Did you know and love Valkyrie Profile or Valkyrie Profile 2: Silmeria? Well, then, you will be glad that Exist Archive: The Other Side of the Sky exists. This RPG was developed by both Spike Chunsoft and tri-Ace, but everything about it screams tri-Ace and Valkyrie Profile. From the battle system, to the preoccupation with life after death, and even the dungeon-crawling and skill acquisition systems, it will remind you of these previous games. There’s even another important element that feels directly ripped from Valkyrie Profile. But let’s gloss over that for now so it can be a surprise when you get to it. The important thing is, Exist Archive is the Valkyrie Profile successor you may or may not have wanted.
Let’s begin with the pacing. Valkyrie Profile is a series where it’s more about crawling through dungeons and interactions with characters than heading into towns and meeting NPCs. Exist Archive: The Other Side of the Sky matches that by not having any towns. Protolexa is an empty world only inhabited by the people unfortunate enough to have a part of Yamatoga’s soul in them, people like Amatsume with powers similar to gods, and non-human Variants. The story is advanced by taking Quests that go through areas, though there are also free quests that give you an opportunity to stock up on items or collect levels. Each mission takes you through a turn-based dungeon, during which certain event scenes may trigger during or after an event. Like Valkyrie Profile, it’s more focused on people than places.
The dungeons most resemble those seen in Valkyrie Profile 2: Silmeria. This is a 2.5D world, and you control Kanata or one of his party members as you explore it. These are multilayer locations, with players often able to walk into the foreground or background to reach new places, find more enemies, or collect more things. As in the Valkyrie Profile games, you eventually earn an ability that lets you freeze enemies in the field to use them as a platform, or perform a Burst Jump that lets you propel off of them to a new location. Since you’re assigned a rank reward for each area based on the exploration percentage and number of pods found, this means most areas don’t really open up until you’ve unlocked that ability. Fortunately, many of these locations are recycled in future quests, so you don’t need to constantly come back to places. Wait a while, and there’s a good chance Exist Archive: The Other Side of the Sky will send you there.
Unfortunately, this is an unwelcome change Exist Archive: The Other Side of the Sky makes to the Valkyrie Profile formula. The Valkyrie Profile games were known for their challenging, and sometimes downright confusing, dungeons. While this meant some could be rather frustrating, it also made you think. Exist Archive: The Other Side of the Sky is more generic, with many of the same layouts, environments, and enemies reused.
The Exist Archive: The Other Side of the Sky battle system is practically identical to the Valkyrie Profile series’. You’re able to take four of your party members with you at any time. Each one is assigned to an action button. They each have their own classes, weapons, skills, and spells. Depending on your button presses, you can chain together effective (or ineffective) combos that let you tear enemies apart. Which is good, because certain enemies must be beaten by a certain sort of attack or ability to get specific item drops. Like its predecessor, Exist Archive: The Other Side of the Sky’s melee attackers can perform multiple attacks, while spell casters get one shot per each turn. Mages’ attacks also take longer to charge, meaning they have to be the attack in any combo to have a chance at hitting. Also, you tend to see female spell casters more often than males at the start. Your first two heroines, Mayura and Koharu, are wind and fire mages.
Exist Archive: The Other Side of the Sky’s skill systems take cues from Valkyrie Profile too, with a few minor adjustments for the better. As characters level up, they earn skill points. These can be put toward learning and mastering specific abilities or improving their mastery of a certain class. Depending on story progression and affection levels, characters can even change jobs. Valkyrie Profile was the same way, only minus the ability to alter classes. Think of it as a concession to the affection system, as it allows you to work with a specific team by altering their role, instead of feeling forced to use people you don’t like due to their offering better support in fights.
But, I feel like Exist Archive: The Other Side of the Sky is at its best when it’s getting existential. The Valkyrie Profile games did a wonderful job of making you wonder about the value of people’s lives, the influence even ordinary folks can hold, what those with the power of gods could and should do, and death. Exist Archive: The Other Side of the Sky shares in that, only it spends its time exploring reincarnation and immortality. Due to their being bonded with Yamatoga, the members of our party are immortal. Yet, they’re in a place where monsters are hunting souls and the Radium System determines where souls go from one life to the next. It gets players thinking about the nature and value of life as they play. As Konata, you’ll even have to make the same sort of tough decisions Lenneth did regarding your companions. It isn’t exactly the same, of course, but still gets you thinking about what your characters are doing and could do with their lives.
People who played Valkyrie Profile are going to experience some serious deja vu when they play Exist Archive: The Other Side of the Sky. It’s a definite spiritual successor to tri-Ace’s previous series, with almost every gameplay element acting as a callback to the other game. Conversely, if Valkyrie Profile’s pacing, focus on dungeon crawling, and dealings in obtuse concepts frustrated you, Exist Archive: The Other Side of the Sky probably isn’t going to be your thing. It’s clearly inspired by tri-Ace’s past work, for better or worse.
Exist Archive: The Other Side of the Sky will come to the PlayStation 4 and PlayStation Vita in North America and Europe on October 18, 2016.