Review cover Live A Live (Nintendo Switch)
Official GBAtemp Review

Product Information:

  • Release Date (NA): July 22, 2022
  • Release Date (EU): July 22, 2022
  • Release Date (JP): July 22, 2022
  • Publisher: Square Enix
  • Developer: Square Enix
  • Genres: RPG

Game Features:

Single player
Local Multiplayer
Online Multiplayer
Co-operative

Review Approach:

Live A Live is a release that nobody expected. An odd 90's game that was, by all accounts, a commercial failure, is not something you normally expect to be re-released, let alone remade from the ground up. It piqued my interest the moment I saw the boxart - it looked reminiscent of Octopath Traveler, one of my favourite games on the Nintendo Switch. Not for nothing, as it turns out - not only does it use the trademark "2D-HD" style, it also follows a similar framework. Takashi Tokita and Nobuyuki Inoue are back, now experienced veterans of the industry, and they've polished their game from years past. Did they manage to make this cult classic the success it was always meant to be, or is it only "passable", like the 1994 original? Read on and find out!
Live A Live is a remake of a cult classic Super Famicom JRPG making its debut in the west, remade from the ground up for the Nintendo Switch.

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A Little Lesson in Gaming History

The 90's are generally considered the golden age of Japanese role-playing games. This was the time when gamers got their hands on some of the best games in the genre, games that we continue to play to this day. The phenomenon that started off in the 8-bit era has fully matured, and with the hardware becoming increasingly capable, developers felt incentivised to experiment. Many moved away from simple games of stats-grinding towards more complex, narrative-based titles. It was in that decade that Live A Live (LAL) was originally released for the Super Famicom, and it was one such "experimental" title. The game failed to meet sales expectations, received middling review scores and never left the shores of Japan, like many games of the era... until now. I've never heard of it myself, which isn't surprising given the circumstances of the original release. To me, this was a "new game" rather than a trip down memory lane, so no nostalgia glasses were involved. Now, having played the remake from cover to cover... well, let's not get ahead of ourselves.

Variety is the Spice of Life

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What better place to start than the very beginning?

I usually start my reviews by giving a brief run-down of the story and the setting, but this time around I don't have such luxury - it would simply take too long to cover. On the surface, LAL is an anthology of "mini-RPG's" - each chapter follows a different protagonist and takes place in a different time period. The stories range from a pre-historic caveman's love quest to a robot's spacefaring adventure. Everything, from the setting and characters to the core gameplay mechanics differs wildly between scenarios, making each a unique experience. If you like variety, LAL has it in spades - it's a journey across time and genres. All of the stories are seemingly disconnected and self-contained, allowing the player to follow the story in any order they fancy. I say "on the surface" and "seemingly" because there's more to LAL than meets the eye - completing all 7 chapters unlocks the 8th story, followed shortly by a grand finale.

Including so much variety in a single game is a tricky endeavour - you're running a risk of alienating players who might really enjoy one chapter, but find the other ones uninteresting. LAL is not too dissimilar from a salad bar, in the sense that it has something for every taste. The problem is that when you go to a salad bar, you don't normally have a little bit of everything - you eat what you like and leave the rest on the counter. Thankfully, that wasn't an issue in this case - every single salad LAL had to offer was thoroughly enjoyable and memorable, as opposed to multiple variations of egg salad. Nobody loves egg salad, you can't change my mind.

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It's high noon, pardner!

Every scenario felt unique and brought different gimmicks to the table, keeping the experience fresh all the way through. I particularly enjoyed the wild west and space scenarios, simply by the virtue of how innovative they were. In the wild west chapter you play as The Sundown Kid, a wanted man who finds himself in a position of having to defend a quaint little town against a gang of outlaws. Assembling the villagers, collecting gear and preparing traps is a literal race against time as every step you take draws you closer to the the final showdown. The space scenario follows the first steps of a little robot on a space ship headed towards Earth. The ship's crew wakes up from cryo sleep only to be plagued by a series of tragic events, and it doesn't take long before they begin pointing fingers at each other. Things turn from bad to worse when their dangerous cargo breaks loose and a routine voyage back home becomes a desperate fight for survival. Utterly engrossing, suspenseful and in parts terrifying, in spite of an almost complete lack of combat. It's weird to call what's effectively a beat-by-beat remake of a nearly 30 year old game innovative but, if anything, that speaks volumes about how stale JRPG’s have become over the years. LAL felt like a breath of fresh air in a genre marred by convoluted plots that take forever to get to the point - the game has some stories to tell and it's not wasting any time along the way. The chapters are mostly bite-sized, with some featuring multiple endings which have an effect on the finale, lending to their pick-up-and-play nature as well as the game's replayability.

