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Review: Live A Live Remasters the JRPG for its Global Debut

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Live A Live, developed by Square Enix and published by Nintendo, is a JRPG variety pack. In both its original and remade forms, it offers a collection of digestible tales, each enjoyable in a few hours. It shows a new, valuable use for the “HD-2D” approach, and in many ways sets a template for future remakes. And yet? It’s still very much its own peculiar thing as well.

Prehistory

In this tale, you play the rule of a rather rude little cave boy, using smell to navigate and generally trying to accomplish tasks and communicate without language. Instead of text, this chapter uses images, grunts and gestures to tell you things, and it’s intentionally a bit tough. It adds to the atmosphere, certainly, but it’s also one you probably don’t want to play first as you learn how the game does things. But hey, you could play chronologically and run into it first, we suppose!

The Prehistory chapter makes it especially apparent, but the whole game is largely steered by the minimap and its orange dot. This is a game that would be largely aimless without it, as it doesn’t always explain what you need to do next in any other fashion. And it’s a clear upgrade from the Super Famicom original, which really extended its game time by making players fumble around. Of course, now? Now it does feel like it’s guiding you perhaps to a fault.

live a live prehistory

Imperial China

Live A Live’s Imperial China chapter has you preserve an ancient martial art by finding and training a successor. You get a lot of choice here on who you favor, and then you have an opportunity to put them to the test. It’s the most direct way to shape battle stats, along with collecting and equipping weapons and accessories.

Like the chapter’s master, the Live A Live remake seeks to preserve the past but also bring it into the modern era. Even with the “HD-2D” approach, the worlds contain a lot more detail. Characters use the higher-resolution battle screen looks in the overworld, rather than scrunched chibi forms, and that holds together better than switching styles back and forth like the 16-bit game was forced to do. It’s one of those “looks like you remember it, not like it actually was” sorts of approaches that’s very easy to suggest and profoundly difficult to actually accomplish.

imperial china combat super famicom

Twilight of Edo Japan

The Edo chapter is, in its entirety, an optional stealth mission. It’s tough to make it through without killing anyone, but expert players will probably love that challenge. For the rest of us? The game regularly guilts you for your actions, keeping a tally of your kills as you go. Of course, you could go the other direction, too, and find all 100 foes and fell them all.

Whichever path you choose, Live A Live’s Edo chapter is about learning the space. The map is intentionally vague, the sort of thing you’d have if you were an enemy faction and observed from afar. While they’ve seen huge visual upgrades, the environments are largely as designed in the original game. All the hidden passages, tricks and disorienting stairwells are here, clearly having the intended effect.

live a live review twilight of edo japan

The Wild West

This is a fairly straightforward chapter. You get into town and get some atmosphere and exposition, then you scrounge around all the buildings for stuff and hand them to townsfolk to prepare as traps. We didn’t find this particularly difficult, though we’re sure there’s some “ideal” configuration of who does what that we didn’t quite hit. The better you do, the easier the fight against the rival gang. There’s no leveling here, so it’s a straightforward puzzle.

Much like the denizens of the Wild West, Live A Live is venturing Westward for the first time. The localization feels loving and full of energy, unafraid to get straight to the point or drop an expletive or two. It’s fascinating to see a game from that era that isn’t beholden to the character limits or marketing choices of that time in the name of preserving nostalgia. In that respect, it has a leg up over its peers in terms of attracting new players in 2022.

the wild west saloon in this game looks nice

Present Day

This is by far the shortest chapter in Live A Live, offering a fighting game approach with no real story sequences. You need to defeat six opponents using the same turn-based combat, and your character learns moves by being hit with them. As long as you go in order and learn as you go, you’ll usually have a great counter to your next opponent.

As for the battle system itself? It’s a small tactical grid, each instanced with no health or effects carried over. There are easier chapters to learn it, but it’s clearly the focus of this fighting tale. The main thing to learn is how to position yourself to avoid enemies’ strongest attacks, and when you can find a moment to use a healing skill or item. Area effects are a dominant strategy for most fights, but if you get too reliant upon them, strong bosses might throw you for a loop.

live a live fighter select screen

The Near Future

Feeling the most like a self-contained JRPG of the era, the Near Future chapter is about an orphanage and mind reading and robots and biker gangs and… you know, it’s a whole mess, honestly. There are some truly tedious and annoying gameplay segments in this one, which the remake does smooth over sometimes with its navigation help? Nevertheless, we don’t like ‘em at all.

Speaking of the near future: if we see more classic remasters in the “HD-2D” format, we hope it’ll follow Live A Live’s template. Previous games in the style had the benefit of being entirely original creations, which is easier to do. Having to deal with the original aesthetic and work around it can be a bit tougher, and we’re generally fans of how this game tackles those difficulties.

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The Distant Future

Since you can play the chapters in any order, we recommend Distant Future for when you most need a good change of pace. Featuring largely no combat and being mostly about interacting with doors and running away from danger, it’s very much unlike the other eras. You can feel the ambition of the storytelling in this one, too. It doesn’t quite have the time or resources to reach its goals, but it does enough to be worth your time.

Generally, Live A Live is about building colorful worlds to visit for a few hours. They feel a bit like B-movies, with a narrative that might have been impressive for an early-’90s JRPG but not exactly profound or innovative. They revel in genre tropes, but with a genuine enthusiasm that’s hard to dislike.

live a live distant future cube

The Endgame

We won’t spoil the game’s later plot points — this is a game about its story — but things eventually come to a head in a final chapter, combining the protagonists of different eras into something with more traditional party management and a final boss. It’s interesting to interact with these different styles in one party. Seeing characters like robot Cube actually show up in combat alongside those with much more martial prowess can be amusing, for sure.

It’s here where the game gives you room to pad out your game time, depending on how much you want to maximize levels and get the best ending. The storytelling gets fully out of the way, offering something very different from what came before.

near future overworld city map

Live A Live is a success, both as a self-contained remake of a quirky cult classic and as a prototype for the future of JRPG remakes. Its weaknesses are those of the preserved original’s game design, but it makes these sacrifices intentionally and has a lot to offer those interested in its pace and structure.


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, allowing players to try parts of three chapters.

Live A Live

8

Live A Live is a success, both as a self-contained remake of a quirky cult classic and as a prototype for the future of JRPG remakes.

Food for Thought
  • No chapter really gives you enough time to get tired of its characters. We don’t know if we’d enjoy return trips, but it feels like we would.
  • Each chapter had a different character designer (a big selling point in the original Japanese release), but the aesthetic holds together well enough.
  • Is this the first Nintendo-published game that requires you to insult someone’s mother?
    If you want to know more, check out Siliconera's review guide.
    Graham Russell
    Graham Russell has been writing about games for various sites and publications since 2007. He’s a fan of streamlined strategy games, local multiplayer and upbeat aesthetics. He joined Siliconera in February 2020, and served as its Managing Editor until July 2022. When he’s not writing about games, he’s a graphic designer, web developer, card/board game designer and editor.