Live A Live PS5 Review
A Timeless Love Letter
Square Enix has a vast catalog of RPGs, and while its big-budget titles are the ones that get most of the attention, its lesser-known titles include absolute gems such as Live A Live. Originally released in Japan in 1994 but given a new HD-2D remake for the Switch last year, Live A Live has now landed on PC and PlayStation consoles. The game is not only highly original and utterly captivating, but it is also a timeless love letter to different genres and stories from multimedia. The story, or more precisely, the multitude of stories, the charming HD-2D art, and the impressive soundtrack make this RPG an easy recommendation, especially for those who enjoy feeling nostalgic.
The game pays homage to a number of media genres, evoking nostalgia and making players connect with different ages and gameplay mechanics. The story is divided into eight chapters, each focusing on a particular hero from a specific time period including prehistory, the middle ages, and the near and far future. Live A Live offers several fun quests, such as piloting a giant robot, living as an outlaw in the Wild West, striving to become a wrestling champion, and using stealth abilities to infiltrate a highly guarded castle. Players are free to choose the order in which they want to complete these endearing stories, which are satisfyingly diverse and simple enough to connect with. Heroes and foes are charming and come in all shapes and sizes, with the writing stellarly portraying their personalities in brief glimpses of their lives. The clever use of comedy is the cherry on top, making the narrative comforting and engaging throughout the whole journey. As players complete chapters, each new episode feels like another opportunity to fall even deeper in love with the game and its characters.
All the stories include distinctive features and settings that make them alluring and fun to play. Deciphering what to do and how mini-games work in prehistory with only body language exclamations, for example, is extremely gratifying. After completing the story of each of the eight characters, the grand finale is unlocked, with this last chapter triumphantly finding a way to cross the paths of the heroes by making evident what ties these apparently disjointed episodes together. Everything about the narrative is brilliantly planned and executed, and every character is memorable. Ranging from triumphant to foreboding, the multitude of endings also deserves to be noted since they are all well worth watching, made easier by a ready option to restart at the last chapter.
Live A Live combines common elements in original ways to create a unique experience. It divides its story into separate, relatively short episodes that allow casual players to digest the events in small doses. The gameplay constantly refreshes itself, giving players different things to do in each chapter. The heroes are able to freely explore cities or open areas in some chapters, while others don’t feature any exploration and the protagonist simply chooses his next opponent on a screen that resembles iconic fighting games; however, lack of exploration is met with additions such as learning enemy skills during combat. In other chapters battling almost never occurs, and instead players need to flee from a monster or set traps within a time limit to stop a gang of criminals. Despite all being distinct, each chapter’s mechanics are simple enough to be readily understood, and going to the next one feels like playing a slightly different game, helping to keep players fresh and engaged.
Along with each chapter’s main gameplay twists, Live A Live includes various side activities such as fusing items or playing mini-games, which is a welcome touch and invites players to try to spend more time in each chapter. Moreover, if players want to replay a chapter, they are also free to do so. The last chapter is a great highlight and resembles a more traditional RPG since all the heroes meet and players can explore a vast world. It also includes a considerable amount of optional dungeons, bosses, and items that propel those who want to keep unveiling secrets.
While narrative ties don’t become evident until late in the game, a fantastic battle system connects all the different stories from the outset. This active time battle system makes use of a grid and is dynamic. Combatants can use an item or a skill during their turn, as well as flee if necessary. All characters have a wide set of abilities at their disposal, with most abilities having funny names that help maintain the comedic style of the game. Skills have a specific range, element, and cast time. Less powerful abilities can be used instantly, but stronger ones need time to be charged, with enemies being able to interrupt them. This works both ways, so it also invites players to keep an eye on enemies’ charging abilities. The use of an active time system and the diversity of skills make combat engaging and a little more complex than it seems at first glance.
The elemental system in the game motivates players to choose their attacks wisely. Enemies are vulnerable or resistant to certain types of attacks, and some skills have secondary effects that include affecting the attributes of allies or enemies. Status ailments such as freezing or poisoning also play an important role. Making use of all these subtle mechanics is crucial to defeating tougher enemies and managing to exploit them all is undoubtedly rewarding. Certain battles will give the enemies a leader who is the only foe needed to be defeated for victory, which encourages a bit more creativity and freedom in strategy. The battle system as a whole is great, and it only feels a little repetitive in the last chapter because the random encounter rate is unnecessarily high. Fortunately, players can easily flee battles if they get tired of them.
The soundtrack, composed by Yoko Shimomura and given a full rearrangement for the remake, is superb, with an astonishing main theme that makes the game sound inspiring as soon as the title screen appears. Besides each chapter having its own great and distinctive environmental and narrative tracks, battle themes are also tailor-made for each chapter, which makes combat more exciting while creating a unique mood for each time period. The sound effects do a great job to deliver a retro vibe while voice acting fits battles and cutscenes nicely. While voiced dialogues are used only in a few moments, they are welcome every time they pop in. Visually, Live A Live can be described in only one word: charming. Its pixel art is fantastic and the HD-2D combination makes it feel modern and a product of its time simultaneously. The backgrounds create a particular setting for each chapter, and the models of characters and enemies are a treat for the eyes.
Live A Live offers a unique and joyful experience full of charming characters and fun mechanics that is totally worth experiencing. Its originality will captivate fans of RPGs and other genres alike. With superb storytelling and fantastic art, Live A Live should be considered as a top-notch RPG.
Disclosure: This review is based on a free copy of the game provided by the publisher.
Storytelling at its best
High random encounter rate in the last chapter