Why Live A Live Matters; A Tale of Splendid Fan Translation & Determined Unity
During the first Nintendo Direct presentation of 2022, Nintendo and Square Enix delivered shocking news to longtime fans by announcing an “HD-2D” remake of the Super Famicom title Live A Live. They also confused the absolute hell out of people that have never heard of this game because why is some random Super Famicom game from 1994 such a big deal now? What separates this from the multitudes of other RPGs from the era, many of which are also awaiting official releases outside of Japan?
Well…it’s kind of a long story, one that dates back over twenty years and involves one of the most dedicated teams of video game fans that have ever existed.
The world of unofficial fan translation has seen a massive resurgence in recent days, thanks in significant part to the success of The Geofront. This team took two un-localized games in The Legend of Heroes: Trails ___ series and created full-scale, professional-grade patches for them that edited existing but lesser-quality translations into (their words) a final result on par with the XSEED Games releases of the previous titles in the series. But the fan-patch community dates back much farther than many people expect, and one of the teams at the beginning of this burgeoning scene was a group called Aeon Genesis.
This circle tasked themselves with many projects that ran the spectrum from top-down shooters to platformers to extremely dense RPG titles, and out of any such translation circle, they have by far the most successes on record. Their website shows 92 completed projects, some of which include Super Robot Wars (and 2, 3, EX, and more), the original Super Famicom version of Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together, translations of Ys IV and V long before their official releases and the list goes on and on.
One of their earliest successes, however, was a small Squaresoft side-project that had dropped between Final Fantasy III (as it was commonly known in the US at the time) and Chrono Trigger. Live A Live had reviewed moderately well in Japan but had been criticized for not pushing the graphical power of the Super Famicom (which seems somewhat quaint as we get further away from it), being short compared to Final Fantasy, and selling less than three-hundred thousand copies, well below what would make Square consider a wider release.
But in 2001 (yes, 2001), Aeon Genesis completed a full translation of the game and released it into the wild, allowing English-speaking audiences who knew enough to be able to rip an SFC cartridge from Japan and apply a patch to the resulting file to enjoy it for the first time.
Live A Live is a highly unique title for the era it released. Rather than one epic tale, the player is given their pick of seven totally different scenarios, ranging from a prehistoric comedy to a martial arts tournament in the modern-day, all the way up to a science-fiction survival horror story in the distant future. Completing all of them would then unlock an additional chapter that tied all of the previous ones together. This player-driven variation in tone and setting created a highly original experience at the time and even now, and savvy English-speakers quickly cottoned on.
In fact, the project’s release was so successful that Aeon Genesis would revisit the title and release a “Deluxe Edition” of the patch containing a newly-expanded script in 2008. In the time since the initial release, they had continued their work, and many of them would generate enough interest to get larger companies to notice. As a result, we eventually got official releases of games like Cave Story and Shiren the Wanderer and from outside Aeon Genesis, titles like Tales of Hearts, Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc, and The Great Ace Attorney.
It would be inaccurate to say that all of this was because of Live A Live. Still, it would be much more accurate to say that its viral success (relative to the time and audience) did likely snowball into the game localization industry, expanding in size to what it is today, where we receive a much more significant portion and variety of titles than we were ever able to in the ’90s. The man most associated with Aeon Genesis has even started a more “legit” contractor company where he offers localization services to rights-owners of classic games!
And the influence of this specific title has clearly been felt in the world of the throwback RPG. Undertale and Deltarune creator Toby Fox has acknowledged his love of, and inspiration from, this game multiple times, including today.
Super excited for this legendary RPG to come over to the west for the first time… I actually named MEGALOVANIA after the boss song from this game, MEGALOMANIA. https://t.co/KPfBpSjzEt
— tobyfox (@tobyfox) February 9, 2022
While I will grant you that whether Live A Live should be given a full $60 price tag is its own conversation, this is a moment that many in the niche-JRPG community have been eagerly awaiting for potentially two decades, and I’m thrilled that this quirky piece of gaming history is finally being brought to the masses.
It’s not often that I fully endorse a pre-order, but with this weird little game, I know I’m in good hands.
Live A Live is releasing for Nintendo Switch on July 22, 2022.
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