Posted on August 7, 2018
Live A Live/ライブ・ア・ライブ
Live A Live is another one of the big Squaresoft SFC/SNES RPGs that never left Japan. Live A Live was a peculiar game for its time, being a game that is split into 7 different chapters spanning 7 different periods of history, along with 7 different main characters.
Keep in mind, Live A Live was released a year before Chrono Trigger, which was essentially the only other game to really focus on time-travel and different time-periods.
Live A Live has reached a sort of “cult” status among Western retro RPG fans, but is this status rightfully deserved? Let’s take a look and find out!
Score – 34/40
Story – 9/10
Gameplay – 8/10
Graphics – 8/10
Music – 9/10
Style: Japanese Role-playing Game (Tactical Turn-based)
Platform: Super Famicom
Release Date: JP: September 2nd, 1994
Length: 15～20 Hours
Table of Contents
Live A Live SFC/SNES Review
ATTN: 5000 word article. Long read, pitch a tent…
I’ll just start off by talking about the pronunciation of Live A Live, as this is probably one of the most mispronounced games of all time. By taking a look at the katakana (ライブ・ア・ライブ、Raibu A Raibu), you can easily see that it’s pronounced Live (as in “Live concert” ) A Live (as in, “I’m alive!”). So, for memory’s sake, think of it as Live Alive (“I’m seeing this concert live because i’m alive!”). Okay, now onto the actual game!
Live A Live is a one-off game created by Square during the middle-part of the SFC’s lifespan. Live A Live is fundamentally an RPG, but it’s unique due to the fact that some of its 7 chapters rely “heavily” on RPG mechanics, while other chapters don’t rely on them very much at all (with one chapter not even having combat until the last boss, so a complete lack of RPG mechanics). I air-quote “heavily” because even the most RPG parts of the game are still very basic when compared to pretty much any other JRPG on the system.
The main idea behind the game is that there are 7 different chapters, each with its own main character and specific time-period. Each story is essentially separate, except for the fact that each chapter’s final boss has a similar sounding name. Eventually, something happens which causes the characters from each chapter to end up in the same time-period in order to team up to attempt to defeat the final boss of the game.
Is the game interesting enough to earn its status as one of the greatest hidden gems on the SFC? I’ll be breaking down a lot of sections on a per-chapter basis, mainly because each chapter is quite different in story, game-play, appearance, and music!
If you like this review and want to take a look at the super rare Japanese-exclusive Live A Live Complete Walkthrough Guide Book/ライブ・ア・ライブ完全攻略ガイドブック, click here!
!!! Light Spoilers !!!
The pre-historic period tells a story about a caveman named ポゴ(Pogo) and his gorilla friend ゴリ(Gori). The story starts off with the attempted sacrifice of a cave-woman (who later becomes known as べる(Bell)) by a cult-like tribe. Bell manages to escape from the sacrificial ritual and sneak into a rival tribe’s cave. Pogo catches Bell who has been sneaking around in the middle of the night eating his tribe’s food.
Pogo becomes attracted to Bell, which leads him to try to persuade the tribe leader to allow Bell to stay. This pisses the tribe leader off, who firmly rejects the proposal and tells Pogo to kick Bell out of the cave. Pogo doesn’t do this, and decides to lie about kicking out Bell and instead hides her under a stack of straw in his room.
Suddenly, one of the leaders of the cult-like tribe from the beginning of the game, named ザキ(Zaki), raids Pogo’s tribe’s cave in search of Bell. The tribe leader, thinking that Bell was already kicked out, tries to reason with Zaki, but Zaki has a feeling that she’s still in the cave somewhere.
Pogo brings out Bell and confronts Zaki, which pisses the tribe elder off even more than before, leading to Pogo getting kicked out of the tribe. From here on, Pogo has to find a way to keep Bell safe, as well as stopping the threat of the rival tribe and the planned sacrificial ritual.
Ancient China Period(Story)
This story takes place in Ancient China and follows a Kung Fu Master who is in search of students to teach his martial arts to. While going around and looking for new pupils, the Master runs into 3 different troubled youth, who he later deems worthy of learning his art.
The Master then brings his 3 students up to his mountain-top dojo and begins to train them in the ways of his fighting-style. One morning, the Master wakes up to the news that a couple of thugs have been terrorizing the local marketplace. The Master then goes down and takes care of business.
