The Nintendo Switch is a blessing for fans of Japanese role-playing games. The mighty JRPG genre has dominated the Switch eShop, and provided some of the best titles of the generation. This year, two juggernaut JRPGs make their way to Switch: Live A Live and Xenoblade Chronicles 3. Traditionally, any kind of RPG requires quite a commitment of time to play, but luckily we’re on a quest to find which one is best for you! Breaking down each aspect of the games from their art style and game length to the music and narrative tone, we’ll shed light on what each game can offer. By the end of this post, you’ll be able to decide which of these games is for you – or maybe both. The aim of this post isn’t to say either is objectively better than the other – it’s to give you the information you need to decide for yourself. A decision will still be made at the end of the article to decide which of these the author personally believes is better.
Let’s start by contextualizing the two challengers we’ve got entering the GameLuster ring today. First up is Live A Live, a retro classic. This 2D JRPG developed by Square in 1994 (before it got married to Enix) was lost to time after never receiving an English release. It has a cult following amongst emulation users, with fans creating translation hacks to make the game accessible to Western audiences. Finally, in 2022, Square Enix remade Live A Live for Switch with a global release. The game takes the player on a chapter-based journey through time and space, complemented by an underlying mystery holding it all together. With the stunning HD-2D art style and some new quality of life touches, it has never been a better time to play Live A Live.
Our other offering today is Xenoblade Chronicles 3 by Monolith Soft. It is the fourth game in the critically acclaimed Xenoblade Chronicles series and also part of the larger Xeno franchise. The series is made up of 3D open-world JRPG games, with heavy emphasis on quests and story. Instead of being direct sequels with the same characters, the Xenoblade series main numbered entries take place after one another with a large gap of time between them each. The series has a highly active fanbase, and has been a commercial and critical success. Xenoblade Chronicles 3 expands on the previous games through an enhanced party system, controllable party members, changing of character classes and more. A suitable start for newcomers, Xenoblade Chronicles 3 makes for a great entry point to the world of Xeno. Now that we know our options, let’s dive into the differences.
The first obvious difference in the graphical department between these games is the fact that Xenoblade Chronicles 3 is a 3D game, whereas Live A Live is HD-2D. The distinction between 2D and HD-2D is an important one; HD-2D controls like a 2D game but contains 3D elements, whereas a 2D game is completely flat in both controls and graphics, like the original Live A Live. Of course, it was not possible to have a HD-2D art style on the consoles of the past, but the current gaming trend of remakes and remasters combine the technology of today with the pixel art of the past. This art style might not be for everyone, but we definitely find it to be a striking one.
Xenoblade Chronicles 3 is a flashy 3D title using an anime-inspired, cartoony aesthetic for the graphics. The environment and the characters are vibrant and complex. Xenoblade is one of the better looking franchises on Switch, and this third game carries on that legacy. Whilst the quality can be a little blurry at points, the game is highly impressive considering the system that it is running on.
Both Xenoblade Chronicles 3 and Live A Live perform well on Switch. They share a 30fps cap as is expected on the Switch, and both have a significant amount of polish to make the most of the hardware capabilities available to them. If graphics is an important factor for you in deciding between these games, this category may be a tough call to make. Given their similar performance and polished graphics, your decision of which is best for you all comes down to art style. Do you prefer a 3D anime-inspired art style or the HD-2D fusion of retro and modern?
Both Xenoblade Chronicles 3 and Live A Live are JRPG games at heart. You’ll have plenty of combat, dialogue and a central narrative pushing along the story as you progress. Though, the way that the player does these things will be very different. In Live A Live, combat utilizes a unique turn-based grid battling system. Your actions will cover certain tiles, so battles are just as much about being strategic with your character placements as they are about attacking and targeting enemies’ elemental weaknesses. This battle system can take some initial getting used to, but once you’re familiar it gets significantly easier. Overall, the game has an average difficulty level. Some battles are challenging, some are simpler, and with significant understanding of enemy movesets you will be victorious.
Alternatively, Xenoblade Chronicles 3 features real-time battles that take place seamlessly in the open world. Enemies will chase after you on sight and it is up to you to battle them. Your characters auto-attack to deal basic damage, or you can mash certain buttons to pull off stronger attacks and use abilities. This requires less strategic thinking than Live A Live, but may make for a more engaging battle experience for some. The UI of battles may be somewhat overwhelming for newcomers to Xenoblade Chronicles 3, and looks extremely crowded when compared to the relatively simple Live A Live battle UI.
