Live A Live
Developer: Square Enix
Genre(s): Role-playing Game
Platform: Nintendo Switch
Age Rating: PEGI 12
Release Date: 22/07/2022
A code was provided for review purposes
Back in the 90s it wasn’t an unusual sight to see a title region locked to its country of origin. Across both the US and Japan there were often titles released that never made their way to UK shores. However, there were also titles that never made it outside of Japan. This was primarily seen with an abundance of JRPG titles – with the biggest culprit being the then named SquareSoft. To be fair you can’t rest the blame onto the developer’s shoulders. Back in the day, the genre was seen as somewhat niche to Western markets, and it wouldn’t be until the arrival of Final Fantasy VII that the developer/publisher got its foot in the door with Western gamers.
One such title that never found its way overseas is the 1994 title, Live A Live. Originally planned for a much wider localisation, the title sadly underperformed within its native Japanese market. This subsequently meant that SquareSoft shelved their plans for a wider release. Until now!
Yes! 28 years after its initial release this overlooked title has finally found its way West. Appearing on the Nintendo Switch as a fully-fledged remake, does a title that’s relatively unknown need the remake treatment?
A Battle Across the Ages!
As narratives go, Live A Live is incredibly complex and reminded me a lot of SEGA’s own 1990 release – Phantasy Star III: Generations of Doom. Set across seven story chapters (with two extra chapters that tie everything together), Live A Live follows seven different protagonists as they each encounter a being called “Odio”. What then follows is a scenario where the hero character deals with Odio, with time then proceeding to a different era come the chapter’s conclusion. If there’s ever a game that take a literal age to finish, then Live A Live is that game.
Across each time zone you’re then introduced to a new cast of characters as the story continues. Once all seven main chapters are complete, you’ll then delve into Odio’s own backstory, to then enter a final chapter that concludes the vast-spanning narrative. It’s certainly a unique experience and is one that’s still relatively unique. Even within today’s ‘copy & paste’ culture.
While Live A Live‘s narrative is certainly “different”, its gameplay matches this too with specific mechanics that tie into the current time period. For example, one period sets itself out as a traditional RPG, complete with random encounters, boss battles, and a steely silent protagonist. Whereas the next time period could then swap this for mechanics more akin to Metroid, or even Splinter Cell. As someone who never experienced Live A Live before this remake, this style of gameplay came as a big surprise. Personally, I quite enjoyed it as it not only kept the game interesting, but it also helped to differentiate between the various time periods.
When it comes to actually playing the game, everything handles like a traditional RPG. You’ll traverse your party across these scenarios as they battle against their foes, and generally uncover the deeper mystery. Much like other titles of the genre, Live A Live also features plenty of menus and sub-menus for you to get lost in. While navigating these menus is fairly simple, it’s something that you’ll be doing often as you discover new equipment and consumables for your characters. Each character also comes with ten of these equipment slots – so get used to the constant switching of better gear.
The way you explore the world and gather equipment is also dependent on what time zone you’re in. For the most, defeating enemies is the way forward as you’ll be prising equipment from their cold hands. Away from this and you can also gather some equipment from exploring the world, but again this is dependent on where you are.
Aside from having a captivating narrative, any RPG has to back this up with an impressive combat system. Thankfully Live A Live‘s combat is quite a polished experience. Playing out much like the ‘Active Time Battle’ seen within the Final Fantasy series, the twist here is that battles take place on a 6×7 grid. Once a character’s gauge has been filled this then allows you to perform an action (movement, performing an attack, or using an item), and then the system repeats until either victory or defeat.
To play further into the grid-based system, Live A Live allows for a depth of strategy too. Each attack – whether it be yours or the enemy’s – has a specific range, and positioning of your party also affects the success and resulting damage of an attack. To keep things from becoming too overwhelming these battles also play out via a turn-based system, which certainly gives you some breathing room to think.
Much like everything else that Live A Live offers, combat is also affected by the current time period. Each character you’ll play as comes with their own abilities, strengths, and weaknesses. This means that combat remains relatively fresh, and gives us DPS crowd the chance to play things a little differently. If like me and you shy away from grid-based games, then fear not. While combat may seem daunting to begin with, once you’ve established the basic fundamentals everything opens up for some pretty strategic battles.
Characters also level-up at a pretty steady pace, and there’s always new attacks or powers to play with. I also wouldn’t say that the battles are particularly difficult, but if you approach Live A Live like you’re playing Final Fantasy 6, 7, or 8, then you’ll be accustomed to that potential spike in difficulty – and when to predict it.
When playing a game with quite a few intricacies it’s always nice to get that preliminary handholding until everything sinks in. With Live A Live you do get a pretty in-depth tutorial, that tackles a wide range of subjects. This tutorial is also available as-and-when, and is selectable from the game’s menu.
Utilising a high definition 2D style, Live A Live offers an incredibly appealing art style. Considering that the game is made up of small pint-sized sprites, both them and their world is incredibly detailed. Each location is brought to life with various visual effects, camera positions, and lighting, which gives each area a very “lived in” feel. Everything comes together in drawing you into this world, whether you’re in the far future, or exploring the untamed past.
The game’s soundtrack is also worthy of mention as the original game’s composer, Yoko Shimomura, is back for this remake. While Shimomura may be an unknown for some, the composer’s work can be heard in Xenoblade Chronicles, Kingdom Hearts, and a whole range of other notable RPGs. However, when it comes to Live A Live, we get a great ensemble that perfectly captures the tone and mood to each location/scene. Whether it be the techno-synth from the far future, or the up-beat tempo of the game’s combat theme – there’s a lot here that will remain memorable long after your time with the title – and that’s without mentioning ‘Megalomania’!
Rounding the presentation off is the game’s voice acting. While Live A Live isn’t fully voiced, the vast majority of its cutscenes are. As such we get a vast variety of performances, across quite a few story settings. What really stands out is that each of the voice cast really gets behind their character, which builds more immersion, believability, and authenticity to the game.
While I never experienced Live A Live‘s original release, I’m glad I was able to review this remake. I really enjoyed my time with what the game had to offer and found myself fully invested in its time-travelling mystery. It’s certainly a unique game, and the pulling together of nine interconnected storylines under one umbrella, is a pretty big achievement. Live A Live also offers a wealth of super polished gameplay that will appeal to both newcomers and veterans of SquareSoft/Square Enix titles.
While Western markets missed out on this gem back in 1994, we’ve now got a chance to experience the game’s definitive version. So, what are you waiting for?
Rapid Reviews Rating
5 out of 5
Live A Live is available now and can be purchased via the Nintendo Switch eShop by clicking here.
You can find and read our reviews on OpenCritic.