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The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky Review

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Platform: Windows PC
Developer: Nihon Falcom
Publisher: XSEED
Release Date: 6/30/14

 

The Legend of Heroes series, a spin-off of Falcom’s massive Dragon Slayer brand, hasn’t had an easy time in the West. Though the first installment appeared on the Turbo-CD largely unscathed, the second game was never been localized, and III-V were released bastardized and out of sequence. In 2011, the first part of Legend of Heroes VI: Trails in the Sky was finally released on the PSP with an excellent translation from Falcom regulars XSEED. Despite Trails’ rave reviews and cliffhanger ending, it took over two years for the second installment of the sub-series, Trails in the Sky SC (Second Chapter) to be formally announced for a US release. Alongside that announcement, the original PC version of Trails in the Sky has been translated and updated with support for HD resolutions, improved fonts and most of the new PSP features backported. The result is the best version of an excellent RPG, and the same addictive combat and unforgettable characters that PSP owners raved about three years ago.

Trails in the Sky follows Estelle and Joshua Bright, junior members of the Liberl Kingdom’s Bracer Guild (an organization somewhere between a national police force and a mercenary company). Estelle and Joshua travel across the country, first in order to resolve a specific crisis, but later simply to train and to see the world. Each major town (six in total) has its own chapter and conflict, much like a Dragon Quest game, but while Dragon Quest delights in lightly jumping between subplots, Trails‘ towns are painted in vivid detail: every NPC has a name and personality, while the sidequests are as detailed as the main story and often unlock quests in later chapters, allowing for minor plot threads to develop throughout the game. Fans of Falcom’s other major series, Ys, will be familiar with the detail that goes into the company’s towns and NPC dialogue, but while the convincing world building is merely some nicely textured window dressing in Ys, it’s central to Trails’ appeal. I had a lot of fun on my second playthrough simply walking around and talking to everyone, uncovering the little subplots and seeing them develop.

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Because Joshua and Estelle are, despite the pirates, ancient ruins and government conspiracies, virtually on vacation, Trails moves at a much slower clip than most RPGs. The focus on character development and world building over dungeon crawling pays off and anyone who plays RPGs to immerse themselves in a great story should feel at home, but some players will likely find the pace off-putting. There is a lot of text in Trails’ main story, and even some sidequests are quite text heavy, but there are still plenty of optional bosses and some satisfying dungeons, and when things do get hairy, Trails’ excellent combat system comes into play.

Much like Lunar or Chrono Trigger, character position is key with attacks frequently having an area of effect. In addition to normal attacks, spells and movement, characters can use their Craft Points, which fill up when damage is taken or dealt (think limit breaks) to use character-specific moves, or can sacrifice a bar of CP to interrupt another character or enemy’s turn and unleash a special attack. Moving on certain turns give bonuses, such as a quick boost in health or a temporary stat change, so manipulating turn order by interrupting turns or by temporarily disabling enemies is key.

Though characters receive new Crafts as they level up, spells are all determined by what Quartz they have equipped, think Final Fantasy VII‘s materia, or Lunar 2: Eternal Blue‘s Crests. Quartz can be synthesized at certain shops in exchange for sepith (which is dropped by enemies) and then placed in each character’s Orbment, a device that draws elemental power from the Quartz to unlock spells. Every character’s Orbment has different limitations, meaning that characters end up specializing in different kinds of spells, yet characters’ spells always remain flexible. Certain quartz also give additional abilities, like the ability to cancel enemy spells. Enemies can be seen clearly on the map and can be avoided a vast majority of the time, so I ended up targeting enemies that drop specific sepith, and avoiding most others. Enemy’s experience scales heavily to the party’s current levels, which discourages grinding (and rewards venturing into the game’s many optional dungeons), and I loved being able to focus exclusively on working towards new Orbment builds, and the flexibility I had in setting in my Quartz.

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As much I love Trails, it is still held back by a few annoyances, like an abundance of time-limited sidequests, though most of them include a ballpark estimate as to when they’ll expire. In addition, the US PC launch was plagued by crashes and unsupported features, and while those have been mostly fixed at the time of writing, trying to read the bestiary still triggers an apology-by-system-message explaining that it will be added in a later patch. Adding new features to the original version of Trails has reportedly been a nightmare for XSEED, and while the version we have is easily the best version of the game in the West, it still isn’t perfect. XSEED promises that the feature will be patched in soon, along with some assets from the PS3 HD remaster, Kai HD. These additions aren’t vital, and the version currently on Steam and GOG is already a huge improvement on the original Japanese PC release, but it is worth noting that minor parts of the re-release are still unfinished.

Trails in the Sky is a wonderful RPG on its own, but the most exciting thing about it is the sheer scale of the world it created. Trails in the Sky is only the first part of the Kiseki trilogy, and this release is only the first part of Trails in the Sky. The next installment, Trails in the Sky SC, is due for a US release on both the PSP and PC this Winter and will finish the first arc, though four more games in the series have been released in Japan, with another on the way. The Kiseki trilogy is a massive project, and its scale only begins to show in the first Trails in the Sky. Trails in the Sky’s greatest strength is its control over this scale, and how it weaves the smaller stories of its characters into a grand struggle. The payoff is incredible, with a sudden and exciting change in scale and a shocking ending that redefines much of our understanding of the story, but still arises naturally from the setting and characters. Second Chapter can’t come out soon enough.


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