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Tuesday, August 10, 2021

Live A Live — The best game you’ve never heard of

By CAPTAIN STITCH - Step aside EarthBound, this game is even more underrated.

Even if you have heard of this game, there's no doubt that Live A Live is an obscure title. Live A Live is a Japanese exclusive RPG for the Super Famicom released all the way back in 1994 by Square. That’s quite a long time but the game still holds up, unlike some of the more recent Square games.

So what's so special about this game anyway if they didn’t even bother to localise it? Well unlike other games with a single story, this game features 7 different storylines with 7 different characters. These 7 characters also come from 7 different time periods. Cavemen, robots, cowboys, psychics, old people, it’s all here. Thankfully, a nice group by the name of Aeon Genesis went and translated it so that none of us have to learn Japanese, how kind!

Live A Live Super Famicom box artwork protagonists


Story


Each of the seven chapters has its own story completely unrelated to the others, unsurprising since they all take place literally 100–1,000 years from each other. Although I've outlined them in order of time period, you can play whichever one you like in any order. These are summarized as follows:

Prehistoric Chapter—A green haired caveboy fights against dinosaurs and mammoths to rescue his girlfriend from a cult who wants to sacrifice her, interestingly, this chapter is the most comedic.

Kung Fu Chapter—An old martial arts master seeks to find one worthy enough to learn his sacred fighting technique, before he takes his final breath. Set around the Jomon Period, basically old traditional Japan.

Ninja Chapter—A faithful ninja sneaks into enemy territory to assassinate a leader plotting endless war against Japan. Many years after the previous chapter, but still lots of classic Japanese imagery.

Cowboy Chapter—A mysterious new cowboy enters a town in turmoil, can he put an end to those causing chaos and restore order? A bunch of western clichés, but with an interesting twist.

Fighter Chapter—An aspiring fighter wants to be the strongest fighter in the world, but first he’ll have to take on his much stronger opponents. Not a lot of story, just fighting, you can choose your opponent like in Street Fighter, but the battle system is nothing like Street Fighter.

Psychic Chapter—An orphan with psychic powers has to stop corporate elites from reincarnating a demon, with the help of a giant mecha robot! Also, you can read people's minds, which is fun.

Space Chapter—A robot navigates a sleek spaceship trying to figure out who keeps tampering with the controls, whilst also avoiding alien encounters. Not a lot of fighting, but still plenty of chances for death!

There’s also two additional chapters that unlock after you’ve beaten the previous chapters. These include one last character to play as and a final chapter that brings all eight characters together to fight against the evil force that’s been causing all of their problems. That’s all I’ll say since each of these stories could last anywhere from forty minutes to two hours, so if I reveal too many specific details then what's the point of even playing the game?

As a side tidbit, in each of these games there is a “Watanabe moment”, basically different incarnations of a father and son can be found once throughout each of the chapters. When found, a small cutscene occurs that usually ends with the father dying, a different way in each chapter. It has nothing to do with the story, but they make the whole thing pretty humorous, for some reason.


Gameplay


Each chapter plays out from a top down perspective and has you traveling across the seven lands talking with all sorts of individuals and getting into fights. Unlike other RPG games where fighting consists of tapping the A button over and over again praying you land a hit, the battles here have a more hands-on approach. When you begin the battle you will find your character and the enemy on a seven by seven grid. Right from the get-go you can move your character in any direction you like, with the enemy taking the same number of steps as you.

Live A Live Secret Orders ninja chapter overworld
The overworld of the Ninja Chapter.


Live a Live battle mode Clockwork Gennai Mechanical Piece ninja
Battle mode. The big enemy is attacking the little Ninja, the range of the attack is outlined in red.
The Ninja could have avoided the enemy attack by stepping down one out of the attack range, but there’s still some lava so it doesn’t really matter.


This is important because each of your attacks (and your enemies’) has a preset range that can only be activated when the enemy is in that range. Although it can occasionally be difficult to line the enemy up with your attack, these same constraints apply to your opponent, allowing you to evade almost all attacks if you find the right place to stand. Even if you don’t find the right place and take some damage, it doesn’t matter as long as you don’t die because when the battle finishes all your HP is restored, isn’t that nice? Also there’s no MP/special attacks in this game, so no need to worry about that. You level up just like in other RPGs, but there are no experience points. “Experience” here is determined by the number of battles you fight, not necessarily how tough your opponent is. Systematically, experience does exist, but it’s hard to explain without sounding convoluted and you won’t ever know how many you have anyway.

