SHARE
Trails of the Sky Second Chapter

The Legend of Heroes is a long-lasting Japanese RPG series by the developer Falcom. It has had a dedicated cult following, which has steadily grown in size over the years. Many of the Legend of Heroes games have yet to see a release outside of Japan, which is a shame. Fans of the series who are overseas fervently await news for localization of future games. For almost the past five years now, since the original English release of Trails in the Sky FC (or First Chapter) on PSP, the wait for the story’s long-delayed conclusion in Trails in the Sky SC (or Second Chapter) has been unbearable. At long last, after many localization and programming hardships, XSEED Games finally released Trails in the Sky SC in English for PSP and PC this past October 29th (both versions only available digitally).

I will be reviewing both of these games simultaneously, for a few reasons. Most importantly, these are really two parts of one greater whole, both story and gameplay-wise. SC isn’t so much a typical sequel as it is a Part 2 to FC‘s Part 1. Not to say that a lot doesn’t happen in FC, but it only just scratches the surface of what SC ends up diving into. Furthermore, while there are a small handful of changes and improvements from FC to SC, most of what I could say about one game is also going to apply to the other. Reviewing both games separately at a time when both are now (finally!) out for purchase and play in English frankly feels redundant. So, I feel it is best to look at this as one gigantic epic of an RPG. And gigantic it is, as FC alone took me 73 hours to beat, while SC took 100 hours.

Trails of the Sky Screen Shot

The translation and localization work on these games is a real labor of love. It is clear that the people working on this really enjoyed what they were doing, and wanted to share it with as many people as possible. During the time between the announcement of English releases for these games, and the actual releases of these games, XSEED‘s staff would share with the fans their progress on localizing these, via blog posts, and the hardships they dealt with both tech and translation-wise. Considering how much text is in these two games, that is no small undertaking.

If you demand immediate satisfaction from the games you play, you should look elsewhere. Trails is not all action all the time. The story dips down into several quieter moments, and takes its time to get going. If you know what you’re getting into, it is a very intricate, rewarding story with a ton of charm and thought behind it. Many of the characters you meet in the first game’s opening hours will develop quite dramatically over the course of the story, in a way that feels natural and believable. I was particularly impressed by the main character in the story, Estelle Bright. Estelle, a 16-year-old girl in training to be a Bracer (Bracers are essentially the police force of the Trails universe), is a pretty astoundingly immature person at the story’s open. I actually almost wanted to stop playing because she got on my nerves during the first couple hours. Things happen, however, and as she deals with more and more people and solves more problems that plague the citizens she has sworn to protect, she really becomes a quite likeable, surprisingly deep person. I won’t go too into detail so that those reading this review can see for themselves, but her development is very realistic, and ended up being a major part of my enjoyment of these games.

Really, almost every single character has more to them than initially meets the eye. Many of the characters do fall into some popular JRPG trope of some kind, but over time will subvert said tropes as their development progresses through the story, and end up being really interesting, remarkable people over time. Nearly every single line of dialogue is important to the story, and often will subtly set up plot points that might be important for character development, or for progressing the main plot. Certain revelations can possibly be deduced through careful attention paid to foreshadowing; others though, completely took me by surprise. I found that a big part of the fun of the story was trying to absorb all of the info the game gives you, and attempting to figure out what was going on before the game itself officially reveals it to you. This kept me immensely engaged in the story as it happened.

Perhaps another key element that keeps the story grounded is the vast amount of world building that these games do. These games will take the main characters all across the country of Liberl, which is split up into five different provinces. By the end, you will definitely remember which province is the most preoccupied with developing new technology, or which province contains the country’s largest military base, or which province suffered the worst atrocities during the war a decade before the games’ events. Almost every NPC you encounter in these areas will have new lines of dialogue after every major story event. They’ll live out their own lives, doing work, maintaining relationships, traveling, etc. Sometimes they will be directly affected by your actions; sometimes not. There is a real sense that this is a living, breathing world that you’re in, and that this world will continue to exist, whether or not you are on your journey.

