Skip to main content

Live A Live solves my biggest pet peeves with the RPG genre

The Nintendo Switch got a pair of high-profile role-playing games this month, but they couldn’t be more dissimilar. Live A Live is a remake of an influential 90s game that features retro visuals, turn-based tactical combat, and a breezy runtime. Xenoblade Chronicles 3, on the other hand, is a behemoth of an action-RPG that features a bevy of complex systems rolled out over a 150-hour adventure. It’s a tale of two RPGs.

Like many Switch owners, I plan to hop into Xenoblade Chronicles 3 today, but Live A Live is the game that currently has my attention. The HD-2D remake is an uneven experience, but it’s been a surprise charmer for me thanks to its clever storytelling and experimental structure. While the original release had an influence on RPG-makers (Octopath Traveler more or less plays like a spiritual successor), it’s still unlike anything I’ve ever really played in the genre.

Throughout my playthrough, I’ve found myself wishing more RPGs would take lessons from it. Even two decades after it first released in Japan, Live A Live’s manageable pace and eagerness to constantly show players something new makes it feel like a breath of fresh air in an era of titanic stories that tend to drag on.

Live and learn

The first thing that especially stands out about Live A Live is that it’s the rare RPG that you can beat in a week. Clocking in at around 20 hours, it’s a relic from a time when the genre wasn’t as focused on delivering some of the longest experiences in gaming. That’s a relief as someone who likes to play a lot of games, but it isn’t just my personal time that benefits from the slimmer runtime.

A character in Live A Live runs outside of a castle.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

With virtually no fluff, Live A Live is able to deliver more focused storytelling and gameplay that doesn’t feel padded out to invent “value.” The adventure unfolds through a series of chapters focused on disparate characters throughout time. Each story is a self-contained tale that takes anywhere between 40 minutes and three hours to complete. You won’t run up against a glut of repetitive battles or need to spend hours grinding to pass a sudden difficulty spike. Instead, Live A Live wants you to sample a platter of characters, settings, and systems, not weigh you down with a dense meal.

That approach solves my biggest pet peeve with the RPG genre — and even video games as a whole. Modern games rarely justify their long runtimes. With many RPGs in particular, I often feel like I can learn everything the game has to teach me within 10 or 20 hours. Take last year’s exceptional Tales of Arise, for instance. The game has a strong opening as it carefully layers in new characters, systems, and attacks to experiment with. But by the halfway mark, my brain went into auto-pilot. Once I figured out the optimal way to play, my eyes glazed over anytime I wasn’t in a story-progressing cutscene.

Live A Live, on the other hand, always has me engaged. Each chapter introduces entirely new ideas, keeping me from zoning out. One chapter has me cutting my way through an intricately designed Japanese castle filled with secret paths. Another is an old Western where I simply need to gather traps to prepare for one big battle against incoming bandits. Stories are unified by a strong grid-based combat system that’s always adapted in a way that feels relevant to each chapter’s setting. In its far future storyline, for instance, combat is presented as a game within a game that’s playable on a spaceship computer. Each individual battle feels plot-motivated with very few feeling like superfluous grinding.

A character causes a firestorm in Live a Live.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

There’s a downside to that approach, too. Some chapters are let down by their slim runtime, as they don’t have space to fully develop their ideas. The game has an ingenious wrestling chapter, where players go through a fighting game-like boss rush, but it blows by so quickly that I couldn’t get invested in its hero. On the flipside, it means that you’re never trapped in a bad section for too long. Dud chapters like the narrative-driven outer-space story are easier to admire for their creative swings when you don’t need to slog through them for more than three hours.

Modern RPGs could take another round of notes from Live A Live now that it’s more widely available via the Switch remake. There’s a lot to learn from the game’s focused game design that cuts down on bloat in service of a more memorable anthology of moments. I’m not saying that I wish Xenoblade Chronicles 3 was 20 hours long; I’m just wondering how much meaningful value that extra 130 hours actually brings.

Live A Live is available now on Nintendo Switch.

Editors' Recommendations

Giovanni Colantonio
Giovanni is a writer and video producer focusing on happenings in the video game industry. He has contributed stories to…
WarioWare: Move It! let me control Mario 3’s Tanooki suit with my butt
Wario and his friends appear in WarioWare: Move It! key art.

When I first saw WarioWare: Move It! On a Nintendo Direct, I almost forgot it wasn’t the series’ first entry on Nintendo Switch. Just two years ago, WarioWare: Get It Together! brought the eclectic microgame collection back from obscurity, but it didn’t leave too much of an imprint. In my review at the time, I chalked that up to the entry’s lack of a good central gimmick. The series’ best entries, like the Nintendo Wii’s standout Smooth Moves, have always been tied to some sort of tech twist that makes for wildly creative, goofy experiences. Get It Together simply didn’t have that spark.

WarioWare: Move It! - Nintendo Direct 6.21.2023

Read more
You can’t pet the dog in Pikmin 4, but you can make it buff
The player rides Oatchi in Pikmin 4

With Immortals of Aveum getting a last-second delay, July belongs to Pikmin 4. Nintendo’s next big Switch exclusive looks to bring one of the company’s more eccentric franchises to a console that’s done wonders for oddball GameCube contemporaries like Animal Crossing. It may be the fourth installment of the series, but there’s a good chance it’ll act as an entry point for a fair amount of Switch owners.

Pikmin 4 - Nintendo Direct 6.21.2023

Read more
Super Mario RPG is getting a full Switch remake, and it’s coming this year
Mario, Mallow, and Bowser using lightning attacks in Mario RPG.

Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars is getting a full-on remake for the Nintendo Switch -- and it's  coming this year. The new remake of the game got announced during today's Nintendo Direct, along with its November 17 release date, meaning yet another big title is joining the late 2023 launch party.

Super Mario RPG (Remake) Trailer | Nintendo Direct 2023

Read more