To my side, my noble einherjar.
The last game from the developers at “tri-ACE” was Star Ocean V, which was met with a lukewarm reception for very good reasons. It’s a game I was greatly looking forward to but was ultimately thoroughly disappointed in, due to a series of poor design choices that made the game feel like a hassle to play in more ways than one.
However, looking back, tri-ACE was a company I really respected that released unique and memorable titles like Valkyrie Profile, Star Ocean 2 and Radiata Stories. So I felt they still had it in them to reclaim some of their past glory, and I sincerely hoped that Exist Archive would be their first step to reaching that goal.
The curtain opens to a group of friends and strangers that are whisked away into a different world. They quickly realize that even though they may look the same on the outside, they have now become host to a soul fragment of a powerful immortal being known as “Yamatoga”.
As hosts, they were now immortal as well, and now had control over a power known as the “Xeno Factor”, that manifests as weapons specifically tied to an individual’s strengths.
Caught up in a power struggle between Yamatoga, who wants to make himself whole again, and two other factions with their own goals, it’s up to Kanata and his newfound allies to choose a side and hopefully find a way back home to Earth.
The starting premise of Exist Archive works quite well, as the player is left not knowing who to trust and as the narrative hits its stride, they are given choices where it’s not clear what the best option would be or what consequences they might bring.
Even though the characters themselves aren’t all too interesting as they felt relatively generic, they were still a fun bunch, and seeing them interact with each other was enjoyable most of the time.
Each and every line of dialogue is fully voiced both in English and Japanese, which is something that I’m not able to say often in smaller JRPG releases like this, which was quite nice to see.
It also helps that their visual designs are well done, with some unique flares to add some much needed individuality to the characters.
However, the true meat of the experience lies in its exceptional combat engine, and it’s lucky that it’s so good, as the vast majority of the time playing Exist Archive will be in combat.
Each of the four characters engaged in combat is designated a button, and a press of that button will have them attack or guard, depending on the battle phase.
The battles themselves are turn-based affairs, but managing a party pool of AP and trying to combo one character’s attack into another took a good deal of experimentation and timing.
As the characters became more proficient in combat, they learned skills which could add special modifiers to their actions, like a special knockdown or shockwave which added yet another layer into customizing each and every attack.
Going from picking off one enemy at a time with little efficiency to wiping out over a dozen foes using one devastating combo numbering in over 200+ hits is a progression that’s immensely satisfying.
Even though there’s a lack of variety in the enemy types to some degree, some monsters must be handled using ranged or magic attacks which made me adjust my play style on the fly.
There’s also a good deal of exploration, and as more essence crystals are turned in, moves like double jump, slide and others are unlocked, allowing the player to explore areas previously unreachable.
The music composition by the legendary “Motoi Sakuraba” shines here once more, with sweeping orchestral and high-energy tracks that harken back to the great Valkyrie Profile OST.
As great as the combat may be, there really isn’t too much to do other than explore dungeons and fight monsters. There are no towns or an overworld to explore or even NPCs I can talk to, as every bit of interaction is tied to events. It made the pacing of the game feel strained, as I was tasked to do the same thing for well over 20 hours.
Some other activities like non-combat zones to explore or the ability to just walk around home base talking to my allies would’ve done much in that regard, but all that is sadly absent.
Outside of the standard story arc, there’s a speed run mode where the player is tasked with challenging a variety of bosses to compete for the best time and try to get some rewards tied to ranks.
The game also features multiple endings and a new game + where they are able to start the game over carrying over basically everything that isn’t tied directly to the plot.
Exist Archive is a title elevated by its superb combat that remained enjoyable even after a thousand encounters. However, it doesn’t have much more to offer outside of the combat, as there’s a serious lack of variety in the overall gameplay. The repetitive nature of exploring one dungeon after another, punctuated by the odd event here and there played against my patience. Even though I can safely say that I enjoyed my initial playthrough, I can’t say the same about the prospect of playing through it once more to get an alternative ending.
Fun Tidbit – I would love to see a continuation of the Valkyrie Profile games at some point as I’ve always loved Norse mythology and its use in the VP games were always quite intriguing.
Review copy of game provided by publisher.