Seemingly out of nowhere, previously untranslated 1994 JRPG Live A Live has been given a new lease of life by Square Enix. The famous publisher has not only translated it but given it the patented HD 2D treatment - a blend of sprite work and 3D models, as well as a re-recorded soundtrack and new voice acting. It’s a game I’ve always meant to play, so I’m glad it’s gotten a modern makeover and that it’s been done well, which is not always a given with Square Enix.
What sets Live A Live (rhymes with Hive A Jive) apart from other JRPGs is its unique structure - it’s made up of a series of eight vignettes that vary greatly in style. These vignettes are about 1-3 hours long and the first seven can be played in any order before an eighth unlocks, and then there’s a longer section at the end that ties everything together. Each vignette packs more personality than many bloated RPGs have in their entire runtime, and I would like to honour them by giving a short, sharp review of each of the eight vignettes.
Prehistory: The First
The first section in chronological order, set in the Stone Age, has no dialogue, just speech bubbles with pictures. Pogo the caveman and his monkey friend are out to save a woman he is lusting after from being sacrificed. Also, there are a lot of fart jokes.
Imperial China: The Successor
An aging Shifu who knows his time is nearly up
A master of a near-forgotten martial art
looks to impart his teachings once more before he passes
A homage to martial arts and a twist on the game’s fairly standard turn-based combat. You’re the overpowered master fighting your increasingly strong group of students before facing a rival martial arts school.
Twilight of Edo Japan: The Infiltrator
A ninja is on a rescue mission and must infiltrate a labyrinthine building. The closest to a standard JRPG dungeon in the first batch of vignettes, but there’s still a twist - you can turn invisible to stealthily pass enemies.
The Wild West: The Wanderer
A gunslinger called The Sundown Kid, a lone wanderer, walks into a small town. He approaches the saloon, opens the doors, and then - Bam! All of the western tropes appear in this excellent genre pastiche. The Sundown Kid takes on a bounty hunter, then works together with him to prepare the town for a looming invasion by an outlaw gang.
Present Day: The Strongest
Live A Live vs. Street Fighter II - Fight! Doooot doo doot, do-doo do-doot.
This is basically a fighting game arcade mode but with JRPG combat, complete with character select screens and beat-up portraits of your defeated foes. It’s a blast, and it has the best music of the lot.
The Near Future: The Outsider
It’s anime time - cue opening credits montage. An orphan who can read people’s minds, a biker gang abducting kids from the orphanage, an eccentric professor, a cool guy with a motorcycle, a giant mech, and something called liquefaction that can be done to people. A lot is stuffed into this enjoyably goofy chapter.
The Distant Future: The Mechanical Heart
In this vignette, you play as a little round robot called Cube, which inhabits a cargo spaceship transporting a dangerous beast. There’s no combat at all in this chapter, barring an optional arcade mini-game, in this tense, drama-filled sci-story. It’s basically a story-focused exploration game (aka walking simulator, for those who still call them that).
The Middle Ages: The Lord of Dark
After completing the first seven vignettes, you unlock this eighth one, a kind of high fantasy JRPG starring a knight named Oersted trying to save a captured princess from the Lord of Dark. It works well as a set-up for the final chapter, which brings all the previous sections together.
I understand that Live A Live can be a tough sell - it’s a full-priced remake of a Super Nintendo game. But its near-endless novelty and creativity stand the test of time, and the HD 2D treatment makes it look and sound at home on modern hardware. In its fan-translated SNES form or the new shiny remake, Live A Live is a must for JRPG fans.
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