkyrie Profile, you’re right on the money as it borrows from that series in both the general idea in terms of ideas, gameplay mechanics, and general look to an extent. The game begins with a boy named Kanata dying from a accident in Tokyo, where he’s suddenly absorbed up by a bright light along with others who also died.
He finds himself on a strange, foreign land made up of floating platforms with a futuristic-looking tower as its center. He then learns that they’re in a limbo of sorts that souls pass through after their death. The surprise comes in the fact that the mysterious deity Yamatoga has embedded part of himself in each of the 12 people you’ll be playing as during the game. He wants to rise again and he’s aiming to use you to do that, but he needs your help to fight off the invading monsters. So besides finding out more about the world itself, part of the near 40-hour campaign is centered around determining Yamatoga’s true motives.
The issue I had with Exist Archive’s plot, however, is that it doesn’t flow naturally like you’d expect in most JRPGs. In most games of that genre, you have cutscenes scattered throughout as necessary where it makes sense. In Exist Archive, there’s exceptionally large sections of dialogue followed by dungeon treks, then repeated. Further, the actual narrative felt about half of the length mentioned earlier, with the other portion being character-driven. I loved how well the characters were developed in these sequences, but because they’re not interwoven into the main narrative and the developers obviously can’t expect the player to have seen them during normal gameplay, it’s not woven into those sequences.
The combat mechanics, as you’d expect from the previous Valkyrie Profile comparisons, also hearken back to that game as well. The mechanics in general revolve around energy — any action you take uses up some degree of it, which is replenished beginning upon your next defensive turn. This includes attacking, defending, and using items.
Like Valkyrie Profile, each of your four characters brought into battle are mapped to one of the PS4 or Vita’s face buttons. You launch an attack by pressing each button, so timing the presses becomes important to maximize your attack damage potential. There’s also a super move meter that pauses the battle and launches an attack that hits the entire range of enemy forces at once, which can chain up to four super moves at a time if you maximize its potential properly. The catch is that the meter is depleted when you’re attacked during your defensive turn by the enemy, so it becomes a battle of determining when best to use the gauge based on the enemy’s movements.
The issue some may have with the battles, at least on the enemy side of things, is that the encounters never feel like they branch out of the same repetitive nature they begin with. You fall into the same trappings of building up the meter and saving the super moves for the right moment to turn the tide of battle. Some battles, namely boss battles, change this up with increased HP and stats per usual JRPG trappings, but it’s the same old song and dance throughout.
On the flip side, however, the characters themselves don't fall into the same issue. While they have the typical anime-inspired look a lot of the JRPG these days are going with, they have their own differences both in designs and uses — which helps when your game’s cast is comprised of 12 individual characters in total. There are some base shared abilities between characters as expected, but outside of that everything else is unique about them. There’s also a big emphasis on paying attention to your equipment, as it plays an important role in terms of how good or bad a particular battle will turn out for you in the long run.
Graphically, at first glance the art style utilized is simply stunning. As mentioned earlier, tri-Ace went for an anime-inspired look for the characters, and they fit that part very nicely. The two-dimensional side scrolling controls for the gameplay portion, ala Valkyrie Profile — straight down to actions like being able to attack objects & enemies as well as jumping, play well into this motif.
Where things wear thin a bit is that the assets used in these environments don’t change up a whole lot from area to area, so everything begins to feel a bit same-y after a while. This may be due to the game also being released on the Vita, where I noticed some loading time and frame rate issues. They may have been attempting to tax the game’s engine slightly less by going this route, as these issues didn’t feel present at all on the PS4 version.
Exist Archive: the Other Side of the Sky doesn’t fully reach the lofty heights of its spiritual predecessor Valkyrie Profile, but it’s still a worthy successor even if it fails in a few minor areas. If you’ve been looking for another game of that ilk, or just want a good, old-fashioned JRPG to play through this year and have some free time on your hands, it’s worth taking a peek over on the other side.Exist Archive: the Other Side of the Sky was reviewed using a digital copy provided by Aksys Games. You can find additional information about Gaming Union's ethics policy here.
|The characters are well-developed, even though you need to go outside of the narrative sometimes to see it.|
|The characters stat and equipment-wise don't feel at all like copies from each other.|
|While the Vita version has some loading and frame rate issues, these aren't present on the PS4 version.|
|Battles feel a bit same-ish after a while.|
|While the environments look exceptionally nice and detailed, assets are overused a tad bit too much.|
|How the narrative flows feels a bit disjointed and rushed in practice due to how its delivered.|