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There are times when you can't think your way out of trouble - sometimes you just have to fight

The one thing that is consistent across all scenarios is the combat. The characters fight on a grid and take turns based on a system similar to Final Fantasy's Active Time Battle. In addition to health, characters have a action gauge which fills up at different rates depending on the character's Speed stat. Some are slow and tanky while others are speedy glass cannons, requiring the player to adjust their playstyle and equipment accordingly in order to get the best out of their team. In terms of abilities, the game streamlines them into one category. There is no real distinction between physical attacks and magic and no mana bar in sight. This simplified combat system requires less resource management, it doesn't drown you in a sea of bars and stats that you have to keep track of or replenish, making battles fast-paced. By simplified I don't mean to say that there's no depth to it - far from it. You still have your textbook elemental weaknesses and status effects, not to mention that some attacks can take multiple turns to execute or affect the play area by turning the tiles poisonous, electrified, engulfed in flames or flooded. With that being said, in practice the freedom to use any ability at any time means that you'll end up finding one or two that work best for you, leading you to neglect the rest of them. I consistently found myself using the same attacks even if my enemies were resistant to them simply because most times they still dealt more damage than the "correct" ones my foes were vulnerable to. As soon as you get a new attack, there's really no reason to use your old arsenal unless it gives you an advantage, which seemed highly situational and rare.

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There's something inherently terrifying about the being stranded in space... 

Since this is a remake, it's important to touch upon what's different compared to the Super Famicom release. As far as I can tell from comparisons online, the game stays faithful to the original, improving upon it with the "HD-2D" treatment. Side-by-side pictures look near-identical in terms of layout, but with added detail and depth. The new score sounds great and the addition of voice acting lends to better characterisation, at least in my opinion. There's a lot of criticism online in regards to censorship, or adjusting the dialogue to the point that some characters don't come across the same way as they did in the source material. As I said at the beginning, I didn't get to play LAL back in the day, so I wouldn't know about the latter, but the former is apparent even to me. The first thing that comes to mind is the replacement of alcohol with milk, or cigars with carrots. I can see why that would annoy some, but on the flip side, the game's rated T - these things are to be expected, and didn't annoy me too much. It's an obscure Japanese title, I'm sure some things were lost in translation. What I can say is that it's excellent as it is, and if anything, some of the replacements in the localisation actually came across as humorous.

History Repeats Itself Until You Break the Cycle

It's hard to argue whether spoilers of a nearly 30 year old title are still a faux pas - there are some things I'd like to say that could be construed as such, so if you find that objectionable, consider skipping the next paragraph and perhaps come back to it later after you've played the game. I'm not going to delve into the details, but nevertheless, you've been warned.

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The game's not all serious business, there's some humour in here too!

There's something to be said about the game's ending, which I found very impressive. It's clear to me that Live A Live was a labour of love, and the final chapter makes it blatantly apparent. Small details the writers sprinkled throughout the game that could be easily missed by players or dismissed as running gags come together to tie a perfect bow on the anthology. The 8 distinct tales merge at one singular point, telling the story as old as time. In one masterful stroke the collection of disconnected mini-RPG's turns into a cohesive narrative about the cycle of violence, and the struggle of breaking out of it. It's about the blurred lines between good and evil, about loss and about redemption. It's clear that despite how dissimilar the chapters are, the writers had the forethought to subtly steer the game towards that conclusion, and if the player wasn't paying careful attention, it will catch them by surprise.

"Let not this mem'ry fade. My words preserve."

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All good things must come to an end...

