Exist Archive is the definition of why I think the general audience feels like they would not like a J-RPG and a turn-based one at that. Despite the game having interesting art design, wonderful visuals, and a great voice cast, Exist Archive has the most linear and slow gameplay I have played in a J-RPG. From the repetitive combat system to the most linear and bland platforming sections, this game falls short of what could have been an amazing concept of a game.
After you think you are dead from an accident, you wake up in a completely new world. Introduced with a stunning cutscene and gorgeous score by Motoi Sakuraba, this game sets you in the right mood. The voice acting is superb with believable and clear deliveries, and the story has tons of potential as you are guided by a mysterious voice in a fantastical world. I thought, “Wow, this is going to be a great game!” And then the derivative combat and confusing experience systems rear their ugly heads.
Like my previous review of Oceanhorn: Monster of the Uncharted Seas, I had trouble with this game. I reached a lot of roadblocks. Like a traditional J-RPG, a lot of leveling up (grinding) is needed to defeat the bosses in this game as it has a lot of difficulty spikes. While this is fine for most instances, Exist Archive stands out as it provides little explanation as to how you can improve your character’s moves with the SP system and the difficulty jumps far too often. No matter how much I level up the characters, the SP seems to not be going up at all, and if you could progress properly, it would be pretty cool. Upgrading each character’s class and gaining different abilities seems like fun, but I wish I knew how to do this with a good tutorial. On the other hand, if you’re one who loves the idea of this combat system, you might find a lot of value from this game as it provides around 50 hours of gameplay as well as multiple endings. I also like how your actions in the game, such as retreating and letting others fall in battle, changes each character’s thoughts on you.
And the grinding doesn’t help when the battle system is a dull and repetitive bore-fest that has you go against similar enemies over and over and over again. It’s similar to Eternal Sonata, but think of it as only having one move at your disposal for each character. That’s like Final Fantasy characters only being able to use Fire with occasional ability changes and that’s it. You can decide which side of the field to attack, and then have your characters join together to fight each enemy wave at the same time. It’s also extremely magic-focused as characters with melee weapons seem to do very little to enemies in comparison. Each character’s attack is well animated and it feels satisfying to hit with each swing of a sword or a whip, but the damage output just isn’t there. Add these frustrations and you can understand why I wanted to play this game for 30 minute sessions.
Oh, and here’s the kicker. The save system. You’d think, ah, it will auto-save or a save point will show up in the level. Wrong. You have to get out of the level, press options for the menu, head to data (right at the bottom of the menu, mind you) and then finally save. This is probably the dumbest concept for a save system ever. What the heck was Tri-Ace thinking!? Oh, and if you die against a boss that you should level up for, guess what? You have to play that 20-30 minute level all over again, experience points included.
The way the game is laid out is awkward as well. There is a large overworld map you can move around in with a cursor, and it’s sometimes difficult to find out where the next mission is, despite how cool the animation is when the player zooms into the world as it rotates. The way it is set out is like Monster Hunter, in which you choose the mission you want (or return to the mission for experience and grinding) but it makes me feel disconnected from the world and the story with this style of progression.
Despite a wonderful opening score from Matoi Sakuraba, this game has some of the most generic J-RPG music imaginable. The battle music rings in my ears every time I hear it due to how dull and repetitive it is, and there is nothing remarkable about the field music.
However, this game does have a few positives. First, is the voice acting. I was enveloped by the story, thanks to the great voice work behind the large cast. Conversations sound natural; no one has an annoyingly high pitched voice, and it’s crisp and clear. Each voice delivery is nailed to a tee and resemble the characters perfectly. Next, the art style and the visuals presented from this otherworldly location: it looks unique, colorful, and interesting to platform your way through. There are things in the background you can notice and the chibi-esque art style can be charming for those who grew up with PS2 J-RPGs.
The story is very intriguing as you are following a being called Yamatoga, who has forced you to help him to be reborn. You are also finding people who are also scattered around the world, who are away from Earth and they come together to survive. It’s not often that you get a blend of fantasy and science fiction in a J-RPG. However, due to the story and the gameplay not blending together at the same time, it feels disconnected. You are rewarded by beating the repetitive level with a cutscene rather than the story being part of the gameplay. A recent example, World of Final Fantasy, is able to slide in some witty conversations during dungeon exploring and manages to keep the story and character interaction progressing, but Exist Archive fails at connecting these two game aspects together. To be honest, I wish this was a visual novel instead.
Sadly, this review has sounded more like a rant, but this game has given me so much frustration over the past few weeks. When I talk to family and friends who like games, and I try to convince them to play a turn-based J-RPG, this is the definition of what they think they’d experience. Despite great voice acting and unique (and charming) scenery, this is a J-RPG, that is so repetitive, dull, and incoherent, which just drives me up the wall.
A PS4 Review Code for Exist Archive was provided by Aksys Games for the purpose of this review