Live A Live
|Live A Live|
|Genre(s)||Role-playing, turn-based tactics|
Live A Live[a] is a 1994 role-playing video game developed and published by Square for the Super Famicom. The title remains exclusive to Japan, though it was given a fan translation by the online group Aeon Genesis. The game follows seven distinct scenarios scattered across different time periods, with two more unlockable scenarios linking the narratives together through the recurring antagonist Odio. Gameplay is split between exploration with story-specific twists, and turn-based combat played out on a grid.
Production began in late 1993, and was the directorial debut of Takashi Tokita. Tokita wanted to tell multiple stories within a single game, with each section drawing inspiration from different sources. Character designs for the seven main scenarios were handled by different manga artists. The music was composed by Yoko Shimomura as her first large-scale project after joining Square.
Reception of the game has been positive, with praise going to its unique gameplay and narrative mechanics, though its short length was faulted. Selling 270,000 units, the game was considered a failure. Tokita's work on Live A Live influenced his later projects, and he has voiced his willingness to remake the title if there were enough demand.
Live A Live is a role-playing video game in which the player takes on the role of eight different protagonists through nine scenarios. While each narrative has the same basic mechanics, individual stories have unique gimmicks; these include the use of stealth, a lack of standard battles, or using telepathy to learn new facts to progress the narrative. With the exception of one scenario, the player character navigates themed environments, ranging from the overworld area to dungeon environments. Battles are triggered differently for each scenario; some are random encounters, some have enemy sprites which can be avoided, while others are entirely scripted.
The turn-based battle system is used across all scenarios, and features the player character and sometimes a party fighting enemies on a 7x7 grid, with characters able to move and perform actions such as attacking or using particular skills. Skills can be used without limit, though some take multiple turns to charge. Some abilities imbue tiles with extra properties, such as healing a character or dealing elemental damage. There are also different skill systems in place; there is gaining levels with experience points, which unlocks new abilities, though in others character progression is locked behind story events. In one scenario techniques are learned through seeing an opponent use them. Each character can also equip and use items, such as accessories to boost attack or items to recover health. If the player character, or party, is defeated, the game ends.
Note: The synopsis of Live A Live uses the names and terms from the fan translation. While the first seven chapters can be played in any order, they are presented in chronological order.
The opening scenario of Live A Live is split into seven chapters, covering prehistoric, ancient Chinese, feudal Japanese, Wild West, present day, near future, and far future eras. In each scenario, the protagonist confronts a powerful enemy whose name is or incorporates the word "Odio". After completing these scenarios, an eighth chapter set in medieval times is unlocked, which in turn unlocks a final chapter tying the narratives together.
- Contact: The caveman Pogo is exiled by his tribe after rescuing and hiding Bel, a woman intended for sacrifice by a rival tribe to their dinosaur god O-D-O. Pogo and Bel, helped by friendly members of both tribes, successfully kill O-D-O and establish peace between the tribes.
- Inheritance: Ageing martial arts master Xin Shan Quan chooses three disciples to inherit his skills, which hail from an endangered school. A rival school led by Odi Wang Lee kills the two less experienced students. Xin Shan Quan and his surviving student defeat Odi Wang Lee and his students, then sacrifices himself to empower his surviving student. Xin Shan Quan dies after this battle, and his student begins passing down his teachings.
- Secret Orders: Trainee ninja Oboro-maru is sent by his master on a mission to rescue a politically-important person and kill his captor Ode Iou, a daimyo who has made a pact with demonic forces to conquer Japan. Oboro-maru defeats Ode Iou and rescues the man, who turns out to be Sakamoto Ryōma.
- Wandering: A wandering gunslinger called the Sundown Kid meets with his rival Mad Dog in an isolated town for a gun duel. The pair end up working together to defend the town from a bandit gang led by O. Dio. After defeating O. Dio, revealed to be a horse possessed by the rage of a massacred regiment, the Sundown Kid leaves the town having rediscovered the value of protecting others.
- The Strongest: Masaru Takahara wants to become the strongest person in the world, believing that defeating opponents in each fighting style would accomplish this goal. While Masaru succeeds, he is confronted by another fighter Odie Oldbright, who has been killing his opponents. Odie Oldbright challenges Masaru, who defeats him using his combined learned abilities.
- Flow: Orphan Akira Tadokoro goes in pursuit of a biker gang called the Crusaders after his sister is kidnapped by them. Together with his friend Matsu, Akira pursues the Crusaders, learning that they are being used by the government to obtain sacrifices for an idol dubbed Odeo, which seeks to bring an enforced peace. Matsu sacrifices himself to empower the mech, Buriki Daioh, that Akira uses to destroy Odeo.
- Mechanical Heart: The cargo ship Cognito Ergosum is carrying a Behemoth monster to Earth. Maintenance robot, Cube, ends up investigating the incident when the Behemoth escapes and begins killing the crew, which, combined with fatal accidents, causes the survivors to turn on one another. The culprit is the ship's computer, OD-10, who wants to curtail the crew's recurring antisocial behavior. Cube hacks and deactivates OD-10.