Trails of the Sky Screen Shot

So, story is clearly a major focus of this game. This would not be a complete review however, without mentioning the combat as well. I have to say that it is… serviceable, and does its job well, but is not quite extraordinary. There are good ideas present, and the overall progression of difficulty is well-balanced, yet there are noticeable areas where things could clearly have been improved. For example, the Move command serves little purpose. Unless one of your characters is in the projected area of an enemy’s future attack and they can’t possibly survive it, “Move” serves as little more than passing your turn onto someone else. As “Attack” currently functions, your selected character will run forward until the point where the enemy meets their attack range, and then attack. You can’t choose which direction or square to attack an enemy from while you’re moving up to them. You can’t choose whether to attack an enemy from the edge of your attack range, or decide if you want to close in further prior to attacking without wasting a turn.

I think merging “Attack” and “Move” would greatly improve the combat for melee-focused characters, as it would give much more purpose to having battle take place on a square grid, and allow for more dynamic tactics, such as being able to more efficiently attack an enemy and thus knock them back one space, guiding them into the line of fire of a spell another character is currently preparing. I’m perhaps being overly critical right now, because the combat system does work fine as it is, but there’s so much opportunity here that just isn’t being met, as a result of the UI/design limitations.

Aside from melee attacks, each character has a unique set of special attacks, known as Crafts. These can either do damage, or increase your party’s stats, or lower the enemy’s stats, or inflict a status ailment on them. These are activated immediately when selected. Your Craft meter gets refilled as you either hit the enemy, or get hit by the enemy. It’ll naturally refill itself over the course of battle, so characters who rely more on melee combat can have their own selection of special moves to use, aside from choosing “Attack” over and over. Alongside Crafts are this game’s form of magic spells, known as Arts. The selection of Arts that each character can cast is affected by which quartz they have equipped in their own personal orbment. Unlike Crafts, Arts require some time to execute, so planning ahead is vitally important for magic users. Arts can also potentially shift around the turn order in combat, so as to get a certain character to attack with a critical hit or whatnot.

The order of each character/enemy’s turn in combat is determined mostly by factors such as each person’s speed stat, and whether or not they have any status ailments preventing them from attacking sooner. This system is similar to that seen in games such as Final Fantasy X or Wasteland 2. I do greatly appreciate the effectiveness of S-Crafts in this game. S-Crafts (basically like the Limit Breaks of Final Fantasy VII) can be done during a player’s turn, like with any other possible action. This is normal. However, you can press left or right at any time during combat (including during an enemy’s attack animation) and select the orb next to a specific character’s stats while it’s glowing. This lets you bump up said character to the front of the line, and lets them execute their assigned default S-Craft, regardless of how far behind in the planned order they currently are. This is known as an S-Break. This adds an element of real-time decision making to an otherwise fully turn-based system, which I think works well. It’s incredibly satisfying to pull out a saved-up S-Break and get one last fatal hit in on the enemy just before they would have wiped out your party, or use your reserve S-Break to heal your party in the nick of time. This serves as motivation to keep fully focused on what’s happening in combat without falling into the motions of resorting to the same tactics over and over.

GNG-trails04

Characters and most enemies are represented in-game via 2D sprites. They have a 3D-esque look to them though, somewhat like the Advanced Computer Modeling used by Rare to make Donkey Kong Country. I find it quite impressive how many unique sprites and animations exist in the game for each character, even if they’re designed for just one specific scene that might take up about a minute of the entire playthrough. The 3D polygonal backgrounds are less impressive. They can be aesthetically appealing from an artistic standpoint, but are noticeably low in polygon count.

The soundtrack is so good. FC and SC both have a ton of great themes for each area, battle, and story beat. FC‘s soundtrack is somewhat more light-hearted in tone compared to SC‘s, but both games feature a nice mix of styles. One of the climactic battle themes, “Silver Will”, is definitely a classic, but there are several quieter tracks throughout which perfectly suit the atmosphere of a given situation. I’m particularly fond of “The Hidden True Form”; it is melancholic and creepy, in just the right way. This is music that I am absolutely up for listening to outside of the game itself.

