Live A Live Review – HD-2D Still Alive?

The Good

Excellent sound and visual design

Narrative holds up

Variety of gameplay

The Bad

Repetitive combat

Shows its age

Occasionally frustrating

Live A Live is a curious experience. It originally launched back in 1994 solely in Japan and the Super Famicom, yet has picked up a cult following in the subsequent years thanks to its premise and the myriad ideas it brought to the table. Now, in the year 2022 Square Enix has brought its creation to the global masses in the HD-2D engine no less. The question is: does it hold the test of time? 

In essence, Live a Live is a collection of mini-stories that span across a range of time periods and locations. You start the game with the choice of undertaking multiple chapters, any of which you can start, put down, and returned to with your progress saved. It’s a very handy feature. These chapters span from pre-history all the way to the distant future – our personal favourite.

Each period comes with its own story and slight changes to the gameplay structure, thanks to each character’s special ability. In the near future, for example, your character can read minds, which affects both the gameplay and story.

Chapters vary in terms of linearity too. Some focus purely on story, funnelling you down a linear path, while others are more open. These chapters encourage exploration and, as is typical of a JRPG of this generation: grinding. The pacing isn’t always perfect, but it does all lead to a satisfying conclusion in the later chapters.

A battle sequence in Live A Live

One thing that does stay consistent, though, is the combat, with each chapter using the same turn-based grid system. There are a few differences though – particularly in the levelling system. Some chapters you’re blessed with all the abilities you would ever need, whereas in others you start from the bottom and work up from nothing. In the case of the Imperial China chapter, it’s a little of both.

If there is one part Live A Live absolutely nails on all counts it’s the presentation and music. The sound design across the board is stupendous, and I often found myself humming tunes and melodies hours after we have put the game down. It also does a great job of grounding you into each chapter’s theme. The HD-2D visuals are fantastic, too with each world full of character and visual flair – it’s a particular treat for those that own the OLED. 

However, it’s not all good news, and while the game’s innovation still shines in 2022, there is a bit of creakiness inherent with a game that’s nearly 30 years old. You can die and lose loads of progress to an inconsistent checkpoint system. In the worst cases, you have to sit through the cutscene before a boss battle with no way of skipping it. Over, and over again.

Overall though, we feel Live A Live delivers. Bringing back such an old game is never easy and making one with so many ideas feel relevant in 2022 is a tough feat. But Live A Live does a good job of modernising this lost game and making sure a whole new audience can experience it. If you love JRPGS or HD-2D Live A Live will have something for you, or if you are looking for something different with a unique story you’ll be happy here. At times it can be frustrating in its older game design and often a little easy but at the end of the day it never stops being interesting.

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