Live A Live is full of life, charm, and beauty

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The year is 1994. Square Enix releases a new game, one that breaks the mould and helps to usher in a new age for the industry. Now, nearly thirty years later, that same title makes an appearance once again, albeit with a vivacious update that breathes new life into Live A Live, an RPG that deserves your undivided attention, and I can already tell you this after a few hours with the game.

If you’re not familiar with the original, one of its biggest draws is its eight unique chapters, each of which centres on a different protagonist in varying locations and time periods, which is, of course, the case for the remake too. Better still, all eight of these are phenomenal to experience. However, as this is just a preview for the game, there’s only so much I can share at this time. Nonetheless, it’s more than enough to establish my love for it.

Before I dive into a couple of the chapters, it’s only right to explain more about how the game works, and the importance of navigation via the small map in the corner of your screen. Like many games of this nature, Live A Live has more for you to do than what initially meets the eye, for each individual chapter boasts additional content besides your main objective, encouraging exploration.

Furthermore, the game allows you to tailor your story and experience, as you get to choose the order in which you tackle the chapters, each of which features a different set of characters with their own tales to share. From my experience, I’ve yet to come across one that doesn’t grip me from the get-go. Yes, Live A Live is just that good, and I have nothing but praise to lavish upon it, as you’ll soon find out.

live a live review - outside a Japanese compound

If there’s one bit of advice I can give you at this time, it’s to acquaint yourself with the minimap, as an orange flag indicates your primary objective, while the blue dots stipulate an area you’re yet to explore. The majority of the time these locations feature goodies that can help you on your journey, as your chances of survival and victory in battle work in tandem with your gear.

Of the chapters I can discuss, I have to say that The Successor in Imperial China is my favourite, as it puts you in the shoes of a Shifu that needs to find new disciples. This isn’t too tricky to achieve, but is every bit as entertaining as you think it’s going to be – a kung-fu master on the prowl for apprentices, only to discover them in the most unique of ways. One for stealing a rather tasty noodle dish, another after he all but begs to be given a chance, and a former common thug that just wants to beat the old man up.

All of that sounds like a recipe for some hilarity, and it certainly provides that, but as the Imperial China chapter progresses, it also sets up each of the young characters for some wonderful personal growth. Especially for Lei, the spunky young girl that clearly dislikes authority, has a severe attitude problem, and just wants to kick the old geezer’s butt. Over time, she mellows (just a bit) and learns to look beyond her constraints to better herself.

Live A Live review - stood atop a mountain

As you can probably guess, not everything remains peaceful during this chapter, but I’ve no interest in spoiling that for you, nor do I intend to divulge too much information about much more of the story itself. However, what I will say is that I love the way you have to train your disciples, and no matter what you do, you have to favour one of them, with each having a different combat style. Hong, for example, has immense strength – so it’s very much worth considering your approach to Live A Live’s turn-based grid combat when you make this decision.

Furthermore, the locales in Imperial China ensnare you with their beauty, from the stunning mountainside to an ethereal bamboo forest where danger lurks around every corner. To top it off, the soundtrack in this chapter captures the essence of the environment, story, and characters perfectly. In fact, so far, I’d say that my favourite piece of music from Live A Live is the battle track in this chapter. I can’t explain it, but it just hits me. Each time that sound reverberates, I feel a rush. Something deep inside me is raring to go.

Furthermore, the sound design in this game is second to none. It matches the tone of the individual chapters perfectly, freshening itself up while still paying homage to Live A Live’s roots – a truly unique blend that serves Live A Live well. It captures the emotions of each circumstance perfectly, and helps to create an accommodating atmosphere to the time and place that you’re in.

Live A Live review, wnadering through a bamboo forest

One of the other chapters that I’m rather smitten with is The Infiltrator in Twilight of Edo Japan. During this story, you take up the mantle of a shinobi, one that has an important quest that sees you journey through a majestic Japanese compound. From the second I set foot in this area, I knew I was in for a treat. Honestly, it took a minute before I could move, as all I was able to do was take in my surroundings. Then, when I finally traverse into the compound, well – it’s fair to say that it blew me away.

