Legend of Heroes Trails in the Sky (Available exclusively on the PlayStation Portable)
ESRB Rating: T
Number of players: 1
Developer: Nihon Falcom Corp
Release Date: March 29th, 2011
Parent Talk: Trails in the Sky is a Japanese role-playing game with colorful characters and a thoughtful story. There are abundant alcohol references and some mildly suggestive content, but this is a game that is suitable for almost any player. Younger players may not like all of the reading that is necessary though. You do not need to play other games in the Legend of Heroes series to understand or enjoy this game.
Plays Like: Trails in the Sky is a mixture of classic roleplaying games like Final Fantasy and strategy games like Growlanser. In combat, players must move characters around a battle field screen and plan out attacks in turn-based order. Outside of battle, players talk to characters and take on quests.
Review Basis: Completed the main adventure and all quests. Played for roughly 50 hours.
The Great: A wonderful adventure. A decent role playing game may engross you in an adventure, keeping you occupied for hours just because the gameplay is fun or you feel compelled to “beat” the game. A great role playing game compels you to finish because you want to finish the adventure, because it actually pulls you into the experience, making you feel attached to the characters and the world. Trails in the Sky is the latter. Many people today criticize modern Japanese role playing games of losing touch with gamers, especially compared to the masterpiece JPRGs from previous console generations. While I don’t fully agree with that claim, Trails in the Sky does bring to mind the great old adventures from the SNES and PlayStation 1 era.
The story is about personal growth and family, which makes it personal and relatable. Estelle Bright is the daughter of legendary Guild Bracer Cassius Bright, a man who has made a legacy out of helping people across the land. Bracers are sort of like mercenaries, people who are paid for their services. However, they take the creed to help those in need whenever they are able, prioritizing helping over reward. When she was young, Cassius brought home a boy named Joshua, who soon became a part of the family. Now, Estelle and Joshua are traveling across the country, visiting different Bracer Guilds to gain enrichment, learning about the people and the customs of the land and to grow as Bracers. It’s an adventure worth playing because the characters are rich and they grow over the course of the game.
+ A long game. The game’s packaging advertises that it takes about 50 hours to complete, which is no exaggeration. This is a lengthy game! Seeing all of the different lands, taking on all of the different quests, and tackling all of the challenges takes quite a bit of time. Of course, reading through lines and lines of text also takes a while, so don’t expect that you will be enjoying 50 hours of straight play. Old-school enthusiasts should feel right at home though. If you’re looking for a portable game you can commit to, this is an excellent choice.
+ Wonderful characters. Most of the game is dedicated to exploring and developing Estelle and Joshua Bright, a brother-and-sister pair who are traveling across the country to become Bracers like their father. They meet a variety of interesting teammates, each of which brings unique personalities and perspectives. The journey is really about Estelle’s feelings, her family, her relationship with her adopted brother Joshua, and how she grows. Seeing characters develop so well makes the game more fun to play. Even the other characters, like the seemingly cold-blooded Agate and the eccentric young inventor Tita, make their mark without wasting much time. Every character is important.
+ Colorful artwork. Character portraits really help bring the game to life. The animated cutscene in the beginning of the game and the character portraits featured in battles/menus help give the adventure more personality. The character design is definitely one of the game’s strong suits.
+ A deep but not overly complex battle system. Trails in the Sky adopts an easy-to-learn turn-based combat system with some twists. Characters take turns attacking and moving, with the turn order displayed on the battle screen. During that character’s turn, he or she can move across the field, attack, use an item, use magic, or use a special attack. You can move and attack in the same phase if an enemy is in rage, but you cannot move and use an item or special ability. Certain spells and abilities can be used to stop enemies from moving around the board or using attacks.
The game gradually increases the difficulty, giving you plenty of time to figure out all of the nuances to battle. As you progress in the adventure, you learn new magic skills (depending on what gems you equip onto your character) and new abilities. Characters can even equip super moves, which can be performed at any time once they fill the “CP Meter.” By mastering super moves, magic, and arts, you can handle a variety of enemies in a number of ways. The game isn’t held back by complicated information systems, making it easy to jump into.
+ Character customization and management. Besides giving characters the standard weapons, armors, helmets, shoes, and accessories, players can also outfit characters with orbments. Orbments are basically magic gems, like Final Fantasy VII’s materia system, that gives characters magic spells and statistic boosting effects. Depending on where the orbs are placed and what orbs are paired with them, characters can gain access to new spells or different power boosts.
+ An abundance of quests. In each area of the country, there are different Bracer Guilds. By checking the bulletin boards at the guilds, you can read about and accept a number of odd jobs. They offer extra incentive to explore the towns more thoroughly before moving on to the next part of the story.
+ Great writing and dialog. Some gamers hate reading lines and lines of text, but you shouldn’t dismiss Trails in the Sky. The plot is well done and the characters show a wide range of emotion. Characters can be genuinely endearing or funny, which makes reading through the dialog all the more fun.
+/- The music is good, but not much else can really be said about it. I didn’t find many of the tracks memorable.
+/- The graphics are decent, but lack the punch and vibrancy of other PSP role playing games. The art style is wonderful though.
+/- The orbments system is robust, but it’s difficult to figure out the pattern for how magic and stat boosts work. I played around with equipping different orbs on characters (in varying order) and never found a concrete pattern, but perhaps I just didn’t understand it properly.
-This may contain some spoilers for the game’s story, but it should be known that the game ends rather abruptly with a serious cliffhanger. Trails in the Sky is intended as the first chapter of a trilogy. There is no word on whether or not the sequels will be localized and released in English though. Supposedly, XSEED is working on the Second Chapter though.
-The pacing is kind of slow. Some parts of the game tend to drag on, but the end result is worth it.
Trails in the Sky is a great throwback to classic role playing games, with excellent characters, witty writing, and a fun combat system. Gamers who dislike lots of reading or a slower, turn-based combat system may be turned off by this adventure, but if you want a seriously long, committed adventure, then Trails in the Sky is a wonderful choice. Just as long as you don’t mind waiting for future installments.
Final Score: 8.5/10