We have repeatedly spoken very positively about the operation of recovering its catalogue of old classics that Square Enix has implemented over the last three years: old glories published on platforms that have made the history of the videogame medium, such as the Super Nintendo, which perhaps had never left the Japanese borders or, having reached the United States, had completely bypassed the Old Continent.
Live A Live, originally released in 1994, responds perfectly to this identikit. After the first hours of play, which we documented in our test a few weeks ago, our curiosity increased dramatically.
Today we will tell you how our experience was on Nintendo Switch (you can find the OLED on Amazon) with the bizarre JRPG: it’s time for its review.
The wild bunch of Live A Live
Seven stories are disconnected from each other, with eight protagonists and nine different chapters to play: Live A Live seems to start on the right foot, even just looking at the numbers. However, it is advisable to clarify immediately that the project’s production values and scale are not the titles.
We are still talking about a remake of a Super Nintendo title released twenty-eight years ago, which not everyone appreciated and which has won a passionate fanbase mostly thanks to word of mouth, forums on the Net and amateur translation patches – the only way to play it before this operation set up by Square Enix as the developer, with Nintendo as the publisher.
The Chocobo house has understood that buried in its forty-year archives, there are pearls of rare beauty and has decided to slowly bring some of them back to light in the coming months if we think of the remakes already announced relating to the Front Mission franchise and to that of Dragon Quest III: They probably won’t reach the top of the sales charts, but we’re sure they’ll make a large chunk of fans happy.
Each story has its peculiarity, and, despite their brevity, almost all of them manage to remain impressed, to transmit a clear and rarely univocal message: The seven samurai of master Kurosawa, 2001, a space odyssey by Kubrick (to whom we owe the name of one of the seven protagonists, moreover), For a fistful of dollars of the unforgettable Sergio Leone are just some of the most obvious sources of inspiration of the various scenarios, which also recall numerous of the most iconic titles of the Square house.
Each of our readers, we are sure, will develop their favourites among the seven stories told, choosing to impersonate his chosen protagonist when the time comes: from the misadventures steeped in slapstick comedy (and without dialogue) of the caveman Pogo to the near future, in which on a spaceship that floats in space all kinds of events happen, passing through the climb of a young Japanese wrestler to the throne of the best fighter ever.
For our part, for atmospheres and themes, we loved the sortie in Japan of the late Edo period in the role of Oboromaru, the one in Imperial China all based on martial arts and, above all, the one in the Wild West, punctuated by a series of stratospheric pieces to accompany the tension of the duels.
There is something for all tastes. Although there is a lack of a more cohesive and structured narrative, this is balanced by the constant feeling of freshness and the constant surprise in the changing scenarios and characters.
The skill of the team of writers is inherent precisely in being able to make memorable characters who are granted very little time on the screen when compared to those of the more noble triple A JRPGs: you will be surprised at how much attachment you have developed for a lone gunslinger with a tormented past or for a Japanese orphan with unsuspected psychic powers.
And don’t forget that Live A Live is, in fact, the draft from which Chrono Trigger came to life in a few months and that Chrono Trigger is considered by many (including this writer) to be the best Japanese RPG of all time. Sorry if it is little.
JRPG but not only
In addition to proposing different plots and protagonists, Live A Live also enjoys experimenting from the point of view of gameplay, taking as a basis that of the classic Japanese role-playing games that were popular at the time of the Super Nintendo but adding from chapter to chapter, different mechanics disconnected from this videogame genre, thus obtaining a mixture with a whole new flavour.
In the section dedicated to feudal Japan, for example, we will be called to infiltrate, as a ninja, inside a huge castle, in one of the longest chapters regarding the duration of the entire adventure.
Once inside, we can proceed at full speed, katana in hand, killing anyone who stands in our path or moving in the shadows, minimising losses among enemies and arriving at the inevitable final boss with the blade not soaked in blood. Our choice will lead to consequences not only within that given chapter but also in the final calculation.
Then there are chapters dedicated exclusively or primarily to combat, such as those set in Imperial China or contemporary Japan, and others that, on the other hand, do not present any confrontation, such as the one aboard the Cogito Ergo Sum in the distant future, which winks to the first two feature films in the Alien franchise.
In short, thanks to the short duration of each chapter, which is reflected in a total amount of hours between twenty and twenty-five hours at the most, you never get bored and, indeed, without the wear and tear that can come from mammoth titles, the player perhaps he is driven to explore to the maximum and uncover the many secrets scattered around the various locations – including collectables, little gems and references to pop culture of the last thirty years.
The lowest common denominator is the turn-based combat system, with enemies always visible on the screen except for the last two scenarios, which take place on a 7 × 7 grid with a lot in common with strategic role-playing games with a flight view. Bird: a fairly canonical choice for the time the product was conceived, but more unusual in the modern market, which prefers direct control of the characters.
Nevertheless, thanks to a system similar to the ATB of the Final Fantasy franchise, the fights always manage to maintain a certain pace and, if anything, are penalised only by a certain lowering of the difficulty level compared to the original title be partially remedied. Raising the difficulty before starting the adventure.
Overall, despite having played dozens of RPGs that enjoyed the greater depth and a decidedly more complex combat and equipment system, we have never found pedestrians, neither the combat nor the exploration sections, and we believe indeed that the game has aged better than many congeners thanks to this less demanding and “lighter” structure.
A great job
As if the use of the enchanting technique called HD-2D were not enough, the artistic side of the product can count on names of a certain weight, such as those of the well-known mangaka Gosho Aoyama, Yumi Tamura and Yoshinori Kobayashi, and on two teams that they worked meticulously to recreate each of the eras represented by the various episodes credibly.
One, the original one, who was able to create a JRPG not the most beautiful in the Super Nintendo library but exceptionally characterised, and the other, the one who directly dealt with this remake (many members of which also belonged to that original) who thought of translating the graphic layout into three dimensions and embellishing it in compliance with the original vision.
Moving on to the sound sector, Yoko Shimomura, once again, manages to make an excellent figure, composing a varied, inspired and multifaceted soundtrack like few in his very long career in the videogame field, so much so that we were surprised to pass much more time than we would have thought in the jukebox to listen to splendid pieces again.
Net of personal tastes, we cannot fail to report, in particular, the music from the episode set in the West and the one set in modern times in Japan. And it will be difficult to get the two flagship motifs of this remake out of our heads, namely the one that accompanies the game presentation trailer and that of the boss fights of each chapter, which will echo in our eardrums for a long time.
With this remake, Square Enix has reworked every aspect of the original work, denoting considerable care in the packaging of the new package: ranging from the addition of the dubbing (in English and Japanese) for the most important dialogues of all the main characters to a substantial streamlining of the menus, passing through the addition of an internal map for each chapter and a radar always present on the screen that indicates, like a North Star, the next destination to advance the main plot.
All precautions aimed at transforming a product originally intended as experimental into one more easily accessible by new generations of players, as is also evident from the inclusion of an excellent Italian localisation limited to subtitles.
As fans of the genre, the hope is that the Final Fantasy house will continue to offer products of this quality and bring to light many pearls of its past, perhaps confined to Japanese soil, such as Treasure Hunter G, Bahamut Lagoon or Treasure of the Rudras.
In such a positive picture, if we were to point out an aspect that is a little out of place, we would name the uploads extremely fast, so much so that we never allowed ourselves to read the tips that appear on the screen in the meantime, but equally frequent, which end up breaking some of the stages of exploration of the numerous locations proposed.