Fans of JRPG series Valkyrie Profile have been waiting for a sequel since its last entry in 2009. While most realize how unlikely a new addition is, taste buds may be quenched with Exist Archive: The Other Side of the Sky. With Valkyrie Profile’s recognizable side-scrolling dungeon crawler gameplay and turn-based combat, it’s probably as close as fans are going to get.
Starting things off by killing the protagonist certainly got my attention. When Kanata opens his eyes to the world of Protolexa, hopes of an afterlife are dashed by the arrival of enemy monsters. As luck would have it, part of the God Yamatoga is in his hand, giving Kanata power and immortality. Here’s the kicker though, Yamatoga is far from the good guy, and is pretty set on destroying everything.
What’s inside Kanata is only one of a dozen parts, from when Protolexa’s protector divided Yamatoga’s power. The humans he’s now sealed in have all been killed-off from Earth, to bring them together in one place. While the sentient beings on the planet each want Yamatoga’s power for their own means, the humans are left not knowing who to trust. It’s such an intriguing plot that I was really sad to discover how much it gets pushed aside for one big game of collect the McGuffin – which the heroes hope will help them return to Earth.
What makes the constant fetch quest a little more tolerable is how the collectable Essence Crystals reveal truths about characters. Managing to get unique depth into the full cast through the collection of items is certainly praise worthy, and I genuinely cared about everyone. Geeky rich boy, Ren, for example, is happy to be free of his old life. Listening to arguments, through the crystals, between his grandpa and father only adds fuel to that fire. However, as his family bond over a joint appreciation of Ren and who he is, the boy finds himself realizing exactly what’s been left behind.
Handing over crystals also unlocked new areas and abilities, such as a nifty double jump and item creation. These made traversing dungeons a lot easier, as the further I got, the more platforming sections were involved. I really enjoyed this take on the dungeon-crawler genre, as it added a bit more interest than the simple navigation of a maze. Helping matters further was the beautiful accompanying background art, which made every new area a treat for the eyes.
Unfortunately, things quickly got same-y. Backgrounds and platforming sections were re-used so much that it felt like the developers only had a small pool of assets to choose from. Even when I was supposed to be in a completely new location, I got constant bouts of déjà vu, making navigation confusing. The problem only grew with each quest being one of two goals (find the crystal, or new party member), making it hard to tell how much I was progressing, other than my slowly rising level.
I get that repetition is often the name of the game for JRPGs, and Exist Archive actually let me off pretty lightly in that regard. Killing all the enemies in main missions was always enough levelling to move on. However, 10 main grunts, each with a changing colour palette, was not enough to keep me entertained. A little more variety towards the end was a welcome change, but mainly just served to show how much better Exist Archive would have been with a bit more variety.
Combat itself managed to be both the most simple and interesting part of Exist Archive. Those that have played Valkyrie Profile will instantly recognize the mechanics here. Each party member is associated with one of the four face buttons on the controller. Attacking and defending is a case of pressing the button for the character you want to perform the action. Careful planning and creating decent strings of combos is the key, rewarding you with an ultra-powerful attack by filling a meter, up to 4 times.
How many times a character is able to attack in a row is dependent upon their class, and how many action points (AP) are available in a turn. Swords and guns could use three different attacks in a row multiple times over, while mages were given one devastating attack that had to rest for a few turns after use. I was impressed by how different each class felt to use, from the sweeping attacks of the Lancer, to the Wind Mage pulling enemies together in a whirlwind. Sure, a couple of the moves over-lapped, but the more characters levelled-up, the more unique everyone became.
A few well incorporated functions helped to make the whole experience of Exist Archive much smoother. For example, being able to automatically equip the best items lessened a lot of time scanning loot gained from dungeons. I particularly loved that characters not in my current party continue to level, encouraging me to keep mixing up combinations, rather than settling on one over-powered team. As a further incentive, characters started to learn the abilities of people they had high affection with. So, suddenly, a favourite class-related skill could be known by everyone.
My overall experience with Exist Archive was an enjoyable one. Characters were interesting, and I genuinely wanted to know what fate had in store for them. Even though the lack of variety was disappointing, combat managed to stay satisfying, thanks to how easy it was to keep changing up the formula. While it may not have Valkyrie Profile in the title, fans should find enough in Exist Archive: The Other Side of the Sky to keep them satisfied, for the time being.
This review is based off a Vita copy of the game, which we were provided with.
Exist Archive: The Other Side of the Sky has a solid foundation in its art style, characters, and combat. It’s just a shame that a lack in variation holds it back from being something truly engaging.