Screenshot of Wild West timeline of Live A Live

What Is Live A Live, and Why Was Its Appearance on the Nintendo Direct a Big Deal?

Why a niche-seeming game is important for Square Enix's past and future

There were many game reveals in the February 2022 Nintendo Direct that appealed directly to the blissfully surprised hearts of the hardcore JPRG fans of the world. Perhaps no game better exemplifies this than Live A Live, which was revealed to be getting an HD-2D remaster in July and has never before been released outside of Japan. A small handful of people in North America lost their minds upon hearing this announcement, but the rest of us were left wondering, “Wait… What is Live A Live? And why does this remaster seem to be a big deal?”

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To answer these questions, let us travel back in time, much like in Live A Live itself. It’s Japan in 1994. Since the 1987 release of a game known as Final Fantasy, the Japanese video game company SquareSoft (or simply Square) has been gaining momentum and credibility. They’re just about to enter their golden age and earn a reputation as one of the best studios for role-playing games in the world. The Final Fantasy series is a huge success, but SquareSoft has just had to swap the release date of Final Fantasy VI with a new one-off RPG, Live A Live, due to delays in the latter’s production.

Compared to Final Fantasy VI, Live A Live was actually somewhat of a sales flop upon release, which perhaps explains why it never received wide release. But even back in the ’90s, Live A Live was notable for its ambition. Live A Live marked the directorial debut of Takashi Tokita, who had served as lead game designer and scenario writer on Final Fantasy IV. Tokita wanted to take advantage of the larger storage capacity of the SNES to make a sort of inverse of Final Fantasy: instead of smaller stories contributing to a large arc, what if the game was an omnibus, with multiple standalone stories in different time periods and locations?

So what is Live A Live?

Live A Live is split into seven initial “chapters,” which were each designed to be theoretically playable in one day. These chapters at the start of the game cover Prehistory, the Wild West, Imperial China, the twilight of Edo Japan (meaning the mid-1800s), the present day (meaning the ’90s), the near-future (with a telepath named Akira, and yes, the movie titled after a telepath of the same name would’ve predated this game!), and the distant future (with a robot!). You can tackle them in whatever order you please.

Despite its relatively poor sales upon its initial release, Live A Live is one of those games whose legacy began to speak for itself over time. After all, Tokita’s next directorial project would be commonly cited as one of the best RPGs—or just “video games”—ever made: Chrono Trigger. Meanwhile, SquareSoft’s star would grow even brighter in 1997 with the release of Final Fantasy VII. In the 2000s, SquareSoft would fuse with Enix, the studio behind Dragon Quest, to make the Square Enix we all know and love and sometimes yell at today.

So, Live A Live‘s standing just before the crest of Square Enix’s wave of undeniable dominance, and as “the directorial debut of the guy who would co-direct Chrono Trigger one year later,” makes it an intriguing installment in JRPG history. Plus, anything that has never been released out of Japan has an exciting novelty to it. I, personally, hear that phrase and feel like a moth to a bright lightbulb.

Even if you’re not into Live A Live specifically, this particular remaster could be setting an interesting precedent for Square Enix’s future. For one thing, how many SNES remasters have gotten a full voice acting treatment like this upon their rerelease? Furthermore, it’s the first SNES game to get remade in the HD-2D style of Octopath Traveler and the upcoming Triangle Strategy. Apparently, we can expect re-crafting SNES games into HD-2D to become a trend, as multiple reports suggest Square Enix plans to give this treatment to other games. Dragon Quest III is already in the works, and ActRaiser was apparently second in line behind Live A Live.

Live A Live‘s reception, then, could have a huge impact on future Square Enix rereleases. The HD-2D remaster will come out on Switch on July 22, 2022. Have I talked myself into playing it in the process of writing this article? Yes. Yes, I have.

(featured image: Square Enix)


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Author
Kirsten Carey
Kirsten (she/her) is a contributing writer at the Mary Sue specializing in anime and gaming. In the last decade, she's also written for Channel Frederator (and its offshoots), Screen Rant, and more. In the other half of her professional life, she's also a musician, which includes leading a very weird rock band named Throwaway. When not talking about One Piece or The Legend of Zelda, she's talking about her cats, Momo and Jimbei.