Live a Live
(available for Nintendo Switch only)
Live a Live has been developed by Square Enix, and in the case of America and Europe has been published by Nintendo. It’s another game that Square Enix has used its HD2D engine to recreate the sprite work of early Square Enix RPGs to give them a modern feel. We’ve seen this with earlier games like Octopath Traveller and Triangle Strategy. Square Enix, however, didn’t want to just create new spiritual successors to their previous games, they also wanted a chance to remake some of the classics. We first saw this with the announcement of the Dragon Quest 3 remake, and we’re now seeing this again with Live a Live.
Live a Live was a Super Nintendo RPG that was never localised outside of Japan. This remake is the first time many of us have been able to play the game (legally, at least) there were many emulations online with fan translations but this is the first one that you can legally purchase.
The game is a little different to other Square Enix RPGs, in fact, in many ways Octopath Traveller borrows a lot from this game. Mainly due to the fact that it’s focus is on a series of characters with their own individual stories. Though unlike Octopath Traveller, these characters are vastly different and they have their own self-contained stories with their own cast of characters.
The gimmick with this RPG is that there are several stories throughout time. You have pre-history with a young caveman named Pogo, the Edo Japan period storyline that involves a Shinobi warrior carrying out a stealth mission, an Imperial China storyline that has a kung-fu master searching for a successor to carry on his work, a Wild West story where an outlaw named the Sundance Kid rallies a town to defend themselves from a group of bandits, a present day storyline involving a fighter travelling the world to fight the various strongest fighters in the world in order to learn their techniques, a near future storyline which involves a psychic kid protecting his orphanage from an evil military organisation, and a distant future storyline involving an AI named Cube who is trying to save a spaceship he’s on along with his crew and creator after things start to go wrong.
There is an extra unlockable story after the fact, and while I won’t go into detail about it, I will mention that it’s there because if you bought this game from the Nintendo Store and got the free gift you also receive a set of character cards and the 8th character is on there, so it won’t be too much of a surprise.
You’re not just getting the exact same thing every time. While they each have a similar battle system, each one of these storylines takes the gameplay in a slightly different direction.
Obviously, I’m experiencing this for the first time. I haven’t played an emulation of the original, so for me, this is almost a brand-new game. So, I’ll be judging it by itself. But from what I can tell, this is pretty much the Super Nintendo Game done in the HD engine and there isn’t much new put into it.
I’ve already mentioned what the basic aspects of each individual story are, but I was surprised at how much I enjoyed them! Despite the fact that each of them vary in length and none of them really go on for more than 3 hours (in fact, some of them are incredibly short, I reckon you could probably beat the present day storyline in about half an hour if you’re competent enough. I’m obviously not, so it took me a bit longer). There’s a lot more to do in these storylines if you want to seek them out. But as they go, they’re all pretty good and none of them felt very lacking. I certainly feel like the present day one could’ve done with a bit more.
I think my favourites were the Imperial China storyline, the prehistoric storyline, as well as both the near and distant future storylines. They all had really good stories. I’ve heard many people say that the near future one is their favourite, and I can definitely tell why. It will be especially appealing to anime fans, as it’s the most anime-like story of the bunch.
Obviously, because the stories are so short, I won’t go into much detail about the important moments of them because I feel like you should experience them for yourself. What I did like, though, was how they managed to connect all of the stories together. You have to put a little bit of effort in but the connection between them is really interesting. I would also really recommend getting the true ending if you can. It doesn’t take up too much effort but maybe look up a guide just in case.
I really should have put gameplay in the mixed section just for what I believe a lot of fans will react to for one simple reason: Some of the storylines don’t allow you to grind for certain characters. In fact, some of the storylines actually have minimal battling. Though I will reassure you, each storyline does have battling at least once.
For example, anyone who played the demo will know that the distant future has very little battles, and a couple of storylines had only one or two. Some storylines don’t have character growth and experience. The good news is that you’re equipped to deal with most of what’s going to come at you.
The gameplay revolves around a grid-based system, you have a certain amount of movement before your opponent gets to move which is shown by a metre below the health bar of each character, and when they reach the top you can make a move or an attack. So you might want to think about that when moving a character from one tile to another. It does sound a bit like I’m suggesting that this is a bit like Fire Emblem, but if there’s any game that it really reminded me of it’s actually the South Park RPGs, particularly the Fractured But Whole. I felt like the gameplay of that game has definitely taken inspiration from Live a Live.
Attacks also come with certain types, with enemies having certain resistances and weaknesses to them. So, targeting enemies’ vulnerabilities can definitely put you at an advantage. There’s also charge attacks that both you and your enemy can take, but if a powerful enough attack is taken from either side, the character doing the attack can be interrupted.
The battle system itself is very fun and addictive and it’s probably why I enjoyed the storylines that included more battles rather than the visual novels. Though as I said, the distant future is definitely in the latter camp and that still worked really well.
