It certainly feels as though Square Enix have been around since the Stone Age. With that, comes a huge catalogue of both quality and diverse games. Most recently, Square Enix have been experimenting with their 2D-HD engine, which contains a blend of 2D sprites with beautiful 3D backgrounds. With the likes of Octopath Traveller and Triangle Strategy gracing our screens, Square Enix are now delving into their archives and shining a torch on Live A Live, a niche game which previously only saw a release in Japan. Now remade gracefully for the Nintendo Switch and finally localised for the west, does Live A Live stand the test of time?
Live A Live
Developed by Square Enix
Published by Nintendo
Released: 22nd July 2022
Review code provided by Nintendo
Despite its age, it’s hard to classify Live A Live as a typical RPG. The game offers a selection of seven chapters featuring characters from different time periods. From the Caveman era in “Pre-History” all the way to the “Distant Future”, Live A Live explores human nature and the narrative surrounding these characters in unique ways. Most chapters feature an estimated three-hour runtime, with the shortest around the forty minute mark. This may sound short, but Square Enix have done a fine job of ensuring each story is told to its potential and, thanks to this, none of the chapters overstay their welcome. This could be considered Live A Live’s greatest strength, but in balance could also play to its detriment. While each chapter does feel complete, they can feel somewhat undercooked. For an RPG, I would expect to invest time in my characters, build up their stats and focus on my movesets, making sure I can take down common enemies and build up to the inevitable boss fights. While Live A Live features elements of this, they often feel shallow in such short bursts. The game can sometimes lack challenge and, in consequence, I often found it just a tad too easy.
Having said that, Square Enix injects so much personality into each and every chapter it’s hard to complain. Not only are the narratives especially unique, they each contain their own distinct mechanics. Take “Twilight of Edo Japan” as an example. At the start of the chapter, you are shown how to act stealthily and hide from enemies by becoming invisible, or told that you can “paint the walls red” and fight your way through the castle to reach your goal, introducing the option for both a pacifist run or a route dripping in violence. Though more difficult, the pacifist run will reward you with a better ending. Present Day features what could essentially be considered a Boss-Rush mode. As a skilled fighter, you want to beat the best from all around the world. By entering a turn-based battle with each enemy, you have the opportunity to learn their skills to strategically obtain an advantage against the next champion and so forth. I won’t go into detail for every chapter, but the unique mechanics behind every narrative means the gameplay always feels fresh. Typical for video games of 90’s era, Live A Live has distinct secrets hidden throughout its gameplay. I won’t spoil any here, but those wanting to play blind will almost certainly miss out on some bonus content. Thankfully Live A Live allows you to replay any chapter at any time without starting a whole new save file.
Each protagonist simply oozes personality and charisma, adding extra flavour to this already delicious specimen of a video game. Pogo from the Pre-History Chapter lives in a time where language has not yet been developed to communicate, and so the whole chapter is full of grunts and moans but his character is not just an empty, silent protagonist for the player to project onto. He is an energetic young boy heading through a heroic, coming-of-age story. Sundown from the Wild-West is a foul-mouthed, anti-hero gunslinger trying to save a small town from a villainous gang and Akira from the Near Future is the typical, moody but powerful teenager who can read minds and fills the more typical, JRPG hero mould. These are just some of my favourites but you will be hard-pressed to find yourself actively disliking the effort put into any of the line-up.
Live A Live has no absolute set route, meaning you can begin in whichever time period appeals most and it also allows you to dip in and out of chapters at will. If I was having a hard time with Pre-History or felt as though it was getting stale, I could save my progress and jump right into the Wild West for a change of pace. With this level of flexibility at hand, even those who bore easily will find satisfaction throughout the twenty-hour campaign offered here. It can be a bit overwhelming being presented with all seven chapters from the start, especially for people like me who prefer a bit of guidance, but rest assured you can not go wrong with whatever chapter you pick. The game is designed around freedom and flexibility in choices.
The one part of the game that remains consistent are the battle mechanics. Once a battle has been initiated, players are greeted with a grid-based field with enemies usually scattered throughout. Enemies have a blue gauge to represent their Hit Points (HP) and an orange gauge acting as a charge for their attacks. You can freely move around, providing an enemy is not in your way, but each grid-based movement is an opportunity for the enemies to gain charge for their attacks. The game plays on you strategically managing movement and timing attacks on enemies to obtain the best advantage. Attacking from the front means enemies can see you and are more likely to avoid attacks, whereas hitting from behind will benefit from a more damaging hit and a much lower chance of enemies evading. Balancing your own course of action and keeping an eye on enemies is the key to success in battle.
Enemies will feature weaknesses as well as resisting certain move types, but Live A Live is generous in clearly signalling what attributes an enemy will resist or fall weak to. After each battle, all party members are fully healed and so there is no need to maintain a collection of healing items or travel back and forth to regain Hit Points. Each in-game battle is well balanced to take advantage of this, so players can expect to go all-out in every encounter, safe with the knowledge they don’t have to play it too carefully. Pairing with the beautiful 2D-HD style, I fell in love with this battle system and sincerely wish it would feature in its own full length RPG where its full potential could be realised.
At face value, Live A Live might feel like a small collection of turn-based RPGs, almost tech-demos for would-be larger games, and I wouldn’t blame anyone for thinking that. I compel people to at least give this game a try, even in small bursts, to experience what a wonderful and joyous title this is. Though the humour may occasionally seem juvenile, with attacks which are literally flinging poop at bad guys, I would be lying if I said I wasn’t sat through this game with a constant grin on my face. The 2D-HD graphics compliment the classic style of Live A Live and the scenery is stunning, especially on the Nintendo Switch’s OLED model. I found myself constantly staring at landscapes, not even wanting to blink for fear of missing out on its beauty.
Live A Live is the Pizza-Hut-Lunch-Time-Buffet of video games. It lands with plenty of variety and there should be something for everyone to enjoy. While some sections may feel a little old and soggy, others are full of flavour and leave you wanting more. It’s a crying shame it took nearly thirty years for this game to hit the west but I am grateful it finally washed up on our shores. If you are a fan of RPGs then you must not miss this title.