Review: Exist Archive fits a familiar Profile

What do you do when you want to make a Valkyrie Profile game but you don’t have the license? If you’re Spike Chunsoft, you hire the people who made those games to make Exist Archive, published in the west by Aksys. It’s an homage in so many ways, but does it live up to its spiritual predecessor?

Developer tri-Ace’s Exist Archive is a gorgeous game, which turns out to be a big problem. Why? Because it fights against this beauty in several ways that would be way less of an issue if its aesthetic were mediocre. The first: its use of anime-style character portraits. These are fairly standard in JRPGs these days, but the styles of the CG models and 2D representations clash, their differences just large enough to give players trouble connecting the two.

The other is its decision to give the minimap in the corner of the screen so much importance. The lush world isn’t particularly well-marked and the screen is zoomed in so far that it only marginally makes sense on the Vita and is just plain silly on PS4. What’s more, with “exploration” bonuses for each area relying on how much of the map you’ve uncovered, you’ll need to arbitrarily jump around until top corners are uncovered and other such silliness. The result is a game you’ll more easily navigate through the small map rather than looking at any of the lush environment and its pleasant colors.

Still, when you do get to actually see it, Exist Archive is a joy to behold. It’s still a low-budget title designed for Vita specifications, but it works within that simplicity and delivers what it can. Technically, though, it splits the difference. The game was clearly targeted for the Vita, but it often runs less than ideally on that platform. It’s nice and smooth on the PS4, so it may be the better option even with its shortcomings.

When you do get to actually see it, Exist Archive is a joy to behold.

Spike Chunsoft tapped Tales veteran Motoi Sakuraba for the game’s soundtrack, yet another Valkyrie Profile nod, and what he delivers here is… the same Tales soundtrack you’ve heard a dozen times already. It’s indistinguishable and with very little character, to be expected from a composer with a lot on his plate, but… hey, Valkyrie Profile fans, there’s another bit of fanservice.

Exist Archive‘s tactical battles feel very different from the usual JRPG fare, often feeling more like bowling than combat. You’ll take on large waves in various formations, and you want to deal the most damage to the most creatures, while also keeping the remaining foes in close proximity so you don’t waste a whole turn slicing at a tiny foe in the corner. Attacking first — that is, slicing them on the map screen before touching them — isn’t just advantageous. It’s virtually required, since one round of attacks from a full dozen foes is simply rough. The game’s designed to let you cut that number in half or more before you take hits, and you’ll need to make that happen. (Bosses, thankfully, don’t move and make themselves obvious as you approach.)

There are, of course, characters that can hit larger areas better. Others become more useful when you encounter foes that must be attacked from afar, ones with elemental resistances and other sorts of complications, making you adjust your approach strategy. Mages are the cannons of the group and almost universally useful, but they’re often limited to a spell every turn or two, making them a liability while they recover. You’ll find a group you like, but the game encourages rotating the cast in and out when it’s useful, letting bench characters level up when you don’t carry them along on missions.

A lot of the game’s appeal comes from its deep character customization. Equipment is nice and all, but you’ll most shape your characters through the Skill system, spending points on broadening job classes, augmenting attacks and equipping drop bonuses. It’s the real churn of the game, and a reason to keep on taking quests. Considering that the game’s built on these side quests and menu systems with little narrative or gameplay justification for much of anything, these skills prove to be a real motivator for a title that needs one.

Exist Archive‘s tactical battles feel very different from the usual JRPG fare, often feeling more like bowling than combat.

Don’t come to Exist Archive expecting an emotionally engaging tale; it’s arbitrary anime randomness designed to set up the sparse world and give you a reason to fight. There are no towns or NPCs, only the key characters and a few recycled environments to explore over and over again. This is the aspect through which the game’s budget nature most shows. It’s serviceable, and again — the areas do look nice — but don’t expect a living, breathing world or a true narrative reason to keep going.

Exist Archive makes classic Valkyrie Profile gameplay more accessible for a new generation, serving as an homage for fans and an entry point for beginners. It certainly has its shortcomings, but those seeking out this sort of experience will likely find themselves willing to tolerate a lot to get a fresh taste of a long-gone favorite.

Score: 7/10
Publisher: Aksys Games
Release Date: October 18, 2016
Developer: Spike Chunsoft
Platform(s): PS4, Vita
Questions? Check out our review guide.
A review copy was provided by the publisher or developer for this review.

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