The weakness aspect to it isn’t as prominent as in Octopath Traveller, which borrows a very similar system, but I will say that this game does have an excellent battle system, just be aware that enemies weaknesses aren’t the be all and end all.
- Graphics and Art style
The art style actually recreates the Super Nintendo Game (from what I’ve seen of it) really well. But man, the HD2D engine is getting better and better each time it’s used. This might be one of the best if not the best this engine has made a game look. It’s also interesting to see this generate more types of environments. We saw a bit of that with Octopath Traveller and Triangle Strategy certainly expanded on environments, but they were both kind of limited in that sense since they had to still replicate a rather mediaeval environment for their settings. Because Live a Live has to deal with so many different time periods, we’re starting to see more interesting ideas of where this engine can take games, and it looks great in pretty much all of them.
I have to reiterate something that Modern Vintage Gamer said in a podcast, that I think the budget for this game was a lot more than any of us expected, because it is such a good use of what Square Enix has been working with for quite a while now.
The sprite work is once again, also excellent. I really enjoyed how this game looked. This is probably one of the best-looking games of the year with how they took something that already looked great and just made it better. I’m really interested to see what Dragon Quest 3 will look like in this engine.
Live A Live is definitely a contender for soundtrack of the year. That’s all that really needs to be said. The songs do tend to repeat, but they are really good. Some of the highlights include the Imperial China theme, some of the background music of the Wild West storyline line, but there’s also a few more standouts. There’s also Megalomania which is the final boss theme in every storyline, and it sounds great, it gets you so pumped for the final battle. And yes, it is the song that Toby Fox used for his classic Megalovania in Undertale.
The other song I want to highlight is Go Go Steel Titan, one of the songs from the near future storyline, which unlike the original game they have added vocals this time to turn it into what is essentially a 90’s anime opening. It’s also sung by the same vocalist who did Cha La Head Cha La for Dragon Ball Z! And he sang it in both English and Japanese.
The great thing about this game is that when you beat a storyline you unlock all of the songs for the jukebox in the main menu, so you can listen to them to your heart’s content, and I would really recommend doing so.
- Game length
The length of Live A Live is a bit of an interesting one for me.. Some of the storylines don’t really go on for long enough in my opinion- the present day one is pretty much over as soon as you get started with it, I barely got a chance to get to know the main characters before we were fighting the final battle, and I think that the Wild West one could have used a bit more time. But most of them are pretty good, and generally the length is alright; you’re looking at about 20 hours from start to finish, and maybe a bit more if you’re going down the completion-ist route.
However, because there’s a lack of random encounters in many environments, you won’t be doing too many things like grinding to extend the gameplay, at least not in the early portions of the game.
I also think that some people may think that the length is a bit short for a full-priced RPG, especially considering that this came out only a week before Xenoblade Chronicles 3, which is pretty much guaranteed to be an 80 hour+ RPG. If you get the true ending, this is a one and done experience and I’m not sure you would want to go back.
Though there are some benefits to going back and doing things differently, in fact during my playthrough I actually kept a save file separate so that I could go back and do things differently if I needed to. That being said, I did get the true ending which is so good, I think it may be a while until I come back and replay this game. Nevertheless, I also will say that by the end it was starting to drag a little bit.
- Difficulty Spike
I don’t want to give away too much because it relates to the final portion of the game, but I think that the final portion does have a bit of a difficulty spike. Basically, the game kind of gets you ready for the final fight rather organically in each storyline, you can pretty much just follow the story and you’ll be well equipped to deal with almost everything it throws at you. The final portion of the game, however, doesn’t really allow you to do that- there’s definitely a lot more thought involved, and I don’t think that the game properly prepares you for it.
This is a slight nit-pick since I actually did enjoy the final segment, but the final boss is also really difficult and you are going to have to do some of the extra stuff so that your characters are of appropriate strength to deal with it. I would really recommend potentially having a guide for the final segment because there’s a few optional stuff that is a bit cryptic. That being said though, some of the guides that I found weren’t so useful, and at the time of release there of course wasn’t very many YouTube guides.
The final portion does have a few things that drag, but overall, it doesn’t sour the game for me.
Live A Live is a really great RPG. I think that the battle system is great, the soundtrack is great, and the storyline is really good even if a few of them are a bit underdeveloped. Overall, the game works really well. Although there’s an occasional difficulty spike, it’s never off putting, and I really enjoyed my time with the game. It’s a bit shorter than I was expecting, but in all honesty I still thought that it was a great experience playing it and I’m really glad that this game now has the chance to get the recognition outside of Japan that it deserves.
If you like good classic RPGs, this is definitely one for you. Though with the gameplay changing up each time (e.g. the near future replicating Megaman and crafting only being properly used in the prehistoric storyline) you might find that each segment is a bit lacking from what you would expect in an RPG. But I think that this might be good for people that aren’t really into RPGs since you get a bit of everything concentrated into each storyline.
There’s not really much else to say about it, it’s really good and I highly recommend it!
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