8
Our overall verdict "silver"

After a deadly and frightfully inconvenient accident, poor confused Kanata Kujo wakes up in a strange but rather pretty land. Did he survive the accident? Where is this place? Is he … dead? Exist Archive: The Other Side of the Sky is a Japanese RPG Dungeon Crawler from that fantastic bunch at Spike Chunsoft and the equally awesome Aksys Games, and is available for both PS4 and Vita. Now is it just me, or as the Vita ages gracefully does it seem to get more and more beautiful games? We played the majority of Exist Archive on the Vita, and it sparkles – pretty much literally.

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I’m the type who goes for gameplay first and graphics last, so in my reviews I tend to subtly insert my opinion on the graphics somewhere down the bottom, slotted inconspicuously between game length and the trophy talk. This time, it’s going first. Wow. I know we’ve seen the likes of Tomb Raider and Uncharted on the PS4, but played on the Vita, Exist Archive is simply gorgeous. I don’t know if I love the twinkling fairy tale-like environments more or the cute-as-a-cupcake character models. The colours are divine, the grass sways in the breeze and the characters move around in the background even during the short visual novel sections. There are quite a few characters in Exist Archive and all of them are beautifully designed. During combat, just walking around and during cut scenes, the characters are in a gorgeous chibi style, but when in dialogue a more realistic art style version of them pops up in the foreground. The battle animations are smooth and beautiful, and the free-roaming sections often have a glittery and surreal quality that oozes enchantment and charm. Okay, that was just a really long-winded way of saying Exist Archive’s presentation is exemplary. Certainly my Vita is blushing with pride.

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Exist Archive: The Other Side of the Sky eases you into its world at an easy pace. You’ll start off with one party member and limited skills. The battles aren’t hard and the story is mysterious and interesting. As you continue, things begin to kick off and those easy battles will get tougher. At the same time the combat becomes more complex and as you gather party members you’ll obtain more options. The game does a good job not to overwhelm you with too much complexity or difficulty in the early stages. As you complete quests you’ll generally find that you level up just enough to commence the next quest without grinding. Of course, midnight will come and as sure as carriages turn into pumpkins, repeating dungeons to level up will eventually become necessary. I’m not prepared to mark the game down for that. It’s a Dungeon Crawler; if you’re not prepared to grind, you’re in the wrong genre.

The combat system is turn-based, but is simplified by its one-button approach. Each character is assigned a face button according to where they are standing in your formation. You have an attack phase and a guard phase and the same button will activate an attack or guard depending on what phase you’re in. For example, if Kanata is standing at the front, the square will launch him across battle lines with his blade swinging. You have a certain amount of action points to use each phase, so you could follow up his attack with a second, or you could press triangle and watch Koharu wipe out something big and nasty with her flaming Crimson Sphere. Different characters are better suited to different enemy types and ideally you want to pull off a high chain of hits and strikes and put the boot in while your enemy is down. Part-way through the game you’ll be introduced to the Demon’s Greed which, if you can pull off smart and fast attacks to fill Yamatoga’s meter, will allow you activate an attack that is a devastating as it is spectacularly pretty.

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While you’re doing all this exploring and fighting, you’ll come across plenty of items that will allow you to upgrade your party. Different weapons, armour and accessories will all drop, and are essential for kitting out your peeps. Later in the game, a trading system will open up to allow you to earn some currency from your unwanted bits and pieces. Other items you can gain in battle include healing berries and potions, items that will permanently increase a chosen party member’s stats, and runes that add extra attack and defence elements to your weapons and items.

You can only take out four party members on any jolly, but those you leave behind are not idle. They will go out by themselves, level up and occasionally bring back something interesting. You may also come back to find an extra cut scene waiting for your attention. This seems to be linked to who you leave behind in the same way that affection levels increase for those you take out and who fight and learn skills together. Revisiting levels for grinding purposes will also raise those levels. You’ll be presented with dungeon challenges of which completion will make your party chuffed to bits and get you a reward item. It takes the sting off revisiting old ground, adding an extra layer of interest and purpose.

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Exist Archive’s story is just smashing. I’m not going to spoil it at all, but it’s got all those elements we love: relationships, peril and a dramatically unbelievable but somehow believable plot. Also expect some good humour and top quality voice acting in both English and Japanese. There’s plenty of intrigue to push the story and the game along, and the developer has absolutely nailed the balance between narrative and action. You can fly through the quest dungeons at a reasonable pace or you can take your time exploring and levelling-up to minimise later grinding. Always upon your return, your characters are rewarded and so are you with the next part of the tale and the opening up of new game elements. It’s fantastic progression pacing with perfect story to action equilibrium. And yes, that includes the not unreasonable grind.

As I said earlier, we played the majority of Exist Archive on the Vita. There are some loading screens, but the wait is barely noticeable. My game crashed once, but aside from that we came across no other performance issues. The Vita carries its burden with perfect grace, as we knew it would.

Conclusion

Exist Archive: The Other Side of the Sky is a gorgeous Dungeon Crawler with a great story, beautiful animations and addictive action. Looking great on both PS4 and PS Vita, it’s the Vita where this game really sparkles.

SJ Hollis Rating – 8/10

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S J Hollis

S J Hollis has been a keen gamer since the Atari 2600. She freely admits she thought E.T. was a good game but would like to stress her tastes have since dramatically improved. She is also an author, a morning person and thinks Elf ears are sexy. Follow her on twitter @SJHollis_