Demo Disk is a series of first impressions posts for new releases and quick opinions.
In his seminal work, The Canterbury Tales, Geoffrey Chaucer imagines how a varied group of travelers pass time on a pilgrimage by regaling one another with stories. Some of these stories are thought-provoking and meaningful; others aren’t worth the time spent hearing them. Chaucer’s narrators are brutally honest about their opinions, making no secret of the tales that delight them… and the ones that are an utter waste. This mirrors my first impression of Live A Live, Square-Enix’s HD-2D remake of the Super Famicom JRPG.
“Your tale annoys the entire company; such talking is not worth a butterfly.”
Now with enhanced visuals, voice acting, and beautifully remastered versions of Yoko Shimomura’s soundtrack, this version of the classic game is the definitive one. Live A Live showcases the tales of seven distinct protagonists across different eras, presumably culminating in a narrative-merging final chapter that pits the heroes against a common enemy across time and space. At least, this is what I hope happens (Octopath Traveler boasted a similar setup, only to disappoint in the final act).
Seven unique protagonists. Only a few worth playing.
An Uneven Experience
By the time of this writing, I have completed five of those seven stories, and the experience feels as irregular as The Canterbury Tales. Some of the tales are charming—particularly the humorous dialogue of the Prehistory and the Wild West chapters—while others left me downright bored and frustrated. For instance, the chapter set in the Twilight of Edo, Japan follows a ninja sneaking through a tedious, overly complicated maze. Battles are discouraged (a shame because the turn-based battle system shared by each story is actually quite engaging), and story only comes at the beginning and ending of the chapter. I will never understand how Live A Live managed to make playing as a stealthy ninja so painfully dull, but it certainly succeeded.
Think this looks cool? Think again.
Even when the game hits its stride, however, it only amounts to mild amusement at best. Despite the clever and unique gameplay elements of each chapter (each character has their own specialties that prove useful in the overworld), none of the stories invite emotional attachment. The Distant Future chapter, arguably the most narratively dense tale, offers the only instances of anything even remotely close to actual drama, but the chapter was too brief, the characters too static and impersonal for any meaningful connection. Similarly, Prehistory, the chapter I connected with most, only elicited a mild sense of satisfaction. For all its offerings, Live A Live has failed to create any character that I genuinely liked thus far.
Live a Little, Not a Lot
And that, I suppose, is my gripe with this game. Its entire concept asks, “What if the player became invested in more than just one protagonist?” But instead of fleshing out multiple protagonists, it ends up diluting them. Even the good chapters of this game are like tasty comfort foods or palate cleansers, never entrées. The individual chapters of Live A Live will not satisfy most players’ narrative appetites. Instead, they’ll merely give a taste.
A picture is worth a thousand words.
If you want a multi-protagonist narrative that more fully fleshes out its characters, turn to Octopath Traveler or even Final Fantasy VI Pixel Remaster (whose narrative and ensemble cast are light-years beyond this). However, in a year filled with massive epics like Elden Ring, Xenoblade Chronicles 3, and God of War: Ragnarok, maybe the palate-cleansing comfort food that Live A Live offers is appreciated.
Except for that Edo chapter. To borrow Chaucer’s words, that tale annoys everyone and isn’t worth even a butterfly.
I teach and play video games at the University of Alabama. My dissertation was on Judeo-Christian kingship and Final Fantasy XV. Find me on Twitter, Instagram, and Twitch as “ProfNoctis.”