Exist Archive: The Other Side of the Sky is a game you can’t rush through. This is a game where you need to go through dungeons not once, not twice, but sometimes at least three times. Venturing back into an area over and over again, in the name of improving characters, collecting items, boosting affection, and generally offering a batter experience is critical. While some of this gets to be quite tedious, especially since many dungeons share assets and room designs that make it difficult to memorize the “right” way out, it does do its best to at least make repeated retreading feel worthwhile.
Part of it has to do with Existence Crystals. Once you start pulling your team together, Amatsume will say she needs your assistance in collecting crystals that will restore her power. Each of these gems not only aids her, but makes your group better too. For example, there’s a very good chance that you won’t have Aerial Jump, essentially a double jump, until you’re at least six, maybe even seven, hours into Exist Archive. Other abilities that make dungeon traversal more accommodating, like Slide, Burst Jump, Bind Combo, and Bind Sphere, won’t be unlocked until you find generic or character-related crystals. On the plus side, you should be able to 100% every dungeon by the time you collect Namero’s Existence Crystal. The negative being, you may be ten hours or more in by that point, depending on your speed and progress. Since heading back does provide extra items for 100% map completion, at least you’re earning some sort of bonus alongside the levels.
Dungeon delving is also your only means of acquiring items early on. There are no towns or shops in Exist Archive. All you have are the items you find in dungeon crystals and item pods, drops from enemies that may or may not be boosted by support skills you’ve set, and create items by offering AMP to Amatsume. This is another one of those abilities that unlock as time passes and story quests are cleared, which means you’re going to spend a substantial portion of the introduction heading back into familiar territory for berries and other recovery items earned in battles.
You also learn to grin and bear it in the name of making characters better and more amiable people. Collecting skills is a critical element in Exist Archive. While everyone has a few available, with more unlocking as you invest skill points in their class, keeping characters close give you even more options as an immediate party explores a dungeon. The four people who were together will bond, improving their opinion of one another. These relationships influences character builds.
Keeping certain people together can result in a Mix Up, which means the friendly characters involved will all learn a newly discovered ability after a battle. Of course, you then have to head into Set Up in the menu and equip the skill, as well as invest skill points from leveling up to make it worthwhile. But still, these abilities can help. I always tended to keep Kanata, Mayura, Ranze, Mitsuhide, and/or Koharu in my group. This meant I very quickly found the Flower on Each Arm skill shared by Kanata, Mayura, and Ranze that raised parameters for all three when they were around and alive was great. Going with a common sense party, like one consisting of Kanata, Ranze, Koharu, and Mitsuhide could cause all four to learn the Schoolyard Friends support skill to boost their abilities. Mainly, it’s important to keep at least two characters you really like and can see have a bond together in a group at the same time.
Affection also influences how much each character can learn. After collecting Ren’s Existence Crystal, characters who are bonding may learn from each other during a battle. The first time I received the learning message, I saw Mayura had learned Quick Healer, a healing ability. Such exposure can determine which classes will be available to other characters. As I mentioned earlier, Kanata, Mayura, and Ranze were part of my “default” party and were almost always present. After quite a few hours, I noticed Mayura had the Fencer and Lancer classes in her Skill menu. Likewise, Kanata had Lancer, Fencer, and Storm Mage, and Ranze had Fencer and Storm Mage. Again, this happened after lots of time spent together dungeon crawling.
Perhaps the best perk to all this additional exploration comes from event scenes. The people who didn’t join your immediate party don’t just sit around, doing nothing. Aside from automatic leveling that keeps them on par with your party, they may also make some food or engage in some conversations with other characters to help you see how people interact and what they’re like when they aren’t fighting for the right to return home. These don’t serve any practical purpose, as they aren’t going to make your characters more battle-ready, but they do offer an interesting slice-of-life.
Much of your time in Exist Archive isn’t going to be spent exploring towns, interacting with characters, and savoring the ambiance. You’re here to work. You need to continually dungeon-crawl your way to better characters. Only through constantly returning to familiar places will you earn those Affection screen smiling faces. Keeping characters connected, well equipped, and skilled are the only rewards for repeated runs into dungeons, and those who get really involved may appreciate a return on their investment.
Exist Archive: The Other Side of the Sky is now available on the PlayStation 4 and PlayStation Vita in North America and Europe.