This year has been busy, just a constant stream of things to work on. One thing after another has meant that downtime and creativity have been sparse, used up meeting deadlines and keeping all of life’s plates spinning. The lack of free time and energy for this blog and other video projects (would love to do more let’s plays and streaming). I also realize we’re only 6 weeks into 2022 but it’s always annoying when you don’t have time to do the things you enjoy.
But I was roused from my stupor when the Nintendo Direct today contained a wild announcement; Live A Live is being released in the US for the first time! At least as a Remake, moving the older game to the new 2D-HD aesthetic. Live A Live has lived on in its original form through the dedicated work of fan translators and for people who want to experience that can access it online now. An official release is still a big deal and it seems like Square Enix is putting a lot behind the remake. Some background for this cult hit: Live A Live is a unique Super Famicom RPG from 1994 that was never released outside of Japan (I wrote a small bit about it in my 2021 wrap up). This game was directed by the legendary Takashi Tokita, who had directed Final Fantasy IV previous to Live A Live and would go on to create Chrono Trigger and Parasite Eve. Artists were brought in to create the seven scenarios and characters that would make up the game which included people like Gosho Aoyama (Detective Conan). It also has an amazing soundtrack composed by Yoko Shimomura who wrote songs for Street Fighter II and would compose Parasite Eve, Legend of Mana, Xenoblade Chronicles, and a small game named Kingdom Hearts. Just take a listen to this, the song that Toby Fox took the name for his famous track from (and is forever buried in my brain):
But what is the game? Instead of one long RPG story, you’ll play seven different scenarios that cover a variety of different fiction. There’s Western, Horror Science Fiction, and Kung Fu stories that all reference movies that rub alongside more gaming referential ones like a street fighter inspired scenario. Each scenario only runs about a few hours meaning they never overstay their welcome. They all share a similar, active time and grid based battle system. You’ll still select moves like other turn based RPGs, but each move has a different attack pattern and distance in which it can be executed. Some you’ll have to be directly next to the enemy while others you can attack along a diagonal path. Moves will also range in their execution time meaning you may have to wait a few seconds for your character to unleash an attack or a healing spell. What this means in battle is that you’re having to adjust characters’ positions so they can avoid enemy attacks, use their attack moves or have a buffer zone to charge up. Battles are also unique in that damage doesn’t carry over meaning that health resets once it’s finished. In practicality that means battles are a bit harder than other RPGs. Enemies can also hit really hard (even the low level ones) so you usually have to find a way to move into attack range and move out before taking damage.
Even though they all share the battle system, each scenario’s gameplay is distinct and utilizes RPG mechanics to evoke their individual settings. The science fiction and western scenarios barely have battles and instead use the top down perspective to have you navigate and interact with the environment. The ninja scenario allows you to tackle the fortress you’re invading through lethal or nonlethal means and has branching paths for you to either sneak past or fight all the enemies. These scenarios twist RPG mechanics by deprioritizing stat growth (ie increased health and attack) and instead making navigating and interacting the environment the main part. You’ll still get traditional RPG missions (the other future science fiction story falls in this category) but the variety between the seven scenarios makes revisiting the classic structure refreshing. It’s like you’re playing AAA RPG maker games all together in one package. The game then wraps it all together with an 8th scenario that ties together all the other ones in a fantasy overworld filled with micro dungeons. Those dungeons also reference the genres from each section and experiments with them in a more traditional RPG/dungeon crawling way. There’s even a really cool final battle choice that I shouldn’t have spoiled in my 2021 wrap up but that I’m going to avoid spoiling here.
It’s a really special game and there’s a reason that people familiar with Live A Live were immediately activated by the announcement. I didn’t realize how much of an activation phrase it was for me and yet here we are. My only hesitation comes from the new remake portions. I’m not a huge fan of the 2D-HD aesthetic and I’m concerned how big story moments will be rendered. I’m also curious how they’ll change the gameplay as I’m assuming they’ll try and smooth out some of the rough edges in moving around the battlefield, which in my opinion added to the tougher pacing of the battles. The inclusion of voice acting is a neat wrinkle and hopefully they can stick the landing. That’s probably the purist in me talking and they’re not big enough red flags to make me avoid it. To be clear I will be buying this. I would even buy the legendary edition that’s only in Japan (I want that bag and physical game!). People just need to play this game and releasing it to a worldwide audience makes it even more accessible. The new price point is high but worth every goddam penny.