Upon returning to his dojo, the Master finds two of his disciples murdered, along with one survivor. The Master and the surviving student then set out of avenge the deaths of his other two students.
This chapter takes place during the time of Samurai and Ninja. A Ninja named おぼろ丸(Oboromaru) is sent on a mission to infiltrate a rival lord’s castle in order to stop the planned destruction of Japan.
Along the way, Oboromaru finds a companion who has a similar goal and plans to defeat the lord of the castle. The two set out to defeat the lord, but are their goals really similar, or is there another hidden motive?
Wild West Period(Story)
This story involves a man known as サンダウン・キッド (Sandaun Kiddo ,”Sundown Kid”), who appears to be a wanted outlaw. While riding on horseback across a prairie, Sundown encounters a man known as マッドドッグ (Maddo Doggu, “Mad Dog”), who seems to be holding a grudge against Sundown due to some past encounter.
Mad Dog challenges Sundown to a duel on the spot, which results in Mad Dog getting shot, but surviving. After the duel, Sundown reaches a small settlement called “Success Town”. Sundown does what any proper Cowboy would do upon reaching town – he heads to the Saloon.
Inside the Saloon, everything happens like normal. Sundown heads asks the Bartender for a drink, when a nearby patron notices that Sundown resembles the man on a WANTED poster. The people inside the Saloon realize that Sundown actually is the wanted outlaw on the poster, which leads to the local Sheriff coming in and talking to Sundown.
The local Sheriff tells Sundown about a local outlaw gang called “The Crazy Bunch” that keeps raiding the local area and killing innocent people. The Sheriff admits to being too wimpy to do anything about them himself, so he offers to look the other way about Sundown being in town as long as Sundown agrees to do something about The Crazy Bunch.
Suddenly, Mad Dog reappears and challenges Sundown to another duel. Seeing an opportunity, the Sheriff asks Mad Dog if he’ll temporarily work with Sundown to help defend Success Town against an impending attack from The Crazy Bunch. Will Mad Dog agree to team-up with Sundown to help defend the town, or will the town end up being over-ran either way?
The Modern Period tells a very short story about a fighter named 高原日勝 (Takahara Masaru), who has the dream of becoming the strongest fighter in the world. Masaru goes through some fights until he is challenged by another fighter. This fighter has the same dream, but actually kills his opponents each time he defeats them. Can Masaru survive his final fight?
A biker gang, named “The Crusaders”, has taken over the local town and begins terrorizing the population. The story follows a boy named 晃 (Akira), who has the power to read the minds of others. Akira was raised in a nearby orphanage, which eventually gets attacked by The Crusaders.
During the attack, The Crusaders kidnap one of the children from the orphanage. Akira and his good friend Muhoumatsu (無法松、Lawless Matsu) head to The Crusader’s base to rescue the kidnapped child. Along the way, the pair unravel a sinister plot by the local government which will have catastrophic results on the local population. Can Akira and Matsu foil this evil plan?
キューブ (Cube) is a robot that has just gained consciousness. Cube was developed on a space ship in order to be sort of a maid robot for the ship’s crew, and is quickly given a brief tour of the ship’s rooms and controls. Everything is going smoothly until the ship begins to start acting strange and malfunctioning.
Due to these malfunctions, a few of the crew members begin to die off one by one. Eventually, the remaining crew members start to believe that one of their own crew members is causing these deaths on purpose. Trust begins to degrade and conditions on the ship start becoming worse and worse… Can the crew survive long enough to return to civilization, all while finding out who or what is responsible for everything that has happened?
Hidden Chapter – Medieval Period (Story)
Upon completing all 7 chapters, a final chapter is unlocked. This chapter follows a knight named オルステッド (Orusuteddo, Orstedd), who begins the story by competing in a royal tournament in the hopes of winning the grand prize, the right to marry the King’s daughter. During the final fight, Orstedd must compete against his friend ストレイボウ (Sutoreibou, Straybow). Orstedd wins and marries the King’s daughter, but soon after the King’s daughter is kidnapped by a flying demon.
Orstedd sets out to bring back his wife, which requires him to gather some party members who were able to defeat the Demon King in the past. After gathering up his partners, Orstedd sets off to the Forbidden Land, the Demon King’s lair. Upon reaching the lair, something happens that will have an effect on all time periods and characters in the game leading up to this point.
