There’s something to be said for the Final Fantasy series’ tendency to disconnect each main series entry from the previous installment. It allows the developers to create and explore entire new worlds with each game. Direct sequels have happened, sure, but generally speaking they don’t have the same kind of impact as a new main series game; hell, some of them have been flat out questionable, like Dirge of Cerberus.
Not every RPG series takes this tack, though, and some go the more direct route of creating sequels that tie straight into the preceding game. This can be rough on new players, but it also rewards vets who’ve stuck with the series from the start. Case in point: The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky The 3rd.
In The 3rd we follow Father Kevin Graham, who you probably remember from SC…and if you don’t, maybe go play that first, or at least check out a Let’s Play. He’s a priest out searching for some of the world’s most powerful artifacts. Naturally, many of these artifacts are in the hands of people who shouldn’t have them; it’s a good thing that Kevin’s loaded for bear with a crossbow and some decidedly unholy-looking powers to take back what rightfully belongs to the Goddess. This is only part of the story, though, as the larger chunk of The 3rd takes place in a sort of game-spanning dungeon called the Phantasma.
The Phantasma is basically what would happen if you took all of a game’s nostalgia-building DLC and fanfiction and made a game out of it. It’s kind of marvelous, actually. As you open doors and explore, you’ll relive scenes and battles from throughout the previous two games, revisit with beloved characters and even play a minigame or two. This does have an impact on the globetrotting adventure feel that was associated with exploring the land of Liberal in the previous two titles, but being able to go back and see friends and foes you remember from your many hours in the previous games more than makes up for this.
Naturally, Trails’ iconic combat system returns. If you aren’t familiar with it, well, you probably shouldn’t be starting with The 3rd since this one’s strictly for the fans; it’s basically a new take on the Lunar series’ quasi-SRPG system. One nice touch is that The 3rd hands you some very high-level, powerful characters right from the start. Rather than Metroiding you back to level 1, however, you keep your badasses and the game is balanced around using them. Father Kevin, for instance, starts at level 90 with many thousands of HP along with Arts and Crafts to match; he might have been around that point when you wrapped up SC. This also means that some of your less favorite fights are going to get even more difficult when you relive them with higher-level characters, so be ready for that.
I’d go into the presentation, but it’s pretty much the same as what you’d expect from previous games in the Trails in the Sky series. Prerendered characters, 3D backgrounds, think PS1 RPGs, runs nicely on PC, yadda yadda. Instead, I’ll use this space to note that these are games that connect directly to one another so you’d do well to play them in order. The 3rd, in particular, is all about that fanservice (no, not like that) and much of what’s great about it is going to be lost on new players. Start from the beginning and work from there. Pretend you’re playing Mass Effect.
Unlike Mass Effect, the conclusion to The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky The 3rd is actually pretty enjoyable and won’t leave you with a bad taste in your mouth. I hate to use this turn of phrase, but this game really does comes off as a real love letter to players who’ve been through the last two games. In particular, if you’re one of those folks who played the original Trails in the Sky back when it was just a lil ol’ PSP game with no chance of ever seeing its sequels localized, well…here you go. Enjoy. You’ve certainly waited long enough!