Besides the overwhelming sense of beauty that surrounds you in this place, the enemies are also fantastic, and as someone that has a fondness for Japan, its history, and its legendary warriors, it was a pleasure to take up the reigns as a shinobi, facing off against ronin, oni, and a couple of other enemy-types. In this chapter, it feels as though you’re truly there, as you cross blades with the samurai of old.

When it comes to Live A Live’s combat, I have nothing to complain about, as it ticks every box I want from a turn-based grid battle system. In order to enter combat, you must engage an enemy, and then the screen shifts to put you in a fight, where you can move around an invisible board. I say invisible, but you can see the grid when you go to attack, as it indicates where you can aim, and whether or not your foe is within your offensive range.

Live A Live review - the turn-based combat grid

Then, of course, there are other things to consider, for an attack is not necessarily the best approach. Sometimes, it’s wise to let the enemy come to you, bide your time, and then unleash your fury through one of the attacks you can select from the top of the screen. Speaking of which, I love the UI layout when in battles. It’s not intrusive, and the attack options are nowhere to be seen until you’re ready. However, one little hiccup is that enemies can end up behind the abilities menu sometimes, so it can be tricky to see if they’re resistant or vulnerable to a specific attack.

Each protagonist from the diverging stories has a different combat style, thus they possess a different set of abilities for you to use in battle. If we take the Shifu from Imperial China, for instance, as a master of kung fu, you have a range of martial arts techniques at your disposal, though this does mean that you have to get up close and personal – for the most part, at least. Furthermore, a couple of his attacks cause him to move elsewhere on the board, putting some distance between you and your opponent.

Then, for the shinobi, you can attack from pretty much anywhere, though you may have to adjust your position ever so slightly to ensure that your foe is adjacent to where your attack can land. Some abilities require you to close the distance, while others, such as throwing shurikens, keep you at bay. As if this doesn’t offer enough variety, one of the other chapters that I can discuss is The Wanderer in the Wild West, which puts you in the shoes of a wanted outlaw.

Live A Live review, a cowboy showdown

So, as you can probably guess, the combat in this chapter is all about guns, and some of the abilities are so much fun to pull off. I couldn’t help but feel like a virtual Jesse James, especially as I shot off multiple rounds of high-damaging bullets. However, the trick in the Wild West is positioning, as you need to be standing in the correct place to land your hits, but the grid system allows you to see what manoeuvres you must take to make this possible.

If you find yourself on the losing side of a battle, not to worry, as like with many RPGs, you have access to a range of items that can heal you, remove negative status effects, or receive attribute boosts. Of course, these aren’t handed to you on a silver platter. That’s why it’s vital to take in your surroundings, for if you see something with a slight sparkle, there’s a good chance it’s home to a useful item or piece of gear.

Now that I’ve lavished praise on the combat, let’s move on to how the game looks (spoiler alert, it’s vivacious, decadent, and oh so beautiful). If there’s one thing I love about the aesthetic of Live A Live, is that it remains true to the original. With a pixelated art approach remastered to live up to today’s graphics, it ascends to another level of stunning, all while retaining its charm. There’s something special about this sort of design. I think it goes back to my childhood, where the Sega Megadrive was my best friend before the PS came along, so pixelated art gives me a deep sense of nostalgia.

Live A Live review - an old Western tavern

Of course, I have to mention performance, and, with the dozen or so hours I’ve put in, the game has run as smooth as butter, not a single wrinkle in the system in sight. So far, I feel nothing but joy when I play Live A Live, and this is due in part to the smooth experience that it offers. This isn’t just through the TV, either – its performance is sublime when the Switch is in its handheld mode, too.

So far, Live A Live is a splendid RPG, and a nice throwback to the heyday of the genre in the 90s, all while rejuvenating the title in a way that makes it a standout title in 2022, for original and new fans alike. And trust me when I say, I very much look forward to diving even deeper in my full review.

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