The moment-to-moment experience in Live A Live will be alternating between these turn-based battles and continuing the main narrative in relatively linear areas. Whilst the order you play the chapters is left to the player to decide, inside those levels there is not a large amount of exploration to do. This stands in stark contrast to Xenoblade Chronicles 3, where the open areas are ripe for exploration and adventure. The game also features side quests, which allows the player to wander from the main story for long periods of time to power up, get new items, and experience other stories beyond the main narrative. As such, Xenoblade Chronicles 3 may be more varied in its moment-to-moment gameplay than Live A Live, which is more focused on narrative.
In terms of replayability, both games give the player good value for money. Live A Live may be shorter and more linear, but the dramatic final chapter has a variety of possible endings, as well as new lines of dialogue depending on your party lineup. Similarly, Xenoblade Chronicles 3 has high replayability due to its sheer size. It can take over 100 hours to do all there is to do in the game, so it’s safe to assume that after one playthrough of the game there’s probably things the player didn’t see. Xenoblade Chronicles 2 also added a New Game Plus mode after launch, so the same could happen to this latest instalment.
The narrative of Live A Live is multi-genre by nature. The chapters take place in a wide variety of settings with appropriate respective genres, including a western story in the Wild West, a ninja story in Edo Japan, and a sci-fi horror story onboard a spaceship. These stories then come to an end in the final chapter, which becomes a medieval fantasy tale akin to Final Fantasy. Taking care not to spoil the story, it does have multiple endings. The narrative experience in Live A Live takes the player on a journey through both time and space. The tone changes between each chapter too, constantly providing a fresh experience and new cast of characters as the game progresses. With a total of ten potential chapters to play through, the length of the story will be roughly 20-25 hours. This short playtime would be perfect for any gamers who have limited free time to play games, or who want a grand story without the 60+ hour commitment.
In Xenoblade Chronicles 3, the genre is much easier to pinpoint. The game is a fantasy story with sci-fi twists. Set on the world of Aionios, an intense war is going on between two factions; one specialized in mechanics, the other in the magical ether. The protagonists come from both sides of this factional war, and seek to bring order to the world on an epic quest for answers. Tonally, the Xenoblade series has surprised players a few times. The first game was more intense and thrilling, whilst the second became more lighthearted and humorous, despite still having a serious central plot. The third title seems to lean more towards being relatively serious based on first impressions of the game – which is hardly surprising from a world being ravaged by war. For a longer and more intense plot, you might want to consider Xenoblade Chronicles 3.
As expected from most JRPGs, both games have wonderful soundtracks. The original Live A Live is composed by the legendary Yoko Shimomura, and she returns to rearrange some of the tracks in this release too. Others have been rearranged by other music staff at Square Enix, but they were all done under the supervision of Shimomura. The tunes in Live A Live are frequently energetic and catchy, none demonstrating this fact more than Megalomania. This intense battle theme went on to inspire the iconic Megalovania from Toby Fox’s Undertale. The soundtrack to Live A Live elevates the scenes and battles it features in, and can be enjoyed by anyone with its variety of musical styles to mirror the many time periods. Sadly we can’t share any clips of the music here due to Square Enix’s music copyright ninjas. Trust us, it’s good.
The music of Xenoblade Chronicles 3 is focused on orchestral-style majesty in its tracks, made to add a cinematic gravitas to cutscenes. Early previews of tracks such as ‘The Weight of Life’ and ‘A Step Away’ highlight the focus of the game’s multitude of composers on emotional weight. The latter track even features vocals, which may be controversial for some who dislike songs with vocals and lyrics in their games. It isn’t all sadness and violins though, as demonstrated in the early release of the song ‘A Formidable Enemy’. Guitars complement the melody throughout to give an extra pump of action into a song of conflict. The soundtrack for Xenoblade Chronicles 3 feels more cohesive than that of Live A Live, but also offers less variety of musical styles.
Both games feature voice acting to a good standard of quality, although this is a new addition for Live A Live which used to be purely text focused. In Xenoblade Chronicles 3, extremely British accents appear everywhere, as is seemingly a staple of the franchise at this point.
Making a decision between which of these games may be better for you can be tough. They both offer a very different experience from each other. In my opinion, the game I would choose out of these two – would I be able to pick only one – is Live A Live. Whilst Xenoblade Chronicles 3 is a mammoth title which delivers across the board, the unique charm of Live A Live is one that can’t be found elsewhere. The journey between genres, settings and time periods is an exciting one, and the conclusion that wraps them all up will remain one of the most memorable moments in gaming for me. That being said, if you are a person who prefers a meatier JRPG experience with more to do and with a more modern presentation, Xenoblade Chronicles 3 is the way to go.
Which of these games will you be playing on your Nintendo Switch this year? Maybe you like the look of them both, or perhaps you think there’s a better alternative to these choices. No matter your thoughts, let us know in the comments section below. For more comprehensive game comparisons to make your gaming life easier, keep your eyes here on GameLuster!