In the realm of classic role-playing games, certain titles stand out as hidden gems, cherished by those who have unearthed their treasures. Among these, Live A Live is a brilliant yet often overlooked masterpiece, which, like a forgotten artifact, holds the secrets to a captivating journey through time and diverse storytelling. Developed during the golden age of the Super Nintendo and remastered for Nintendo Switch, this game delivers an unforgettable experience, uniting innovative gameplay, an intricate narrative structure, and a rich cast of characters. Live A Live may not have garnered the widespread acclaim of some of its contemporaries like Final Fantasy VI and Chrono Trigger, but for those who have ventured into its enigmatic world, it remains a testament to the potential of RPG storytelling. Now, without further ado, I, Brighton Nelson, present to you: a Live A Live Review: A beautiful and innovative masterpiece.
Battle System - 10
I adored this game's battle system! It occurs on a grid as you move around and use different abilities. Each of the different abilities has unique charge times, ranges, and areas of effect... there are just so many fun ideas in this battle system! It has all the fun and chaotic abilities of tactical RPGs but condenses it down into a more digestible and smaller-scale experience. Every character feels unique to control, and every era has distinct battles, making every battle feel incredible! Playing as Sundown makes you feel like you are a gun-slinging cowboy! When you play as the Disciple, you feel like a Chinese martial artist; when you play as Masaru, you feel like a boxer. I have never played any other turn-based game that felt so active, alive, and personalized; this deserves a perfect score.
Story - 10
Like I said in my review of Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door, Live A Live is a story that is much more than the sum of its parts. Each chapter tells its own self-contained story, but they all tie together magnificently in the end! The ever-looming presence of Odio coming together in the final two chapters made this story unforgettable. I don't think the story is perfect—a couple chapters, like The Present and Twilight of Edo Japan, have very thin plots. However, from the slice-of-life Wild West story full of witty dialogue to the coming-of-age story found in the Imperial China chapter; from the love story of the Prehistory chapter to the mysterious horror flick of the Distant Future chapter; from the character study and hero's journey of the Middle Ages chapter to the zany journey of psychics, motorcycles, local businessmen, greed, gods, and corruption of the Near Future chapter, there are so many stories to witness here. This game may have some story hiccups in two chapters, but it is still phenomenal and a testament to the fact that chapter-based storytelling can be a remarkable plot direction if executed correctly.
Music - 9
Every song in this game sets a distinct and memorable mood for each chapter! It is insane how great some of these songs are. I especially love the battle themes, with the Imperial China battle theme and Megolomania being huge highlights—I listen to these songs regularly, especially GaMetal's fantastic remix of Megolomania on Spotify! It's also insane to think that Megalomania inspired Undertale's Megalovania—Live A Live was so obscure at the time, being an obscure SNES Japan-exclusive at that time! Anyway, I digress. In the end, Live A Live has an incredible and unforgettable soundtrack.
Quality of Life - 7
This game has no bugs, but it sure has more missable content and frustrating mechanics than I'd hoped for. Most of this is present in the Twilight of Edo Japan chapter, with its absolutely convoluted layout and unforgiving and unexplained mechanics... it's horrible how that chapter was designed, as fun as the concept was. I also didn't love how switching characters worked in the final chapter... all seven of the party members should have been able to join up and be switched around in the menu. The only other thing I'd add here is that there are some missable items here and there, which is always incredibly frustrating but, luckily, never game-breaking. Overall, this game has some questionable design flaws, but in the end, it wasn't too bad.
Art & Graphics - 10
Quite frankly, this is one of the best-looking games of all time. At least so far, this is the pinnacle of the HD-2D art style, with every location looking phenomenal and perfectly unique. The Twilight of Edo Japan chapter boasts some of my favorite art of any medium, and it beautifully conveys the essence of the chapter. The new animated cutscenes are also gorgeous, and the UI looks unique and clean. I could gush about how lovely this game looks for hours, but I'll keep it to a minimum for brevity's sake.
Characters - 10
Every chapter in this game has a cast of memorable characters! From Lei, a sassy and fabulous female fighter, to Akira, a lovable (albeit overly edgy) orphan with psychic powers; from Sundown, a badass gunslinger with an epic rival, to your iconic team of four in the Prehistory chapter; from Cube, a silent robot who comes to learn of the nuances of humanity, to "Lawless", who's just a local businessman, as well as my favorite side character in the game. And then there's Odio, one of my favorite RPG villains of all time, with a mysterious, ever-looming presence throughout the game, as well as some incredible endgame backstory... and being able to play as him and beat up all of your protagonists! In the end, this game has one of my favorite RPG casts of all time due to having tons of phenomenal characters across multiple eras!
Sidequests - 6.5
This game has some awesome optional bosses, equipment, and, in the case of the final chapter, dungeons! However, as great as bosses and treasure chests may be, that can't completely fill out a game in a meaningful manner—I can't say the sidequests in this game outside of the Mammoth King and Lord Iwama fights meant all that much to me. As a whole, this game has a couple incredible super boss fights but not all that much else.
Locations - 10
How could a game set in eight different time periods not have tons of astonishing locales? This game has it all, from a prehistoric savannah to a sprawling medieval area with castles and caves; from an enemy Japanese fortress to an infested Chinese temple; from a spaceship stranded in space to a futuristic city chock-full of gods, turtles, and motorcycles. I was never bored by any of the settings here, as every single area was so memorable.
Customization System - 8
There isn't any unique or groundbreaking stat or equipment system here, but there are some incredible abilities here! Also, Cube has a unique leveling system, and the Disciple and Masaru have fantastic ways of learning their abilities! Even though it isn't all that fun to learn abilities through leveling with most of the characters, but as a whole? The abilities themselves are terrific, so... I can't be complaining here. As a whole, this does an excellent job of making its customization system fun and unique, even if it isn't groundbreaking.
Fun Factor: 10
Overall Score: 90%
Letter Rating: S+
Live A Live was a forgotten SNES masterpiece that I believe to be just as good as Final Fantasy IV, Final Fantasy VI, and Chrono Trigger, and it has left a legacy behind that has shaped chapter-based, player-influenced storytelling that continues to influence games like Undertale to this day. This game has a level of charm and personality not present in many RPGS, and seeing each of the developers put intricate care into each of the chapters they worked on shows how much love was spun into this phenomenal experience. Simply put, Live A Live is a game like no other, and while it is by no means perfect, it is a game that I'd recommend to anyone—even those I wouldn't typically recommend an RPG to.
Interested in buying this underrated RPG masterpiece and formulating your own opinion on it? Feel free to buy it through the affiliate link below to help support our website :) I completely recommend playing the Switch version, but if you have played that version, the SNES version is also fun to check out!
Primary Version: Live A Live (Nintendo Switch)