February 28, 2016

Exist Archive ~ The Other Side of the Sky ~ Review

Posted in video games tagged , at 9:18 am by riulyn

I finally finished the game last night with about ~45 hours put into it. I could have been a bit more efficient with my playthrough, but something about this game feels both long and short. Still, I think overall it was a solid effort and was worth my time.

GAMEPLAY

This is the main reason to pick up the game, for the most part. The system is very like Valkyrie Profile 1&2, if that is something you are familiar with. Looking up a gameplay video is probably better than any description I can write up.

Battle-wise, basically battles take place with your side and the enemies taking turns. In each turn you start off with AP and by pressing buttons (up to four characters mapped to four buttons) you can attack with desired timing to jostle enemies for maximum damage. The biggest draw of the system is having multiple “styles” or weapons/fighting skills. By leveling up fighting styles you can get up to 8-10 (I think) different attacks, of up to  3 which you can equip at a time to a fighting style and 1 to a magic style. Also while characters start off with a set fighting style, in the latter half of the game you can start switching people’s styles if they have learned it from a fellow party member.

I think the biggest difference and improvement off the Valkyrie Profile base is the fact that you can spend AP optionally during the enemy phase to guard (every phase you get a certain amount of AP). When you press the button to guard can really make a difference. Not guarding increases the “risk” taken, increases the probability of enemy item drops, and also lets you have more AP for your next attack phase. Later on in the game you may need to guard multiple times during the enemy’s turn as your character will stop guarding. Obviously counter skills are great to have equipped on your characters, especially the front-most character. Equipping counter (and timing the guard well) and/or intercept is the best way to thwart an enemy’s attack, so that’d be my recommendation for anyone who picks up the game who is wondering what guard skills to learn.

In dungeons, the biggest draw for this game is the platforming. Unfortunately it takes some time before you get to fully enjoy it, as additional “field skills” are introduced one-by-one. Eventually having the ability to double jump, jump from “crystal” to “crystal”, slide, etc. will be necessary to get to the final boss of a dungeon. As the number of field skills increase, the number of enemies on screen that you can fight increase as well. I think the last third or so of the game I was easily above the recommended level for each dungeon (sometimes over 10 levels above). At the beginning of the game I think it is best to be at least the recommended level (or maybe like 1-2 below); it makes less of a difference later on, of course, and having good equipment/skills is just or even more important than levels.

My major issues with the gameplay are 1) not enough enemy variety 2) the percentage of chain battles (basically when you have to face multiple enemy groups in a row) that you can trigger can be annoyingly high sometimes (once I got like 4 chain battles of 2+ chains in a row) 3) some of the dungeons can be quite large and there’s no way to quicksave. Also I’d love to be able to change my battle style in the middle of a boss battle if I come in with the totally wrong setup, but that’d probably break the game… Along with mages being able to attack more than once in a turn, I guess, though for me magic was really only great at the beginning, before the Greed gauge, and at the end against some physical attack resistant enemies. Otherwise I pretty much kept a mage only for healing.

PLOT/CHARACTERS

The main plot is a bit weak in my opinion and I feel like it is mostly a vehicle to allow you to gather the variety of characters and get a few different endings (by the way I have only gotten one of them). For most of the game, at least. The end part is actually quite interesting for major spoiler reasons, so I guess that might give some hope to people stuck in the middle chapters. Then again, the middle chapters are more about the mixed bag of characters. This is where I miss the writing of Valkyrie Profile most. Then again, it would be rather weird if the characters of this game, who before the game started were just living “ordinary” lives in Tokyo, to have the same types of stories as the Valkyrie Profile einherjar. Still, I think there was not enough dialogue in these dungeons where you are focused on a particular character’s backstory. Most times you only get a short sequence at the beginning, middle, and end of a dungeon.

The rest of learning about a character comes from optional skits that have a chance to be unlocked after clearing a dungeon. This is where you need to vary the people in your party in order to deepen their relationships with the main character and with each other. Still, most of these dialogues are pretty short too.

Late in the game you can make an important choice and some dialogue variation can happen in the main plot based on who you have in your party. Otherwise the game is also pretty obvious about another thing that can majorly affect how the game ends. I thought the ending I got was pretty satisfying (I think it is considered the “good” ending). It was a bit tough to follow when it was all animation with no text. I still need to work on my listening skills…

In conclusion, with better pacing of the writing and a bit more development of character relationships and backstories featured in the main story, I think this game could have been a lot more consistently enjoyable instead of feeling like bursts of good and bursts of nothingness. Eliminating most of the required hunting for crystals with no character interactions at all would be my fix, if I were to do something to make the game more to my taste.

OTHER

  • I think in the end I enjoyed the wacky character designs. I like how the characters know they aren’t quite wearing “normal” clothes either, at least from one or two of the skits I got.
  • The music is very typical Sakuraba. Unfortunately I feel like it doesn’t add much to the game, as I don’t think it gets a unique signature. I’d take his Valkyrie Profile soundtracks over this any day.
  • The Japanese level needed to progress through game is not too high (intermediate is probably good enough), but certainly being closer to fluent helps with understanding what the skills and attacks do.
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