90's Square Enix (Just Square at the time) had a certain magic. We saw multiple fantastic entries into Final Fantasy, an RPG take on Mario, Chrono Trigger and so much more. Unfortunately, when a company is on a hot streak, it becomes easy to miss the less flashy games. Live A Live has never seen an official port to the west and, from the first few hours, I can't fully understand why.
Live a Live takes you through time, living a small tale in the journey of a handful of characters' lives. A master looking for his next apprentice, a prehistoric man looking for love, Live a Live gives you tonnes of little stories that appear to be leading somewhere bigger but I haven't quite pieced it together.
From what little time I've had with the game, I can't wait to see where it goes next.
A Time Without Language
To try and take it in some kind of chronological order, I started in prehistory. This places you in the role of a tenacious little green-haired man, looking to help out his tribe and find his love. Every character has a different way of walking, unique mechanics to explore and an aesthetic that sets them apart.
The prehistoric man can't speak, only communicating through grunts, but makes up for this with a great nose. You begin to learn what makes each chapter unique before it whisks you off to the next one.
They aren't so different as to shock you when they change but are distinct enough to easily guess which era you're playing, based solely on the look. This is a great hook for the story. You discover small pieces of the lives of many characters, getting to see just a little bit of their grander tale. You are constantly getting accustomed to what makes them tick. Then, after you've figured it fully out, it moves.
In the long run, it's hard to tell if this will work as well as it could. Stories could weave in and out of each other, holding some through-line, or they could feel disconnected and disjointed, only pushing through to see what happens at the end. I've found myself pretty engaged throughout my time but it's hard to say how this may end up.
The graphics have a fitting charm to them. Emulating an old-school feel, they do what they should whilst also managing to really shine on the dark contrast of the Switch OLED screen. This seems like the perfect title for a Nintendo Switch console. Stories allow for very intentional stoppage times and the focus on art style rather than graphic fidelity leaves it running perfectly on that tiny screen.
The music is lush and orchestral, much grander than the simple pixels in front of you. It also has the ability to strike a tone or set up the atmosphere well. The game presents itself without pretense. Its graphics aren't huge in scope but it doesn't need to be, especially if the story is as big as it hints at. As far as the moment-to-moment gameplay is concerned, it mixes turn-based combat with a grid system. It's similar to Fire Emblem but far less involved. Live a Live has some semblance of a skill ceiling but seems to be pretty easy so far. If you're willing to do what little grinding the game affords you, your character can blaze through the story.
Depending on which era you play, you can get a degree of customization with items and equipment but your stats are chosen for you upon level up and you don't have too much say over the "build" of your characters. If someone is designed to play more a healer role, they will. Though some may tire of its relatively easy difficulty, the worlds are fun to explore and the lack of exposition to most stories leaves it incredibly easy to just jump in and complete.
Each era offers something a little different, giving you the chance to fly between them until you find something that really connects. This works well in its favour. When each chapter isn't hugely long, you never feel forced to linger on one for too long. The worst parts are forgotten and best parts come together to add to the rest of the game.
It's hard to say how those experiences will linger tens of hours down the line but, for now, they have left me wanting to see so much more. Live a Live gives you the wonderful ability to live a life for just a small amount of time and, for now, I'm looking forward to the next one.