I admit it: I’m a JRPG addict. I’ve seen the arguments against the genre: how it’s grown stagnant with age, how it’s a cliche-ridden mess, how the combat is tacked-on and boring more often than not. I can’t even deny that most of these arguments are true! When my brain is drenched with serotonin from watching those damage numbers flying everywhere, though, it’s not concerned with well-made arguments, it’s concerned with getting to that next experience level in the hopes of learning a new spell. Basically I need an intervention.
So, naturally, when The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky came out on Steam I was first on board the hype train, having been familiar with the game on other platforms. Trails in the Sky is a fantastic example of everything a JRPG can do well. The story is fascinating, the characters are interesting and well-written, the translation isn’t a horrific disaster and the combat is enjoyable enough that you won’t dread traipsing through dungeons. It’s a solid port of a solid game everyone with even a slight interest in JRPGs ought to give a chance. And yes, the game’s name is abbreviated as “TitS.” Let’s at least pretend to be grown-ups here.
Trails in the Sky follows the story of Estelle and Joshua Bright, adopted siblings who work as Bracers – basically the typical odd-job mercenaries that show up in most games of this nature. The Brights’ work as Bracers leads them to meet interesting people and encounter exciting situations, naturally leading to the exploration of ancient ruins and the discovery of a conspiracy that threatens to shake the kingdom. If it sounds pretty standard, that’s because it is; this game is a decade old, after all! It’s not the innovation in the plot that makes Trails special, it’s the excellent writing and characterization. The most standard story can feel fresh and new when it’s presented in an interesting way, as we’ve seen with titles like Namco’s Tales series.
Trails in the Sky’s combat system is reminiscent of the turn-based system seen in Final Fantasy X and the strategic movement from the Lunar and Grandia series. Characters will generally move around on their own, but it’s possible to manually redirect movement to avoid area-effect attacks. The order of upcoming turns for both allies and enemies is displayed on the left side of the screen, giving you the chance to plan ahead. Many skills also possess the ability to speed up or delay turns, so it’s possible to delay enemies from performing more dangerous attacks by dealing a heavy strike at the right time. Along with their basic attacks, characters possess a variety of special abilities, as well as the unique S-Craft technique that allows a character to jump in line in the turn order and deal a devastating blow.
All of this is tied together with a 2.5d sprite/polygon presentation that brings to mind PlayStation classics like Xenogears. In today’s era of me-too pixelthons designed to leech off the popularity of indie darlings like Minecraft and I Wanna Be The Guy, it’s nice to see the old 32-bit style make a return. Voice acting is sparse and generally limited to combat, but the sound effects and music are both exceptional. The user interface and controls are similarly well-done and friendly as one would expect from a JRPG.
The best aspect of Trails’ Steam release is the promise it brings for the future. The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky is the first game in a trilogy and ends on a teaser for the next game. When it was originally released for PSP, plans to localize the other games fell through when the massive amount of text in Trails proved to be a more expensive and time-consuming venture than expected. Thanks to translation team Carpe Fulgur we now know that future installments are on their way. In other words, your last excuse for not playing this just got vaporized. Give Trails in the Sky a shot.
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