Square Enix have their fingers in many pies, from massive Final Fantasy games to publishing Tomb Raider reboots, however, some of its more impressive work falls outside of the huge, storied franchises.
Just so with Live A Live, originally released in 1994, this title was remastered as recently as July 2022 for Nintendo Switch. However, as of April 27th, PlayStation and PC players now have access to the multitude of stories contained within its coded walls. What is completely fascinating to me is how this remaster came about. According to sales figures from 1994, Live A Live only sold 270,000 units worldwide, hardly your typical remaster fodder, but I must say, they’ve done exceedingly well here.
Live A Live is, on its surface, a very simple JRPG. Take seven seemingly unrelated stories and create a miniature narrative surrounding each. It’s something we have seen in recent years with Octopath Traveller 1 & 2 being prime examples of this kind of storytelling. Make sure to keep each story mechanically diverse from its peers so gameplay doesn’t become stale and the job’s a good’un.
Live A Love
However, Live A Live is so much more than that, to say nothing of the fact that these seven stories are not as independent as it would seem, the worlds that are created here are brilliantly realised, each feeling well-crafted and worthy of being the subject of a full title, let alone a seventh (or less) of one.
Players can choose to play through the chapters in any order they may choose, although I’m certain that your mileage may vary as some chapters are high-octane action adventures whereas others strum out a more sedate beat. Each one uses the same combat system, yet differs in the way in which your chosen hero interacts with the world around them.
For instance, journeying to prehistory I played a young tribal Neanderthal of some description, who learned about the world around him by using his overdeveloped sense of smell to hunt, track and detect. In the wild west, I laid traps for a pesky gang of bandits hellbent on disturbing a small town. In the modern day, I fought through a martial arts tourney, allowing my enemies to strike me with their secret techniques so that I may copy them.
Each felt completely different, as though an entirely new game within the game itself. But it is important to note that which links all of the above together. Live A Live has been remastered in such a loving way, graphics are phenomenal, the HD 2D art style that served Square Enix so well in Octopath is back to great effect here. Backgrounds are stunningly rendered, riding through the wild west with Ennio Morricone-esque music playing was a true thrill. As for the music, it is brilliantly used to create atmosphere and deliver the story beats in a dramatic fashion.
Live A Dive
That’s not to say the game isn’t without its faults. It is very apparent that this was a 90s release as there are some elements here that reek of 90s game design. God forbid you trust the autosave system, as it is punishingly infrequent, as I found out when I had to replay a good 15 minutes of dialogue and cutscenes just to get back to where I was following a loss in combat.
In addition, I can’t say that I was in love with the combat. Combat in Live A Live takes place on a grid, with characters able to move up, down, left, and right. Once in range, you may select from a variety of abilities the hit certain tiles on the grid. Whilst the combat works, it always felt a bit off to me, as though the skill ceiling wasn’t as high as it could have been, whilst also punishing you for being naïve with its mechanics.
Live A Live is an excellent set of stories contained within a very polished package. The remastered elements are fantastic, with the music and art a particular highlight. Sadly some elements of 90s video games have not aged well and could’ve done with an update here. Having said that, if you love a nostalgia trip and have the odd masochistic tendency then this will easily be a 10/10 for you as what it does well it knocks out of the park.