Live A Live Review: A Solid Remake 28 Years in the Making

Live A Live has been a somewhat mythical game to Western RPG fans for nearly three decades. The game stood as one of the first major projects from director Takashi Tokita who went on to also direct beloved games like Chrono Trigger and Parasite Eve while also playing a key role on numerous Final Fantasy entries. Unlike all of these titles, though, Live A Live never ended up releasing outside of Japan, which led to Western audiences merely having to dream about a localized release. Nearly 28 years later, though, Square Enix and Nintendo have finally decided to bring Live A Live westward in the form of a new "HD-2D" remake for Nintendo Switch. And while the game largely holds up quite well in 2022 given its age, it's also not without some drawbacks. 

On the whole, Live A Live is one of the more uniquely structured games that I have played in some time. Rather than centering around a single character, Live A Live focuses on eight different protagonists that reside in different time periods. Each storyline in Live A Live only lasts a couple of hours (if that) and centers around characters that range from a caveman in the prehistoric era, a cowboy in the wild west, and a robot in the far-flung future. It's this diversity of storylines and locales that keeps Live A Live from ever feeling too stale throughout its runtime. 

(Photo: Nintendo)

While this idea of focusing on so many different characters in different time periods is one of the strengths of Live A Live, it's also perhaps the game's biggest downside, making the format a bit of a double-edged sword. Switching between characters every couple of hours makes Live A Live feel a little disjointed, especially since this is a role-playing game. To build up some of your characters by grinding against enemies only to then have to basically reset your progress by taking control of another character in a new timeline can be slightly aggravating. Not to mention, with each new time period that you enter, you then have to quickly be caught up to speed and introduced to the world and characters that you find yourself surrounded by. It's a little like playing eight different opening tutorial sections in rapid succession, which is often my least favorite part of any game.

Live A Live also struggles to really build toward anything cohesive with its overarching narrative until its final hours. Without saying too much, all of the storylines presented in the game do end up converging in an interesting manner, but there is little groundwork done within the individual stories to make the eventual convergence that much more satisfying. Still, I do have to say that the way in which the game does end up coming together caught me off guard. Assuming that you don't already know the story of Live A Live, there are some exciting twists and turns to be had.

Despite some of my issues with Live A Live, the writing throughout the entirety of the game is quite strong. While it took the better part of 30 years to get a proper English localization, the final result is one that I found to be strong. In tandem with this, the voice acting in Live A Live, especially compared to other games in the same genre, is pretty solid as well. Voicework is something that wasn't seen in the original release, so it's good to see that Square Enix didn't cut corners when adding it to this Switch remake. 

(Photo: Nintendo)

When it comes to actual gameplay, Live A Live is a pretty basic old-school RPG. Battles play out in a turn-based format on a grid-like structure. As you would expect, each character that you control in Live A Live has their own unique attacks and abilities, which means you're mixing up your tactics somewhat frequently. Much like the rest of the game, this makes the battles feel pretty fresh on a routine basis and keeps things from becoming too dull.

The thing I found most strange about the combat in Live A Live though is just how inconsistent it was. Some sections of the game would largely be quite easy and wouldn't require a whole lot of tactical thought, while others would be pretty difficult and would require me to go grind against smaller foes to level up my characters before then attempting to take on a certain boss. I believe the reason for this stems from the fact that some sections of Live A Live are much more on-rails than others, but it still leads to the combat oscillating a fair amount in regard to difficulty.

As a remake, the new visuals of Live A Live are very much in line with what we've seen from Square Enix with Octopath Traveler and Triangle Strategy. I find this visual style to be excellent and once again enjoyed the HD-2D look here in Live A Live. When you compare this remake to the original game, the graphical overhaul becomes even that much more impressive. Square Enix has already made clear that it will be remaking more of its past titles with this same look, and to me, that's nothing but great news. 

(Photo: Nintendo)

Outside of the visuals, I also have to praise the soundtrack of Live A Live, because it's one of the game's highlights. This shouldn't come as much of a shock, though, given that Yoko Shimomura composed the score of the title. For those unaware, Shimomura is also the composer behind games like Street Fighter II, Kingdom Hearts, and many, many more. In short, her work here on Live A Live is stellar and only continues to show why she's one of the most heralded video game composers ever. 

Even though I had a couple of issues with Live A Live, I largely have to say that I really enjoyed my time with the game. Despite being so old, this is one of the more inventive and creative RPGs that I have ever played, and it really shows where some of Square's ideas for later projects came from. Those who have been waiting patiently for decades to experience Live A Live will no doubt be happy with this remake, and anyone else who is merely looking to scratch their itch for a new RPG to play should find a lot to like here, too.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Live A Live is set to release on July 22, 2022, and will be arriving exclusively for Nintendo Switch. A review copy of the game was provided by the publisher for the purpose of this review.