There is also quite a bit of backtracking in this game. The maps aren’t too large so usually it's not a big deal, but some chapter-specific maps are like labyrinths, so trekking back and forth through these can be an extreme pain. Fortunately we’re not in the 90s anymore, so you can easily look up directions.

Some chapters come with unique abilities like mental mind powers, sniffing, and everyone's favorite, invisibility. However there is one unique feature to some of the chapters that can be quite a pain in the neck, that being crafting. Crafting in this game consists of finding two natural items and combining them together at the correct location. Sounds easy right? WRONG. The main problem with this feature is that it takes forever. Basic items you can craft use basic materials found throughout the game, any item that’s more complex/powerful than the previous item requires you to craft additional items so that they can be used to craft the more complex one. Also there’s always a chance the crafting will fail and you’ll have to do it again. That sounds confusing to me, so just look at this list:

  • Bone + Hard Rock = Stone Knife (Ingredient, One time use battle item)
  • Bone + Hide = Beast Hood (Head: 4 Defense, +10 Speed)
  • Bone + Tough Hide = Bang Bang Drum (Glove: +12 IQ)
  • Bone + Stone Knife = Smoulder Spear (Weapon: 25 Attack, +10 Speed)
  • Bone + Leather Cord = Buzzing Bone (Weapon: 22 Attack)

That is just a sliver of all the things you can/need to craft. The basic items you start with are bones and rocks. Notice the first thing you can make is a Stone Knife. You can equip this new weapon or you can use it to craft another item further down. In turn you can use the new item you just crafted (Smoulder Spear) as an ingredient for another item. It continues on and on but you get the point. Problem is you’ll have to do this A LOT.

This whole process is the only way to get things like armor or weapons in some chapters, meaning if you want to beat the tougher enemies this is mandatory. Not to mention that crafting takes about 15 seconds between the crafting animation and the dialogue. 15 seconds wouldn’t matter if you wouldn’t have to repeat this about 30 times. Luckily you only have to do this for two chapters, but those chapters are some of the longer ones, and it gets tedious real fast.


Music


The music was composed by the legendary composer Yoko Shimomura. Perhaps best known for the music to Street Fighter II (apparently the best one) as well as every Kingdom Hearts game, and that great massacre known as the Superstar Saga, featuring one red satanist and one green adulterer. In spite of that, the music in this game is absolutely fantastic. Each of the seven stories has about four to five unique tracks that correlate to the time period the story takes place in. Additional tracks are unlocked in accordance with the unlocking of the final two chapters. These brilliant compositions range from peaceful oriental rhythms to foreboding technological heartbeats, spicy mambos to somewhat blatant Street Fighter homages. Fair warning, most of these tracks are incredibly catchy and may worm their way into your brain. Such a diverse soundtrack is worth the listen regardless of if you play the game. If you were to listen to one right now, my personal favorite is ‘A Painful Death at the Hands of a Psycho’, quaint I know.



Graphics


If you can’t tell from some of the above pictures, or if said pictures end up glitching out, this game's artwork is beautiful and intriguing. Not only is the sprite work masterfully detailed, but if you glance across each of the games spriting you’ll find the sprites to be noticeably different. This isn’t just because of the differences in time. Each of the chapters was assigned its own artist with their own unique style. Some of these artists are even well-known manga artists, although I’ve never heard of them. This helps to give the chapters not only a look of their own, but an identity that can’t be matched. Of course, since the characters end up coming together to tie the story up in the end, the overworld sprites do look pretty similar, but in battle that all changes. I mean just look at this monkey.

Live A Live Gori monkey gorilla ape simian sprite

Difficulty


By today's standards the game is moderately challenging. By 90s standards this game is easy, but we aren’t in the 90s anymore so the game is missing a lot of the modern gaming luxuries we usually take for granted.

Aside from a few optional bosses, the battles are a cakewalk. It’s often where you need to go that becomes the problem. Say an NPC asks you to go retrieve something from their house, well where is it? All the houses look the same and some game maps take a lot of time to traverse. As stated before, the game often requires you to do a lot of backtracking. Specifically in the Ninja chapter, you end up going through a maze of sorts with rooms and doors that all look the same, many doors requiring keys from separate locations you’ve already been too but were unaware of how to get the keys. Another problem would be specific dialogue advancement order. Sometimes in games you have to talk to a certain NPC to advance the plot, that’s fine. In this game you will sometimes have to talk to NPCs in a specific order to advance the plot. So if the game wants you to talk to Laverne then Shirly, but you talk to Shirly then Laverne, you won’t advance the plot. The game also doesn’t tell you which NPC to talk to or the order, so if you played this game blind, you wouldn’t know how to advance. Even if you talked to all the NPCs.