- King of Demons: After the knight Oersted defeats his friend Straybow in a contest for the hand of Princess Alicia of Lucretia, Alicia is kidnapped by the Demon King. Oersted leads a party that includes Straybow to rescue Alicia. They defeat the Demon King, but Straybow is apparently killed and Alicia remains missing. Back at the castle, Oersted is tricked by a magical illusion into killing Lucretia's king, causing people to condemn him as the Demon King. Escaping, Oersted returns to the Demon King's castle, and learns that a jealous Straybow took on the Demon King's power. Oersted kills Straybow and finds Alicia, but she blames Oersted for Straybow's actions before killing herself. A despairing Oersted becomes the new Demon King, taking on the name Odio and destroying Lucretia.
In the "Final Chapter" unlocked after completing "King of Demons", Odio draws the seven protagonists—Pogo, Oboro-maru, the Sundown Kid, Akira, Masaru. Cube and Xin Shan Quan's successor—to his own time, with the player choosing which protagonist to play as. Choosing Oersted begins a scenario where he defeats each hero using his Odio incarnations across history, leaving him in a world devoid of human life. Choosing any other protagonist leads a party of four to a final battle with Odio's true form. The party can either kill Oersted, trapping them in his time; or spare him, leading to final battles with each form of Odio, which Oersted describes as the physical incarnation of hatred. Fully defeated and repentant of his actions, a dying Oersted sends each protagonist back to their time period.
Live A Live was developed by Development Division 5 of Square, noted as creators of the Final Fantasy series. The game was the directorial debut of Takashi Tokita, who had previously worked in a designer role for Hanjuku Hero and Final Fantasy IV. The original concept was born from the desire to make an RPG where players could experience multiple standalone stories at once, contrasting against Final Fantasy where smaller stories served a grand narrative arc. The production was made possible by the expanding storage capacity of the Super Famicom ROM, with the aim being for players to be able to complete each section within a day. Several staff members, including designer Nobuyuki Inoue and lead programmer Fumiaki Fukaya, had worked on either Hanjuku Hero or the Final Fantasy series. Active production began in December 1993, though the entire development including early planning lasted one and a half years. It was produced for the Super Famicom's 16-megabit cartridge.
Tokita had difficulty adjusting to his role as director, particularly as he could not be as hands-on with the graphical elements as he had been for Final Fantasy IV. Except for menus and battles, Fukaya was responsible for all the game's programming. Tokita put an equal amount of effort into each world design. Many of the world suggestions came from other members of staff, with Tokita choosing what he thought were the best. The first world created with the Medieval edition, which informed both the wider narrative and the gameplay design. The scenarios originally had a graduating difficulty scale, but Tokita abandoned this so players could tackle the scenarios in any order they wished. Inoue was responsible for the battle system design, wanting to make a strategic experience which Tokita described as "real-time shogi". Another goal was to evolve the standard gameplay of RPGs at the time. One idea of Tokita's that was rejected involved not displaying hit points, but having the character physically act like they had been injured or look weakened as they took damage instead. Once production finished, the team split up to work on other projects within Square.
Scenario and art design
A notable feature of Live A Live were the artists brought in to design the lead cast of the seven main sections. The artists were Yoshihide Fujiwara ("Inheritance"), Yoshinori Kobayashi ("Contact"), Osamu Ishiwata ("Wandering"), Yumi Tamura ("Mechanical Heart"), Ryōji Minagawa ("The Strongest"), Gosho Aoyama ("Secret Orders") and Kazuhiko Shimamoto ("Flow"). Additional character artwork, including designs for the "King of Demons", was done by Kiyofumi Katō of Square. Further in-game graphics were designed by Yukiko Sasaki, who worked as a map designer on Final Fantasy IV. Sasaki encountered difficulties with the graphics, struggling to design the "Secret Orders" scenario and needed to cut elements such as telegraph poles from "The Strongest" scenario. Having multiple character designers was not in the original plan, but emerged to compliment the "omnibus" storytelling. This style of having one artist in charge for each world was unusual for Square, who previously had a single graphic designer in charge of all art direction.
Fujiwara was known for his work on the martial arts manga Kenji. For the protagonist's "Inheritance" female student, Fujiware deliberately went against stereotypes of martial arts heroines with large breasts, drawing her with a "tighter" figure. Shimamoto was originally going for an anime-styled design for his characters, but changed it to one based on traditional manga when he saw the other designers' work. Akira's partner Matsu was physically based on actor Yūsaku Matsuda. Ishiwata based the protagonist of "Wandering" on the cowboy figures portrayed by Clint Eastwood.  Aoyama designed "Secret Orders" protagonist Enma very quickly, and at Tokita's request based Ode Iou's design on the Japanese warlord Oda Nobunaga. Tamura was in the middle of her work on Basara when she was approached about the project, and it was her only work in video game character design. Katō designed the sprites of the Medieval cast based on templates from the Final Fantasy series, with Orstead being directly based on the Warrior of Light.
