I realized I wanted to review this game about a week ago when I had logged around 9 hours in it. The thing was, I know that JRPGs can change dramatically in a matter of minutes, and felt I should wait a bit so I didn’t miss anything that would have otherwise been worth mentioning. I also suck at JRPGs, haven’t played a whole of Japanese-heavy games, and didn’t know if I could pull off a decent write-up anyway! But I’ve just hit 20 hours and wanted to say a few words about it.
But this is very unlike any JRPG I’ve ever played, and that is because of the battle system. I’ll get to that in a bit, but the reason I mentioned it earlier on in the review is to almost give you the ‘heads up’ that this didn’t strike me as a generic game, and I’ve been turned off by many of those before. Interested? Keep reading!
I picked up Exist Archive because the price has been on a never-ending nose-dive since releasing last October on the Vita and PS4. Normally this would be a cause for concern, but for the price of $10 shipped I just couldn’t say no to add this game to my collection. Even if it sucked, I could sell it used for even more than I paid for it new! Zero risk, baby!
What the Heck is Exist Archive?
Now, the first thing you may have thought when you read the title of this review is, “what the heck is ‘Exist Archive’?” And you would not be alone in thinking that! This game really flew under the radar. In fact, there aren’t a whole lot of reviews about the game, nor are there any GameFAQs available, and discussions about the game are practically non-existent, especially as far as the Vita version is concerned. While Playstation’s platforms are notorious for having piles upon piles of JRPGs with confusing, unspecial names, this one stuck out to me purely because of the price.
Before I buy games like this, I like to do a bit of research, typically in the form of a quick skim of GameFAQs to get a vibe of the game, see how complicated it gets, and glance over a table of contents or two and see just how in-depth it is. Then I check out HowLongToBeat to get a time estimate, because these things can just take forever and wear my patience down to the bone. Much to my surprise, GameFAQs had absolutely no FAQs, and hardly any reviews! Seriously, you’d think they fired their whole marketing team a month before the game released in the west.
I mean, just look at this piss-poor Wikipedia page. It mentions that the game was pretty well received by critics, no worse-off than any other game in the genre. Yet here I am today, practically trying to convince you that the game Exists at all! This game is destined to Exist in an Archive somewhere. Ok, that joke was a real stretch. But the point stands – the price for this thing plummeted almost to nothing, and for what I paid, I already got more than my fill.
Let’s Talk Basic Gameplay!
Developed by Spike Chunsoft with assistance from tri-Ace, Exist Archive follows the same design and gameplay patterns as tri-Ace’s series Valkyrie Profile. I’ve never played those games but from glancing over a few Let’s Plays, the gameplay is extremely similar. Both employ instanced dungeons wherein the player controls a character in a 2D platformer environment.
There’s no overworld, however – just a map where you select the level, which is essentially a quest selection screen. You choose the level you wish to visit and the quest you wish to embark upon. There is a very handy level recommendation on the screen letting you know what character levels are intended, which is a fantastic feature that I love! This avoids running into the classic error of waltzing into an area you are ill-prepared for, only to get thoroughly ripped in half by the first mob you come across. That kind of situation can put me off to a game immediately – not to imply I can’t handle losing, but I don’t like surprises. After selecting the quest and choosing your four-person party, you are teleported in.
Within these environments, you can run around, jump, and attack the flying enemy orbs. Making contact with one of these orbs initiates a battle sequence, which take place on a separate screen, typical of JRPGs. However, depending on how you approach the enemy orb, you or it will assume the first strike position.
There is a map you can uncover via exploration, which is quite fun and after 20 hours, I still feel the urge to explore to uncover every room I come across. The amount of map that you uncover is saved to the instance, so if you return to the level later to complete side quests, you will return to the level just as you left it, map exploration percentage, opened item chests, everything. This makes completing subsequent quests within each level a piece of cake, as once you’ve navigated a good portion of the level, you can easily run to the boss and earn some quick XP.
Uncovering the map and searching for items is made rewarding, as once you complete your quest or otherwise leave the dungeon, you are ranked on how many items you’ve discovered and what percentage of the map you’ve uncovered. Depending on your letter grade, you are entitled to a series of rewards, which are typically healing items.
One of my Favorite Turn-Based Battle Systems
Normally, games of this scale and caliber can burn me out fairly quickly. I’ve mentioned before that I thought Etrian Odyssey IV: Legends of the Titan on the 3DS was a great time, until I realized I hated the difficulty curve and the battle system kept screwing me. What makes Exist Archive a stable entry that I still enjoy after 20 hours is, plainly put, the battle system.
You initiate a battle, like I mentioned earlier, by smacking floating enemies around the platforming levels. You get kicked to another screen, and battle begins. Your four chosen characters are arranged into a pattern the likes of which are the same style as your Playstation controller buttons. During the attack phase, you ‘queue’ attacks by pressing the corresponding key. Each attack requires Action Points which are deducted as you queue attacks.
The attacks are executed as soon as you press the key, which turns this turn-based battle system into a bit of an action game, temporarily at least. It feels very natural and as each character only has one main “attack,” the learning curve isn’t huge.
That isn’t to say that it isn’t in-depth, because it most certainly is. So, where’s the strategy when you can simply mash buttons? Where the strategy comes in is that each character has a different attack style, and those unique styles have an Area of Effect (AoE) attached to them. Swing a sword around? Aim for the middle of a hoard of enemies. Firing pistols? Aim for a line of enemies. Drop a magical ice block? Right on top of the toughest enemy, and try to take out some of his cronies! It works wonders and makes the game that much more challenging, especially when going against tough enemies where every turn counts and your AP is like gold.
As your characters attack, sometimes at the same time, you can chain together combos and it’s immensely satisfying. This also helps build your gauge and unlock serious attacks, but I won’t go too far into that. That, you just need to see for yourself, which is why I posted the video below. Around 1:00 into the video, they fire off a Demon’s Greed, and it’s awesome. Each character has there own attack, and while some attack a specific enemy unit, others attack in AoE formation or strike everyone at once.
There’s much more to Exist Archive, especially on the story front, but hopefully if you are in the market for a new RPG, there’s something here that sparked your interest. While it admittedly takes a lot to get me to try a game, and leagues more to keep me invested in it, this one has cemented itself into my daily bus ride and nighttime gaming sessions, and it’s a great way to spend some time exploring, grinding, or both. Those who don’t like grinding will find that it doesn’t require much to progress through the game, as the game can be played casually or it can be raced through. On the other hand, those of you who like cracking open YouTube at night and spending an hour or two hacking down hoards of enemies and leveling up might find Exist Archive a solid addition to your collection!