It’s no secret that Square dominated the 1990s when it was the game for JRPGs. So many beloved classics of that decade were born at the hands of his creative direction: Final Fantasy III, Chrono Trigger, Secret of Mana, Super Mario RPG—the list goes on and on.
A lesser-known JRPG to add to this list of the best games of the ’90s is Live a Live, and the reason it probably didn’t start with these other greats is because it allowed Japan to be officially localized in the West. never left for ,
As a fan of Square’s early masterpieces, I was surprised that I had never heard of Live a Live before the 1994 game’s remake was announced this year. After spending some time with the revival, I think Square Enix is treating us with what is essentially a new experience for Western audiences, while still capturing the same magic of those ’90s JRPGs we love with our hearts. are close.
Live A Live is quite different from any game I’ve played before. Instead of a coherent story with a single playable protagonist and recruitable party members, the game is divided into separate scenarios that can be played in any order. Each scenario features a different hero in different eras and locations throughout time: prehistory, imperial China, Edo Japan, the Wild West, the present day, the near future and the distant future.
Each hero in these eras has a unique story and problem, and each has their own skills or abilities that help drive their narrative. Fortunately, the combat system is the same in all scenarios, and I’ll touch on what it’s like in a bit more.
There’s currently a free demo for Live A Live on the eShop that allows players to try out bite-sized samples of three of the game’s nine scenarios. So far, I’ve had the opportunity to play through these three scenarios included in the demo (Imperial China, Edo Japan, and Distant Future) as well as the Wild West scenario.
Because time is a big ball that wobbles, strange things happen from time to time, so I decided not to play the scenarios in chronological order and instead started with the Edo Japan chapter.
In this scenario, you play as a young shinobi (ninja) who is called upon to rescue a political prisoner from within the palace of a corrupt shogun. It’s immediately clear that you have an important moral choice to make: use a genius invisibility cloak to sneak in peacefully, kill only those who stand in your way, or every single guard on campus. Kill him mercilessly.
It provides different ways to approach the landscape (and promotes reusability). I tried to sneak in quietly until I came across some guards that I couldn’t figure out how to cross without fighting. After each fight, you’re reminded of how many kills you’re responsible for, which feels a little chilling. I’m not sure what the aftermath, if any, will be.
Joining the battle in Live a Live is a little different from what I used to do. There is a stamina meter that needs to be filled before an object can be attacked or used, which is a familiar concept, but combat takes place on a grid on which characters and enemies can move around rather than remain stationary. As you level up, you learn new attacks and magic, and each attack can affect specific parts of the grid (close range and long range), so walking is an important part of strategy.
I next played the Distant Future scenario, which lets you play as an adorable sentient robot that beeps and whistles like Wall-E. Here the focus is less on war; Instead, you’re traveling on a spacecraft with a crew of humans, each of whom has complex relationships and interactions with each other.
This chapter has a lot of narrative approach with a lot of dialogue and exploration. The game rarely tells you exactly what to do, so it’s up to you to peek around and find out what’s next, especially after things unexpectedly turn worse on the ship.
The other two chapters I previewed were Wild West and Imperial China. In the former, you play as a notorious gunman called the Sundown Kid, who teams up with his rival to drive a bandit gang out of town. Sundown’s ability is that he can use special traps against the gang; It’s unique and adds to the strategy, but it’s not as exciting as some of the other hero’s abilities.
In Imperial China, you play as a shifu who is nearing the end of his life and hopes to find a successor to teach his kung fu knowledge. There are a few more options including whether you want to train multiple characters equally or put all your eggs in one basket and train one to be extremely powerful. This scenario has a lot more combat than some others.
As you can probably tell, each scenario offers something unique. If you like to fight, you’ll probably enjoy chapters like Imperial China the most. If you like a rich story and character experience, you’ll love the scenarios of the distant future.
And even if none of these things are your cup of tea, no scenario is dragged on long enough that it becomes a slog. They each last about 2-3 hours, and none of them have stayed beyond their reception so far. They tell their own short story, and it’s impressive that they all manage to remain different and interesting.
The HD-2D graphic style Square Enix decided on for Live a Live is exactly what the game deserves. The art style is absolutely gorgeous, and it’s easily one of the best looking games on the Nintendo Switch. I did some comparisons to the original Super Famicom game and noticed that the developers somehow managed to maintain the style of Sprites, while adding an enormous amount of detail and vibrant colors. This is the ideal art style for remakes of sprite-based games.
I look forward to playing out the rest of the scenarios in Live a Live and see if the trend continues or other chapters start to fall flat. I’m especially interested to see how the whole story comes together after all the individual scenarios have ended. Each plot feels very different, so I’m wondering how it would all tie together.
Until then, I’ll keep telling different stories over time and learn more about each of the protagonists. At this point, I already feel like I can keep Live A Live on my shelf of favorite classic JRPGs next to Square’s other games.
Live as Live will release for Nintendo Switch on July 22.