Live A Live Review

Cuz we only have one life eight lives to live🎵

By Paul Hunter

29 years following Live A Live's release on the Super Famicom in Japan, the game has finally come westward on PS5, PS4 and PC. Much like the Nintendo Switch version that arrived last summer, the PS5 (version reviewed) port is a full remake featuring a gorgeous new coat of HD-2D paint in the same visual style as Octopath Traveler, Bravely Default II and Triangle Strategy. Whether you're familiar with this cult classic role-playing game or not, there's never been a better time to check it out. Let's dive into the interesting lives of the game's many protagonists, here are three things I liked about the game...and two I didn't.

Liked: 8 Playable Protagonists

Live A Live is one of the most unique RPGs ever created thanks to its innovative focus on experiencing the lives of seven characters (with an eighth additional hero towards the end). A few RPGs have given us multiple protagonists before, like Phantasy Star III allowing us to experience a family through three generations, while Octopath Traveler gave us eight hero journeys that eventually intersect. But no game before has let us play as eight protagonists across eight different eras, spanning from the prehistoric age all the way to imperial China, the present day and the distant future.

Each era will introduce you to new heroes with distinct personalities, movesets and visual appearances. And each of their stories lasts between one to three hours, just long enough to tell a nice tale without any single one overstaying its welcome. I began my journey by diving into the Wild West era where I stepped into the boots of The Sundown Kid, a wanted gunslinger who's given a chance for redemption. This scenario revolves around a gang of bandits that are about to invade a frontier town and it's your job to set up traps and prepare an ambush. Incredibly enough, while Live A Live is a turn-based RPG, this particular story hardly focuses on combat at all—instead, it's mainly a story-driven puzzle adventure that culminates in an epic showdown.

Other chapters in this game will have you become the caveman Pogo for a traditional RPG experience with multiple party members, suit up to become a ninja in Edo Japan for a stealth castle infiltration adventure, and step into the ring in present-day for a Street Fighter-esque tournament fighting championship. The variety of campaigns in Live A Live is impressive, showing the incredible love and care that went into making this game while also broadening the appeal to all kinds of RPG fans. Whether you prefer story-heavy games, combat-heavy ones or charming puzzle adventures, this game has you covered.

I thoroughly enjoyed that each story is compact and features different mechanics to learn and master. Unlike epic RPGs out there that demand 40 hours of your dedicated time, Live A Live can be enjoyed at a more laid-back pace. Got two hours free and want to experience an exciting new story end-to-end? Hop into the game, visit the middle ages or the near future and away you go. Since the stories are so concise it also means there's very little grinding to do as each scenario has been balanced to complete in a couple of hours.

While Live A Live has received fan translations in the past, this is the first time Square Enix has given us an official English script. There was quite a lot to translate, too, as some chapters are very story-focused with multiple characters and long conversations. But don't worry about reading fatigue as the game is voice-acted with a strong cast that brings their characters to life.

Liked: Novel "Checker" Battle System

As touched upon, each hero you play as has a different attack style in battle that helps keep the individual stories feeling fresh and unique. For example, the Shifu you play in Imperial China possesses a range of devastating kung fu attacks, while the present-day fighter Masaru Takahara you control can learn a bunch of WWE-style wrestling holds (hello, suplex city!). Other characters focus on setting traps, long-range gun abilities or crushing multi-enemy attacks. The sheer variety of fighting styles you get to master is one of this game's major highlights.

While your characters' moves vary heavily across chapters, the battles themselves follow a similar setup. Combat plays out in a 7x7 grid with each of your team members, plus the enemies you face, having a life bar above them. Some attacks happen immediately when you execute them, but others can take multiple turns to charge. Above all participants in the battle is a second charge meter showing how close they are to unleashing their next attack.

In a neat twist, there are no magic points in this game, so you can select your special ability attacks as many times as you want during combat. Each ability has a set attack hitbox, which can be all sorts of weird shapes and different ranges. Since there's little grinding to do in Live A Live, battles can get very strategic—particularly the massive boss fights that end each chapter, which will put everything you've learned up to that point to the test.

Again, what's great about Live A Live is that since you're playing as several protagonists with unique combat styles, there's a ton of variety. No matter what your preference is—be it close-range melee, long-range sniping or flashy magic—this game has you covered.

Liked: Beautiful HD-2D Graphics and an Amazing Soundtrack

Over the years I've grown to love Square Enix's HD-2D style RPGs, going as far back as Bravely Default and more recently the stellar Triangle Strategy. Live A Live continues with this gorgeous art style featuring characters reminiscent of Square Enix's 16-bit classics mixed with lush overworlds to explore.

This game may arguably be the company's best HD-2D offering yet given the sheer diversity of locations you visit. From an enormous Japanese castle in the Edo Period to a futuristic spaceship to the caves and dense forest of the prehistoric age, this game has it all. And while the graphics are significantly improved over the SNES version, much like the recent Final Fantasy Pixel Remasters, the Live A Live remake has great respect for the original artistic vision. Everything in the game looks modern and crisp, yet you can clearly see the influences of the nostalgic pixel art this game is based upon. Interestingly enough, for the original release, all chapters were illustrated by different manga artists, which helps explain the incredible variety of art styles, character designs and locations.

On the topic of the game's presentation, I can't forget to mention the excellent soundtrack. This remake features a rearranged version of the soundtrack by Yoko Shimomura, the game's original composer who also lent her talent to the Kingdom Hearts series and Final Fantasy XV. For the Live A Live remake, the tracks are composed with a full orchestra with each piece of music lending itself perfectly to the era.

Didn't Like: Too Easy

I had a fantastic time playing through Live A Live's roughly 25 hours of content, but one slight disappointment is how easy it is. Since each chapter is only one to three hours long, the difficulty had to be tweaked such that you'll hardly need to grind levels or die and need to replay battles. This game very much wants to propel you continuously forward, which is great for keeping the action fresh, but it also means you can clear the game without breaking a sweat. There are a number of challenging end bosses, but aside from them the regular battles with common folks were mostly a breeze. It's not a deal breaker by any means, but if you enjoy a stiff challenge in your RPGs you won't find that here.

The Verdict

Live A Live is an incredibly fun turn-based RPG that holds up well after nearly three decades. The Octopath Traveler type HD-2D graphics look superb, but it's the eight heroes with different mechanics that really hooked me. Square Enix has really nailed their recent remakes, including the Final Fantasy Pixel Remaster collection, and now I'm more excited than ever to play the upcoming Dragon Quest III remake. Whether on PlayStation, Nintendo Switch or PC, anyone with even a cursory interest in RPGs needs to check out Live A Live.

Final Score: 8.5/10 - Great

Live A Live details

Platform: PS5, PS4, Nintendo Switch, PC
Developer: Square Enix
Publisher: Square Enix
Genre: Role-Playing
Modes: Single-player
ESRB Rating: T (Teen)

A key was provided by the publisher.