I should note that there are a few glitches that I’ve experienced. Trails FC was a pretty bug-free experience for me by the time I got around to it, several months after its Steam release, but as I started playing Trails SC right at launch, I noticed some issues that weren’t present in FC. Most of them had to do with the widescreen support that has been added into this newest version of the game. When these games originally came out on PC a decade ago, they were not designed for the widescreen monitors of today, so characters would sometimes suddenly blip into existence, just outside of view, right before they were supposed to appear in a scene in-game. They would normally not be visible, but extending the view into a fullscreen 1920×1080 resolution pulls back the curtain on these programming tricks, which can potentially ruin one’s immersion if they really care. There are also one or two cutscenes told through still images, whose borders only extend as far as they would have been seen at a non-widescreen resolution. The option does exist to play these games in windowed mode, so that’s a possible workaround for not experiencing these issues. I personally was able to overlook that, because it was helpful to be able to see more of each area as I moved through them for the majority of the game.

Less easy to overlook were a couple interface issues in the final chapter specifically, where certain specific menus failed to correctly recognize my 360 controller’s presence, and I had to input a selection by highlighting it with my mouse, which I otherwise didn’t have to use during either game. I’ve read online that this is perhaps related to playing the game in fullscreen rather than windowed mode, but I tested these issues in both fullscreen and windowed, and as of the time of this writing, that didn’t seem to have an effect.

Continuing on the topic of glitches… most notably in Chapter 6, and also the final chapter, there is a trap which consists of an electrified wall that juts out of the ground. There are several of these around, and in one particular room, if you attempt to come anywhere close to said walls, you will be stuck frozen in place, unable to move except by turning in place. If it weren’t for the fact that there are multiple frequent auto-saves by default, I would have been very pissed at losing progress thanks to this glitch. It is possible to go out of your way to not even come near said walls, so the game is still beatable, but it’s a grave issue nonetheless, so as is the case with many RPGs, making multiple saves is a good idea.

If you’ve played FC already but have yet to play SC, SC is largely more of the same, with a small handful of changes. Each character’s orbment now can hold 7 quartzes instead of 6, which means you can have even more complex arrangements of magic spells or unique combat effects for each character to use. There are also now combo attacks, which are new Crafts that let two, three, or even all four characters in a battle join together for a giant powerful attack. It’s not a game-changer, but it’s a nice addition to have. Outside of battle, there are now certain key items that must be activated manually within the menu, when you’re at a necessary point in the main story or a side quest. Nothing noteworthy there, really. Lastly, the treasure chest messages (which by the way, are another unique aspect of these games’ localizations, and are a joy to read to see the developers having fun) are much more repetitive in SC. There’s one specific message for most empty chests, while chests that were trapped with monster encounters have another specific message. The only chests in SC that contain a unique message every time are the chests that give you various amounts of sepith, so be sure to re-examine all of those chests for a laugh.

GNG-trails05

These games aren’t necessarily super-revolutionary entries in the genre. They do follow a lot of standard JRPG tropes, though the various ways that they play with and subvert said tropes can be quite entertaining. The impeccable localization by XSEED plays a major part in making the story and characters so enjoyable. For what it’s worth, as someone who grew up liking JRPGs, then got kind of tired of them over the past few years… Trails in the Sky FC and SC collectively, have made me a fan of the genre again. I honestly think these are some of my favorite JRPGs I’ve ever played, next to Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door and Final Fantasy VI. They weave together a tale of adventure, mystery, political intrigue, romance, drama, comedy, and action, into a really enjoyable package that’s bursting at the seams with charm. The glitches in the PC version of SC can be a pain (I can’t speak for how polished the PSP version is), but I was able to enjoy myself nonetheless, and to their credit, XSEED has been working to patch SC to make it as glitch-free as possible. If you have any interest in the genre, please don’t pass this up. I know I’m gonna be hoping now for the later games in this series to receive English localizations as well.

1 COMMENT

  1. Yet another well written article! I had always been curious about this series, and reading this has definitely answered my curiosity. I’ll have to look into the series sometime 😀

start a fight