After a few hours with Live A Live, it’s clear that on the surface it’s looking to appeal to a couple of audiences. First up, the fans of the HD-2D aesthetic that Square Enix is clearly a big fan of, and has had plenty of success with, thanks to Octopath Traveler and Triangle Strategy. The second audience is the subset of people who want to play the games that never made it to our shores, because Live A Live is actually a remake of a 1994 SNES title that never got released outside of Japan. The question is, though: was it worth the wait?
The demo that’s available now is a very short slice, and I’ve been playing the full release which as far as I can tell so far, is pretty faithful to the original source material. There are multiple stories that are set across time and space. Multiple scenarios will introduce new protagonists and characters, trying to tie it all together via a central mystery of sorts.
Each story (so far) shares much of the same DNA. These are turn-based JRPG experiences including party systems, and gear. You can move around on the battlefield as a turn-bar fills up, and depending on what type of enemy you face off against, you can avoid attacks, or line up your own. There’s a huge variety of attacks across the stories, and due to the miniature narratives, you level quickly and gain new skills by the bucket load.
The individual tales do vary up the combat slightly, however. For example, Twilight of Edo Japan: The Infiltrator adds a stealth mechanic. Here, you’re tasked with getting behind enemy lines and taking out the bad guy, but you can choose to battle or use stealth. A comical animation allows you to vanish right in front of enemies who will continue to look for you, dazed and confused. Reappear, run a bit further, then blink out of existence before they grab you for a fight. It’s a nice touch, and like everything in Live A Live so far, looks lovely.
Should you decide to fight in Twilight of Edo, and win, you’ll get a brief moment where the protagonist (Oboromaru) reflects on how many people he’s killed. The body count goes up as you play, though whether that changes anything at the end, I’m not sure. Likewise, I’m not sure if the stealth option is actually useful. The thing about JRPGs from this era is that combat is fun, but also serves a purpose: levelling up.
In a broader adventure, it doesn’t hurt to run from combat now and then, you can always grind a bit when you fancy it. With Twilight of Edo (again, for example), the mission does seem to suggest a boss fight at some point, which I’d hate to be under-levelled for, because the game itself suggests you save regularly and often, so as not to lose progress. I guess we’ll see on that one.
Elsewhere, the faithful recreation of the original in 2022 form shows some cracks around the edges. Imperial China: The Successor story, for example, starts you off with a fully levelled character who is trying to find young progenies to succeed him. This means you’re gaining no XP and are battering everyone without challenge. After you find some potential recruits, you train them… by battering them. Again, they pose no challenge whatsoever but you have to repeatedly fight them in different locations to level them up.
It’s not that this is a bad idea, quite the opposite. It’s unique and clever, but early impressions suggest that it may not actually be that fun to be essentially grinding low-level fights out at the start of a story. Again, though, time will tell if this plays out in an interesting way. It feels very much of its time, where the ideas were good, but the implication on gameplay wasn’t perhaps as fully considered.
But everything so far looks and sounds the part, and even in these early hours it seems that for every bit of a story that doesn’t click (like Imperial China) there will be one that does, like the Far Future section. You can save at will and jump in and out of whichever story you want, with nothing locked off from the get-go, so really, it’s early days for Live A Live. Whatever the eventual outcome is when we get to a scored verdict, nobody will be able to argue that it’s not an interesting, nay, fascinating release to hit Nintendo Switch.
Live A Live launches on July 22, 2022 for Nintendo Switch.