Exist Archive -The other Side of the Sky- Original Soundtrack


Review by · November 13, 2017

“But it’s not Valkyrie Profile!”

O whiny friend… hear me, and hear me now: I get it. I understand completely. I played Exist Archive to completion, and while it had all the trappings of a VP title, it didn’t have the lore, and the characters — try as the writers did to make them interesting — were simply uninteresting. And, yes, if you had the Vita version, your game soft-locked too often to count. Exist Archive is a deeply flawed game. I’m with you. I’m glad we agree.

The soundtrack, on the other hand? It may as well be a Valkyrie Profile soundtrack.

Motoi Sakuraba, the machine-like producer of musical content that he is, tends to keep certain instrumental sets and certain musical styles within the realm of certain franchises. Most Sakuraba fans can discern a “Tales” track from a “Star Ocean” track from a “Valkyrie Profile” track. And if you really know your stuff, you’ll recognize his work on the first Dark Souls, or Baten Kaitos, or even something as surprising as Mario Tennis 64 (yes, you heard me, look it up).

But if I sat you down with a shuffled playlist of VP1, VP2, and Exist Archive, and asked you to identify which song came from which game … do you really think you could differentiate them? Because I suspect I couldn’t, and I’ve listened to this soundtrack a good 15-20 times now in preparation for this review.

To that end, if someone were to ask me what I think of the Exist Archive soundtrack in terms of quality, it is not much of a stretch for me to defer to the general opinion of Sakuraba’s fanbase regarding the Valkyire Profile soundtracks… which is to say, the music is quite good.

Having played the game, I will add that the music is also quite good within the game’s context. Some songs stand out more than others. I have always been impressed by soft, sparse, or minimalist music by the oft-layer-happy Sakuraba. To that end, “Star of Administrator” may be my absolute favorite piece on the OST, both as it stands as music, and in the game’s context. A place to rest, collect oneself, and stand in the presence of the cyberpunk equivalent of the game’s goddess-figure: it deserves music this pure, this transcendental. But do we, the listeners, deserve such beauty? I do not know. But I remain thankful for it. This single piece stands apart as one of Sakuraba’s best. Honestly, it’s some of the best RPG music I’ve heard in a long time. It could just as easily have been put into NieR: Automata. That is the level of quality I’m talking about here.

If you’re looking for other soft pieces on this album, there are plenty to go ’round. Another you can sample here is “separation,” found right in the middle of disc two. Others include the two opening tracks, the final track, and one of the ending themes: “In the Earth.”

However, if you’re a Motoi Sakuraba fan, I bet you’re itching for some intense exploration and battle themes, yes? Fear not! We are well covered on that front. The standard battle theme, “XENO-Factor,” scratches all the right itches in your ears. The double-time slap bass, the break-neck pace, the bombastic choir synth, and who can forget the third-harmonic keyboard lead? You know you wanted this as much as I wanted this, and that’s exactly why we got it. Sakuraba knows how to deliver.

For something more menacing, check out “Confrontation of the force” near the end of disc one. Running at a painfully fast tempo in a 5/4 time signature, this piece is so strong, it nearly becomes unbearable: and then, relief! Around the 40 second mark, the intensity of the layered instrumentation gets dialed back, paving the way for a short piano solo. However, that repeated piano melody is then quickly rejoined by all the cacophany from the start, and then comes the loop. It may not be the most aesthetically pleasing piece, but it is very smart, and in-game it is very effective.

But of course, I’ve left out the most epic battle music of all: the boss battle track, “Ruler of Valiant.” For this tune, Motoi Sakuraba flexes all of his musical muscles. Not only does he have his one-man band (keyboard, guitar, bass, drums) in full gear, he also carries a powerful counter-melody throughout the piece with a brass ensemble synth. Across this six minute piece, Sakuraba pulls no punches and throws in many of his signature moves: atonal/12-tone breakdowns, counter-intuitive drum fills, loads of polyrhythm between instruments, and enough syncopation to trick the listener into thinking a complex time signature awaits, when in fact it does not. That’s right: Sakuraba will fake-out a 7/8 time signature based on syncopated patterns and then resolve it in the last moment. It’s like walking up a flight of stairs in the dark, and you think there’s one more stair, but you’ve already reached the top, and for that brief half-second, one foot is in an unexpected free-fall, only to find you were on level ground all along.

As great as these battle themes are, however, I vote for the exploration/dungeon music as overall best in show. First, there’s that catchy world map tune, “The Other Side of the Sky.” When you hear this, you’re going to want to transform into Lenneth and fly around Midga— excuse me, I got the wrong game again. You’ll want to wander around a maybe-techno-heaven and stop the pseudo-demonic forces that thrive on souls…? Don’t worry, I’m still confused about the plot too.

From the world map, players enter all the various dungeons. In these dungeons, players will get to hear catchy tunes like “Emerald Forest,” “Ancient monument,” and later, the “Tower” tracks (Central/Last). There are others, of course, but these remain my favorite of the bunch. I think “Ancient monument” on its own carries my argument as far as it will go, so be sure to give it a listen.

And now, o less-whiny friend, I am going to give you some news that might send you from whining into full weeping. Do you see the catalog number for this soundtrack? SCEA-0001. Want to guess what the letters in that catalog listing stand for? Without question, the first two are “Spike Chunsoft,” as they are the listed publisher on the soundtrack’s packaging. I can’t say for sure about EA, but I think it actually does stand for “Exist Archive.” Which is to say, Spike Chunsoft printed this soundtrack independently and sold it exclusively through Enterbrain’s online shop “Ebten.”

Consider this: Zero Time Dilemma has yet to have any kind of soundtrack release, and the new Danganronpa V3 soundtracks are still published through the composer’s “Sound Prestige” record label. Why didn’t Sakuraba see to it that a label like Team Entertainment, or some other label he used prior to Square Enix managing previous tri-Ace works, publish this so it would get better distribution? I have no answer to that question.

What I can tell you is that this album is not easily obtained, especially for those of us who live outside Japan. I was fortunate enough to pick up this soundtrack secondhand from a dear friend. But you will not find this soundtrack at the usual hot spots: Play-Asia, Yes-Asia, CD Japan, Amazon Japan, you will strike out at all of these online shops. Your only retail option is ebten.jp (full link to item here), and they do not ship internationally, so you will need some kind of middleman service, or a personal contact in Japan who will take care of that business for you.

It really is a shame that this soundtrack is likely to fall into the realm of obscurity. It doesn’t deserve that. But, because tri-Ace did not collaborate with a powerhouse like Square Enix for this title, both the game and the soundtrack seem to lack the marketing power needed to let people hear it for themselves. But I will say it again: if you adore the Valkyrie Profile soundtracks to the degree that I do (a lot), the Exist Archive OST is a necessity. Your VP music collection is missing a fragment of its soul otherwise. Even without being written for a VP title, this is a VP soundtrack. That’s all there is to it.

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Patrick Gann

Patrick Gann

Therapist by day and gamer by night, Patrick has been offering semi-coherent ramblings about game music to RPGFan since its beginnings. From symphonic arrangements to rock bands to old-school synth OSTs, Patrick keeps the VGM pumping in his home, to the amusement and/or annoyance of his large family of humans and guinea pigs.