LifeisXbox’s Live a Live review | Originally released in Japan only for the SNES, We now get to enjoy this classic on western shored for the first time with its release on the Nintendo Switch, featuring stunning HD-2D graphics similar to the style seen in Octopath Traveller and Triangle Strategy.
I’ve personally never heard of the title until it was shown in a Nintendo Direct earlier this year, but was instantly sold on the premise of playing small bite-sized chapters, each with their own unique story or gameplay elements to keep the experience fresh throughout. You even get to choose in which order you want to tackle each era.
I applaud an RPG that doesn’t need over 100 hours to get its point across so I was very eager to dive into this one. Let’s see if Square Enix did a good job with the Remaster efforts.
Most Memorable Moment
Each era has its own little surprises that manage to stand out, usually because of some neat visual style or new gameplay element. I’ll pick one from the Japanese Edo chapter where I got to run around as a ninja and basically avoid all combat by holding up a camouflage screen. The HD2D visuals really popped off the screen in this chapter, especially on the OLED screen.
ℹ️ Reviewed on Nintendo Switch| Review code provided by Nintendo, this review is the personal opinion of the writer.
What we Liked!
- HD2D visuals | Immediately striking are the gorgeous remastered pixel visuals. While the characters may be pixel sprites, some worlds have 3D elements in them and they each have a distinct visual appeal. I’ve always appreciated the aesthetic in the previous Square Enix JRPGs like Octopath Traveller and Triangle Strategy, but those games were also pretty bleak with lots of grey and brown hues. Live A Live’s vibrant colours make the style pop off the screen better than ever before, especially when you play it handheld on the new Nintendo Switch OLED.
- Choose your era | As soon as you start the game you’re given the freedom to pick your own chapter, each representing a different time period. The order in which you play these doesn’t impact the story in any way, so you’re free to choose the one you prefer. The playtime can range from ~40 minutes (Modern Day) to 3-4 hours (Near Future).
- Each chapter feels unique | While the gameplay itself is always a turn-based RPG on a grid structure, the setup of each chapter does a lot to make them all feel unique. In the Modern Day, you’ll play something that almost resembles a classical Fighting game, facing enemies in the order you want and learning abilities from them. In the Wild West chapter, you need to prep a town for an attack by bandits and place traps that will make the singular fight a lot easier and in the Japanese Edo period you can even evade most (or all?) of the combat by hiding from enemies with your camouflage cloth.
- Gameplay | The gameplay is the typical turn-based systems we’ve gotten used to in a lot of similar JRPGs, but the grid-based movement does add an extra tactical layer. You can even use all of your abilities to your hearth’s desire as none of them require MP or charging a special attack bar. Just use the one that will do the most damage, depending on your enemies’ weaknesses or choose one that will hit more than one foe for maximum efficiency. Another nice element is that taking out the leader, will often end the battle and destroy all of their underlings as well.
- Fantastic musical score | With a soundtrack composed by Yoko Shimomura (Final Fantasy XV & Kingdom Hearts) you know that you’re in for a treat. From the combat tunes to the background music in each chapter, the music succeeds in making each era feel unique. You even unlock the songs on the jukebox after you beat a chapter.
- No replayability | The game is pretty short with its ~20h runtime but that was more of a positive for me, rather than a negative. Other than the freedom of choosing your chapter, the narrative of each era is rather linear and you’ll probably not want to replay the game after a first (and only) playthrough.
- Perhaps too easy? | With such short chapters, there is no grinding required and I like how that streamlines the experience, but at the same time I always felt overpowered with most of my attacks killing almost all foes that aren’t bosses in a single hit. I do really love how this makes you feel like you’re blazing through the game and never feel annoyed by random encounters. The final chapter does ramp up the difficulty in a nice way with plenty of optional bosses to beat.
- The English voice acting | While the voice acting wasn’t terrible per se, I did notice when switching to Japanese that the original voice work delivered a much more authentic experience. I’ve even recognized some Japanese voices from anime that I’ve watched.
What we Disliked
- Death scenes take too long | Each time you die in the game, you’ll get a short scene that shows how your death will impact the story, with some of the other characters reflecting on it. It’s always the same scene though and it takes waaaaaay too long to get you back to the “Load Save” screen. This resulted in a lot of frustrations in the Edo chapter, as I was grossly underleveled by avoiding combat too often (thinking it would be possible to avoid any confrontations altogether, which didn’t seem to be the case.)
- Backtracking | most of the game’s areas are compact, making it easy to learn your way around them. But Live A Live does love making you pace back and forth between two places and this can easily get on your nerves. Especially in the few longer dungeons I was missing something like an escape rope or “teleport back to dungeon entrance” option.
How long to beat the story | ~20 hours
How long to complete 100% | 25 hours should show you everything in the game.
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Robby lives and breathes video games. When he’s not playing them, he’s talking about them on social media or convincing other people to pick up a controller themselves. He’s online so often, he could practically list the internet as his legal domicile. Belgian games-industry know-it-all.