Why We’re Excited For LIVE A LIVE On Nintendo Switch
Yesterday’s Nintendo Direct came with huge news for RPG fans, but none more shocking than the announcement that LIVE A LIVE, an RPG that until now has never left the shores of Japan, will be making its international debut. Not only that, but the game will be coming in glorious HD-2D, looking and sounding better than ever.
LIVE A LIVE is a deep cut for RPG fans, originally released on the Super Famicom and playable only through imports and emulation. Fan-translated ROMs are out there, but this will be the first official English release of the title.
With Nintendo publishing (and likely heavily marketing) the HD-2D Remake, the game will finally have its chance to shine in the west, proving to Switch RPG fans the world over just why the game is so beloved by its previously niche fanbase.
Why Should We Be So Excited?
Developed by Square’s Final Fantasy team and released in 1994, LIVE A LIVE tells the story of seven protagonists spread out over distinct time periods. The game hits on pretty much every setting popular with gamers at the time of its release – including the prehistoric age, which enjoyed a wave of popularity in the early 90’s, the wild west, China, Japan, the present day, and two futuristic science fiction settings. Given the wide net cast by the developers in terms of characters and settings, it’s no wonder that the title never got translated when it was first released.
From a gameplay perspective, the real draw of the game is the combination of its combat system – with traditional turn-based battles fought on a 7×7 tactical grid – and unique gameplay twists presented in each of the seven core scenarios. Each character comes with their own set of unique abilities, some of which allow for alterations in terrain, changing up the flow of battle significantly. Additionally, many abilities have a charge time (ala Final Fantasy Tactics), adding another layer of tactical depth. These systems interplay with each other beautifully, supplying a consistent challenge throughout each adventure.
Aesthetically, the seven protagonists were each initially designed by a different manga artist, giving each scenario its own artistic flair. This was likely a huge draw for the game’s Japanese audience at the time. That being said, the game’s spritework was a few years behind contemporaneous titles like Final Fantasy VI and Chrono Trigger, which localizer Ted Woolsey indicated may have contributed to its lack of localization. Beyond that, the game’s soundtrack features some truly stellar numbers, allowing LIVE A LIVE to stand with many of the greats of the 16-bit generation.
Given the impending HD-2D release, the audio-visual design of LIVE A LIVE is in for a major upgrade, bringing it inline with other HD-2D titles like Octopath Traveler, Triangle Strategy, and Dragon Quest III’s own remake.
Finally, players should be excited for the game’s multiple endings, not only for the overarching story itself, but also within individual chapters. Chapters may be replayed at will to gain the desired outcome – which directly affects the endgame as well.
Who Are The Seven Protagonists?
Of course, no coverage of this game would be complete without exploring just who these seven protagonists are. Below, you’ll find a quick rundown of these heroes, an introduction to their stories, and find out what makes their chapter stand out from the rest.
When Pogo discovers a young woman hiding out in his village, he risks his life to protect her from a rival tribe which seeks to sacrifice her to their deity. Pogo faces banishment from his home for his decision, but eventually receives the help of benevolent citizens of both tribes in his quest to prevent the sacrifice. As the Direct implied, Pogo’s story is told entirely without the use of dialog, relying instead on blocking and emotes to convey the narrative.
The Sundown Kid
A gunslinger known as the Sundown Kid has placed a bounty on his own head. Guilt ridden after his hometown was ransacked by outlaws, he is seeking a place to die. However, after meeting his rival Mad Dog in a lonely western town, he learns that the citizens are being threatened by a gang of murderers. The Sundown Kid must gather supplies and select villagers to set traps for the gang, helping protect their town from destruction. In the end, he faces off against the leader of the gang, who harbors a secret of his own.
Xin Shan Quan
Xin Shan Quan, a martial arts master reaching the end of his life, decides to choose his successor. Three students come forward to face a series of challenges set by Xin Shan Quan to determine who will take on his mantle. Along the way, the group must also contend with a rival martial arts school that intends to destroy them. The primary gameplay twist here is that the player takes control over Xin Shan Quan’s lessons, choosing which students face which challenges, ultimately determining who will take up the mantle of master.
Oboro-maru is a young ninja, who is being deployed by his master to infiltrate the castle of a villainous daimyo. There, he must rescue a political prisoner and kill the daimyo, preventing him from plunging feudal Japan into turmoil. To accomplish this mission, the player may choose to fight his way through hordes of enemies or engage in stealth tactics to avoid combat entirely. The castle also features multiple pathways to success.
Masaru Takahara sets out on a mission to master techniques from multiple fighting styles from around the world. To do so, he challenges a series of champions in each respective style to battle, picking up new skills along the way. His journey eventually leads him into conflict with another fighter on a similar mission, but one who has a much darker agenda. Masaru’s journey plays out similarly to fighting games of the 1990’s, with opponents being chosen in any order from a simple fighter menu. The section comes complete with victory poses, quotes, and other fighting game trappings.
Near Future Japan is being rocked by a series of kidnappings, perpetrated by a biker gang known as the crusaders. When the surrogate sister of Akira Tadokoro, a psychic orphan, is taken by the gang, Akira sets out to use his powers to bring her back. As Akira pursues the gang, he uncovers a much larger conspiracy that threatens the freedom of the whole world. Akira can use his psychic powers to read the minds of those around him, as well as gather drops to use in a rudimentary item crafting system.
Cube is a simple maintenance robot living aboard the cargo ship, Cogito Ergosum. When a behemoth monster being transported by the ship escapes, Cube investigates how and why the beast escaped, hoping to save the crew of the ship before they are all killed. This chapter features almost no combat outside the final boss, though a minigame can be played using the game’s combat mechanics to gain special bonuses.
Bringing Them All Together
The game’s eighth and final chapter brings in one additional character, whose story eventually leads to the gathering of the other heroes from across time. While you may find the exact details of this plot online, I will follow the Nintendo Direct’s lead and not reveal the details of that final story here. Some elements are better to experience first hand.
What I can say is that unlike some other games that have used the “multiple protagonist stories” idea as their primary hook, LIVE A LIVE ties together its final scenario in a narratively meaningful way. That being said, players should of course remember that any game with this story structure is best viewed through the lens of being a collection of short stories, rather than one whole epic. If you can do that, you’ll find the climax extremely satisfying.
When can we get our hands on LIVE A LIVE?
According to the Nintendo Direct, LIVE A LIVE’s HD-2D remake will be released on July 22, 2022. Not only that, but the game will be coming with a physical release in both Japan and Western markets.
Special thanks goes out to the sources used in creating this article, as any exploration of an until-now Japan exclusive game must necessitate. Sources include an excellent article written by Hardcore Gaming 101’s Jorpha, various contributors to LIVE A LIVE’s wikipedia and wikia pages, DidYouKnowGaming’s overview video, mentions by Youtuber Davidvinc in numerous videos, and, of course, the Nintendo Direct itself.
Fans of retro RPGs and the recent wave of HD-2D titles have a lot to be excited about this year, and LIVE A LIVE is just one piece of that puzzle. We at SwitchRPG are thrilled to be seeing this release coming to the Nintendo Switch, and we’ll be sure to continue covering the game as more details are released in the coming months.