This Week in Games - Exist Archive

by Dustin Bailey,

First things first, let's get this out of the way: the teaser video for the Nintendo Switch, Nintendo's next console, is here.

Watch it, absorb it, really give it some thought, and you'll get my full reaction next week.

Moving on: oh thank god Yakuza 5 is over. Don't take that as an indictment of the game's quality—it's pretty good, though less good than other Yakuza games. It's just long. So, so long. 80 hours by the end. I'm still excited about the English release of 0, but 5... Well, now that I'm out of that hole, I finally have time to put into other games. Games like Exist Archive!

First Impressions: Exist Archive: The other Side of the Sky

Exist Archive: The other Side of the Sky is a spiritual successor to Valkyrie Profile, a cult classic RPG published by Square at the tail end of the original PlayStation's life. I've never played Valkyrie Profile, and given the game's rarity and exorbitant prices on the secondary market, I suspect I'm in no small minority on that. Exist Archive, made by the same studio tri-Ace, offers some flashes of the brilliance which made the original game so beloved. However, it doesn't have a unique enough identity to stand on its own.

The good part is the combat, which is lifted almost note-for-note from the classic RPG. You control a party of four, whose positions on the field correspond with the face buttons. A meter of AP governs the entire party's actions for that turn, with each action naturally taking a certain amount of time to perform and having a certain effect on the enemy. Melee character have three-hit combos that can launch enemies into the air or knock them to the ground, while magic characters have powerful spells that can only be used once per turn.

The flow of battle has you building combos across your party, using weak attacks and openers to break the enemy guard and allow more powerful strikes to come through. Strike, launch, spell, follow-up strike, knockdown, bullet, melee, finish. It's turn based, but dialing in those combos across the face buttons makes combat feel almost more like fighting game than RPG, as you learn the timing for each character's attack and come to understand how long enemies are left open as well as what options are best to follow up with.

It's incredibly satisfying once you start to come up with solid combos, especially once you begin to experiment with character customization and the skills system. Skill points earned by leveling up let you invest in special abilities that can do things like add effects to certain attacks or give you passive bonuses. “Add knockdown to second strike” or “instant recover from guard break,” things of that nature.

There are many more odds and ends around that core. Combat has two phases--attack and guard, and your AP applies to both. That means you'll want to cautiously guard with only the party members who are in danger to ensure you have the most AP possible when it comes time to attack. Many attacks have an area of effect, allowing you to deal damage to lots of enemies with a single attack if you're positioned appropriately. What amounts to a super meter fills as you attack, letting you deal massive damage provided you've appropriately opened up the enemy through the rest of the combo.

It's good that Exist Archive combat is so terrific, because the game doesn't have a whole lot else going for it. You explore dungeons as side-scrolling platform stages—again, much like Valkyrie Profile—but the analog movement feels loose and imprecise here, which makes exploring these areas more frustrating than it should be. Granted, this is a game free from platforming challenges, and you're only really tasked with finding items and getting preemptive strikes on enemies before entering battle, but the imprecision of the movement makes wandering the dungeons way more tedious than it otherwise would be.

More damning is the actual design of the levels, which is already repeating less than a half-dozen hours into the story. Whole chunks of level layout seem to be copy and pasted across multiple locations, making the dungeons—which you're already forced to repeat throughout the story—a repetitious exercise to run through. Some locations set themselves apart through lovely art design, but even that's undercut by the blurry textures and and sharp edges that betray the games portable roots even on PS4.

I've not said much about the story because there's not a whole lot to say. A couple of kids from Tokyo seem to have died in a mysterious explosion, but find themselves transported to a techno-fantasy world that could be the afterlife or an alien planet, and there they get tied up in ancient grudge between factions of a once-great civilization. There have been some interesting turns, but it hews largely to the usual epic fantasy tropes.

The cast of characters do little to elevate the plot, as they feel like the low-rent versions of a Persona crew—a full cavalcade of anime cliches, but without the unique quirks and flaws to make them stand apart. The game is fully voiced and features tracks both in English and the original Japanese. Both sets of performances are fine, but neither elevate the mediocre script, which features such groan-worthy elements as a (mercifully brief) running gag about whether “for reelz” is an acceptable use of language.

I want to like Exist Archive a lot more than I do. It's bright and colorful with an involving combat system that seems to have a ton of depth. But the issues I've had with it so far—primarily the repetitive dungeons and tedious exploration—are things that typically only get worse as an RPG wears on. For a lot of folks, the strength of the combat will be enough to elevate the game, but its other issues will likely keep it as a niche curiosity rather than a cult classic.

NEWS

RED DEAD REDEMPTION 2 IS REAL AND IT'S MAGNIFICENT

Here at This Week In Games, I typically cover titles of Japanese origin. That comes with the territory when you're part of an anime site. This… well, it doesn't get much more western than this. But hey, there's no bigger news in gaming right now, so what am I gonna do, not talk about the Red Dead announcement?

Red Dead Redemption 2 has been officially announced for Xbox One and PlayStation 4, and is currently scheduled to release in fall of 2017. The teaser image that came along with the official announcement shows (a magnificent) seven figures strolling over the hills, which has everybody speculating that this game will focus on the exploits of John Marston's days with his outlaw gang.

