Believe it or not but Octopath Traveller wasn’t the first time Square Enix released a chapter-based game where different characters would tell different stories all set across unique locations. Way back in 1994, Live A Live was released only for Super Famicom and the game boasted the same structure. Square Enix, known as Squaresoft back then, developed Live A Live and sadly, due to the release of other large RPG games during the decade, this was overlooked by many. It also doesn’t help that Live A Live has never been released outside of Japan, until now.
I kind of played the original in the early 2000s when I was searching for RPGs I missed as a child. I emulated the game and it was fairly decent. Sure, it never lived up to the likes of say Chrono Trigger but it definitely oozed the classic Squaresoft passion. Live A Live is now on Switch and it has been completely remade from the ground up to follow the same attractive art style as Octopath Traveller. The combat system has been slightly reworked and instead of a 2D game, we now have full 3D worlds to explore that are combined with the classic character sprites.
The most unique mechanic in Live A Live is its seven chapters. Each chapter is completely different from the next and focuses on a different era, characters and story. Each chapter, while being similar in combat and progression, also comes with its own unique feature that makes it stand out from the rest. In Prehistory, I played as Pogo who had the ability to sniff out hidden items, enemies and objects. In Twilight of Edo Japan, Oboromaru was able to blend into his environments to dodge enemy encounters.
Live A Live also does a great job setting each of these seven chapters up to look and feel so different. Not once did I think I was replaying any content from a previous story I just finished. Everything from the locations, characters and setting to even the musical score across each chapter is wholly unique. If anything, you can sort of take Live A Live as seven games in one because that’s how incredibly different each experience feels.
It is also important to note that Live A Live is not an RPG focused on combat. In fact, there’s even a chapter in the game that doesn’t contain much combat at all. Instead, the game leans on its narrative and unique setting to keep the experience fresh. When combat does arrive, it is also somewhat unique across each chapter. In a way, these encounters also tie into the decade the chapter is set on. The Earthen Heart of Shifu is set in Imperial China. Here, Shifu had to train new students in the art of combat. The students joined my party and entered encounters with me. This felt like a more traditional RPG system.
In The Sundown Kid set in The Wild West, I didn’t experience much combat at all. Sure there are some fights here and there but the chapter relied more on its story and the mechanic of planting traps around the town to stop an outlaw gang from invading the western town.
Combat in Live A Live takes place on a flat plane. Each character and enemy has its own skills and abilities but these attacks can only be performed in a specific grid. Every action then increases a gauge on the characters and when the gauge is full, you can then perform the attack. So in theory, battles revolve around moving around the grid plane to get into the perfect position to pull off your attack. In addition, I had to watch the enemy gauges too while also exploring their weakness. Some attacks deal damage to more than one enemy while others are focused on buffing, healing and even single attacks.
I won’t say the combat system is anything remarkable. Even though the game has a lesser focus on battles, I was fatigued by the thought of going into another encounter at times. They move a lot faster than most RPGs but the real challenge here is trying to focus on what’s going on in the current chapter without the urge to move to the next one when the pacing struggles to keep up.
Being an RPG, the game is also reliant on gear and items. Each chapter comes with its own equipment to find, characters to level up and new perks to obtain throughout the story. By the time I was done with a chapter, I had a good loadout and build going for the characters thanks to some combat farming and keen eye searching. The gear also ties into the chapter’s current timeline and story quite nicely. You also won’t find the same items in the next chapter either which makes the experience even more exciting.
While it was sad to complete a chapter, move on to the next and essentially start from fresh, the idea of an entirely new story to witness and characters to meet made Live A Live feel so unique. Some of the game elements do blend into one another a bit. Mostly the combat encounters but the enemy variety and opportunity to build a combat approach helped keep things going.
I won’t say that every chapter was as exciting as the last. Some definitely dragged a bit. Akira in The Near Future felt a bit cumbersome and the story just didn’t hit the same notes as the rest. Then again, given that Live A Live has seven chapters, I am sure some of you out there won’t enjoy some I loved. There’s enough on offer here to both love and hate.
I also need to mention that the game is beautifully delivered. Chapters have fully voiced dialogue to listen to and even pack their own cool-looking cinematics to enjoy. They also tie nicely into the theme on offer in the different stories. The worlds are also gorgeous and the 2D and 3D engine holds up well.
My biggest takeaway from Live A Live is how remarkable it is considering it is a game from 1994. Sure, a lot of the fancy finishes come from the “remake” aspect here but the general package has remained the same. It goes to show that Square Enix has always been master RPG makers and Live A Live is a testament to that.
This Live A Live review is based on a code sent to us by Nintendo. The game is available on 22 July only on Nintendo Switch. It retails from R910.
Story - 9/10
Gameplay - 8/10
Presentation - 8/10
Value - 9/10
Live A Live is unlike anything I have ever played before. Its seven chapters all held their own, told unique stories and felt like fully-fledged games. It is a remarkable RPG not to be missed.
Seven unique chapters
Soundtrack is superb
Combat can get boring
Some chapters aren’t as strong