Between 1999 and 2000, PSOne, now on the avenue of sunset with its older sister PS2 on the home straight, managed to amaze the world of JRPG with a unique title, never really imitated and still considered a reference model today. for developers and fans of the JRPG world. We are talking about the cold and unforgotten Valkyrie profiles: the 2D explorations of the platform mold, the hybrid fighting style between JRPG and Beat 'em up, the open and free plot, influenced by our deeds and our actions and the unforgettable characters made Valkyrie Profile a true classic of the genre and helped to project its developers, the talented team tri-Ace (at the time already authors of the first two wonderful Star Ocean) at the top of the world of Japanese RPG developers.
Unfortunately, the success of Valkyrie Profile was not replicated by the two sequels and, with the exception of some mobile cases of exception such as Brave Frontier, on consoles we have not seen titles that come close to the quality of the adventure of the solemn Valkyrie Lenneth.
It is precisely to fill this void that the beating heart of tri-Ace (unfortunately returning from a very unsuccessful fifth Star Ocean), namely the director and founder Yoshiharu Gotanda, the designer Masaki Norimoto and the skilled composer Motoi Sakuraba met, with the support of the staff of Spike Chunsoft, to try to finally bring to light the spiritual heir that Valkyrie Profile deserves: Exist Archive: The Other Side of the Sky (from now on only Exist Archive) a classic JRPG that knows how to make the hearts of nostalgic fans and newbies alike beat.
Published in the west by Aksys Games, will this title honor its unique, heavy legacy and establish itself as a new tri-Ace classic?
Death is only the beginning
The opening sequence of Exist Archive is bleak and unsettling: on a day like any other, the young man Kanata Kujo and his girlfriend Ranze are involved in a devastating explosion in central Tokyo. Amid the dying rubble, the two have just time to say goodbye before an avalanche of debris puts an end to their young lives.
A few seconds later Kanata wakes up unscathed in a mysterious flowery meadow at the edge of a forest of crystal trees, where he meets a mysterious gray-haired girl: Mayura Tsukishiro, also recently woken up and deprived of her memories.
Soon young people will discover that the mysterious world in which they find themselves, without Sun or Moon and composed of flying islands is not the Underworld but a mysterious parallel dimension, developed around an immense tower, called Protolexa, where divine creatures battle it out. for centuries. One of these deities, the dark god Yamatoga, is the cause of the explosion that involved Kanata and Ranze.
By a strange twist of fate, it was Yamatoga who saved Kanata and 11 other people involved in the explosion and transported them to Protolexa, dividing his soul into 12 parts and merging with these humans to escape his hated enemy Amatsume and look for a way. to resurrect to the fullest of his powers, giving young people eternal life as a side effect. Kanata's task will be to find and reunite the other people with Yamatoga's soul involved in the Tokyo explosion, including the beloved Ranze and with being to find a way to return home. The key to their return to the real world will be in the hands of the goddess Amatsume, guardian of Protolexa, who opposes the idea because she wants to prevent the resurrection of Yamatoga at all costs, a resurrection instead strongly desired for their nefarious purposes by the faction. Chasseur led by the goddess Zenobia
The story is anything but simple, it will develop along a long series of dialogues that intersperse a narrative structure based on not particularly long missions. If the protagonist of Exist Archive can be defined as a stereotypical and already seen character, the same cannot be said for the other members of the cast, well written and with a very interesting back-story that it will be really a pleasure to discover by collecting particular crystals hidden here. and the in the game maps.
It must be said that the pace of the story is fickle and after a good start we will spend the whole central part of the game putting up with a long series of boring fetch quests, becoming simply the messengers of the goddess Amatsume, to resume the epic moments with a final phase of heart-pounding adventure.
Come to me, my noble Einh… ah no, wrong game
Exploration in Exist Archive is pretty straightforward, with basic but still fun platforming sequences in full 2D maps that evolve over multiple parallel levels. Various tools such as a double jump or the possibility of freezing the enemies will allow us to reach extra areas of the old maps (freely re-explorable) thus leading to a good replayability of the old levels in search of bonuses or secret treasures.