And so, we reach the time for a conclusion - is Live A Live worth your time and money? I think I made it clear that I loved every bit of it, and it comes pretty close to the coveted perfect score in my book. The sheer variety in settings, characters and gameplay that makes you look forward to what the next chapter holds in store for you, the bite-sized chapter format and the commitment to not waste the player's time are all things that I value in a video game personally. With that being said, objectively I have to mention the flaws in the product, of which there admittedly were a few. The length of the chapters for instance seems arbitrary - some of them can be completed in about an hour whereas others are significantly longer, making them somewhat unbalanced. This is due to two reasons. The first is that some chapters feature truly labyrinthian maps whereas others are pretty straight-forward, with one featuring no map at all. I can understand why that aspect of the game was preserved, if only for the sake of being consistent with the original - that's fair. The second reason is more damning, and it has to do with the overarching design of the game. The more combat-heavy chapters simply take longer to complete by the virtue of having to deal with enemy encounters. This not only affects the pacing, but also gameplay balance. Chapters that rely on combat allow their respective protagonists to reach a higher level and obtain better equipment compared to characters whose chapters are more focused on narrative, making the latter grossly underpowered when it does come to blows. Simply making the characters in story-oriented chapters start at a higher level and with better equipment would've at least partially addressed the issue - it wouldn't change much in regards to chapter length, but it would make those characters more viable choices later down the line. Are those deal breakers though? By no means - they're minor gripes.

LAL is a great game that I can thoroughly recommend, especially given the lower-than-usual price point. I started the review by saying that upon completing the game I had a realisation, and that realisation is pretty simple - we missed out on this one back in the day. I'm glad it received the treatment it did so that players in the west can experience it too. It's been a while since I enjoyed a JRPG to this extent, perhaps because I was always partial towards the classics, perhaps because the classics were just better - at the end of the day it's all a matter of taste. What I can say for certain is that you owe it to yourself not to miss out on it again. With multiple endings, both for the individual chapters and the grand finale, the game has around 30 hours of fun to offer, and they're worth it. I know what you're thinking - "that doesn't sound like a very long JRPG", and you know what? You would be correct. Nearly all of the 70 hours of tedium and grind were trimmed off, leaving you with a lean, mean role-playing machine. Live A Live doesn't have time for padding - it has better things to show you. True to its name, it lets you live a different life, one bite-sized chunk at a time, and I hope that this remake turns a "cult classic" into just a classic, for all of us, not just a select few connoisseurs.

Verdict

What We Liked ...
  • Very well-written, varied and imaginative scenarios
  • Fast-paced combat that feels snappy
  • Beautifully remade "2D-HD" presentation that's truthful to the original release
  • Great soundtrack
  • Attractive price point for a triple-A release
What We Didn't Like ...
  • Missed opportunity to expand on the game with additional scenarios
  • Balancing problems that leave certain characters underleveled
  • Controversial localisation quirks
  • Very little incentive to experiment with different attacks in combat
9
Gameplay
LAL distills the JRPG experience and instead of focusing on the minutiae it offers interesting and innovative takes on the genre. Its most interesting components are not the basic framework the stories are nested in, but rather the unique gimmicks each chapter is oriented around. It keeps you guessing and looking forward to what the next chapter has in store for you, and that alone warrants praise.
10
Presentation
I'll be the first to admit that I'm a sucker for "2D-HD" - it's my jam, and I think this is exactly how games form the 8 and 16-bit eras should be remade for modern audiences. The addition of a newly-recorded soundtrack and voiceover, as well as the enriched graphical presentation with added depth really sell you on the premise of a returning cult classic. I only have one complaint here - occasional blurriness, but that's part and parcel of putting 2D sprites in a 3D space, so it'd be unfair to dock points for it.
9
Lasting Appeal
I can absolutely see myself replaying this title time after time - the game allows you to play around and use different approaches which naturally lead to different outcomes, not just in the respective chapters, but also in the finale. On the first go-around I was a hero, but that's not the only possible ending, and I'm interested to see the other paths I could've chosen. Not only that, the bite-sized nature of the chapters and the freedom to pick and choose allows you to revisit parts of the game that you found really impactful whenever you want. Some of them are just good little RPG's in their own right, almost like the gaming equivalent of short films, giving the game an additional level of replayability - it doesn't require a huge time commitment to get to the good parts like most RPG's do.
9.5
out of 10

Overall

Live A Live quickly ascended to the list of some of my favourite JRPG's, and I'll be sure to recommend it to players in the future. I can see why it failed when it was originally released - it's ambitious, not in size and scope, but in creativity and imagination. Perhaps the audience wasn't ready for it back in 1994, perhaps the game was limited by the hardware it was developed for, or perhaps its creators simply needed a bit more experience before they could fully realise their vision. Having played this remake I can safely say that this time around they nailed it. I can only hope that the remake is successful because once the credits rolled I only wanted one thing - more.
Great review @Foxi4. Love that this awesome but somewhat forgotten JRPG is finally back in the limelight after so many years. Loved the original SNES version and I'm also having a blast playing it on the Switch as well.
 