Something happens, which causes all characters from the first 7 chapters to appear in Orstedd’s time period. The characters then need to find each other to team up and figure out who or what caused the rift in time. Can the lapse in time be reversed, or will history be changed forever?
Overall, each story was pretty interesting to me. The only one that I didn’t really feel anything for was Masaru’s story, and that’s because it’s literally a 20-30 minute chapter with just a few lines of meaningful dialog at the end.
Each character’s story feels different enough to be separate games, in my opinion. At the end of the game they all kind of come together, but while you’re progressing through the game, each individual story truly feels like playing a whole different game.
The emphasis on time-periods is something that you didn’t see back then, not until Chrono Trigger came about almost an entire year later. The split-up characters eventually uniting later on in the game was also something that didn’t really have a big impact until games like Final Fantasy VI (released just several months earlier) and from what I hear, Treasure of the Rudras (still haven’t played this one yet). In this sense, Live A Live was a bit ahead in terms of RPG storytelling back around later 1994 when it was released.
I don’t really want to say it, but graphics might be Live A Live’s weakest area. By this, I mean graphical quality (sprite quality, tilesets, abilities). In terms of graphical quantity, Live A Live has plenty to offer!
We have to consider the year that the game was released in, 1994. Just half a year before Live A Live was released, you had Final Fantasy VI cranking out ridiculous graphics at silky smooth speeds. Live A Live, on the other hand, has quite basic graphics if we use the SFC/SNES as the standard.
The closest game I can compare Live A Live to is Final Fantasy V, which was release an entire 2 years earlier. Even then, it’s a little bit lower quality than FF5, especially when it comes to enemy sprites during battle, or character abilities. Environments look pretty much like what you would see in FF5, so i’m not exactly complaining, but I would have hoped for a little bit more, especially if you consider that this game was released just a year and a half earlier than Star Ocean.
The one thing I really have to praise is the amount of variation in the tile sets. Each chapter has it’s own tile sets, complete with sets for towns, dungeons, building interior. While the pre-historic chapter will mostly consist of greys for stones and browns for dirt, the near future consists of lush greens and corporate silvers. Each chapter seems to have a separate original artist too, so the art direction is also noticeably different with each new time period.
Overall, the graphics in Live A Live shouldn’t blow you away if you’ve played any SFC RPGs after about 1991 or 1992. They aren’t bad at all, they’re actually pretty “cute”, so I personally do like them. Just don’t expect to be wowed by them, but do expect to be wowed by the variety!
The gameplay in Live A Live is pretty much what you would expect from a light JRPG. The RPG mechanics are only really brought out in just a few of the chapters in the game. You start a chapter as a new character and go through their story until you defeat the chapter boss, then you select a new chapter and repeat.
Live A Live uses a grid-based combat system mixed with turn-based combat. You move around the map in order to line up your attack range to hit mobs, while trying to position yourself out of enemy range as to force the enemy to move instead and avoid getting attacked until your next turn.
All attacks can be used without needing any typical resource like Mana or skill charges, and your party’s HP is restored after every battle. This is really nice, as the battles themselves take quite a bit of time, so not needing to recover after each fight helps keep the pace moving along.
Characters level up each time they gain 100 EXP. After gaining levels, the amount of EXP you get from each battle usually decreases, though you’ll occasionally run into new, stronger monsters that give you a bit more EXP than the rest. Characters usually learn a new ability every level up until level 16, so there’s always something to look forward to when you level! After that you can keep leveling, but they only seem to gain a bit of HP and stats.
Pogo’s chapter is one of the 2 (maybe 3…) chapters that emphasizes the RPG mechanics. In Pogo’s chapter, you’ll level up, gain and lose party members, and you’ll be able to craft items with the miscellaneous items get from defeating monsters. The items that you can craft are REALLY good, and will allow you to power up your characters quite a lot.
This chapter contains a hidden superboss, by the way, so powering up as much as you can is a very good idea. Defeating the superboss gives you a chance to find a really powerful accessory, which can be brought over to the final chapter of the game and equipped on any character. I didn’t get it during my playthrough and still managed to beat the game, but I think this accessory would have been really nice to have.
