Do not sleep on the re-release of Live A Live coming to the Nintendo Switch later this month.
Live A Live is art. Pure art. It was too much art for the west back in the days of the SNES. But it has inspired developers of all sorts, from Yoko Taro of Nier fame to Toby Fox of Undertale fame. It was one of the first major projects of Kingdom Hearts composer, Yoko Shimomura. It was directed by Takashi Tokita, of Chrono Trigger and Parasite Eve fame, penned by Nobuyuki Inoue, who wrote Mother 3, and drawn by Gosho Aoyama, the man behind Detective Conan, among several other prolific manga artists. It’s a dream team game, a dream team game that nobody knows about!
So how do I know about it?
Emulators. If you were one of those kids who was fooling around with emulators in the late 2000s, then this was right on your radar. At the time, when the fan translation was being done, people talked about it as a kind of fusion of Earthbound and Final Fantasy, quirkiness mixed with drama in a way that was hard to describe.
Now that we have had time to reflect, I have a better way to describe it.
It’s Cloud Atlas in video game form.
Do you remember Cloud Atlas, the 2012 film by the Wachowski sisters featuring Tom Hanks, based on a 2004 novel by David Mitchell? It was a story about time, and how actions reverberate through time. The same actors played different characters in different time periods in different situations with different themes and presentations to their story, and it was about seeing how all of the protagonists connect.
And that’s EXACTLY Live A Live, except Live A Live did it BEFORE Cloud Atlas ever did.
Live A Live lets you play as seven different protagonists each in a different period of history, each with a completely different presentation and mechanical spin.
There’s POGO, the caveman, who’s battle system has few resources and special abilities, focusing only on spacing and sheer damage. POGO’s story is told in an era before language, so all the characters simply emote to get the story across.
There’s Sifu, a wise master of an ancient martial art style that is looking for a successor. He must spend time training his students, as every time he “levels up” he actually gets weaker, as his age is catching up with him.
There’s Oboromaru, a ninja during the warring states period, whose gameplay is more focused on stealth. Playing him is almost like playing Undertale, as killing your enemies is permanent, and you get different endings and rewards based on who and how many enemies you kill.
There’s the Sundown Kid, a wild west cowboy who finds himself in the middle of a conflict between bandits and a helpless town. His scenario is more about strategy and resource management, as he has a limited amount of time to prepare for the bandit raid, and only one shot to fend them off with the villagers of this quiet western town.
There’s Masaru Takahara, a rough and tumble brawler and wrestler who sets out on a world skipping series of one on one fights ala Street Fighter.
There’s Akira Tadokoro, a psychic teenager in near future Japan who not only has to uncover a government conspiracy with his ability to read minds but also has to pilot a giant mech against huge kaiju! He even has his own anime theme song and suit-up sequence!
And finally, there is Cube, a small little repair droid, reminiscent of R2-D2, stuck in deep space, stranded in a ship carrying a deadly alien that is slowly picking off the crew one by one. His mechanics are straight-up survival horror.
Did I say final? Well not to spoil some of the game but there is a final “secret character” Oersted. He’s a medieval knight and his mechanics are… well… just your traditional JRPG.
Odd that only this one character has classic JRPG mechanics in a game that is ostensibly a JRPG huh? I wonder why that is?
Well, I can’t risk talking more about that without getting into major spoiler territory, so you will just have to trust me.
Live A Live does so much with so little. It changes so much between chapters, from text boxes to fonts to even the way that you manage to progress in strength. The way characters move is different. The way you manage inventory is different. You are, in a very real way, playing several different games that all connect together.
And this new remake is really building things from the ground up, converting the original into a new “Octopath Traveler” style 2.5D game. Now, we have already seen that some of the mechanics, fonts and even art have changed in this new version. That has made fans of the original somewhat skeptical that the magic of the original will be lost. But there is a limited amount of exploration of the game space that was possible in the SNES era, and it looks like Square is trying to explore that same space, just with modern-day technology.
Either way now is the time to play Live A Live. If you haven’t played the original, the fan translation is still available, and look forward to the re-release on Switch later this month.