Square Enix’s HD-2D games get quite the critical acclaim. For good reason, when you think about it. They masterfully blend the intricate spritework from the 16-bit classics, while also showing cinematic range and depth in more modern titles. This meant when Live a Live came to the Switch in 2022, it felt fresh, and even in 2023 it remains refreshing on the PS4, PS5, and PC. However, while this is a gorgeous take on the title, some of the things that make it so special always appeared in the game.
The idea of multiple narratives in a single game isn’t unusual. Square Enix and other developers have done so for years. The Octopath Traveler series employs it, as do both Mana and SaGa. But with Live a Live, the execution was so unusual. We (initially) get these seven stories of people dealing with antagonists and dealing with evil. Each protagonist is different. There are different mechanics in each one, with Oboromaru employing stealth as one example and Akira reading minds as another. Which works to its advantage, as each person gets to stand on their own. Their story’s execution and nature differs, and the lack of repetition makes each chapter more attractive.
It’s Live a Live’s greatest strength, really. Some stories really don’t focus on combat, instead being more thoughtful and about dealing with threats in different ways. Twilight of Edo Japan and The Distant Future both encourage other approaches, like stealth and getting around a ship. Prehistory leans into its time period by telling its entire story without any words. It shows how evocative actions can be. Present Day is, well, very straightforward! It leans into the showing off the battle system by pitting players against six fellow fighters to get stronger.
Speaking of Live a Live’s battle system, it wasn’t just unique for the time when it launched, but still feels different almost 30 years later. It’s strategic, given that you need to be concerned with the positions of allies and enemies, but also feels fast-paced and forgiving enough that someone who isn’t as interested in tactics can still find their way through. You can see how other Square games at the time influenced it, but it remains unique.
This means the HD-2D elements and newly arranged orchestral soundtrack serve to make what’s always been an incredible RPG more attractive. The original Super Famicom portrayal was fine and would likely still be appreciated for the personality and intricacies at the time. However, the HD-2D perspective goes further with characterizations to enhance it all. It attracts an audience who perhaps didn’t know about the game years ago, but is drawn to this new artistic direction. Likewise, the music builds on what was already there and great, then takes it a step further. Especially with the extra love given to “Go! Go! Buriki Daioh!” for Near Future, a chapter that already felt like a take on a Shonen Jump series.
This PS4, PS5, and PC release of Live a Live following its brief Switch exclusivity is a best-case scenario for not only the game, but audiences on all four platforms. This isn’t a title that deserved to be trapped in Japan. It isn’t something that should be limited to certain systems. It’s genuinely special, and more people should look to it as an example of how to combine different plot threads and ideas to tell stories.
Live a Live is available on the Switch, and it will come to the PS4, PS5, and PC on April 27, 2023.