JRPGs have evolved a lot in the past decades. But did you know that there was one ambitious project that was said to be revolutionary for its time? Well, that’s what we’re getting into today, as we review Live A Live‘s HD-2D remake, which was recently released on the Nintendo Switch.
Live A Live was originally a Super Famicom game released 28 years ago, only in Japan, with an English localization only available through a fan patch that was distributed back in the day. Players play through eight different chronological eras, each with its own unique stories and plot points. I had only heard of Live A Live from how its fan translation was amazing, but never got to play it, so I decided to try my hands at this HD-2D remake and see just what made this so-called “JRPG gem” from the Super Famicom so beloved.
▍Beautiful Reimagined Graphics
Live A Live is one of the best titles that received the best remake with a beautiful HD-2D art style, and it makes sure that the remake has attained a huge difference compared to its previous Super Famicom game! The 3D environments have been masterfully recreated with vivid colors and graphics.
I originally had mixed feelings when it came to HD-2D games largely because of the lack of color contrast, but Live A Live subverted those expectations and improved a lot on the bloom and blur issues that are present in older JRPG titles such as Octopath Traveler.
▍Eight Stories, Eight Eras
Reviewing Live A Live can be a bit weird because it has eight stories, and all of them are unique in their own manner, with no connection at all between them. That is, of course, with the exception of the secret route that ties them all together, and is only unlocked after you complete all eight routes fully. This Live A Live article will be listing out each of the worldviews of the eight eras in the interest of making a spoiler-free review.
■ Prehistory Era
A history where everything is told through expressions and emotions alone, due to how humanity lacked the ability to speak. You play as Pogo, a green-haired young boy who ends up meeting a pink-haired girl named Beru, where, due to a gang suddenly wanting to snatch her, Pogo tries his best to beat them up and prove that yes, he is worthy of her love.
It is a really cute story, especially when Pogo, the main character, tries his best to save his “love” when trouble arises. The fact that even menu options are with as few words as possible, and are done through pictures just adds to the whole prehistoric charm of it, and this was one of the most intriguing Live A Live stories to read through.
■ Present Day Era
In this storyline, there are no dungeons to explore, nothing. It’s essentially a boss rush consisting of several fights. However, the main character, Masaru, is capable of learning and copying the moves of all the fighters by being subjected to them once.
The main idea is that you’ll fight them, and have skills from many others accumulated in the end. You shouldn’t take longer than an hour or so to do this, and this is one of the eras that have the shortest amount of playtime by far. This era really feels like Street Fighter meets RPG, funny enough.
■ Far Future Era
It is another era that is practically no combat. Our protagonist this time is Cube, a cute little robot created by an engineer of the Cogito Ergo Sum (what a peculiar name…), which is a ship created by humanity to have a fully autonomous AI system.
However, all of a sudden, an incident happens across the ship, causing mysterious phenomena, from communication issues to a monster running amok?! It is up to you to figure out the truth behind this unassuming transport carrier…
Though this era isn’t using combat to be its main feature, there is a game called Captain Square that you can play from the ship. With eight stages available, you will fight through a horde of enemies as the character. But it’s a completely optional mode that you are free to ignore for the most part.
■ Near Future Era
Do you like sentai-inspired stories? Well, that’s the premise behind the story of the Near Future chapter. …Well, almost. Our story begins with Akira, a young man whose father was killed while at work, and he was then sent to an orphanage.
From a very young age, Akira developed the special power to read minds, which you can do with the Y Button. Without spoiling much of the story, I can only say his powers will play a key part in the story, and the ending is amazing.
■ Twilight of Edo Japan Era
Out of all the chapters in Live-a-Live, the Twilight of Edo Japan is definitely the hardest chapter of the game. You play as Oboromaru, a shinobi who is tasked by his master to infiltrate a castle amid the boiling tension of Edo Japan. Unlike other stories, this one does feature combat, but you’re presented with two major choices: To kill nobody, or to kill everyone, including the innocent.
The Edo Castle is one of the most convoluted places I ever tried to explore, and it was definitely challenging to even attempt to not kill a single person. It is possible if you know what you’re doing, and I definitely wouldn’t recommend attempting the 0-kill run if you’re a first-time player, and the fact the ideal ending is somewhat locked behind it does make this chapter a toughie.
■ Wild West Era
The story begins with Sundown Kid, an “outlaw” who has a $5,000 bounty on his head. After being followed by Mad Dog, one of the Wild West’s most notorious bounty hunters, they quickly end in the town of Success, which is being ravaged by a gang known as the Crazy Bandits.
After hearing that their leader is on the prowl to terrorize the townsfolk once more, you and Mad Dog form a temporary truce, and you must prepare as many traps as possible in order to make the fight easier before the eighth bell rings and the sun begins to rise.
There are many ways to do it, and it was a really cool story. I totally recommend saving before the time limit starts, however, so you can get familiarized with where the most important items are, and quickly have them set up efficiently. Or you can just…not set any traps at all and fight the full onslaught of baddies yourself! A valid choice, if perhaps bold.
■ Imperial China
A gluttony man, a cocky thief and a nervous young man, and a master who’s looking to pass his kung fu skill forward. That is the premise of the Imperial China story, where a very famous Shifu is on his last legs, but wants to pass down his Earthen kung fu to someone he can trust. In this storyline, you’ll train whichever disciples you like.
The game basically gives you multiple training opportunities, so you can choose which disciple you would like to pass down your skills to. It’s a bit like how the Present Chapter works, where the more you train a disciple, the more of your skills they’ll learn to use.
I liked the story, but at the same time, I did feel that the training part can be a bit repetitive. It’s just not worth training your disciples equally. In the end, you’ll be stuck with the one that has the most EXP and skills from combat. So if you were thinking of perhaps distributing an equal amount of training to all of them, that’s unfortunately not possible, since they feature different playstyles and stats.
■ The Middle Ages
The eighth scenario that allows once you’ve done all of the aforementioned eras. In all honesty, this is the most underwhelming era in Live A Live. Your protagonist is Oersted, a young hero who wins a championship and wins the hand of the King’s daughter, Alethea.
However, as the two lovers bask under the moonlight, Alethea ends up being captured by a dragon, and as it turns out, the dragon was in fact commanded by the Demon King, an evil entity that was once sealed but has since returned.
Now, why is this the most underwhelming era, you may ask? Easy. Take all the cliché RPG tropes you know, and mix them together. Yeah, that’s the Middle Ages, which is kind of weird, considering the other eras had a lot of unique flavors. Though I suppose if you consider the ending, it does make sense as to why the story plays out that way.
▍Live A Live is a Hidden JRPG Gem Without a Doubt
What makes Live A Live so amazing is that all of Its eras bring a unique genre and plot to the table, so there’s always something interesting for you to discover. The only downside is that compared to your typical modern RPG, Live A Live only takes you around 20 to 22 hours to complete the entire game, which may be a bit insufficient for gamers who are looking for a more in-depth experience.
There’s no incentive to play each era multiple times because there are no achievements, nor a trophy system in the Nintendo Switch version, so if you are thinking of buying this game, the thing you’ll most have to consider is the story. As someone who just loves JRPGs for their stories, I am confident to give Live A Live 4.5 out of 5.