Two genres that formed my love of gaming as a child were the survival horror and the JRPG genres. Admittedly, my love of survival horror as a kid answers a lot of questions about myself, but I also sank a lot of time into titles like Grandia, Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest. I didn’t start appreciating games until around 2002, so there’s many classic titles that passed me by. Games like Live A Live, which were fan favourites but remained obscure, had little chance of reaching my interest. Now, I’m older and wiser (?), and Square Enix are remaking this fan favourite for the Nintendo Switch. It’d be rude not to check it out now it (kind of) fits in my pocket, wouldn’t it?
Live A Live takes place in…..it takes place during, well it takes place during a wide variety of timelines. From the main menu you can choose one of seven different timelines. These range from the prehistoric era, to distant future times and each of these stories follow a theme, be it cowboys, ninjas, kung fu masters, it’s like a grab bag of everybody’s favourites. I chose to play in timeline order and it became immediately apparent that you don’t have to do so, each story can be played in any order and when you complete all of them, the finale begins and the story begins to come together.
Each of these stories take between 3-4 hours (though this can vary very wildly) to complete and are a relatively generic take on their respective genre. The kung fu master in his twilight years finding a successor, the two warring caveman tribes who find common ground, the cowboy gunslinger and the bounty hunter after him, working together to defeat a gang of outlaws…we’ve seen it all before. I’m not being negative when I say this either, it may be generic but when viewed as a love-letter to each genre, it’s quite endearing. JRPG’s are known for their melodramatic takes on things and Live A Live follows that perfectly, of course your tolerance for that will affect your enjoyment. As you finish each of these stories, you start to see a little pattern emerging, some interesting little similarities and the finale does a surprisingly great job wrapping up in a way that, depending on your decisions, can stick with you for a while after you finish. I was pleasantly surprised with Live A Live’s story, at first I was fine with short but separate stories, but heading towards the finale I found myself gripped to my Switch to see it through.
One of the biggest pitfalls that Live A Live faces is how it can make combat interesting for such a small time-frame. It’s a strange beast, at its heart the game is a turned based affair, with an ATB gauge similar to Grandia. You have your standard type match ups (worded differently than fire x water) and there’s plenty of moves to pull off. Due to the short length of time however, max level is relegated to 10 and some characters can’t level at all. Because of this there is an emphasis on fast paced battles that occur far more frequently than a standard RPG. After every battle, your health and magic refilled to max, so you’re free to go nuts in every single fight and it makes for a frantic and fun experience. The downside to this is a severe lack of difficulty and a lack of progression. I say it’s a strange beast because the stories aren’t long enough for it to be a problem, but are short enough to want for more. There are slight gameplay variations to each story that keep things fresh and while I would have liked more, Live A Live sells what its offering very well.
Prior to playing I had a quick look at gameplay from the original version of the game and this remakes makes one thing very clear…this is a massive upgrade over the original. Character sprites have an Octopath Traveller-esque quality and the lighting effects are incredible. They give real depth to the improved particle effects and stunning backdrops, so much so that it’s a genuine surprise this is a remake and not a new IP. There is voice acting throughout the game (which I believe, is a new addition) and it captures 90’s video game voice acting really well, without being insufferable. Anytime I boot up a JRPG, I expect a great OST and Live A Live doesn’t disappoint.
Releasing this on Switch is a stroke of genius. The console’s biggest selling point is the ability to pick up and play. Sure you might want to sink 2 hours into Skyrim on a plane, or 20 minutes of Stardew Valley on your break, Live A Live fits perfectly with its movie length stories that beg you to play more. I wished for more challenge in the gameplay to combat the short length, but what I got was a frantic JRPG that newcomers could easily blast through. Without going around in circles repeating myself, I really recommend Live A Live to anyone who wants a new JRPG that won’t eat up all their life but offers an enjoyable time from start to finish.
Live A Live was reviewed using a digital code provided by the publisher.
Publisher: Nintendo Developer: Square Enix Release Date: 22nd July 2022 Reviewed On: Nintendo Switch