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Posted on Aug 30th 2017 at 08:00:00 AM by (Disposed Hero)
Posted under Review, RPG, PSP, PC, Steam, Adventure, Story


I have been hearing for years that The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky is one of the finest JRPGs to be released in recent years.  As a huge RPG fan, this high praise obviously piqued my interest, and despite never giving the Sony PSP the attention it deserved, it put Trails in the Sky on my radar as a game I should play.  With the recent release of Trails in the Sky the 3rd in North America bringing the series to my attention once again, I have finally played the initial entry of this prestigious series!





The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky was originally released in Japan in 2004 for PC then later ported to the PSP in 2006.  Published by Xseed Games, the North American version was not released until 2011 due to the extremely long time it took to translate and localize the game.  The game was given HD remasters for both the PS3 and the Vita, but these releases never left Japan.  Trails was later ported to PC worldwide in 2014.  Trails in the Sky is the first game in a larger overall plot with its sequel, Trails in the Sky: Second Chapter picking up where the original leaves off.  Developed by Nihon Falcom, the Trails in the Sky sub-series is actually the sixth entry in the larger Legend of Heroes series, itself a spinoff of the Dragon Slayer series which got its start back in the mid '80s.

The game's story begins with main protagonist Estelle Bright waiting for her father Cassius Bright to return home.  When he does return, he brings with him a young boy named Joshua whom he adopts and raises as his own.  Fast-forward several years later, Estelle and Joshua are now 16-years old and are following in their father's footsteps in becoming Bracers, highly capable members of a guild that specialize in carrying out tasks relating to combat and investigation.  Shortly into Estelle and Joshua's tenure as Junior Bracers, they discover that the airship their father was traveling on has disappeared, so they set out exploring their homeland of Liberl to solve the mystery of the airship's disappearance while furthering their experience and rank as bracers.

The story is really nothing spectacular and is pretty standard fare for the genre, but it is serviceable and not a detriment to the game.  As previously mentioned, the first two Trails games come together to form one long adventure, and it really shows with how slowly the story can move along at times.  Being the first half of one larger story, the story of the first game is more of a slow burn with events becoming more interesting and substantial later on, and I'm curious to see where the story goes with the sequel.  Fortunately, Trails features a colorful cast of characters that helps keep the game interesting, and the game's lighthearted and humorous dialog helps keep story segments amusing. 


Even the treasure chests have colorful personalities!

Story quests in the game are usually initiated by talking with the person in charge at the Bracer Guild, unless a story event immediately prompts a new quest on its own.  Side quests can also be obtained from the job board in the Bracer Guild and typically include tasks such as monster extermination, escort missions, and other more trivial tasks.  There are also hidden quests that can be initiated by talking to the right person at the right time.  The rewards for completing quests are money and sometimes items, and also BP (Bracer Points).  BP is a point system that the Bracer Guild uses to determine your rank as a bracer, although I found this to have little impact on the game.

Exploration is fairly direct in this game, with no overworld map to speak of.  Instead, you must travel the roads on foot to reach your next destination.  The game keeps you confined to one region of Liberl for each chapter, but there are several points of interest in each region as well as the wilderness in between.  There is not much in the way of hidden or optional areas to explore, but exploring areas thoroughly will often reward players with treasure chests that can contain anything from common restorative items to powerful equipment.  Fortunately, traveling is kept from being overly tedious thanks to enemies being visible on the map and needing to be approached directly to initiate combat (no random encounters).  Enemies can be approached from behind to initiate an ambush and give you the upper hand, but if an enemy approaches your party from behind, the enemy will have the upper hand.


Forest environments are pretty common in this game.

Speaking of which, combat in Trails in the Sky plays out in a turn-based fashion, albeit with a few twists on the familiar formula.  Turn order for party members and enemies is indicated by a timeline known as the AT Bar with portraits that represent each participant in the battle, and turn order can be manipulated depending on what attacks and abilities are used.  There are also AT Bonuses on the AT Bar that grant perks such as higher damage or partial healing among other things to whomever has a turn in the corresponding spot on the timeline.  This is a unique and interesting concept that places further strategy on manipulating the timeline.

Other than standard physical attacks, two other types of attacks can be used: arts and crafts.  Arts are the equivalent to magic in this game and consume an MP-esque resource called EP and take a couple of turns to cast.  Crafts are character specific abilities that consume a resource called CP, which works differently from EP and is charged up any time a character deals or receives damage.  Once a character's CP gauge reaches 100 or higher, that character can use an ability called an S-break, a more powerful craft that can be used any time regardless of turn order but fully depletes that character's CP to zero.

As mentioned previously, Trails eschews the traditional magic system in favor of arts, but what really sets this system apart from other games is the Orbment system.  Orbments are mechanical devices powered by orbal energy that can be equipped to your characters.  Different orbments grant characters access to different arts, but they can also grant stat bonuses to your characters as well.  For example, an HP orbment will raise a character's HP by a specific amount, while an Attack orbment will raise their strength by a specific amount.  Equipping other orbments such as Poison and Petrify will give that character a chance to inflict the corresponding status ailment when attacking an enemy.  Orbments allow a great deal of flexibility to how you can customize your characters.


Fight!

Graphically, Trails in the Sky is reminiscent of JRPGs from the 32-bit era.  While certainly dated by today's standards, this art style harkens back to such PlayStation classics as Grandia and Star Ocean: The Second Story.  However, while those games featured bright and vibrant art styles that really pop off the screen, the art style of Trails is comparatively more muted.  I think I would have preferred a more vibrant style, but I can also appreciate the more rustic feel the game was going for with its world.  Overall, Trails is a good looking game for what it is, but it likely could have looked better.

In the audio department, Trails is fairly mediocre overall.  The music in the game isn't bad by any means, but most of the tracks are just decent with only a few standing out to me as being particularly good.  Sound effects are mostly as one would expect and don't stand out as being particularly good or bad.  There is also no voice acting to speak of save for some character exclamations during battles.

While I don't think Trails in the Sky quite lives up to the hype I had heard of it being one of the best JRPGs ever made, I still think it is a great game that fans of the genre should play.  I'm not sure if it was intended as such, but it feels like a love letter to JRPGs of the 32-bit era but with enough new twists on the familiar formula to have its own identity.  Despite already spending over 50 hours with the game, I definitely want to continue the story and will likely start playing the sequel soon.  For those who want to experience this game for themselves, The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky can be found on PSP in both physical and digital formats, as well as on PC via the usual digital distribution platforms.



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Comments
 
Great article, Disposed.  I've had this one on my backburner for a while now, mainly hoping it would rekindle my once great, now nearly dead love for JRPGs.  I'm a little bummed to hear the story isn't what it could be, but I still have some hope.  I dig the art design in this game, although I think it would have benefited it to have brighter colors and less muddiness.  But, whatever.  I mainly play CRPG games anyway, so I'm used to it.  Speaking of "C", I love that this is available on Windows platforms (get it on GoG for DRM-free!).  Here's to hoping that trend doesn't end soon!
 
I picked this up recently, I'll have to check it out.
 
I've been meaning to play this for quite some time now. Like you, I've heard stellar things about it for a long time. It's nice to see a more down-to-Earth take on it, so thank you the review. When I get to it, I'll know to keep my expectations in check.

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