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Live A Live delivers unique, though inconsistent, RPG storytelling

Live A Live was originally a Super Famicom game released in 1994 that never made its way out of Japan until now. Remade in a new visual style similar to that of Octopath Traveler and Triangle Strategy, Live a Live is a beautiful game, but it’s not without some inconsistencies.

In our preview, I was allowed to play as four of the seven characters. Each character has its own chapter story and even some unique gameplay mechanics. However, Live A Live’s first impressions will strongly depend on which character you decide to play first. If you’re not enjoying a particular character’s story, then that might set the wrong expectations going forward for other characters. My first four adventures in Live A Live were filled with both highs and lows. Here’s a recap.

The Infiltrator

At the character select screen, you’re presented with seven different characters across vastly different time periods ranging from the dawn of history to the far reaches of the spacefaring future. By just simply picking one of them, you experience their own personal story with unique gameplay mechanics. I chose Shinobi’s story first and it was definitely the strongest one in terms of gameplay. Here, you play as a shinobi on a rescue mission.

He must traverse through a big castle area filled with traps and enemies. The castle is much bigger than I initially thought, with multiple hidden paths to uncover. It was a lot of fun trying to find certain keys scattered throughout the castle in order to get to the top. The Shinobi also has the option to avoid regular enemy encounters, and if he gets into a situation, he can pull up an invisible cloak to hide from enemies.

There’s even a counter for the number of lives taken, which the Shinobi updates every time he finishes a battle. However, there are some unavoidable battles that count toward the death counter, so I wasn’t entirely sure what the point of it was.

Either way, the Shinobi’s story was an incredibly strong start to my adventure and set my expectations for the rest of the characters. Unfortunately, as a result, my feelings about the other chapters are mixed.

The Mechanical Heart

I chose to play the robot Cube’s story next. Here, Cube is created by a member of a space cargo crew to help out with tasks as the ship heads toward Earth. However, the situation on the ship gravely changes as members of the crew start dropping dead like flies one by one.

This one was a surprise because it wasn’t anything like the Shinobi’s I played beforehand. The ship was much smaller and less confusing to navigate compared to the castle, and Cube’s story played out like a space horror drama, something akin to Alien: Isolation.

This scenario was much more fleshed out narratively, going over character motivations and backstories through computer terminals. There were also no battle encounters in this scenario as Cube can’t fight, but you can play a minigame on the ship that mimics a grid-based battle system.

This one has a welcome change of pace after going through the traditional RPG-inspired Shinobi story. Even as a simple robot, Cube conveys a lot of personality just by bringing coffee to the crewmembers and cheering them up.

The Successor

In Imperial China, players assume the role of a shifu who looks for successors to carry on his kung fu legacy. The unique mechanic here is that you’ll find three characters to train up. Each time you spar with one of the three, they’ll gain experience points to level up. You’ll have a few days to train with them, and up to four sessions per day to battle them.

Players can choose to evenly disperse training sessions throughout all three characters and equalize their levels, or favor one disciple over the other two and make them incredibly powerful. Whoever you spar with will gain extra stat points after the session.

Compared to the other two characters I tried before the successor, the story was a bit of a slog to get through because of how many mandatory battles there were. Narratively, it doesn’t really get interesting until toward the end. However, the scenery here was my favorite. The 2D-HD visual style, which is a major highlight of the package so far, transforms dated landscapes into breathtaking mountaintops and foliage.

The Wanderer

For my final story of the preview session, I went with the Wanderer. This story follows a cowboy in the Wild West named Sundown, which is a promising setup. Unfortunately, it was the weakest one I played. Not only was it incredibly short compared to the three previous ones, but I felt like I didn’t really understand Sundown as a person. He’s got this mysterious outlaw vibe to him, but that’s all the depth I got by the end.

Sundown has to deal with a group of rogue cowboys called the Crazy Bunch as they are headed into town the next day to terrorize its citizens. This chapter’s unique mechanic is that Sundown can have the citizens prepare different traps throughout the town, and when sunrise hits, members of the Crazy Bunch will fall victim to them, lessening the burden of the chapter’s final fight.

Due to the chapter’s shorter run time, the cowboy was the most underdeveloped of the four characters that I played, and his chapter’s unique mechanic of setting traps didn’t really match the creative highs of characters like Cube.

Looking ahead

Live A Live’s separate stories are inconsistent in quality and can sometimes feel a bit undercooked. I greatly enjoyed the Shinobi and the Cube’s more than the shifu and cowboy’s. However, I’m much more interested to see how these stories end up connecting to each other, despite being from completely different time periods and settings.

The battle system is a lot of fun, but because each chapter only runs about two to three hours, I didn’t get a sense that there was much customization or depth to it just yet. Still, it’s a strong constant mechanic that is the same throughout all of the chapters, and so I’m looking forward to seeing how it anchors the full game. If the turn-based combat can carry the weaker chapters and elevate the stronger ones further, the complete package should feel more unified than my scattered first dive.

Live A Live currently has a demo available on the Nintendo eShop for players to check out. The game launches on July 22 for Nintendo Switch.

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George Yang
George Yang is a freelance games writer for Digital Trends. He has written for places such as IGN, GameSpot, The Washington…
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