Hey gang, Valkor here. I’m always a little hesitant whenever I tackle a new RPG. This is mostly due to the fact that I’m uncertain about the battle system or if the story works for me. Take for instance Final Fantasy 8. It’s a pretty good story, and I liked the active turn-based action, but I hated the junction/draw magic system. Then there’s Dragon Age: Inquisition that has a solid story and turn-based elements, but it’s heavy on action. Then we have the latest title to cross my desk, Exist Archive: The Other Side of the Sky, which features a familiar battle system with some new touches (at least for me). Does it hold up? Let’s find out!
“Exist Archive” focuses on a group of teenagers whom seemingly have died in an explosion, but rather than ending up in either heaven or hell, they wound up somewhere in between. This new world is called Protolexa, and the group is thrust into this world’s series of conflicts. Their only guide through it all exists on the right hand of main character Kanata, known as Yamatoga. Yamatoga not only acts as a guide, but he also imparts upon the group power that will help them in their fight. At first, it’s unclear as to why they’ve been given such a task in fighting for this world, but as the game progresses it all become clear. And the big question is: can the group ever return to the world of the living?
The world of “Exist Archive” is pretty vast, with a series of floating islands that the group will explore. From the jump, the game is broken into worlds or “dungeons”. And once you enter a dungeon, your view changes to that of a 2D platformer. You move your character, left/right and up/down, trying to reach your objective, with no environmental hazards. There’s not much to do except find items or face off against enemies. And how you approach an enemy will set off the game's battle system in two different ways. If you attack an enemy, you’ll start off with an “attack phase”, but if they touch you first then you’ll begin in a “guard phase”.
Once the battle sequence begins, you’re then taken into a turn-based, isometric view, where you’ll face off against one or two baddies or up to an army of baddies. Your guys are set up into four quadrants that coincide with the four shaped buttons on the controller, such as Kanata being attached to the “square button”, Mayura getting the “circle button” and so on. You can also switch positions as you please, with the strongest taking on point, while the weakest bring up the rear. Through either phase, you’re given a certain number of attack points and depending how you want to tackle a certain battle, you can either press each button so all of your fighters can attack, or you can use some strategy, and string together a series of combos so you can not only utilize your fighters best but also save points for later use. You can also “overkill” an enemy, which means once your enemy’s HP is depleted, you’re pretty much hacking away at its corpse. However, in doing so, you’ll be rewarded with crystals and item drops. On the downside, you might be wasting points, which can be essential depending on the situation.
After each victory, you gain experience as well as items, weapons and/or armor that are dropped from defeated foes. With the gaining of experience, and as you progress, you’ll start to unlock powerful attacks and you’ll eventually learn to use EX abilities. EX abilities are very powerful attacks that can wipe out multiple enemies and it can be triggered once the EX gauge is filled. You can activate the ability by pressing R2, then sit back and watch as your chosen character blazes a path to victory. You can build up your EX gauge up to four levels, which will allow you to use all of your fighters, in a string of attacks. EX attacks are great for wiping out a slew of enemies that prove too difficult to handle with just your basic attacks, but it also works well in boss battles too.
"Exist Archive" also features a sense of community amongst its cast. And by that I mean, while all of these characters have been gathered together with one goal in mind, the game doesn’t cherry pick one or two to be the main focus. Each character is one part of a whole, with their own backstory that will be explored as the game progresses. And there are no characters left out, even when you choose any four to tackle a mission; the game fills you in on what the others were doing while you were away. Some will bring you into a cutscene and others can gain experience from a mission they’ve gone on and will even bring back items to add to the inventory. The game also has “affection levels”, which can be affected if you complete or fail in a mission. Moving things towards the positive builds influence and opens up skills that can be used in combat. On top of that, characters that have positive affection towards one another can also learn from one another. So all of this adds a whole new dynamic to the playing experience, unlike anything I’ve ever played before.
“Exist Archive: The Other Side of the Sky” looks pretty simple at its base, but it has a whole lot going for it that you’ll find yourself replaying dungeons to find new items or areas. Plus unlocking new skills and seeing how they work in battle and which combination of characters work best, is a definite treat and at times a surprise.
“Exist Archive: The Other Side of the Sky” is very different than most RPGs I’ve played; that’s not necessarily a bad thing because I really enjoyed my time with the title and it’s truly an unforgettable and quite an addicting experience. The main story feels like you’re playing through an anime drama with a sci-fi twist, complete with a colorful cast of characters with all of the trials and tribulations of a group dynamic, as well as their quest to defeat a greater evil. I’m surprised the story wasn’t broken into chapters or episodes. Regardless, “Exist Archive” is the kind of game that grows on you and soon you’ll become attached the characters and their plight as you progress through the main storyline and beyond. You can repeat any dungeon you’ve entered (especially if you’ve gained some new abilities, you’ll want to do that) and I thought I’d have gotten bored playing them over and over again. But the game is that much fun that even though things can get repetitive, it never gets dull. The gameplay is on point and easy to get into once you’ve adjusted to this new style of play. The animation is fluid and the graphics are stunning, especially the backdrops, which are beautiful to look at when you have the time to stop and soak it in. The music is fitting for each stage, but nothing truly memorable. However, it’s not something that’ll put you to sleep or cause you to groan in disgust. Finally, there’s plenty of voice acting, and you get to pick between Japanese and English (I preferred the Japanese). And it all comes across clean and clear. In the end, if you’re a lover of all things RPG and anime, then you’ll want to get your hands on “Exist Archive: The Other Side of the Sky” as it’s truly a joyful and engaging experience you won’t want to pass up.
I mentioned above the repetition, which didn’t detract me from playing onward, but some might get bored playing the same areas and seeing the same backdrops over and over. While there’s a lot under this game’s hood, I think a bit more could have been done such as changing up or adding more side quests. And maybe I haven’t gotten that far into the game, but I would have liked to have seen an EX attacked that encompassed all four characters, or at least mix it up where two can team up to before one special attack. Maybe it can be included in a sequel? I’d love to see that!
“Exist Archive: The Other Side of the Sky” is available now for the Playstation 4 and Playstation Vita. Either way, this was a unique, fun, and engaging experience that didn’t disappoint. And I wouldn’t mind going through this again when completed. I highly recommend checking out! So, out of TOV 5 stars, I’m giving “Exist Archive: The Other Side of the Sky” a 4.