Live A Live is a turn-based Japanese role-playing game developed by Square Enix and published by Nintendo. Taking place across time and space, this demo gives players a first glimpse at three of the game’s seven unique settings. Players get to partake in a dangerous mission as a shinobi in Edo Japan, search for students as an aged Kung Fu master in Imperial China, and explore a space freighter in the distant future as a newly created robot. But what does the Live A Live demo deliver to players beyond the variety of settings? Let’s take a look.
Despite originally being released in Japan in 1994, The first thing that will catch players’ attention is the gorgeous HD-2D visuals—utilizing the same approach that made the previous HD-2D games Octopath Traveler and Triangle Strategy visually stunning. However, not willing to rest on its laurels, Square Enix seems determined to push this style of 2D game visuals further than ever. As I played through the Live A Live demo, it felt like the game’s depth of field and how it moves through its varied environments are even more eye-catching than in the previously named projects. As a huge fan of the visual style, I’m thrilled to see the developer get everything they can out of it.
While the visuals throughout the demo have the same stylish flair, the worlds they present offer many different narrative trappings. Unfortunately, some work out better than others. The Live A Live demo’s most significant struggles came with my journey through Edo, Japan. Sent on a mission to infiltrate a rival clan’s headquarters, I soon found myself stumbling through rooms, frustratingly clicking on objects like I was in an old-school point-and-click adventure, hoping something would open up a progress path for me.
While the task of sneaking around the HQ is fun on its surface, and the game even gives the player the choice to be violent or stealthy, there are virtually no indicators for how the player ultimately needs to access deeper areas of the base. Hidden secrets with no visual indicators and doorways that are easily missed plagued my gaming experience here. These frustrations wore me down, while accidental encounters with this section’s harsh combat often left me reloading my game. The game at least utilizes a generous autosave function, so I didn’t get set back too much.
While my first steps as a shinobi were laced with frustration, the Live A Live demo’s other two stories’ openings faired much better. The structure and implementation of these storyline objectives were much clearer. This made it easier to enjoy the game’s beautiful graphics, solid, fully-voiced story, and unique combat.
That combat takes the form of the player character and its opponents populating a small grid-based battlefield. Combat actions happen when a character’s action gauge fills, with the character utilizing one of several abilities or using an item. These abilities deliver different amounts of damage and status effects and will target enemies based on the pattern of squares they hit. These attack patterns give the combat a bit of a puzzle element. While some attacks simply target all adjacent squares, others are more elaborate and require a bit more careful unit placement. I can see maneuvering units and planning strikes becoming an intricate task as the game progresses.
Having only scraped the surface of what the full game promises players when it releases later this month, this Live A Live demo has me cautiously optimistic about what lies ahead. While it has some bumps and rough patches, it crafts a unique gameplay experience that delivers a variety of narrative concepts and themes to players. And just like other recent Nintendo demos, this one’s save will transfer to the main game, allowing you to continue from where you left off. So if you think you will be picking this up, there is no reason not to get started now.
Live A Live releases July 22nd on Nintendo Switch.