In RPGs, some eras are shunned more than others! After all, why not go to Prehistory, the Far West or even Imperial China rather than heroic fantasy or the dystopian future? Better, why not do everything at the same time? In 1994, that’s exactly what Live A Live offered Japanese audiences. A cult role-playing game that had – until then – never been released in Europe. An affront now repaired thanks to a remake on Switch. Here is our verdict.
Well then, Square Enix likes to offer us games in HD-2D! After Octopath Traveler and Triangle Strategy, it is now Live A Live which benefits from this very particular engine, mixing 2D models with three-dimensional decorations. But this time, it’s to resurrect an RPG that never left Japan – at least officially – when it was released in 1994. With this Switch version, many players are preparing to discover Live A Live , a game that almost owes its status as a cult work to its sole concept: to browse seven stories set in seven different eras (Prehistory, Far West, Present, End of Edo Japan, Imperial China, Near future, Far future). Each chapter is independent, with its own characters and environments. The idea is that once you complete them all, you unlock two final sequences revealing to you the connection that underlies these tales, separated by centuries.
Buy Live A Live on Fnac for €39
7 ways to play
Before telling you its latest secret, Live A Live will take you on a journey through time and borders, which is undeniably its greatest strength. Beyond the excitement that rises when starting a new story, we must especially salute the care taken by Square Enix to set up these atmospheres. With one or two exceptions, Live A Live happens all the time to carry, thanks to a nice mix between artistic direction and successful soundtrack, sometimes brilliant staging, without forgetting the dubbing (only in English) during important passages which really help to embody the whole. Of course, the HD-2D engine brings its grain of salt, for a palette of colors and depth effects that hit home.
Rather docked or portable?
In our test, we didn’t notice any noticeable difference between Live A Live’s handheld and docked mode. Square Enix’s JRPG just seems to suffer from very slight slowdowns in the most detailed areas, like the End of Japan Edo.
But the best part of it all is that each chapter is distinguished by mechanics which are specific to him. Imperial China allows for example to embody the Shifu, master of kung-fu, during his training with three disciples. The player must here decide which apprentice will become stronger, faster or more resistant, the choice being able to have consequences on the continuation of the account. In the Wild West, you will have the task of gathering resources in a limited time and setting up traps to corner an opposing gang. While in the Near Future, you play as a young man able to read the thoughts of other characters. Other phases have a more radical bias, such as in Edo Japan, which takes the form of an action and infiltration sequence. Without forgetting that the very level design of the stories changes, sometimes open or rather linear.
Back to the future
So yes, the whole shows a variety more than welcome and Live A Live is a title full of great ideas. But it is clear that their implementation often smells too much of the 90s. We would not have said no to a more extensive overhaul in some cases! For example, Japan’s Edo castle is very labyrinthine and punishing, with traps that send you back unannounced from back floors or bosses that drop out of nowhere when their model initially resembles any character. Believe us, you’ll quickly thank the new auto-save system and the “mini-map” at the bottom of the screen showing the areas left to visit and the main objective (which doesn’t exclude a few small moments of bewilderment). We can also mention the training system in Imperial China, which boils down to a succession of tasteless fights. For the rest, despite a fairly interventionist structure overall – especially with the addition of the radar – everything is fluid and very pleasant to browse.
Live A Live – A Trip to the Present (Gameplay)
In reality, the very concept of Live A Live brings quite counter-intuitive situations for a JRPG. When some chapters rely almost exclusively on the narration, others prefer a much more action approach where you have to level up to get by against the bosses. When you start with the first case, it’s not easy to activate the “classic role-playing game” notch later, where training and exploration can prove decisive (there are two or three problems with balancing that chop up progress). And after all, what’s the point of taking the time to develop the hero of each era when we are not guaranteed to see him again during the grand finale? Result: we lost interest in secondary battles for a chapter, where enemies appeared without warning, RPG style from the good era. Luckily, you can run away from clashes without restriction. It is kind of a shame.
Tactics of tactical
As long as we’re talking about the action phases: know that Live A Live deviates quite a bit from turn-based JRPG conventions, preferring a more “tactical” approach. Here, there are no magic or action points. The sinews of war is time. The skirmishes thus take place on a chessboard of seven squares by seven and the slightest movement will save the opponent vital time. This resource is symbolized by a gauge above the enemies. As soon as it ends, the villain can attack. Of course, you can do the same, as long as your hit range hits its target. The goal is to use the opponent’s position to your advantage. A back strike will be more effective, as will a technique that is one of the opponent’s weaknesses. Also, if you’re far enough away when the enemy’s time gauge reaches its maximum, it’s bye Bye the attack ! Faced with several villains, it’s a real game of chess.
All in all, the fights in Live A Live work well, reserving quite a few moments where you will have to rack your brains. But they are not clearly not perfect however. The absence of action points or magic, for example, encourages the player to always use the same attack, especially when he is out of reach of the bad guys. Certainly, the most powerful techniques require waiting one or two turns to be able to charge, during which time the opponent can move or “break” your next blow. Unfortunately, these moments are few and we feel that the clashes could have delivered more. Yet we rarely balked at the idea of beating ourselves up, so engaging are the music and the visual effects. Not to mention the key rewards: resources, levels or even equipment.
Faults quickly forgotten
As we have just seen, Live A Live is clearly not free from flaws, whether in terms of its structure or its combats. Is it that serious? No way ! During the fifteen to twenty hours it takes to complete the adventure (count between 1 and 3 hours per story) there was very little room for weariness. The different chapters and eras always arouse interest, especially thanks to new gameplay and varied atmospheres. There is also an equally neat writing – despite a few clichés – and a finale that is worth the detour. In short, we always want to see more. You will therefore have understood, it is a success.
Live A Live – A Few Minutes in the Wild West (Gameplay)
- Always solid and original concept
- Varied superb atmospheres
- Lots of gameplay ideas
- Dubbing and soundtrack
- Writing more than satisfactory
- A successful combat system
- Some old-school mechanics
- The chapter in the Present, disappointing
- Some balance issues
Almost twenty years after its release in Japan, Live A Live is still a journey apart, through time and borders, here enhanced by Square Enix’s remake work. It’s simple, the different eras offered by the title (from Prehistory to the Future via Imperial China) have never been so intoxicating, thanks in particular to the HD-2D engine of the Japanese developer. The result is colors and depth effects that very often hit the mark. A choice setting for a very engaging writing despite the years, made even more immersive by English dubbing. On the other hand, certain design and mechanical choices are still stuck in the 1990s, which may sometimes interfere with the pleasure and the pace of progress. There are also fights that still had some under the pedal. But not enough to deeply taint the experience. Whether out of nostalgia or for newcomers, Live A Live is a journey that can be tasted with pleasure from start to finish. A great adventure that you really have to (re)discover!
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Buy Live A Live on Fnac for €39
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