An experimental Square Super Famicom RPG that was passed up for localization for nearly thirty years, but acquired a dedicated fanbase through the avenue of fan translations. It's also one that proved ahead of its time in several ways and is credited with laying the groundwork for later hit titles like Chrono Trigger. But is this odd outing one that's still worth trying out today, or was it left in Japan so long for good reason?
In the days where the Internet was starting to become mainstream, Square quickly became known as much for their localized games as for the ones that most English-speaking players never got a chance to play. Hell, some of my earliest memories from surfing online were learning about the world of emulation and the vast number of games that never got brought over to our shores, and I actually tried out some early efforts at fan translations for games like Final Fantasy 2, 3 and 5, often with unfinished text and corrupted graphics (and more than a few instances of cringey, shoehorned-in swearing to make them more 'adult'). Live a Live wasn't one I tried out until quite a while later, and I didn't get too far owing to its strange format and offering the player quite a bit of openness and choice compared to JRPG norms. But, with the game getting a surprise remake on the Switch twenty-eight years after its initial release, I figured it was time to finally give it another go.
- A caveman in a chapter which contains no dialog (as spoken language was yet conceived in prehistory), but the story is conveyed entirely through character gestures and animations. It puts emphasis on a crafting system too, having you combine sticks, bones, rocks, hides and other items to create equipment.
- A ninja sets out to infiltrate a palace in feudal Japan, and has a bit of a stealth element - you can press a button to hide behind a "screen" that makes you invisible to foes (even if you put it up while in their line of sight), and there are multiple hidden paths through the palace to take, with the story's outcome depending on which enemies you choose to kill (or if you choose to kill none at all save those strictly required).
- Set in imperial China, an aged shifu is looking to pass on his arts to several prospective students; accordingly, he starts off the chapter with a wide variety of skills and quite high stats, but cannot advance them any further, while his students must learn his moves and boost their stats through training with him.
- The Old West chapter stars a wandering gunslinger who must defend a town from a gang of bandits, utilizing traps to weaken and disable them to make up for being severely outnumbered.
- In present day, you play as a fighter in training, who slowly learns moves by observing them in battle with other fighters. This chapter also has a character select screen and pre and post battle taunt screens reminiscent of many fighting games from the '90s, though the actual combat still plays the same as it does elsewhere.
- In the Near Future chapter, you play as an orphan with telepathic powers, seeking out a biker gang to avenge his father's death. Fittingly, it also contains many science fiction and cyberpunk tropes, and even features a giant robot (complete with theme song) as a central element.
- In the Distant Future chapter, you play as a robot named "Cube" who builds bonds with the humans aboard a spaceship transporting a dangerous cargo, and it plays out like a visual novel more than anything else, having almost no combat at all outside of an optional minigame.
Publisher: Square Enix
Platform: Super Famicom, Switch
Released: 1994, 2022
Recommended Version: The Super Famicom version was famously fan-translated many years ago and enjoyed a small following among obscure RPG enthusiasts, and is certainly worth a look from a historical perspective. However, the Switch HD-2D remake is the one I'd recommend now, as it's a substantial refinement gameplay-wise and aesthetically and, hopefully if it sells well, we'll see more old Square/Enix RPGs redone in this style.