Live A Live is a short excerpt from the weird and wonderful world of JRPG.
When it’s crazy, oh man, it gets crazy One of my favorite near future stories is The Power Rangers Best Episode You’ve Never Seen. Spiky protagonist Akira uses his psychic powers with the help of “local businessman” Matsu, a friend of his orphanage, to foil a biker gang’s conspiracy. Along the way, you’ll use Akira’s psychic powers in battle to unleash powerful moves like “Mother’s Shame,” which confuses enemies with thoughts of their mothers, causing them to lose the will to fight. Oh, and there are giant kaiju-style mechs too, because why not?
Depending on which story you choose next, you might come across deep introspection about what it means to be human in the distant future, or fart and sex jokes in prehistory. Instead, maybe you want to be a repentant gunslinger in the Wild West, train an apprentice martial artist in Imperial China, or infiltrate a compound as a ninja apprentice in Edo Japan. While the different eras seem to take inspiration from movies and television more than anything else, Live A Live separates the two tones found in many JRPGs and assigns one of them to each chapter, which is one of the truly standout points of each story is me. It’s how writers Takashi Tokita and Nobuyuki Inoue examine what makes a traditional JRPG. Something they know all about as they both worked on early Final Fantasy entries and Tokita wrote and directed Chrono Trigger while Inoue ended up working on Legend of Mana.
JRPGs thrive underneath, including “Did They Really Just Do That?” moments in almost equal measure as they thoughtfully examine the world around them. That’s what the Honey Bee Inn segment gives us between eco-terrorism in Final Fantasy VII, and befriending Nancy the crayfish is absolutely as important as taking on the Seiryu clan in Yakuza: Like a Dragon.
I don’t think Live A Live is a better game because it separates those two important parts into different stories, nor do I think it completely separates its silly choices from its more serious ones. They still use horse shit to bring down bandits in the Wild West, and this deep introspection of humanity in the far future is told from the perspective of a plump roller skate robot. No, what I love most about Live A Live is that it still manages to keep the spirit of the JRPG alive while tearing apart what the genre is.
Separating the weird from the heavy in different chapters is really just one way Live A Live telegraphs its dissection of the JRPG. I won’t spoil anything, but the last two chapters, unlocked after completing the first seven, stand out the most in this regard. why are you a hero Why are you rewarded? Why does everyone’s life revolve around you? It’s wonderfully melodramatic. What’s even more impressive is the fact that the original release explored tropes of the genre in the ’90s, and with its pretty pixelated remaster it’s still relevant today. Turn-based combat may not be as popular as it was thirty years ago, but having a “chosen one” as the protagonist certainly satisfies our power fantasies.
So it’s impressive that despite being half the usual playing time and highlighting so many of the genre’s tropes, Live A Live is still one of the best examples of the JRPG out there. Knowing that you’re playing through story beats that have been covered many times before doesn’t make the chapters any less compelling. Live A Live still commits to the JRPG bit, even if it knows it’s making the stuff into one for all to see.
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