In 1994 Square developed and published a JRPG, Live a Live, for the Super Famicom. 28 years later the game has been re-made on the Nintendo Switch and finally made its way to western markets. While the graphics and audio updates are a welcome refresh, including voice acting. While some of the mechanics should have remained in 1994, Live a Live is still ground-breaking nearly three decades later.
Live a Live is almost a love letter to films, games, and television series that you will probably recognise. Featuring some obvious tropes, it’s a wonderfully nostalgic reminder of why these genres work so well. That is until the game pulls out the rug from under you and suddenly, it’s unique and fresh. You take on the role of a central character during a specific point in the past, present, or future and follow through with a story unique to that chapter. This is great but what sets Live a Live apart is how it then ties all of that together. You’ll have to play it to find out how!
There are crafting mechanisms, dialogue, side-quests, mini-games, and more to explore – along with a basic leveling-up system that in most cases unlocks new abilities. This all feels very traditional for any RPG game. Unfortunately, and maybe this is a trend of its era, cutscenes are often dragged out unnecessarily with large gaps before the next piece of dialogue just so the NPC can move slightly to the left. On occasion, the animations are interesting or amusing enough for this to be ok, but for the most part, it spoils the flow. Thankfully, you can skip these, but it does mean you might miss some key dialogue. Similarly, the grind can be tiresome (and in these cases, I often jumped into the present day for a Street Fighter-styled break!). If you’re a fan of RPGs, as I am, you’ll stick with it. I do wish the ending had been a little shorter, and a little tighter in that regard as unfortunately it lacked an explosive climax to the narrative.
Combat in Live a Live is the same… but different.
Regarding combat, Live a Live is very clever. Throughout each chapter, it employs the same turn-based grid system. You can move a member of your party, select attacks, and select which square they will have an effect in. However, each chapter feels unique. Foes can have specific weaknesses or resistances. The player character and the party have unique abilities that can only be used in certain ways and while some are ranged, others are close combat only. There are ‘tougher’ foes that if you beat you win the whole encounter as the weaker foes run away. You end up learning how to play the grid system like a game of chess, building from knowledge gained in previous chapters where relevant. Despite all using the same grid, it always feels exciting and fresh.
Live a Live takes you through the ages…
Live a Live is broken down into seven primary chapters. While there is a story that reveals itself as time goes on, each chapter is unique and can be played in any order. You can also leave each chapter and go back to it if you like. This is wonderfully unique as, while each chapter doesn’t take an incredibly long time to finish, it is almost like seven distinct games. Where Live a Live excels, is that it does tie it all together in the end making it feel less fragmented than it otherwise could have done.
The pre-historic chapter focuses on Pogo, a caveman who exists before language. This is interesting as a concept, especially as the game has voice acting because you now need to work things out based on simple pictorial depictions and a series of grunts. Items that can be collected and crafted, and the attacks themselves are all appropriately themed to this period. Unique to this chapter, Pogo can smell out his foes which leads to combat encounters. The story in this chapter is focused on Pogo, and his tribe exiling him for rescuing and hiding a woman intended for sacrifice.
In the Imperial China chapter, you play Shifu, an aging master of an endangered martial art. Shifu is searching for a disciple to take his place and encounters a rival master with whom he must beat. Uniquely, in this chapter, you can pass on battle techniques to your disciples. This adds a unique feel to the combat encounters.
While in Edo Japan you play as the shinobi Oboromaru. Tasked by his master to rescue a politically important person, and kill the captor. What makes this chapter feel especially unique is how it plays more like a stealth-action game, as you can cloak yourself and sneak around to achieve your objectives. This is a nice change of pace and makes the playthrough of this chapter particularly stand out.
What self-respecting RPG could wander through different historical periods and not land on the wild west? In this chapter, you play as the Sundown Kid, a gunslinger who is forced to work with a bounty hunter to save a town from bandits. There’s still combat in this chapter and long-distance mechanics as well which makes the grid a unique experience, but with the added tactical planning of using the townsfolk to lay traps. It’s almost a bit like a tower defence for this part, but without the currency, spending to buy the traps.
In the present-day chapter, you play Masaru Takahara, a fighter who wants to become the strongest person in the world, he does this by fighting opponents in different combat styles to learn their moves and get stronger. This chapter felt more like playing Street Fighter than an actual JRPG. This was a lot of fun, it highlighted the tactics involved in the grid-based combat system and despite being the same system in every chapter, I wasn’t bored.
When you enter the near future, you take on the role of Akira, an orphan with special powers that allow him to teleport and read minds. This often leads to comedy elements with the mind-reading and a teleport system that doesn’t always work! Akira is in pursuit of a biker gang and learns a dark secret about them that must be stopped. In this chapter, you have the interesting mechanics of Akira’s abilities as well as the unique world travel. To get to the next plot destination, you move around the city in a top-down view, either avoiding or engaging in combat with patrolling foes.
In the far future, you play as a little robot, called Cube, on a cargo ship headed to Earth with a vicious monster in the cargo hold. When the monster escapes, Cube must investigate while all around it the crew is being killed off. In this mode, there is no fighting making it a unique experience compared to the previous chapters.
Live a Live Audio and Visuals
The audio and graphics were completely redone for the Nintendo Switch version. Visually, the game is stunning to look at. An interesting blend of sprite graphics with a unique depth of field makes it feel more than your retro JRPG. The colours are vibrant, and the worlds all feel unique and relevant to the time the chapter is set in. I particularly enjoyed just how different each chapter felt in this respect. It wasn’t the case you were in the same location at different points in time, but all over the place. The characters, items, enemies, and moves all are uniquely tailored to the specific chapter.
The audio follows suit, while some of the voice acting is a little over-the-top, I didn’t mind it that much. The music also fits the genre that each chapter lends itself to and is wonderfully scored and created. It feels retro, but that fits with the game’s overall charm and legacy.
Is Live a Live a good game?
Live a Live on Nintendo Switch is a fantastic update to a classic that was only ever released in Japan.
If you’re a fan of JRPGs then you will really enjoy Live a Live. Full of comedy, action, and adventure across multiple time periods Live a Live is overall a solid game. Sure, some cutscenes drag out. Some of that RPG grind is tedious but it’s still a must-play entry into the genre.