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Games of 2022: Live A Live was the best short story collection of the year

HD-2D or not to be.

Live A Live is a short slice of the weird and wonderful world of the JRPG.

When it's wacky, oh boy does it get wacky. One of my favourite stories, set in the near future, is the best episode of the Power Rangers you've never seen. Spiky-haired protagonist Akira uses his psychic powers with the help of 'local businessman' Matsu, friend of his orphanage, to foil the plot of a biker gang. Along the way you'll use Akira's psychic powers in combat to deploy powerful moves such as 'Mother's Shame', which confuses enemies with thoughts of their mothers, so they lose the will to fight. Oh, and there's also giant kaiju-style mechs, because why not?

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A brief look at Live A Live's gorgeous HD-2D characters and environments.

Depending on what story you pick next, you could be met with deep introspection on what it means to be human in the distant future, or fart and sex jokes in the prehistory era. Maybe you want to be a repentant gunslinger in the wild west instead, train up a martial artist apprentice in Imperial China, or infiltrate a compound as a trainee ninja in Edo Japan. While the different eras seem to take their inspiration from movies and TV more than anything else, it's the way Live A Live separates the two tones found in many JRPGs and assigns one of them to each chapter that is one of the real standouts of each story to me. It's one of the ways writers Takashi Tokita and Nobuyuki Inoue examine the makings of a traditional JRPG. Something they know all about, with both working on early Final Fantasy entries and Tokita going on to write and direct Chrono Trigger, with Inoue eventually working on Legend of Mana.

JRPGs thrive off including "did they really just do that?" moments in almost equal measure as they thoughtfully examine the world around them. It's what gives us the Honey Bee Inn segment inbetween eco-terrorism in Final Fantasy VII, and making friends with Nancy the crawfish is absolutely as important as taking on the Seiryu Clan in Yakuza: Like a Dragon.

Edo Japan has more of a serious tone about the world changing.

I don't think Live A Live is a better game because it divides these two important parts into different stories, nor do I think it completely separates its goofy choices from its more serious ones. You're still using horseshit to trip up bandits in the wild west, and that deep introspection on humanity in the distant future is told from the perspective of a rotund roller-skating robot. No, what I love the most about Live A Live is that it still manages to keep the spirit of the JRPG alive while picking apart what the genre is.

Separating the weird from the weighty in distinct chapters is really just one way that 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 are the most on the nose about this. Why are you a hero? Why do you get rewarded? Why does everybody's life revolve around you? It's wonderfully melodramatic. Made all the more impressive by the fact the original release was exploring tropes of the genre in the 90's, and is still relevant today with its pretty pixel remaster. Turn-based combat may not be as popular as it was thirty years ago, but having a 'chosen one' protagonist fulfil our power fantasies sure is.

It's impressive then that despite clocking in at half the usual playtime and highlighting so many tropes of the genre, that Live A Live still manages to be one of the best examples of the JRPG out there. The knowledge 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 when it knows it's laying the makings of one bare for all to see.