It took nearly 30 years, but Live A Live finally saw a western release last week. The Square JRPG is unusual amongst its contemporaries for its episodic structure, but it’s far from the only odd duck in the SNES’s large library. If you’re enjoying the game and want to try out something else that’s similarly off the beaten path, here are some SNES JRPGs with English translation patches available that might scratch the same itch. Oh, and if you’re interested in learning more about JRPGs, I have to recommend the excellent A Guide to Japanese Role-Playing Games from Hardcore Gaming 101 and Bitmap Books.
1. Treasure of the Rudras
Rather than the usual Christian themes that many JRPGs of the 90s leaned on, Treasure of the Rudras — as its name might suggest — borrows from Indian religion. In addition to that unique theming, the game also features an unusual magic system whereby you create your own spells called “mantras” by combining different syllables. Like Live A Live, Treasure of the Rudras features an open-ended structure where you can choose to play any of several story segments in any order, followed by a final section, which can be affected by your choices in the earlier parts.
2. Chaos Seed — Games Like Live A Live
Unlike many of the games on this list, Chaos Seed was not developed by Squaresoft or Enix, but rather Neverland, the creators of the Lufia and Rune Factory series. And wow, is Chaos Seed unusual. It leans on the concept of feng shui, tasking you with fixing the planet’s energy by building out a series of caves with harmonious flow and then, of course, fighting monsters in them. Chaos Seed takes a while to understand, but it’s a seriously ambitious and singular RPG that deserves a wider audience — much like Live A Live.
3. Dark Half
Unusual for its time, Dark Half has you playing as not just your usual JRPG hero, but also as the villain. The game alternates back and forth between the two characters, Falco and Rukyu, and each has a distinct style of play, like the various different segments of Live A Live. Falco has a more typical JRPG structure, involving recruiting party members, visiting towns, and so on. Rukyu, on the other hand, doesn’t use items or equipment, instead leading monsters into battle from whom he can also learn spells. It isn’t the most visually arresting game on this list, especially considering that it was released in 1996, but there’s a lot here to recommend here, including the game’s excellent score by Takeshi Sato and Takashi Tsumaki. The fan translation also isn’t 100% complete, but it’s definitely enough to get you through the narrative.
4. Bahamut Lagoon
Not to be confused with Lagoon, Bahamut Lagoon is a tactics RPG by Squaresoft that predates the much more well-known Final Fantasy Tactics. The story deals with floating continents called “lagoons,” and the game features a kind of proto-Pokemon system where various dragon monsters can be evolved in different ways by feeding them items. Considered one of Squaresoft’s best mid-90s title, Bahamut Lagoon was also one of their last releases on the Super Famicom.
5. Star Ocean — Games Like Live A Live
While Star Ocean begins as a typical fantasy RPG, it soon reveals itself to be much more, as the medieval elements give way to starfaring sci-fi, much like Live A Live‘s Far Future segment. But that isn’t the only way in which it stands out. Star Ocean has a neat little “Private Action” mechanic where you can have your party split up to gather information and just generally hang out upon arriving in a new location, which can in turn grant bonuses in battle like in the Fire Emblem series. Unusually for a Super Famicom/Super Nintendo game, Star Ocean also features voice acting — extensively during its opening sequence, and as little clips during battles throughout the game.
6. Treasure Hunter G
Another tactics RPG, Treasure Hunter G was developed by Sting and published by Squaresoft. As these things go, it’s a fairly simple affair, with a relatively breezy narrative to match. The game has a distinctive, almost plasticine look to it, and it’s a good — if sometimes dated — introduction to tactics RPGs.
7. Energy Breaker
On first glance, Energy Breaker appears to be your typical isometric tactics RPG. But it is much, much stranger than that. Moving and attacking relies on “balance points,” which are also drained when you take damage. There’s some light social elements here too, with the ability to pick a mood when you speak to NPCs. This one’s also by Neverland, and is a little more approachable than Chaos Seed, easily standing alongside the Squaresoft and Enix classics of the mid-90s.
8. Dual Orb 2 — Games Like Live A Live
Yes, there’s a Dual Orb, but no, you don’t have to play it to get into Dual Orb 2. In ways, this is a pretty standard JRPG, but there’s some neat features here, like being able to level up weapons separately. The battle visuals here are great too, with large sprites reminiscent of Breath of Fire II.
9. Gunple: Gunman’s Proof
If you like the Old West segment of Live A Live and wish there were more RPGs that used that setting, then Gunman’s Proof is for you. It’s more of an action RPG than a traditional turn-based game, and between that and its visual style, it plays like a more action-oriented Link to the Past, with some Earthbound-style humor thrown in for good measure.
10. Brandish 2: The Planet Buster
The Brandish series is an odd one. The games are presented from a top-down perspective, but the control pad rotates the entire dungeon, rather than your character. Essentially, they’re old-school first-person dungeon crawler games that… aren’t first-person, for some reason. The first title is tough to play for this reason, but the second entry has some improvements like an on-screen map that make things a little easier. For all their flaws, though, the Brandish games — and the second one, especially — are interesting, unconventional RPGs with some colorful characters that really make them stand out.