Live a Live review: let’s rediscover a timeless classic

We talked at length and in depth about the history of Live A Live and the importance of a remake like the one proposed on Nintendo Switch (if you want to know more, just read the special on the history of Live A Live). Now it’s time to take stock of what it is an operation as unexpected as it is welcomewhich allowed us to rediscover a great classic of the JRPG from Nintendo and Square Enix. Live A Live is, still today, an incredibly original video game, the son of an era in which it was possible to decline its genre in many ways. Although almost thirty years have passed since its publication on Japanese soil, Takashi Tokita’s work has remained a precious gem, capable of influencing large and small contemporary productions, think for example of Octopath Traveler and Undertale.

Live a thousand lives

The first and biggest peculiarity of Live A Live is that Takashi Tokita conceived it as one collection of many small events set within extremely different historical and cultural contexts. The total chapters are eight, seven of which are freely accessible from the first start of the game through a dedicated menu, and run from prehistory to the remote future, passing through feudal Japan, the Middle Ages and the Far West, up to imperial China and many other settings.

We are therefore not talking about the classic JRPG organized around the party but about a sort of interactive anthology whose individual stories are dedicated to always different characters. This obviously translates into an important playful variety, built on the same set of mechanics that are gradually reassembled in different ways. All this does not mean, however, that the content of Live A Live does not have its own internal coherence (including narrative). Far from it: the lives told have points of contact between them and in the end they end up converging. In short, while taking the right times linked to the various narrative needs, they are projected towards an ending that collects the many experiences that have marked every existence. What tears more than a pleased smile during the game is precisely the coming face to face with chapters conceived with the same means but developed almost as if they were in all respects titles in their own right. The aesthetics, the setting, the mechanics and even the language change, everything diverges while resembling so much, in what it is a real hotbed of ideas in motion on the Nintendo hybrid screen.

The episode set in prehistoric times turns into a small experiment in non-verbal narrative, the section dedicated to contemporaneity is a sort of attempt to mix Chrono Trigger and Street Fighter 2, while the part dedicated to the far west is a distillation of pixels and fights turn-based of a film by Sergio Leone. In the long run, there is a lack of a unitary narrative typical of the great role-playing blockbusters of the time, above all because each of the chapters tends to have an extremely short duration when compared with a Dragon Quest, a Suikoden or a Final Fantasy, but the variety offered by them is capable of keeping interest and attention alive for the duration of the game.

Some passages, it must be said, have aged worse than others but overall Live a Live is “lived” which is a pleasure, because – once again – it remains a great classic. You can see this in the light-heartedness with which you take gigantic risks, for example by transforming the chapter of the distant future into a graphic adventure or that of imperial China into an old-fashioned wuxia centered on the idea of ​​handing down your martial arts to a group of disciples. . In short, the amount of brilliant ideas and insights is astounding, let’s think of the section set in the Japan of the future inspired by Akira by Kazuhiro Otomo, who manages to invent a sort of prototype of Neon Genesis Evangelion almost a year in advance (try it, trust us ).

Fight a thousand battles

Live A Live’s play structure is based on a combat system simple but effectiveas well as on a drastic revision of certain fixed points of the genre of belonging. You fight on the grid and you can take full advantage of the tactical element offered by the management of spaces in battle. In fact, you can use both single and area attacks, as well as skills that allow you to hit at great distances or to change the position of enemies on the screen.

Trying to land a frontal attack increases the chance that the opponent will dodge it, while surprising the enemy from behind increases the chances of success, as well as the overall damage output. It is actually a rather simple system, which thanks to this feature easily lends itself to variations both in terms of tone and execution. It can transform itself into the skeleton of a fighting game, recreate the atmosphere of the revolver duels of western cinema, adapt to classic turn-based fights or, if necessary, be distorted in its fundamental components. What Takashi Tokita and Nobuyuki Inoue have completely rethought is the pace of the game. Those who are fans of JRPG are used to stories that evolve slowly, at least at the beginning, and that leave ample room for the player to freely explore the maps to stock up on items, equipment and treasures. Live A Live works exactly in reverse. The longest chapter lasts just over two hours and, for this reason, the rhythms of the individual stories are anything but staid.

As a result, sometimes the narrative takes inelegant shortcuts but at the same time the typical mechanics of the genre are distorted. So here is that exploration and grinding are virtually absentthat the sidequests are completely abandoned to keep the concentration on the main narrative nuclei of each story high and, above all, that the classic conformation of the worlds of the JRPG is abandoned, made up of cities in which to find refreshment and full of taverns and merchants.

The historic production eliminates the need to cure oneself at the root, because the party does it automatically after concluding a battle and also the equipment plays a secondary role in the playful economy. This is a very strong stance that is likely to displease the most demanding and avid fans of the genre, but which at the same time constitutes a perfect entry point even for those who have never approached the JRPG. Live A Live is a continuous surpriseand although its formula is decidedly imperfect (it was Tokita himself who perfected it only a year later with Chrono Trigger), it deserves to be tried with hand. By the way, wait until you get to the last two chapters, because that’s where the development team showed all his talent, giving a splendid and unexpectedly mature closure to the experience.

Illuminate a thousand pixels

Let’s move on to the modernization work done in this remake which, we tell you right away, we liked it a lot. HD-2D is a valuable solution in these cases, because it is capable of reworking the original work without distorting it. Maybe some of the “visual depth” of the aforementioned Octopath Traveler and Triangle Strategy is missing, but the glance in certain scenarios leaves you speechless.

The developers managed to recreate the classic mood while allowing themselves some freedom, let’s think for example of the scenarios built in three dimensions. What was once an expanse of tilesets and sprites in pixel art, in fact, has been transformed into a living, three-dimensional and deep world, gently caressed by perfectly implemented ambient lighting.This must be the future of all NES and SNES era remakesalthough perhaps the time has come to see HD-2D working on genres other than the JRPG. What about Yoko Shimomura’s soundtrack? It was great originally but the remastering and new arrangement are sensationally well done and perfectly suited to the atmosphere of each of the various stories. New versions of iconic tracks such as Killing Field or The Bird Flies, The Fish Swims, are great and give new life to compositions that were already a flagship of Square productions.

In short, this remake of Live a Live is a success and manages both to celebrate the importance of the classic game, and to return it to a completely new audience, thanks to a painstaking restoration. We are not talking about the definitive JRPG, because it has inherited from the original some little narrative distortion e those naivety typical of first worksyet – especially if you are interested in experiences with a retro breath – you shouldn’t miss it.