Live A Live Review
Square’s (now Square Enix) Super Famicom RPG Live A Live in nearly 30 years since release, it has never received an official English translation until now! Not only is it now available for everyone, but it’s also the lucky recipient of the HD-2D treatment. Over the years, I’ve played all kinds of SNES-era RPGs, yet I never really knew about Live A Live. It’s time to make up for lost time and live Live A Live.
Live A Live isn’t a traditional Square game. It is presented as more of an anthology with some interconnecting parts. You’re initially given a choice from seven chapters representing a different main character and time period. The story for each chapter is different from the others, and utilises different game styles to reflect the story being told.
For example, there’s a stealth chapter, sneaking through the enemy’s stronghold without being seen and killing enemies. There’s also a prehistoric era chapter, where there is no text dialogue, just grunts and pictures. The master who wants to find and train his successor or the fighter who learns new moves from having them used on them. While on their own there is little to connect them, Square manages to bring it all together in a neat way.
Live A Live’s chapters only take a few hours, but with seven main chapters it adds up quickly. Because you’re playing as different characters each chapter, you’re also starting from scratch every time. At least with the different ways the chapters are played, every time isn’t just grinding out levels for a heap of fights. It is essentially all thriller, no filler as each chapter tells its story and gets out. Some can wrap up much faster, depending on how fast you can work out the puzzle elements.
No chapter feels quite like the others, yet in all of them, you will utilise the turn-based grid system for combat. Some have a lot more combat than others, some keep you at a set level, and some you’ll have to do some level grinding. Even when there are levels to be gained it is never quite the same way. One chapter has you teaching a pupil moves, another has you learning moves from having them used on you. There is the more traditional combat and levelling in a more condensed form, but even then the Prehistory chapter manages to make it stand out in a surprisingly crude yet humourous way.
Each chapter forces you to get used to different move sets fast, as you have limited time to work out how each move/ability maps out onto the grid. Some moves only work up close, putting you at risk of melee attacks. Ranged moves can do more damage, but have much more limited spots on the grid to use them. Each movement you make also increases your enemies’ meter towards their next attack. Take too long moving into place and you give your enemy the opening to knock you out. At least between fights Live A Live puts you back at full health; there are no MP meters to manage for spells. It’s a streamlined system for chapters where you don’t want to drag out the playing time having to keep everyone healed.
If you get stuck or just want to try out the different game styles, you can swap out at any time to another chapter. They never feel quite that long that you wouldn’t want to see the chapter out, but it is a good option to have if you aren’t clicking with a chapter or having trouble progressing. Going with the anthology with such different approaches does keep the game fresh, but it risks putting people off if the other chapters aren’t as enjoyable. Some did feel more like I was just completing them so I could get to the last chapter.
While it is a novel approach to have an RPG with multiple stories and play styles like Live A Live, it feels like a product of its time. For example, an added map/radar helps direct you to the next objective. It’s easy to take this for granted as it leads you around, not knowing where to go next until you follow the marker to trigger the next scene. This stood out in the Prehistory chapter and The Far Future chapters most. Both have you running around following the objective icon because it’s not always clear what needs to happen next. I do get that the game is nearly 30 years old now, and Live A Live was hardly the only game to lack guidance on where you need to poke around. It’s an excellent addition to make the game a little more user-friendly, and if you don’t want the assistance, you can turn it off at any time.
SquareEnix is really making the most out of the HD-2D visual style, and who can blame them when it works? This time, there are no smudgy visuals, just some nice 3D environments and top-notch sprite work. It’s a shame there isn’t an option to switch between the original visuals and the new, just to highlight how they’ve managed to update. On top of visuals, the sound has been given an upgrade too. It makes the game a joy to listen to and look at. There’s also voice acting throughout, which you can have in Japanese or English – both of them sound fine.
It’s great that a wider audience now has the opportunity to play Live A Live, with the added bonus of getting the HD-2D upgrade in the process. Its novel anthology presentation won’t be for everyone, thankfully, an added map/radar reduces some old-school frustrations. SquareEnix made the right move breathing new life into Live A Live.
+ Anthology approach provides a novel spin on the classic RPGs
+ A HD-2D upgrade and revamped music works wonders for the SNES era game
- Despite the addition of a map/radar, it can be difficult to progress the scene
- So many different game styles, they won’t all be for everyone