Live A Live is a game that never made it to the United States. It was
made in the heyday of the Super Nintendo, in the same year as such
much-renowned Square games as Secret of Mana and Final Fantasy VI.
At present, however, the magic of emulation, and the obsessive dedication of
a crew of amateur translators, has now made playing Live A Live a
possibility. And it's kind of hard to figure out why they bothered.
Admittedly, the game has got one hell of an innovation going for it.
Its structure is very unorthodox - the game consists of seven "scenarios,"
all featuring different characters, taking place in different time
periods, with different objectives and sometimes with different methods
of gameplay. Once one finishes these seven, an eighth one opens, and
after that a final one. The order you finish them in doesn't matter,
and they're all relatively short. It's a fascinating idea. However, there's
a lot to be said for traditional RPG structure; in this form, the seven
characters and scenarios feel completely haphazard, much the way different
stages do in Mega Man games. The lack of a cohesive plot (yes, an attempt
is made to bring everything together in the final scenario, but it's mildly
successful at best) ends up harming all seven scenarios - it only distances
one from each of them.
If each scenario was masterfully constructed, however, this would be forgivable.
But that's not true; rather than do one thing well, the makers of Live A Live
decided to do seven things mediocrely. Masaru's stage, for instance, is just a series of seven fights with no
"stage" as such at all, with a laughable motivation. Most of the other stages
have few locations in them; there's usually little exploration involved. The one stage
that does feature exploration - the ninja's stage, with its hideously confusing layout - is certainly unique, with its
emphasis on stealth. However, the battle system is exactly the same throughout
the game - you fight on a grid vaguely reminiscent of Robotrek, with your "techniques," which you can use infinitely many times,
and you get full health back after each fight - and there is little to nothing to
make characters stand out from one another.
All seven storylines are weak. In the Old West stage, your character has practically
nothing to say besides "..." and "Yeah..."; in the ninja stage, it may well be even
less than that. The other characters are equally uninteresting; one wonders why the
makers even bothered giving them names. Admittedly, some of the stages have personality,
but they're too short to draw one in. Even the kung fu stage, which tries to introduce
some pathos into its story, largely fails since there's precious little detail to get one
to care for any of the characters. The graphics and sound are not impressive; they're around the level of Final
Fantasy V. Overall, Live A Live is destined to join the pile of games
marked "good idea, but doesn't live up to its own promise."