Video games have been around for a long time. Having become a worldwide phenomenon over the past 40 years, it only makes sense that in that amount of time, a game or two misses the North American shores. One of those games is a 16-bit JRPG called Live A Live from Square Enix. While it never officially released in America, the game has achieved a high cult status. Having played through the game myself, I can now say that Live A Live is worthy of its high praise, even if it starts to taper off towards the end.
A tale that spans the ages
At first glance, I assumed that Live A Live was a lengthy JRPG, something that spans somewhere in the neighborhood of 20-30 hours. I will note here that it does eventually become that. However, the presentation is unique for a game like this. Instead of telling one overarching story, Live A Live consists of seven distinct and different short stories. All of them tell tales from totally different time periods. One takes players into the Stone Age, another goes into the Japanese era of the Shinobi, another one explores Imperial China, and it goes on all the way through to the distant future.
What's immensely fascinating about Live A Live's presentation is that all seven of these stories are presented differently. I'll go into details shortly, but no two chapters are the same, either narratively or in terms of gameplay. However, as players begin running through these chapters and seeing the resemblance in nomenclature between each tale's antagonist, it starts to sink in that all of these stories are loosely tied together.
It's an ingeniously clever plot device, one that starts off as a narrative experiment and all comes together in the end for an epic climax. Although it's one that makes Live A Live feel almost like two separate games by the end, because the opening chapters are bite-sized in comparison to the big finale, which can go on for over several hours by itself. Worse, the final portion of the game will require more of a grind than anything that came before it, which can feel off-putting.
Select your hero
Off the bat, Live A Live asks players to select between one of seven distinct protagonists for stories set across different time periods. However, there are more differences to these stories than just their main characters and their settings. All seven of these tales play differently to the point that some of them even leap into entirely different genres. Many will stay close to the game's core turn-based combat, but others will experiment wildly.
For example, venturing to Imperial China or Prehistory will play close to a standard turn-based RPG with a few minor differences. Going into the Twilight of Edo Japan will put players in the role of a Shinobi warrior who must exercise stealth in navigating an enemy stronghold. Going to the Old West will see fewer turn-based encounters at the expense of a sequence that involves setting Home Alone-style traps for an incoming gang of marauders. Choosing the Present Day chapter takes players into a fighting game-like presentation, complete with one-on-one fights, versus screens, and character select menus. The most impressive of these experiments is the Distant Future chapter, which throws the typical JRPG formula out the window completely in favor of a sci-fi survival horror experience.
Of course, the whole game is tied together by that JRPG foundation. Turn-based encounters take place on a large grid, incorporating real-time strategy elements. Regardless of the story, battle mechanics are simple to master. That's largely because Live A Live doesn't waste time with having you master character builds. Character leveling, mastering techniques, and even the equipment element is accelerated to match the pace of each story. You're not looking to hit Level 99 with any of these heroes. You're basically developing just enough to get by, at least until the game's climax.
The downside of mixing so many formulas together is that if one specific one is not in a player's wheelhouse, it can feel daunting. I hit more than a few stopping points in Edo Japan after hitting several traps, while I likewise hit a wall in the Distant Future once time became a factor. Difficulty spikes are also an issue in certain places, as you'll naturally think you're coming along just fine until you hit an enemy that wipes out the entire party in one or two hits.
Stories for a new generation
What makes Live A Live stand out is that if I hadn't been told that this game first released almost 30 years ago, I never would have guessed it. The clever concept, all tied together by a single antagonistic force, and the timeless stories work just as brilliantly in 2022. On top of that, the addition of voice acting and the HD-2D graphic style make it feel like a modern RPG. This does not feel like I'm playing a Super NES title from the 90s. This is an RPG worthy of the Nintendo Switch, especially with the updated visual style and reworked soundtrack. (I have discovered Megalomania and it is good.)
Live A Live is fascinating for JRPG fans of all varieties. For those who grew up in the 16-bit gaming era, it's a time capsule into a bygone age of video games. For those who just want a good JRPG, this is that, too. For those who want a collection of different stories, each with their own characters, aesthetic, and vision, Live A Live serves that function well. Finally, North American audiences will get a chance to experience this game that feels truly timeless.
This review is based on a Nintendo Switch digital code provided by the publisher. Live A Live will be available Friday, July 21 on Nintendo Switch for $49.99 USD. The game is rated T.
Live A Live
- Unique tales set in different time periods
- Easy-to-understand turn-based combat
- Compelling characters
- Visually appealing HD-2D art style
- Soundtrack is great, especially Megalomania
- Not every chapter's gameplay style is for everyone
- Difficulty spikes will sneak up on you
- The game's final hours require a grind
Ozzie Mejia posted a new article, Live A Live review: The neverending fight against evil
Awesome!!! I need to get Live A Live remake/remaster on the Switch ASAP, as a big fan of OCTOPATH TRAVELER and knowing the OG SNES game of LAL I will be all over this when I have time.
Got to say the visual style is so dope and I really love it!
Thanks for the review and write up Ozzie \m/ :) \m/ .
LAL has my attention, I loved the way Octopath traveler looked, but the way it played was to close to the Bravely Default franchise for me and I lost interest in the story. This being a proto-Chrono Trigger (and not having the story actually touched) means it's day one for me.
Exactly, I can't wait!
damn. i want it.
Will definitely buy the inevitable PC port.
I hope so, if it came to the PC I would instant buy it.
Octopath and Bravely Default 2 made it to PC so I think it’s highly likely!