One of the most recognizable features of a JRPG is the party: a motley group of adventurers from different walks of life joining forces for a common cause, almost always under the leadership of a designated main character. While the rest of the cast may end up getting side quests and story arcs, most of the game revolves around a specific character. It’s a trope that’s as common as it gets. But as early as 1994, Square (now Square-Enix) launched Live A Live in Japan, turning the genre on its head by asking “What if a JRPG had several main characters? Y Did they all have a complete story line, different worlds, and different gameplay tricks?”
Live A Live was a unique game, way ahead of its time, but sadly confined to Japan for decades, with no official English release. That changes with this modern remake, and amazingly, Live A Live not only holds up well, but manages to feel unique, compelling, and excitingly original, even when compared to its modern contemporaries.
The protagonists of Live A Live hail from many different places throughout time and space, from the cartoonish prehistoric world of caveman Pogo to the modern-day championship fights of mixed martial arts fighter Masaru, all the way to a distant future where the little Cube robot wakes up on a mysterious cargo ship. These seven divergent chapters can be completed in any order, and you can stop one chapter to continue another whenever you like. Finishing these chapters unlocks an eighth story, leading to a final chapter where all paths converge in one last epic fight.
What makes Live A Live unique beyond its multiple protagonists is how the game elements change drastically from chapter to chapter. Martial arts master Earthen Heart Shifu does not gain levels by himself, but instead focuses on strengthening his disciples by fighting with and alongside them. Wild West outlaw Sundown Kid can make things a lot easier or a lot harder for himself as he helps a town prepare to fight off a savage gang of invading bandits. Cube’s interstellar horror story requires almost no fights, while Masaru’s path to the championship is nothing more than a series of quick battles. Even the chapters with the more typical RPG progression offer unique twists: Pogo’s world’s almost complete lack of text, the massive labyrinth of dungeons that the ninja Oboromaru must stealthily navigate, and the ability to read the mind of Pogo. young psychic Akira gives their respective stories distinct and delightful quirks. However, they all have one thing in common: the existence of a similarly named malevolent force. Each main chapter lasts between one and five hours, making sure that no mini-adventure stays longer than expected.
And every output looks and sounds great too. It cannot be underestimated how good the presentation of Live A Live is. Square-Enix put a lot of care and love into remaking this game, and it shows. The graphics use the company’s fan-favorite HD-2D engine, seen in games like Octopath Traveler and Triangle Strategy, and create beautiful, vibrant environments that retain a retro-RPG feel. Character sprites are beautifully detailed and full of personality, perhaps best exemplified in the pre-story chapter, where the lack of dialogue makes their expressiveness even more vital to the narrative.
Accompanying the images is a fantastic soundtrack. Live A Live is one of famed composer Yoko Shimomura’s first contributions to Square-Enix, and her talents are on full display here, offering a variety of musical styles to accompany the different adventures. The original 16-bit songs have been completely re-recorded with high-quality instruments (and sometimes even lyrics), making them sound even more bombastic. Additionally, all of the key dialogue in the game’s story is voice-acted, helping to bring the main characters to life and adding extra flair to some of the strange and shocking turns the narrative can take.
One of the key commonalities across all of Live A Live’s chapters is its turn-based combat system, which features ideas as unique as the other parts of the game. The fights take place on a 7×7 square grid, in which the characters can move freely when it is their turn to act. There is no AP/MP system that restricts the use of skills; instead, both player and enemy attacks have specific ranges and charge times before they activate. This adds a new layer of strategy to battles, making positioning and observation of enemy and player action timing crucial to success while offering a refreshing degree of freedom. Items like abilities that create damage tiles, enemy leaders that end the battle when defeated, and accessory gear that can be used as support items in battle provide even more choice and variety for the savvy player.
However, combat has its problems. There is no way to bypass or speed up attack animations, which are sometimes long, and it can sometimes be difficult to determine the charge/attack time relative to the enemy, leading to frustrating interrupted attacks. In my playing time, I must have suffered six or seven enemy interruptions for every time I was able to stop theirs. Sudden spikes in difficulty are also common, though generally going up a level or two (which doesn’t take long) will help you get through tough barriers. Still, it would have been nice if there were combat adjustments to prevent battles from dragging on.
While Live A Live has done a spectacular job of updating its presentation and adding numerous small QOL improvements over the SNES original, there are a handful of frustrating old-fashioned game ideas that would likely be vetoed if the developers tried to include them in a game. modern game. . Things like having to farm a random enemy encounter to get the keys needed to progress through a dungeon, yes or no dialogue options that can lead to instant play if you choose incorrectly, a mad scientist who can sometimes upgrade any item you des him, but only occasionally, and only after skipping a bunch of repetitive dialogue that you’ll watch over and over again until he pulls it off, among others.
The lack of a proper detailed minimap, while understandable in some chapters, is frustrating in others. Even the steps required in the final chapter to get to the actual last boss and ending are pretty ambiguous, leaving you with an unsatisfying conclusion unless you search for an FAQ or somehow manage to find all the factors you need on your own. These issues don’t spoil the Live A Live experience in any way, but they may seem a bit strange to those who are used to more modern JRPG features that aid in player understanding when it comes to progression and make the experience smoother. more accessible.
I really loved my experience playing Live A Live. The gameplay and narrative variety, the incredible visuals, and the excellent soundtrack kept me enthralled throughout my 30-hour journey. I still feel like the game has some secrets and little story bits that I may have missed. It’s quite an achievement that, almost 30 years later, Live A Live still manages to surprise, subvert and captivate. Those timeless qualities make it worth your attention, now and probably for years to come.