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Totally and its always nice to play an JRPG from the 90s back when they were actually any good lol.
So what you're telling me is that JRPG's don't have to be about brooding teenagers having whiny meltdowns every 5 seconds in long, convoluted and nonsensical scenes of dialogue interspliced with dozens of hours of grinding? Y'mean to say that characters can have a gamut of emotions, as opposed to just angst? Preposterous.
 
So what you're telling me is that JRPG's don't have to be about brooding teenagers having whiny meltdowns every 5 seconds in long, convoluted and nonsensical scenes of dialogue interspliced with dozens of hours of grinding? Y'mean to say that characters can have a gamut of emotions, as opposed to just angst? Preposterous.
Why did I immediately think of Tidus reading this :rofl2:
 
I kind of want to see a detailed comparison with the SNES version. It sounds like a lot of the interface quirks have been cleaned up, but the near-future chapter was so painfully clunky.

I'd say I would wait for it to go on sale on Steam, but Square never discounts their games very much, alas.
 
@Foxi4 If I had to choose between starting Octopath Traveler or Live A Live, which one would you recommend playing through first?
 
@Foxi4 If I had to choose between starting Octopath Traveler or Live A Live, which one would you recommend playing through first?
Octopath is much larger in scale - it’s a 100-hour beast of a JRPG that’s closer to what most people would consider a traditional fantasy adventure. Live A Live is an experimental JRPG that takes the formula and fools around with it in interesting and creative ways instead. They both run on the same “2D-HD” framework and both are great games, so it’s more a matter of what you’re looking for, there’s no “order” you have to go by.
 
I kind of want to see a detailed comparison with the SNES version. It sounds like a lot of the interface quirks have been cleaned up, but the near-future chapter was so painfully clunky.

I'd say I would wait for it to go on sale on Steam, but Square never discounts their games very much, alas.
This might be what you’re looking for:

 
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Thanks guys. If one game could be overshadowed by the other, I'd just prefer to play that one first so I could have an increased appreciation as I go from one game to the next. It seems like playing Live a Live might get be interested and appreciative of some aspects without too much commitment.
 
This might be what you’re looking for:
Well, that's just the graphics. I'm wondering if they tuned up the gameplay at all. There were a couple of secrets in the SNES version that you really had no hope of finding without a guide.

I expect it's at least a lot easier to navigate the Japanese chapter; some of the entrances and exits there weren't always particularly clear.
 
Well, that's just the graphics. I'm wondering if they tuned up the gameplay at all. There were a couple of secrets in the SNES version that you really had no hope of finding without a guide.

I expect it's at least a lot easier to navigate the Japanese chapter; some of the entrances and exits there weren't always particularly clear.
The Edo Japan chapter is still like a labyrinth and a lot of the events in it are conditional.
 
I have 1 choice this game of xenoblade 3 which to buy?
I personally find XC terribly boring and uneventful, so I’m not a good person to ask. Haven’t touched the series after falling asleep 4 hours into the first one. This is apparently a “controversial opinion”.
 
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I personally find XC terribly boring and uneventful, so I’m not a good person to ask. Haven’t touched the series after falling asleep 4 hours into the first one. This is apparently a “controversial opinion”.
Half-way through I used cheats to double the walk speed and still found myself getting antsy to get to the next fetch point. I really wanted to enjoy the game, but as a supposed spiritual successor of Xenogears I was more disappointed with it than I was with Mighty No. 9, if not for the massive time sink.
 
Daddy issues is a very complicated matter

The biggest plot point of the game is
that his dad actually cared for him, followed by him being an aeon.
From VII onward we started seeing the rise of the edge. At least compared to Squall, he seemed to have more depth.
 
Review cover
Product Information:
  • Release Date (NA): July 22, 2022
  • Release Date (EU): July 22, 2022
  • Release Date (JP): July 22, 2022
  • Publisher: Square Enix
  • Developer: Square Enix
  • Genres: RPG
Game Features:
Single player
Local Multiplayer
Online Multiplayer
Co-operative

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