Live A Live gives unique 16-bit RPG a great new life

Image: Nintendo/Square Enix

If you’re into Super Nintendo RPGs, then you’ve probably heard of Live A Live. Released in 1994 for the Super Famicom in Japan, it came out during what many claim Square Enix – then known as Square, or Squaresoft in the West – “Golden Era”, released just under a year after Secret of Mana, and just after six years. a few months after Final Fantasy VI, the developer’s two most famous games on the system. Oh, and just a few months later, something called Chrono Trigger came out. So, not a bad time for an RPG developer?

However, unlike the aforementioned trio, this game has never been officially released outside of Japan – until now. Live A Live has been resurrected for the modern era with a gorgeous HD-2D brushstroke of paint, the same retro-modernist visual style that made Octopath Traveler famous and is used again in Triangle Strategy. We’ve had a chance to check out four chapters of the game, three of which can be played in the recently released demo, and we can safely say that even after 28 years, Live A Live still feels like one of the most unique RPGs ever, with that we have ever encountered.

Direct comparisons to Octopath Traveler are pretty obvious – from the HD-2D visuals to multiple playable characters – but Live A Live is a beast of its own. In the four chapters we’ve seen, each story is a completely separate scenario. None of the playable characters from one chapter appear in another character’s story, and each chapter has its own themes.

Each of the Live A Live chapters takes place in a different time period and you can play them in any order. This means that each individual story has its own visual and musical identity. So it was in the days of the Super Famicom, and so it is today.

Perhaps we shouldn’t be too surprised, given the pedigree of the developers. Takashi Tokita, director of the Super Famicom version and producer of the remake, co-wrote and co-directed Chrono Trigger and Parasite Eve; battle director Nobuyuki Inoue directed the GBA classic Mother 3; composer Yoko Shimomura (who directed this amazing remastered soundtrack) has an endless list of RPGs from Kingdom Hearts to the Mario & Luigi RPG series, and is also working on the upcoming Mario + Rabbids Sparks of Hope.

Live A Live breaks the 90s JRPG rulebook in terms of structure, and its combat also twists the well-known formula.

Let’s start by reviewing the four chapters we’ve spent time with: Twilight Edo Japan, starring Oboraru, a shinobi tasked with infiltrating an enemy castle; in Imperial China, you are a kung fu master who wants to pass on his heritage and secret technique to a protégé; Far Future follows an adorable little spherical robot (amusingly named the Cube) who and a team of humans travel through space; and “Wild West” – a chapter not included in the demo – in which a wanted shooter travels to a city that has fallen under the heel of a gang of criminals.

From what we’ve seen in the stories of these four, they’re relatively simple, enhanced by the setting, the music, and most importantly, each chapter’s unique twist. In Edo Japan, for example, you can bypass the castle using Oboramaru’s exceptional skill, which allows him to blend in with his surroundings and go unnoticed. Or you can fight every enemy you come across. However, in Far Future there are no fights at all up until where we played. Instead, you simply explore your ship and solve the mystery with the help of your teammates.

Of the four chapters we’ve played, Imperial China feels the most like a traditional RPG, as you bring back three potential successors to train them by fighting them one-on-one. There are battles in the Wild West, but most of the time you spend exploring the city of Success, as well as collecting and setting traps so that a gang of criminals do not terrorize people. Even if we knew that these chapters would “play” differently, we’d still be surprised by the variety of just this handful of narratives and the slight degree of flexibility, especially since this is a 1994 RPG and we haven’t seen anything like it. it’s been since.

One of the consistent lines in the game is combat, which is – so far – the same in all chapters where it is present. Live A Live has already torn the 90s JRPG rulebook in terms of structure, and its combat also twists the well-known formula. The battles are turn-based, but instead of lining up your characters in a row, you fight on a 7×7 grid. Once a character’s charge bar (such as the ATB bar represented by Square in Final Fantasy IV) fills up, you can move them around the grid and choose what your next turn will be.

Using Gauge and Grid to your advantage is key even early on. Watching the opponent’s charge bar and exploiting their weaknesses that you can see in combat at will is the key to victory. When you select a skill, be it offensive or defensive, you will see the grid light up in certain places around you, showing the area of ​​effect of the skill. This means that some attacks you can use against enemies if you are within a few squares of them, or others only work if you are standing diagonally to them.

While we had no problems with many of the playable fights at the start of these chapters, some of them, like the Oboraru fight, can be a problem if you’re not used to the systems in use. This is perhaps the area some may need the most getting used to, and where the game exhibits many of its “classic” RPG attributes.

with a beautiful look and sound combined with a distinctive structure, Live A Live is a rarity, we are very happy to be back.

However, it’s not a combat-dominated RPG, and from what we’ve played, each chapter feels appropriately scaled, meaning we didn’t have to grind early on. Apart from what we mentioned with Oboromaru, as well as the boss in Sundown’s, whose difficulty will depend on how you deal with their stories, Live A Live feels more experimentation with structure and flexibility than modern Super Famicom RPGs.

The demo gives you a good idea of ​​what to expect from Live A Live, and our time with the Wild West extra chapter early on proves this is an RPG that deserves to be remembered for its sheer uniqueness. This HD-2D remake is still faithful to the Super Famicom release so don’t expect any major changes, but with its beautiful looks and sound combined with a distinctive structure, we’re very excited to see it return. — and Western debut.

We continue to travel through different eras, preparing for our final judgment.

Live A Live releases July 22 on Switch. You can download the demo, which covers Imperial China, Twilight of Edo Japan, and The Distant Future, from the online store right now.

Have you played the demo yet? What is your favorite chapter so far? Let us know about it in the comments.

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