For these reasons I strongly recommend keeping a guide on hand. You'll enjoy the game better when you aren’t wandering about aimlessly. These problems shouldn’t largely impact your experience as older games just tend to be this way, but I understand how that can be a turnoff for some.


PROS and CONS


That’s pretty much all of it, but let's go through the main pros and cons one last time for all you skimmers out there.
PROS:
  • Seven unique storylines with two additional chapters unlocked once you beat all seven
  • Intuitive battle system that requires more involvement that offers some strategic thinking
  • Japanese exclusive, they wouldn’t let you play it, so play it just to spite them!
  • HP restored after every battle, and no MP to mess around with
  • Beautiful soundtrack with incredible diversity as well as a timeless, albeit sometimes strange, artstyle
  • Short and sweet chapters that you can beat in about an hour
  • Made by Square when they were at the top of their game as well as the gaming market
CONS::
  • Chapters are short, so you may find your favorite one ending too soon
  • In order to beat the game you must complete all chapters, so if you don’t like western stories you have to play it anyway
  • Crafting sections can be monotonous and time consuming
  • Lots of backtracking in certain chapters
  • Some areas are sparse in enemies, so you’ll have to grind early on to beat later battles
  • Japanese-exclusive, the translation is perfect but it may be hard to find. This is a game you play any way you can. However, now that Flash is dead it just got a lot harder.
  • You may need a guide to help progress through the story

Concluding Thoughts


Live A Live is a fantastic RPG that if not for its Japanese exclusivity would surely be a household name today. Its innovative style of seven separate stories through seven separate time periods coming together is a unique gaming experience not matched by any other game to this day. And no, Octopath Traveler does not count. Even though the game was never released in English, the fan translation is one of the best ones out there, I didn’t see a single typo! So if you're a fan of Cowboys, Robots, Cavepeople, Oldpeople, or Psychics, then why don’t you give this game a try? It will be well worth your while.


Captain Stitch is the Venerable Leader of the Gordo. You may remember him from his memorable appearance in Kirby's Dream Land 2. But that was nearly aaaa years ago now, and so he has a lot of time on his hands. This is his first time writing a game review, but even for all the mistakes he made he enjoyed it. Have you ever heard of Live A Live, if so what’s your favorite part? If not, would you be interested in trying it?

16 comments :

  1. Captain Stitch submitted this to us literally half a year ago and it's been a challenge to edit it, but here we go, it's finally published.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Gah! I read your email (a while ago) and was actually in the process of editing myself! I recently vacationed in Arizona hence my absence of sorts. At any rate thanks for the help and I’ll make sure to proofread better next time!

      Delete
    2. ...Yeah.

      Apparently a lot more people have heard of this game than you're giving credit for.

      Delete
    3. It recently had a sort of anniversary event, if not for that I’m certain nobodied ever know about it!

      Delete
    4. Since Aeon Genesis's translation came out in 2008, when did you hear about and play it?

      Delete
    5. I was looking up a translation for the first game in the rhythm heaven series and this game was in the “you might also like” section. It was pure chance, and I’m glad it happened. Divine intervention.

      Delete
    6. By "when" I was asking for a year.

      KoopaTV isn't advanced enough for automated "you might also like" sections so we have random articles appear instead.

      Delete
    7. Ah, I heard about it in 2020. During the quarantine I was looking for games to play after (or during) schooling. Did I mention I was a scholar? One is never too old to go to school

      Delete
    8. No, you didn't mention you're a scholar.

      Wot area are you studyin'?

      Delete
    9. That’s classified information! But my end goal is the pediatric field.

      Delete
    10. ...Huh, well, I guess you need to get an education in things like how not to poke a child's eye out with your spikes.

      Delete
  2. I concur on the obscurity. I'm familiar with there being a game by this name that exists, but I think I thought it was a rhythm game or something.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Don’t blame you. There are a ton of rhythm games that never got localizations, A lot of them are cheap knockoffs but still. I guess there’s not a lot of rhythm in the west?

      Delete
  3. There's been some thought that this game might get a revival.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I certainly hope so! They recently did an anniversary concert and there was something else planned that unfortunately got canceled.

      Delete

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