Live A Live from Square Enix is a game I hadn’t really heard of until I saw some excitement among people I follow from a trademark filing. Following this, Live A Live was announced to get a full remake for Nintendo Switch and it was released outside Japan for the first time last week in the form of an HD 2D remake. Since the original demo for Octopath Traveler, I was sold on the HD 2D aesthetic. I’ve enjoyed putting in over 100 hours into Octopath Traveler and more recently enjoying my time with Triangle Strategy. Live A Live’s demo sold me even more on the aesthetic making me want more JRPGs to be remade with this aesthetic, but I was curious to see how the full game holds up across the different time periods for the chapters. For my Live A Live review, I will be covering how the game feels for someone who never played the original, and why it is worth your time if you want to play a unique JRPG.
There are many aspects about Live A Live that have me confident in it being one of my favorite JRPGs in many years. These range from the different time periods covered, unique mechanics added to make each chapter feel fresh, and also the visuals and how everything comes together with Yoko Shimomura’s score. When I played Final Fantasy VII Remake, I had already experienced the original, so I had some frame of reference for what to expect or what to hope for. With Live A Live, I only knew that the few friends of mine who played the Japanese version, told me I would like it given how much I love Chrono Trigger and older Square titles. They were right.
It feels weird to discuss Live A Live by comparing aspects of it with Octopath Traveler given one is a new game while the other is a remake of a much older game, but more Switch owners have likely played Octopath Traveler. Unlike Octopath Traveler that had you selecting one protagonist and then recruiting the others and building your party, Live A Live initially has seven chapters you can start. These are completely unique chapters with different gimmicks, characters, battle changes, and even structure. The chapters vary quite a bit in length as well with some being as short as half an hour while others can take more than three hours depending on your playstyle.
Combat in Live A Live was surprising when I played the demo. It is grid-based and party members knocked out remain on the field with a halo over their heads. If said knocked out party members take damage, they will vanish for that encounter. You heal after every battle as well. The grid-based combat combined with the gimmick of each chapter makes a lot of the encounters feel like puzzles more than typical turn-based JRPG battles The Present Day chapter with only boss battles goes into that direction even more as you try and bait out the opponent to use specific moves so you can learn them. I had to redo one of them thrice to learn a powerful move that helped a lot later on.
There are some chapters where things stay true to what you’d expect from a 90’s JRPG from Square, but I’m confident that people will be surprised and impressed with the combat in Live A Live and how it varies so much depending on the chapter you play. There are definitely some encounters that will feel unfair until you change your strategy or grind a bit and come back depending on how many battles you skip. One specific boss was just annoying to deal with until I figured out the gimmick for that specific fight.
The reveal and early trailers sold me on the Wild West chapter because it just blew my mind seeing that specific setting realized in HD 2D. I initially played a bit of each chapter before settling on the Near Future as my first proper opening chapter. I didn’t bother transferring the few hours of progress I made in the demo to the final game to have a complete fresh playthrough for this review. Expect Live A Live to take you about 16 or 17 hours if you just do the critical path. I spent time exploring and doing optional content in some chapters so my playtime ended up being 19 hours. I will be coming back to Live A Live after finishing other games to try and see everything it has to offer, but the release period definitely doesn’t help the game. Hopefully too many don’t skip it for Xenoblade Chronicles 3 and get both eventually.
When it comes to the invidual chapters, the Near Future chapter felt like a more traditional JRPG but with a modern setting. It also features the Steel Titan including an amazing theme song and brilliant animations during combat. The Wild West setting felt more like a strategic experience with planning than a traditional JRPG. The Distant Future chapter featuring Cube who is amazing, is more of a lore dump chapter with minimal combat. Twilight of Edo Japan, available partially in the demo, is an interesting take on player choice. You can avoid encounters for a reward, or kill everyone as you try and reach your goal. The Present Day chapter is the most surprising chapter with only boss battles that feel like puzzles blended with turn-based combat. The Prehistory and Imperial China chapters took me quite a while compared to the others as well.
Barring the critical path, some chapters have a lot of optional content ranging from items to grinding and optional bosses. Once you complete all seven, you unlock the path towards the finale with a new chapter and then potential endings. I was a bit afraid of how things might not come together well, but Live A Live nailed most things. There are some aspects of the finale mechanically that I dislike compared to the individual opening chapters relating to combat.
Visually, Live A Live is the best looking HD 2D game yet. The different time periods and settings shine with the aesthetic. The blend of modern and retro has never looked better than Live A Live. I thought Triangle Strategy was already a nice step above Octopath Traveler, but Live A Live shines in both handheld and docked play. I enjoyed playing it on my Nintendo Switch OLED model in handheld and docked. Performance is mostly good, with some instances of menus not being as responsive as they should be. Load times aren’t bad, but you will notice many short loading screens in your playthroughs.
On the audio side, Live A Live has voice acting in both English and Japanese. I played it mostly with English, and enjoyed it. There are some instances where some delivery felt a bit awkward, but it seems like those instances were only in the early parts. Music is where Live A Live really goes above and beyond. Until today, Radiant Historia was my favorite Yoko Shimomura soundtrack. Live A Live’s HD 2D Remake soundtrack joins that as Yoko Shimomura’s best work with tracks like Megalomania. It is superb in every way. The Go Go Steel Titan vocal tracks in particular elevated those moments a lot with Hironobu Kageyama’s vocals which are available with both English and Japanese voice tracks.
While I love a lot about Live A Live, there are some aspects that could be addressed in potential patches. The biggest one is the lack of a fast forward or skip animation option. While I love seeing the skill animations and particle effects, they get old after a few battles and I really want to just move to the next part. The other aspect is how some mechanics are a bit too vague for newcomers. This very much feels like a JRPG for JRPG fans, and it delivers on that front, but it could’ve been more accessible to newcomers like Triangle Strategy.
Nintendo continues to have an amazing year with so many quality games hitting the Switch over the last few months ranging from the amazing Triangle Strategy to my current favorite musou game Fire Emblem Warriors: Three Hopes. Things are looking even better with Xenoblade Chronicles 3 and Bayonetta 3 out soon. When I had just experienced a few hours of Live A Live with the demo, I regretted not trying it sooner through the fan translation, but being able to experience the full game from start to finish with a gorgeous aesthetic and amazing music is something I’m glad I got to do over the last week. If you enjoy JRPGs, you owe it to yourself to play Live A Live. Despite being a remake of a decades old game, Live A Live feels fresh and will continue surprise you. It is a strong contender for the best JRPG in years as well.