One really cool thing about Pogo’s chapter, and something that I actually wish would be in more games, is the complete lack of dialog. Considering Pogo’s chapter takes place in the caveman days, there is no written or spoken language in this chapter.
All conversations are conducted using emojis. When someone is happy, they’ll have a smiley face above them. If someone’s pissed, they’ll scream and have an angry emoji. This is the one chapter in the game where not knowing Japanese or not being able to read won’t have any negative effects (besides the menu/inventory and crafting menu).
Pogo’s chapter should take you about 2-3 hours, maybe a bit more if you level up to 16 to take on the superboss. A length of 2-3 hours is about medium length, but there’s still quite a bit of story stuffed into those 2-3 hours. I actually felt a little sad when this chapter ended, as I was having so much fun with it…but in the end, Pogo learns his first word!
Ancient China Period(Gameplay)
The gameplay in this period is basically Pre-historic lite when it comes to RPG mechanics. You don’t really fight much to level up, you don’t gain much equipment, and there’s no crafting. This chapter mostly consists of fighting one on one with your disciples in order to increase their stats after each battle.
This chapter finally introduces text dialog (all chapters from here on out will). This change alone is a pretty big jump from Pogo’s gameplay, as this was almost enough to make me think that I was playing an entirely different game.
The Master’s chapter should be shorter than Pogo’s. There’s not really any reason to grind, and the overall story is quite short, so i’d say about 1-2 hours should be enough to finish it up.
Oboro’s chapter was maybe the biggest pain in the ass for me to playthrough. The premise is simple – invade a rival Lord’s Castle and defeat him. The problem – this is a prankster’s wetdream ninja house. Secret doors for days and backtracking for days. I’m almost 100% sure that someone playing without a guide would miss more than 90% of the content in this chapter.
This chapter also has a few hidden superbosses that drop nice weapons and accessories, but getting to the levels required to beat them will take a very long time. Enemies in this chapter are worth very little EXP per fight, so leveling up to 15-16 to kill the bosses will take 2x-3x longer than the actual length of the chapter itself.
Each time Oboro kills someone, a kill count is displayed at the top of the screen. There are 100 enemies in the castle (yes, that means pretty much 100 battles if you want to get all 100 kills), and the game gives you items based on whether you can complete the chapter with 0 kills or with all 100 kills. I originally planned to go for the 100 kills, but quickly realized that i’d probably throw my SFC at the wall if I didn’t follow the official guide to a T.
The complete whackjob kill order, story progression-related availability of enemies, as well as dependency on which routes you use to navigate the castle, getting either of these achievements absolutely 100% requires a guide. I think the official guide was created JUST to be sold for Oboro’s chapter!
In terms of RPG-ness, Oboro’s chapter is about on par with the Master’s chapter in Ancient China. Along the way you’ll gain a few levels, get a couple of pieces of gear, and you’ll gain 1 (potentially 2) teammates. Rather than leveling up and brute forcing your way through the battles, Oboro’s chapter relies more on strategical use of abilities. I would consider Oboro’s chapter to be more of a Strategic RPG (the game is already a strategic RPG, but, I mean even more strategic and less RPG).
Oboro’s chapter is needlessly long. With the obscene amounts of running back and forth and forced fights, it took me probably 4-5 hours to finish. If you’re really lucky or have experience with this chapter, you might be able to get it down to 3 hours.
Wild West Period(Gameplay)
Sundown’s chapter doesn’t incorporate any RPG mechanics. Sundown’s chapter consists of going around town and searching for things that can be used as traps. These traps will then be set and used against the incoming Crazy Bunch. Depending on how many traps you set, the amount of Crazy Bunch members you’ll have to fight during the last battle will decrease.
Since the only battles that take place outside of the final battle are the duels with Mad Dog, Sundown won’t gain any levels during this chapter, which makes him start at an exceptionally low level during the final chapter of the game.
This chapter is fairly quick. 8 bells ring, which indicates the countdown until the Crazy Bunch comes to town. If you take your time and wait for all 8 bells to ring while searching for trap materials, this chapter will probably take you about an hour. If you go hard-mode and talk to the bartender in order to skip the 8 bells and start without any traps, you can probably finish in about 30 minutes.
Masaru’s chapter is super short. The entire “game” is just an opponent selection screen similar to any fighting game. You choose an opponent, hear some pregame trash talk, and then fight that character. After beating them, you return to the opponent selection screen and repeat the process until all 6 opponents are defeated. After that, the final boss just suddenly appears and you fight him.
