Live A Live Review: Best JRPG Of All Time

n Switch, I have never played a JRPG like Live A Live. It’s a shame that the rest of the world missed out on it back when it was released in Japan for the Super Famicom in 1994 because it was way ahead of its time. Fortunately, Square Enix decided in 2022 that it was time to remake this ambitious game and release it to brand-new audiences.

Live A Live JRPG

Live A Live differs from other JRPGs in that the story is divided into eight distinctly different scenarios rather than being built around a single protagonist the entire time. At first glance, it appears that they are so dissimilar from one another that they barely share anything in common.

Characters from all different eras—from a cave boy in prehistory to a robot in the far future—appear in each of the eight scenarios you’ll play through.

Each scenario has different characters and historical eras in addition to gameplay variety and goals that vary from one to the next. Each chapter’s grid battle system is the only thing that doesn’t change.

You can choose to complete the first seven scenarios in any order you like, and it really doesn’t matter much how or when you complete them in the end. The game displays a picture of the character, information about their setting and time period, and a few sentences about their plot when you select the next scenario you want to play.

Although it’s a bit cliché, “there’s a little something for everyone” feels somewhat accurate of Live A Live. I’ll explain.

Live A Live JRPG: My Gameplay

Live A Live JRPG

Prehistory, the earliest time period, tells the entire tale without using words. I took on the role of a young caveman who, along with his gorilla friend, finds a woman in need of assistance when he is old enough to hunt for the first time. Though at first it seemed strange to know what to do when everyone was communicating by gestures and symbols held high above their heads, the humour was evident the entire time.

There is very little depth to the story in the present time period. My character learned every attack that hit him in this situation, so I quickly realised that it was beneficial to extend some of the battles in order to learn more moves before the next fight. This situation is essentially a lengthy game of Street Fighter with a twist. It was fun to approach these fights in a different way from how I typically approach RPG combat, which is full-on brute force.

Alternately, in the scenario set in the distant future, the emphasis was much more on the narrative than the combat. I played a cute sentient robot that beeped and whistled and otherwise reminded me of Wall-E. The entire story took place on a spaceship with a small cast of characters, all of whom had complicated interpersonal relationships that became clear as the plot developed. Instead of relying on combat, this progression relied on interaction with these characters.

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I had choices in other scenarios. In Edo Japan, I took on the role of a ninja who could either sneakily and peacefully accomplish his goal or slay every foe in his way. One of my favourite scenarios involved the Wild West, and I got to play an outlaw who advised the terrified but determined townspeople on how to best defeat a band of bandits who were terrorising them.

Live A Live ninja

I had choices in other scenarios. In Edo Japan, I took on the role of a ninja who could either sneakily and peacefully accomplish his goal or slay every foe in his way. One of my favourite scenarios involved the Wild West, and I got to play an outlaw who advised the terrified but determined townspeople on how to best defeat a band of bandits who were terrorising them.

It took me anywhere between an hour and a half at the shortest to about three hours at the longest to finish each of the scenarios offered at the game’s beginning. Because of their length, none of these stories felt overly drawn out, making it easier for me to finish the ones that didn’t appeal to me the most.

Once the seven main scenarios have been completed, a mediaeval knight-focused eighth scenario becomes available. The tone of this story is much darker and more mature, and it prepares the player for the game’s conclusion.

The game’s connecting element is found in this ninth and final chapter. I was beginning to wonder if everything would connect after all before I came to this. However, the extremely lengthy buildup was all worthwhile.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kYA9dfT_ZCM

To avoid giving away the plot, I won’t say too much about it, but this final chapter is much more like a typical JRPG and features all of the main characters from the earlier scenarios. Along with flashbacks and references to each chapter, there are optional areas and story details to explore.

In essence, there is a tonne of content to enjoy after reading those seven short stories. Multiple possible outcomes encourage replayability of the final chapter. The way it all comes together in the end may seem a little hurried, but it doesn’t feel forced.

Live A Live Highlights

I want to take a moment to highlight two additional aspects of Live A Live. The soundtrack is firstly excellent. The soundtrack is on par with other JRPGs like Final Fantasy III and Chrono Trigger. Throughout the chapters, there are recurring musical themes, and I found myself thinking about many of them even when I wasn’t playing.

Second, Square Enix’s HD-2D graphic style continues to be outstanding. The environments are colourful and have amazing detail. One of the most gorgeous Switch games is Live A Live.

I haven’t played the Super Famicom version of Live A Live, so I can’t speak to all of the specific quality-of-life enhancements that were made for this remake. I can say, however, that the menus are very simple to use, that there are lots of chances to save, and that the tutorials made the gameplay concepts very clear.

Odds in Live A Live JRPG Game

I did not enjoy Live A Live’s peculiar balancing, and I wonder if Square Enix faithfully recreated the original without addressing any potential problems. Combat in the game is easy for the most part, but there were a few instances where the difficulty suddenly increased. In many of the scenarios, it is obvious where to go and what to do; however, in other instances, there is no guidance and only trial and error to determine what to do.

Conclusion

In the end, I had a great time working with Live A Live. The variety of the scenarios kept my interest and made me eager to keep playing to find out what would happen next. If this game had been made available worldwide in 1994, I have to wonder if it would now be included in the discussion of the best classic JRPGs. Now, I hope it continues to be brought up.

Anyone who enjoyed JRPGs in the 1990s, especially those developed by Square, should strongly consider playing Live A Live. It’s jam-packed with variety, humour, and compelling stories. Fans of the genre will still have affection for it even though it isn’t perfect or tops your childhood favourites.

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