On one hand, I feel like I'm kinda over Rockstar's hyper-cynical take on, well, everything it makes, and the thought of seeing Marston prior to his redemptive arc isn't incredibly appealing to me—though I guess it's better than playing as his son. On the other hand, holy geez Red Dead Redemption was so good. I'll play more of it.

NEW TEASERS CONFIRM THAT RESIDENT EVIL 7 HAS GAMEPLAY ELEMENTS

I am able to confirm right now, exclusively for all of you, that Resident Evil VII is, in fact, a video game! Break out the champagne! Our long international nightmare is over, thanks to a series of teaser videos put out by CAPCOM. They confirm that RE7 will have item boxes, save points, and shotguns.

Okay, the idea that RE7 would be devoid of combat and inventory management was always a little silly, but the teaser demo was drawing so heavily from things like P.T. and indie horror that the thought of the seminal series entirely losing its identity in pursuit of “true horror” felt pretty real. It looks like CAPCOM is smartly combining a return to horror with more traditional gameplay systems, and they're doing a tremendous job at marketing this thing, especially given how directionless the series had gotten by RE6.

ENJOY FOOTAGE OF A 3D LINK'S AWAKENING WHILE YOU STILL CAN

Allow me to offer a controversial opinion: Link's Awakening is the best 2D Zelda game. Now it's getting a 3D remake as an Ocarina of Time romhack. Given Nintendo's treatment of recent fan projects, well… enjoy it while you can. I might ordinarily be reticent to raise the profile of something like this precisely because of NoA's litigiousness, but it's already been widely reported on, and we must enjoy this precious flower before it is crushed under the weight of IP law.

I say “precious flower,” but the overall trailer seems to be doubling down on the worst side of the Zelda fandom, promising a “darker” storyline than the original Game Boy game. I mean, look, I too thought that—spoilers—Link falling in love with a girl who was just a dream was super deep stuff when I was twelve, but there's no need to go all “blades will bleed” on it. Sometimes simplicity is the greatest storytelling device.

But that's just my take as a cynical old man, and I'm not the guy who's put in a year of work recreating a Game Boy world in a now-ancient 3D engine. I love seeing romhacks like this and the ambition of folks who are able to build new games out of old materials, and I really hope this project reaches its conclusion.

NEXT WEEK'S RELEASES

DRAGON BALL XENOVERSE 2
Developer: Dimps
Publisher: Bandai Namco
Platform: PlayStation 4 / Xbox One / PC
Release Date: October 25
MSRP: $59.99

Another year, another Dragon Ball title. Like the previous game, Dragon Ball Xenoverse 2 tells an original story rather than rehashing the show's plot yet again, casting you in the role of an original character as you explore the world and engage in a whole lot of 3D battle arena action.

The developers promise a much larger hub world this time around, as well as smaller hubs to pop into. The story will take shape based on the decisions of the protagonist, and saves from the previous game can be imported to ensure that your previous character has a role to play. I'm not saying this is Mass Effect with Dragon Ball, but…

WORLD OF FINAL FANTSY
Developer: Tose / Square Enix
Publisher: Square Enix
Platform: PlayStation 4 / PlayStation Vita
Release Date: October 25
MSRP: $59.99 / $39.99

It's a Pokémon-ified take on Final Fantasy history, with a couple of original characters capturing and battling an array of monsters as they explore a world where dozens of FF cast members live together. Creature captures make your party highly customizable, and the basic combat system is the good ol' ATB we all know and love.

There's a lot more I could say as I'm currently working my way through a review copy, but I'm sadly embargoed until just before the game's release. Look forward to a full standalone review next week!

YOMAWARI: NIGHT ALONE
Developer: Nippon Ichi Software
Publisher: NIS America
Platform: PlayStation Vita / PC
Release Date: October 25
MSRP: $19.99

Yomawari: Night Alone is a 2D survival-horror game which features a young girl in the dark of night searching for her missing sister and puppy. Naturally, the night isn't quite what it seems, and you'll have to hide and outsmart wandering spirits while searching for your missing loved ones.

This combination of adorable art and horror-stealth gameplay has the potential to be really interesting. A physical release on Vita also includes last year's htoL#NiQ: The Firefly Diary, which features similar art and themes, though with a more puzzly, platformy, Limbo-y vibe.

ALSO AVAILABLE:
In other game releases that are major but way outside of this column's wheelhouse, Battlefield 1 is out this week, pushing hard against the sci-fi-ification of military shooters by taking things all the way back to World War I. Then there's another massive western release in the form of Farming Simulator 17, which I could make fun of, but that would be massively hypocritical of me given my ridiculous addiction to American Truck Simulator.

Corpse Party hits 3DS this week with an enhanced port of the PSP/iOS game, which was in turn a remake of the original. Perfect time to start getting down with the dead. Finally, Nobunaga's Ambition: Sphere of Influence will have a standalone expansion in the form of Ascension, which promises a host of new features for the expansive strategy game.

See you next week!


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