Live A Live | Review | Switch - Japan-based Nintendo Podcasts, Videos & Reviews!


Sunday, August 14, 2022

Live A Live | Review | Switch


Once locked away as a Japanese Super Famicom exclusive, Live A Live is finally available in English speaking territories nearly thirty years after its original release. Has this RPG been worth the wait, and more importantly, is it worth dropping your cold hard cash on? In this review, we take a look at the Switch version of the game, a brief look at the Super Famicom version and more.

As opposed to a JRPG with an expansive story focusing on one character or set of characters, Live A Live revolves around a handful of different stories and settings. These vary in length, but by and large, can all be cleared in a a few hours each. For my first playthrough, the shortest completion I had was about an hour while the longest was around five to six. Each of the eight stories offer completely different settings. From Edo era Japan, to the Old West, the future and more, there are some unique eras to play through. 
While I did enjoy the short stories for each character, the final chapter had a bit of a slow start. I spent quite a bit of time just grinding levels for my characters to get strong enough to complete some of the end game - optional dungeons and the final boss alike. In the end I was still satisfied with the overall experience, but did find it a bit annoying while going through it. 

*Show for Some Slight Spoilers About End Game*
Just to expand on the last point about the Final Chapter, things are quite different here when compared to previous chapters. While the gameplay is fine, you will likely HAVE TO take some time to grind to level up your characters. Most of my characters were around level 10-12 when coming into this chapter and that even made facing off in normal battles challenging. After getting above level 20 (and just getting used to the kind of enemies that pop up in the random encounters), I was fine. Honestly, it was kind of annoying and quite different from how things play out in earlier parts of the game. The previous chapters allowed you to (pretty much) play at your own pace, especially when it came to leveling. That’s not really the case here. The overall jump in difficulty might be a bit grating to some.

Live A Live is a turn based strategy RPG at heart. While that might turn some people off, it’s very quick paced, and more akin to traditional turn based RPGs than standard strategy RPGs that might come to mind. Each chapter and characters offer unique abilities for your characters. On screen indicators show what kind of actions are effective or less potent against enemies. The addition of this gameplay element requires you to think about the most effective ways to take out your opponents. Spamming attacks is still fine, but definitely not the most efficient way to go about battling. Additionally, some of the enemies have no elemental weaknesses, leaving you to figure out how to best them on your own. Overall, this system feels great. I like the speed of the gameplay and overall battles. 
For a majority of the game, there are no random encounters. Battles are initiated by simply coming up to on screen enemies. This is changed up a bit in the end game as random encounters are introduced. While I didn’t mind the change too much, I did find that I had to make adjustments to how I played the game. Before, I was able to take my time exploring without much risk. This wasn’t as easy to do with the random battles. It’s not a hard knock against the game, but it does change up how you tackle areas. Thankfully, if you are feeling overwhelmed, saving is possible pretty much anywhere outside of battle. 

Visuals, Audio & Performance
Compared to the original release (which we’ll talk about more later), Live A Live has seen quite a nice facelift with the HD-2D elements. Character sprite are large, animate well and are expressive. The environments themselves are oftentimes 3D, which contrast nicely to the sprite work. While the game runs pretty smoothly most of the time, I did notice a few times where the frame rate would dip. I experienced this (as far as I can remember) ONLY in the Twilight of Edo chapter, but can’t recall it happening elsewhere. 
Live A Live features extensive voice work in both Japanese and English. The solid scripts are delivered nicely with pretty good voice acting so you can really feel the story beats. Music is also a high point here with several memorable tracks that will stick with you well after you put the controller down.  

Retro Rewind
Live A Live has come a long way from its original 1994 Super Famicom release in a number of aspects. Just for the record, the game did see a re-release thanks to the Virtual Console service here in Japan. It hit the Wii U Virtual Console on June 24, 2015 and was followed by a release on the 3DS VC on November 28, 2016. Although the Switch version has been my introduction to the game, I did pick up the 3DS Virtual Console release recently just to see how it stacks up. The story beats here are the same, but there are quite a few improvements that have helped bring Live A Live into the modern era of gaming. Of course, the visuals are the most noticeable difference here. Being originally released in 1994, the sprite work was quite simple and has quite a few similarities visually with earlier Final Fantasy titles. This kind of makes sense as scenario writer, director (and Producer on the remake), Takashi Tokita, did work on the Final Fantasy series before the original Live A Live. Other than that, the battle grid is more “grid like,” and helpful indicators showing enemy weaknesses are also not shown. 
To put it simply, Live A Live has a lot of Final Fantasy IV vibes - the biggest, most obvious difference here is the variety of stories, characters and locations. Given the time it would have take to localize the game and release it in the West, I can see why Square opted to leave this game on Japanese shores. Thinking about the realistic release window for a Western release, Live A Live would have been up against some pretty stiff competition, especially when it comes to visuals. In an age where people were going a little crazy with visuals, and the PlayStation and Saturn on the market, Nintendo 64 on the horizon, Square just let the game die in Japan. 

I really didn’t know what to expect going into Live A Live but I can say that I really enjoyed my time with it. The visuals and sound are great and the gameplay is fun and easy to understand. The segmented stories worked well as they give clear start and end points that don’t take too much of your time. Some of the chapters can get a bit long in the tooth or feel grindy, but these bite sized stories are a fun way to get into the different narratives if you don’t feel like investing dozens of hours to see some payoff. If you’re an RPG fan that is looking for several light, good stories with a satisfying overall arc, you need to give Live A Live a try. 

But let’s turn things over to you. Did you pick up Live A Live on the Switch? What do you think of it? What’s your favorite chapter in the game? I really loved The Distant Future (Cube!!!!) and the Wild West chapters. Be sure to sound off in the comments below. We’d love to hear from you!

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