Released for the Super Nintendo, Live A Live is one of the most underrated RPGs ever made from SquareSoft, the acclaimed developer of Final Fantasy series. Although the cutesy anime characters and standard isometric perspective may make you exclaim “bleh, just another ridiculously easy, run-of-the-mill console RPG designed for kids,” bear with me for a minute here: I’ll try to explain what makes this little RPG so different from other console RPGs. As a die-hard RPGer who cut my teeth on tough PC RPGs like Wizardry 7 as well as a fan of adventure games, Live A Live is one of the few console games I’ve come across that really blend the best elements of RPG and adventure genres in ways that appeal to PC gamers like you and me.
First of all, there’s the plot – or rather, the many subplots that come together at the end. Unlike typical console RPGs like Final Fantasy, there are 9 different plots in the game, each told in a “chapter” starring a unique main character. That means you will get to control 7 characters throughout the story (until the final chapter, which asks you to choose four out of seven to face the final boss), each with his or her own storyline. What makes this even more interesting is the fact that each chapter is set in a different location as well as time period. The locations you will explore include feudal Japan, the US’ wild West, medieval Europe, and the almost obligatory sci-fi chapter. Unlike Romancing Saga (another underrated SquareSoft RPG series that were never translated to English), you cannot control the main characters from other chapters to use in the current one. But this is no big loss, as each character’s story is very entertaining in its own right. A far cry from the “save the world from the big foozle” plot found in most RPGs.
Another plus that makes this game so much fun for me to play is the emphasis on adventure gaming elements. Anyone who hates innumerable pointless battles in RPGs will be happy to know that Live A Live places a much stronger emphasis on exploration, puzzle-solving, and the story. Unlike Final Fantasy games which basically tell you what to do next (another reason I dislike console RPGs – defeat monster A to get item B to bring to person C to gain access to new location D, and so on ad nauseum), in Live A Live you actually have to think about how to accomplish your tasks, and each chapter posts unique challenges. For example, in the prehistory chapter you are a caveman who can only communicate with others with body language, the wild west chapter requires you to set up traps to avoid combat, and you can read people’s minds in the near-future chapter. And like in the best adventure games, many times there are alternate solutions available. For instance, you can decide in the ninja chapter whether to slip through unnoticed, or kill the enemies outright. Similar to other SquareSoft RPGs, there’s also a good amount of gameplay variety (similar to the Chocobo hunting game in Final Fantasy VII or the card game in Final Fantasy VIII). In the kung fu chapter, you’ll get a chance to train your successor, while the wrestling chapter is presented like a fighting game. And the sci-fi chapter gets a big two thumbs up for me for being almost entirely story-based with very little combat going on.
Despite a few annoyances (such as the attack animations being a tad too long), Live A Live certainly deserves much more attention from both console RPGer and PC gamers who enjoy “light,” story-based RPGs with challenging adventure-style puzzles and little frustrating combat (unlike countless battles in Romancing Saga). Although the game was never released outside Japan (meaning no official English version exists), you can now play a fully translated game thanks to the efforts of Aeon Genesis, a fan group that has translated dozens of Japanese-only SNES games for our benefit, as well as top-notch SNES emulators like ZSNES. The game is long, and it’s got enough subplots and alternate paths to keep you happy for a long time. Two thumbs up, way up!
Note: the download on this site is SNES ROM ready for use in emulators, with AGTP's English translation patch applied.Reviewed by: Underdogs