While the fighting system is still the same as all of the other chapters, this chapters doesn’t feel anything like an RPG at all. The way you get “stronger” is by having your enemies use abilities on you, which you’re then able to learn and use yourself. So the only way to progress is to fight enemies in order of ability-usefulness.
Masaru’s chapter is very short. It shouldn’t take you more than 30 minutes unless you die once or twice along the way.
Akira’s chapter returns to the ways of Pogo’s chapter. Party recruitment, leveling up, and equipment crafting aplenty. You could argue that due to the lack of dialog in Pogo’s chapter, Akira’s chapter has a more fleshed out story, but in terms of gameplay they’re almost identical.
Akira’s EXP gain is massive until level 13. Akira gains a flat 40 EXP per fight until 13, which means he’ll level after every 3 fights. Akira’s battle are also fairly easy, all “addition” enemies will suddenly “breakdown” (die) if you defeat the “leader”, which is usually a single member of The Crusaders. These guys usually die in one hit too, so as long as you run past everything and snipe the Crusader, you’ll be leveling up super fast.
The progression is fairly straight-forward. Talk to everyone and occasionally read people’s minds when there’s no other way to progress. Most problems are solved by combat in this chapter, so leveling up Akira early on will speed things up quite a bit. There’s no real reason to go as far as to level-up enough to get Akira’s best abilities before the chapter ends, since the final fight will force you to use completely different abilities.
Akira’s chapter will probably take you about as long as Pogo’s chapter did, so about 2-4 hours, depending on how high you decide to level-up!
Cube’s chapter is truly like an entire different game. Instead of an RPG, the game suddenly becomes a survival-horror game out of nowhere. Imagine System Shock 2 without “The Many” and with a SHODAN that decides not to talk instead. Add to that a copy of what is essentially the Grunt from Amnesia randomly chasing you through the corridors and you have Cube’s chapter.
Cube’s chapter is a giant endless fetch quest with tons of dialog thrown in the mix. This chapter is pure story, with pretty much no “gameplay”, at least not until the very end of the chapter where you have your actual first and only combat encounter in the whole chapter.
This chapter drags on for quite a while. I’d list it as probably the 2nd longest, just below Oboro’s chapter. Even if you skip all of the dialog, it’d probably still take about 3-4 hours. Even more if you actually read what’s going on.
Orstedd’s chapter returns to the RPG-style, with plenty of party members (actually the biggest party available before the final chapter), lots of gear, and solid character progression. One could even say that Orstedd’s chapter has the most typical RPG feel to it, too.
There’s a bit of backtracking involved in this chapter, and the encounter-rate seemed a bit high. This chapter also requires quite a bit of leveling to be able to actually make it past all of the mini-bosses towards the end, so the length of this chapter was probably about 3 hours for me.
The soundtrack in Live A Live is quite good. Again, with the variety in time periods, this also leads to a variety in musical-style and instrumentation. The OST was composed by Yoko Shimomura (this was her first soundtrack after joining Squaresoft!), known for her fantastic work in games such as Legend of Mana, Kingdom Hearts, and the recent Final Fantasy XV.
A part of me wants to pick one song from each period, but that’d lead to me having to post 8 different videos, which would not only make this post way longer than it already is, but also kill the loading speed of this page. So instead, i’ll post the songs that I really loved the most. Just understand that even though i’ll only be posting 3 or 4 songs, I love and recommend a ton of songs on this OST!
First, i’ll go with one of the first songs you’ll encounter in the game (assuming you follow chronological order), and one that made me super sad to see Pogo’s chapter come to a close.
Next is a guilty pleasure of mine. The entire Wild West setting is severely underused in both WRPGs and JRPGs (JRPGs I can understand, but…), so playing Sundown’s much too short chapter was very cool. This type of song is something you still don’t even really see even today in RPGs, but it’s really cool to hear something like this done way back on the SFC!
Next up we have Akira’s battle theme. It has that “urban” feel to it, which is definitely conveyed during Akira’s chapter. It also has that Retro Beat ’em Up soundtrack feel to it, so it’s definitely suitable for all of the fights against The Crusaders!