Visible on the map will be some moving dark clouds, which if they come into contact will give life to a fight. Striking early with the Circle key will allow us to start the fight with a considerable advantage.
The Exist Archive fights will be entirely turn-based, with a combat system that broadly follows that offered by the aforementioned Valkyrie Profile: each of the 4 characters that will make up the team will be assigned to one of the four front buttons of the pad: by pressing the corresponding key the selected character will execute his attack, consuming a portion of the blue bar of AP present below the screen. You can attack until the AP bar is completely consumed or end your turn early, always keeping in mind important factors such as the fact that the magic type attacks, more powerful, will consume more AP than normal physical attacks and that the combos, obtainable by connecting as many attacks as possible in the right frequency will increase the possibility of obtaining drops and rare items from defeated enemies.
The great addition compared to Valkyrie Profile is the defense phase: in fact, when we finish our turn and it will be our opponent's turn to move, we can use part of our AP bar to defend the targeted character (s) by decreasing the damage. This will obviously decrease the amount of AP available at the start of the next round, making it necessary to pay close attention to managing the AP bar between the attack and defense phases. only character, when we begin to have a team of 4 units we can start spectacular combos, leading to the activation later in the game of unique skills and special attacks.
The title offers an excellent system for customizing the character's Class in order to always have new and different abilities, but it must be said that, with 12 playable characters each with a different class, the class change system becomes almost an aesthetic option if for some reason we prefer to have certain characters on the team
But hadn't we already seen that Crystal?
The differences between the PS4 and PSVita versions are quite substantial, in particular in the frame rate sector where, the unstable 60 fps of the home version oppose the unstable 30 of the portable version, which suffers from rather annoying drops and slowdowns, combined with times slightly longer loading times.
Visually, the game is excellent both on PS4 and on the small Sony house, with a bright and vibrant color palette made up of excellent contrasts, especially towards the costumes of the characters, characterized by a strong line and with many neon inserts that allow you to recognize each character by their color at any time.
The 3D models of the characters are quite simple when viewed in the game fields while in battle they offer many varied and complex animations, with a rich choice of precious details such as the different weapons equipped by the characters.
It must be said that the environments are rather repetitive, we will often be forced to see and review the same map several times, with simple changes atmospheric, lighting or positioning of the platforms and enemies to give the idea of facing a new area.
Exist Archive, shares with its predecessors of tri-Ace an above average longevity, we talk about 45-55 hours of play, combined with a high replayability brought by alternative endings, secret dungeons and secondary challenges.
Voices and Sounds from another world
The real strength of the title is certainly the soundtrack, composed with style and craftsmanship from stainless Motoi Sakuraba, already author of the soundtracks of all the Star Ocean, the Valkyrie Profile and more recently of the Dark Souls of From Software, characterized by the unmistakable touch of the composer, who as always knows how to give his best in the themes of battles and boss fights.
Dubbing is the other strong point of Exist Archive: to the delight of purist fans, the double English and Japanese audio has been added. The first offers a plethora of rather good and certainly recognizable English-speaking voices for those who prefer the world of dubbing in a language closer to us while the second offers, as always, a very high level interpretation, in particular the performances of the voice actors of Yamatoga and Mitsuhide .
Looking back is the correct way
In an industry now adrift, unable to create new points of reference for the future, looking to the past is certainly the best or at least the bravest choice.
Exist Archive is the clear proof that, as long as you can offer new plots and excellent characters, knowing how to take a cue from the titles of the past in the correct world in terms of gameplay, the JRPG genre does not need to be twisted or bastardized with other videogame genres. that risk alienating the historical fan base to continue to be successful.
Exist Archive is the spiritual sequel that Valkyrie Profile has been missing for decades, an epic but at the same time humble game, simple in mechanics but deep in execution.
It must be said that some defects in structure and rhythm undermine the experience and that a serious flaw is the poor care taken in the portable version of the title which, due to the very structure of the game with dungeons with an average duration of 30/45 minutes, would be the best platform to enjoy this adventure.
Exist Archive is a must purchase for any old school JRPG fan and a highly recommended title for any fan of anime-aesthetic and turn-based games.