Live A Live’s remake is the perfect showcase for Square Enix’s HD-2D style

Nintendo and Square Enix’s remake of the cult 1994 role-playing game live alive is one of the most interesting reissues of recent years. This is mainly due to the source material itself. live alivewhich had never previously been released outside of Japan, is a kind of suitcase game, a playable game cloud atlas which covers a number of scenarios from prehistory to the far future, including Imperial China, the American Wild West and Edo period Japan.

It’s a fascinating curio that takes the format of 1990s Japanese RPGs to places where those games didn’t usually go – not just in terms of the varied and colorful settings, but in terms of the loose, parallelized, and unstructured structure. linear. It’s not always successful, but it’s clearly readable as a sort of quirky, experimental repeat of director Takashi Tokita’s masterpiece, the trigger of a stopwatch. This, in addition to its previous inaccessibility to most Western players, makes it a very interesting release.

live alive is also interesting because of the vehicle Square Enix chose for the remake. The game has been remade in “HD-2D”, a sort of style model in Unreal Engine that Square Enix created, alongside developer Acquire, for 2018’s stunning retro RPG octopath traveler. Square quickly saw the potential of HD-2D for new releases and reshoots; it has since been used for the new tactical RPG Triangle strategywhile a remake of the venerable 1988 classic Dragon Quest 3 is in progress.

Image: Square Enix/Nintendo

A city scene in Octopath Traveler

Image: Acquire/Square Enix

A castle scene in the HD-2D remake of Dragon Quest 3

Image: Square Enix

Characters meet by candlelight in Triangle Strategy

Image: Nintendo

Clockwise from top left: live alive, octopath traveler, Triangle strategy, Dragon Quest 3

Simply put, HD-2D places 2D pixel art sprites into 3D environments that mimic the look and feel of classic hand-drawn backgrounds while allowing for smooth camera movement and atmospheric lighting effects. advances. Placing 2D characters in 3D worlds is nothing new – the Paper Mario is a good example of how a successful aesthetic can be created from these contradictory elements. The strength of the HD-2D lies in the skill with which its components are blended together. 3D worlds are wrapped in pixelated textures for consistency with character sprites, while lighting places 2D characters believable in the scene without emphasizing their flatness. The color scheme is inspired by the rich, jewel-like tones of the 16-bit era, and an exaggerated depth of field gives the scene a dreamy, angled, diorama-like look. It’s both miniaturized and epic, nostalgic and modern.

It’s a gorgeous style that goes beyond a pure retro look to create something timeless – an extension of a classic 90s video game aesthetic into the present, deepening and enriching it. while remaining faithful to its original character. live alive is our first look at how HD-2D works when applied to an actual classic RPG, rather than a brand new release, and it shows how effective the style is at keeping an older game going true to its period idiosyncrasies, even as it tweaks itself for a new generation of hardware (and players).

This is mainly due to the treatment of the characters. live aliveThe sprites of have been redesigned in more detail for this remake, but they still move and behave the same. The exaggerated form, the huge and emotive eyes, the thrifty and decisive animation frames – they communicate as much, but also leave as much to the imagination, as the original sprites. We treat them the same.

A fiery fight scene in Live A Live

Image: Square Enix/Nintendo

Characters get sucked through a spaceship airlock in Live A Live

Image: Square Enix/Nintendo

A kung fu training session on top of a mountain in Live A Live

Image: Square Enix/Nintendo

A Wild West gun battle in Live A Live

Image: Square Enix/Nintendo

This has long been a problem specific to updating games of this era. How can you make them visually richer without filling in details that might conflict with the details of players’ memory and imagination? On a more fundamental level, how do you avoid changing the very tone and form of the original? HD-2D solves this problem elegantly. live alive looks beautiful on a modern screen, but it still moves, plays and feels like a game from 1994, with the era’s distinctive rhythms and ellipses, both in gameplay and storytelling. Like it should be.

live alive is also a perfect choice to show the HD-2D range. As the game goes through different settings, characters and playstyles, moving from ninja stealth to deep space intrigue, it’s like flipping through a catalog of lost cult classics, each steeped in its own own distinct genre (and distinctly mid-90s) influences. HD-2D art brings them to life without trampling on their simplicity or innocence. It’s hard not to play this tasting menu of a game without wishing to see other classics of the era handled with such imaginative care, reinvented and preserved at the same time. With a bit of luck Dragon Quest 3 won’t be the last HD-2D remake we’ll see.