Live A Live, an “HD-2D” remake of the 16-bit RPG, is a particularly special release in the West. While Japanese audiences may have some nostalgia for the original game, this marks the first international appearance for a Square RPG from an era full of beloved releases from the company. In the game’s early hours, we’ve grown to appreciate the game’s distinct elements.
The original Live A Live, released on the Super Famicom in 1994, was an experimental release. It remains so in its updated form! It’s an anthology of short stories from different creators, all built within the same RPG engine and using the same tactical battle system. The structure is built to tell specific, short narratives. It’s not a package full of nuance and depth. Instead, it offers a variety of smaller tales that are often homages to popular genres.
Each chapter has its own setting and feel. The Twilight of Edo Japan is a sneaking mission to assassinate an enemy leader. It’s lonely and tense. You’re largely alone, and you can get through the whole thing without taking a lot of lives with careful use of the hide button. The Wild West is a classic cowboy tale, with shootouts and standoffs. It’s largely built around prepping a town with traps to fight off a bandit gang within a time limit. You learn about the strengths and weaknesses of the townsfolk, mostly by them just telling you they’re bad at stuff.
You take the role of a martial arts master, training new apprentices and working to preserve your legacy in the Imperial China chapter. The master doesn’t level up, but your choices determine how the students progress. Perhaps the weirdest tale, The Distant Future, is largely free of combat and follows a support droid as it learns things about a spaceship and serves coffee. This might be our favorite? We love our new robot friend Cube.
All the chapters use the same combat: a meter-based grid system, with attacks that reach certain distances. It’s very self-contained, as health doesn’t persist outside battle. And some abilities? The “range” can be really weird. So it’s a matter of careful positioning. Moving fills others’ meters for every square, making standing still optimal if you can swing it.
The development team has done a lot of work to make the original environments look nice in the “HD-2D” formula. It’s a tough balance! The geometry largely hasn’t changed, and that can make it difficult to build coherent rooms in the new perspective. When you play, you’ll notice that doors near the “bottom” of the screen can be difficult to spot sometimes, though the game does a lot with lighting to try to mitigate this issue. Notably, the sprites are basically the same, too. Previous games with the look have also gone with muted, stylized color palettes that let blur and particle effects take center stage. Here, the look’s a bit less unified, so it can feel off sometimes. But we’re not sure if there was a better option.
The new perspective for the combat sequences does bring with it some drawbacks. Most notably, facing larger enemies can lead to confusing hitboxes. The original game was much clearer, with a pure 2D grid. Now, though, you have to remember that “tall” enemies can be hit one or two squares behind. Your player characters are consistently small so they fit on one square, making for a Punch-Out!! feel at times.
We’ve only explored a few of Live A Live’s chapters, and we’re looking forward to checking out how the rest put their own spin on the game’s systems and trappings. Mostly, though, we’re just happy that more players can finally see what the game’s all about.
Live A Live, developed by Square Enix and published by Nintendo, will launch July 22, 2022 on the Nintendo Switch. A demo is also available, showing the early parts of three of the game’s chapters. Stay tuned to Siliconera for our full review of the game.