Finally, we have the theme for the final boss in each chapter. Hearing this theme really pumps you up, with the added bonus of signaling that you’re finally about to finish the chapter! Definitely one of my favorite boss themes on the SFC, and maybe even one of my all-time boss themes!
Live A Live’s OST rarely had any bad songs on it. The only songs i’d kind of give the thumbs down to are the songs played during Cube’s chapter. Cube’s chapter takes place on a spaceship, so the mostly ambient songs are actually fitting I guess, so I can’t truly complain. Live A Live was a game that had me looking forward to all of the new songs during each chapter change!
I definitely recommend the Live A Live OST to anyone that’s a fan of typical Square soundtracks or Shimomura’s work! If you’re super lucky, you can actually score the physical soundtrack included in a copy of the special edition Live A Live Official Guidebook (considering buying it, but I already have the 30$ non-limited edition guide, so it’d end up just being basically a 50$ OST…) if you can find one!
Should you play it?
I highly recommend Live A Live to anyone who has the ability to play it. I can truly only think of a very few minuses. The first one being the grid-based combat RPG. I personally try to avoid tile-based combat (think Fire Emblem) type games, and while this isn’t the same as long/slow tactical RPG battles like Final Fantasy Tactics, it is very slow when compared to your typical turn-based RPG on the SFC.
I was able to look past the grid combat, but this could potentially be a deal-breaker for some players. Another minus for me was that leveling up in the final chapter was ridiculously slow. I mean, like almost D&D slow. I might just be bitter about the fact that I chose Sundown as my main character for the final chapter and he started at like level 8 or 9, but most fights give you anywhere from 3-6 EXP. These aren’t Akira-type fights either where you can just kill one monster and the rest of them despawn. These are full-blown multiple monster fights, with most monsters taking more than 1 hit to kill.
The last boss will require pretty much a minimum of level 20 for each character, and leveling slows down to an absolute crawl past level 16. The last chapter has very little story to it, so it’s basically just you running up and down the last corridor before the final boss, grinding out anywhere from 7 to 12 levels. I personally love grinding in RPGs, but the grid-combat turns it into a needlessly long slog…leveling Athletics 10 times in a row in Morrowind felt faster than getting one level towards the end of this…
One final mini-complaint is that, since you’re always switching chapters, you probably won’t feel any sense of “progression”, in terms of power. Right when you start getting strong enough to kill stuff rather easily, your chapter ends. A new chapter begins, and you’re back at level 1 again. This again is a fundamental part of the game, so I can’t really complain about it, but since i’m usually the powergaming-type who loves to get absurdly overpowered, the constant power reset was a bit of a downer for me.
Aside from these three complaints (two being fundamental parts of the game, so that’s just my own personal problem), there weren’t really any other bad parts of the game that I can think of. Live A Live was a very pleasant surprise, and it’s a shame that other companies didn’t take notice and try to emulate the feel of it. One reason might be that Live A Live seemingly just kinda of floated through in Japan during the time of it’s release, probably because it was surrounded by a lot of other big name RPGs at that moment in time.
Which version should you play?
Aside from the current Nintendo Store, there aren’t any other versions of Live A Live aside from the Japanese Super Famicom version. Particularly, there are no other PHYSICAL versions of the game besides the SFC version. I follow a strict no-emulation rule, so i’m of course going to recommend the original Japanese SFC version. Not only is the box art beautiful, the instruction manual is full of art and information that anyone who’s deeply interested in the game will absolutely love.
Live A Live is a damn expensive game though, I got a version in a kind of beat up box (unknowingly) for about 45$ (IN JAPAN), and I haven’t seen the game go for anything less than 40$ boxed. If you can manage with just the cartridge, you might be able to grab Live A Live for about 20$ domestically (in Japan). If you’re looking for a copy while living outside of Japan…I wouldn’t be surprised if you’re looking at close to 100$ for a boxed copy…
If you’re looking to grab a copy for yourself, you can find them from Amazon below! (i’ll earn a small commission if purchased through these links)
Live A Live (Requires a Super Famicom or modded Super Nintendo!) – Grab Live a Live here! (affiliate link!)
Final Score – 34/40
Story – 9/10
Gameplay – 8/10
Graphics – 8/10
Music – 9/10
If you still haven’t checked out my guide book overview, I really recommend you do so. There’s tons of awesome artwork to see! Check it out here!