JRPGs as a genre have a lot to offer, and as the years have gone on we’ve seen developers explore numerous avenues of gameplay and story. Sure, the original Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest are pretty standard sword-and-sorcery scenarios, but they eventually led to more unusual titles like Harvest Moon, Persona and more. With 1994’s Live A Live, Square brought a variety of artists, scenario designers and writers together to see what they’d do when given a chance to roam free in their own little worlds.
After nearly three decades the game has finally been localized and remade on the Switch, making it available outside Japan (officially) for the first time ever. RPG fans should rejoice!
Throughout history, notable individuals have repeatedly arose, came into conflict, prevailed, then passed the torch on to the next generation. In Live A Live, we’ll explore the exploits of six of those heroes – plus a seventh protagonist available when the others’ scenarios are complete – as they make their mark in time and space. Each scenario is varied and unique, ranging from a dialogue-free prehistoric romp to a tense survival horror situation on a spaceship in the far future. You can tackle each in whatever order you like, with a grand finale full of challenges and surprises waiting in the end.
It’s important to emphasize how different each scenario is – while each shares a straightforward tile-based combat system, each handles the world in their own way. Unfortunately, this variation also applies to the game’s quality while you’re playing. Live A Live shines in its longer-form adventures, meaning the prehistoric, ancient Chinese and near future chapters. On the other hand, more experimental scenarios like the Wild West (a timed siege focused on setting traps), the modern era (a tournament fighting game) and aforementioned far future are interesting from a conceptual perspective but might let players down with how little they have to offer.
The modern scenario in particular is only about fifteen minutes long, so you won’t get a chance to really care about hero Masaru or what little story he has.
Still, when this game is good, it’s really good. Those three long-form chapters are fantastic, as are the game’s bonus scenario and the finale. Journeying through prehistory hunting mammoths and saber tooth tigers with caveman Pogo, training your disciples in Kung Fu as the Shifu of the Earthen Heart School and uncovering the cause of a mysterious series of kidnappings as esper Akira are all well done enough that they could have been entire games in themselves. The creativity on offer in the shorter scenarios is very much enjoyable as well, but you’ll have the most fun when Live A Live is doing its best to be a more typical RPG.
This is a remake, of course, and the most obvious change is the shift from a classic top-down view to an HD-2D art style clearly inspired by the recent RPG hit Octopath Traveler. Live A Live owes a lot to this title – so much so, in fact, that it ends up feeling a bit like a sequel or spinoff. That’s not a bad thing at all, as the striking environments, character designs and battle animations look positively fantastic. Live A Live is a feast for the eyes.
Along with this, there’s an original localization – if you enjoyed the old fan translation of the Super Famicom version, it’s worth playing this regardless just to see how much better it reads – and some gameplay tweaks and updates. The Switch version of Live A Live is a much more polite game altogether, offering rebalanced combat scenarios and frequent autosaving to keep frustration to a minimum.
While its quality can vary somewhat from moment to moment, Live A Live remains a fascinating, experimental JRPG with a lot to offer. If you’re not into emulation, this is likely your first chance to check out the many worlds on offer here, and even if you’ve played the original before you’re bound to be happy with the improvements packed into the remake. It’s an easy recommendation for RPG-loving Switch owners.