The scenario was co-written by Tokita and Inoue. As with his other work, Tokita drew inspiration from the tone and dramatic moments of the manga Devilman. Pogo's story drew inspiration from the manga series First Human Giatrus, while the "Wandering" narrative was based on climactic scenes from classic Westerns including Shane. "Flow" made several references to classic mecha manga and anime. Along with its references to classic martial arts films, the name of the protagonist in "The Strongest" was made up of kanji symbols taken from the names of four famous wrestlers. The "Mechanical Heart" narrative was inspired by 2001: A Space Odyssey and Alien. Cube's name, created by a member of the development staff, was a reference to Stanley Kubrick. "King of Demons" paid homage toFinal Fantasy, with the relationship between Orstead and Straybow mirroring that between Cecil Harvey and Kain Highwind. Tokita was concerned about creating the Medieval chapter due to its similarity to the ongoing Final Fantasy, SaGa and Mana series. The Final Chapter and its selectable lead protagonists emulated the freedom of choice present in Romancing SaGa.
The music was composed and arranged by Yoko Shimomura. After writing music for Capcom on multiple projects including Street Fighter II, Shimomura moved to Square in 1993, fuelled by the wish to compose for RPGs. Live A Live was Shimomura's first major RPG composition, and her first job after arriving at Square. Her only previous work on RPGs was minor work on Breath of Fire prior to leaving Capcom. As with the rest of the game, Shimomura's music reflected the different eras in which the narrative was set. The main theme appeared multiple times through the score in arranged versions, an idea shared by both Shimomura and Tokita.
The boss theme "Megalomania" was written to be frenetic and exciting. For the motif of Odio, Shimomura used a simulated pipe organ, incorporating it into "Megalomania" to reference its recurring threat. The music for the Medieval period was the most difficult for Shimomura to write, though it was among the first asked for by Tokita. Upon hearing of her struggles, Final Fantasy composer Nobuo Uematsu offered to help. Writing the score for the Medieval section became easier once the theme "Overlord Overture" and battle theme "Dignified Battle" were completed. The music for the Captain Square minigame was deliberately written to evoke the chiptune style of NES and early arcade titles.
A soundtrack album for the game was released in August 1994 by NTT Publishing. The album was reissued on iTunes in July 2008 as one of the first releases from "Square Enix Presents Legendary Tracks", a series of rare album re-releases. A physical re-release was published by Square Enix's music label in May 2012.
In 2008, the tracks "The Bird Flies in the Sky, the Fish Swims in the River" and "Forgotten Wings" were included on Drammatica: The Very Best of Yoko Shimomura, a compilation of the composer's work at Square Enix. "Kiss of Jealousy" and "Megalomania" were released on the 2014 compilation album Memoria, which also featured tracks from Shimomura's work with Square. "Birds in the Sky, Fish in the River" and "Megalomania" were later released in 2015 as downloadable content for Theatrhythm Final Fantasy: Curtain Call. Also in 2015, a tribute concert was held in Kichijoji at Club Seata, featuring performances by multiple musicians including Shimomura, and guest appearances from the game's staff including Tokita.
Live A Live was released on September 2, 1994. Originally meant to be released in Japan before Final Fantasy VI, delays occurred in Live A Live's production and the release order was reversed. Prior to release, Tamura created a prequel manga to the "Mechanical Heart" scenario, later noting that she drew the manga without Square's permission. The game was re-released through Nintendo's Virtual Console for Wii U on June 17, 2015. A Virtual Console port to Nintendo 3DS released on November 28, 2016. The release was prompted by fan demand for the title, and then-publisher Square Enix had to get permission from the guest illustrators before the re-release could happen. Characters from Live A Live were featured in 20th anniversary crossovers with the mobile games Holy Dungeon and Final Fantasy Legends: The Space-Time Crystal.
Live A Live remains exclusive to Japan. A rumor reported by GamePro was that the title was originally planned for an English release. In an interview with the magazine Super Play, Square localization staff member Ted Woolsey said that its overseas release was unlikely due to its low graphical quality compared to other popular titles at the time. A fan translation was created by noted online translation group Aeon Genesis. Speaking in later interviews, Tokita felt that his experience with Live A Live helped solidify his directing and storytelling. Speaking on the subject of a remake, Tokita said it would depend entirely on fan demand.
Famitsu reviewers enjoyed the game's variety, but found the graphics lacking compared to other Super Famicom titles of the time. In its review, Micro Magazine's publication Game Criticism lauded the attempt at its omnibus storytelling style and use of popular manga artists, but ultimately felt it lacked substance and heavily criticized the final chapters and "imbalance" between the mature narrative and low-difficulty gameplay. The game sold 270,000 copies, which at the time was considered a failure compared to the company's Final Fantasy releases.
Retro Gamer lauded both the omnibus narrative and battle system, but felt that the title was too short; the magazine concluded that the game was a "one-of-a-kind experience" Jenni Lada, writing for website GamerTell, included the title in a list of the best Super Famicom titles exclusive to Japan, praising its variety compared to other titles for the platform. In 2011, GamePro included it on the list of the 14 best JRPGs that were not released in English, adding that "rumor has it the game was originally slated for a US release, making its absence here sting all the more."
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