Hand The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky to modern RPG fans and they’ll likely balk at its outdated sprites, lengthy conversations, and staunchly traditional values .”It’s so old,” they’ll say, all the while clamoring for more beautiful Bishonen and generic shooters. And as they make their way through the world of Liberl, which feels more alive to me than any wasteland or bullet-ridden country, they’ll look for any sort of gimmickry that could bring the game more into the modern age. And I’ll gladly ask them why they want to fix what’s broken. This class-act RPG from Falcom and publisher Xseed games, a departure from the popular Ys (though unrelated) series, is devoid of so many RPG trappings yet rife with the ones that make us nostalgic. And for that, it should be praised.
Trails in the Sky is the first in a series of similar Legend of Heroes releases, and in fact this one saw the light of day first in 2004. It weaves a tale of two young aspiring Bracers, the problem-solvers and general do-gooders of the world of Liberl. The are-they or aren’t-they couple grow up together, the years rapidly flying by, advancing their intensive training, until one day it’s time to finally join the ranks of real, honest-to-goodness Bracers. And when dangerous mysteries unravel that threaten Liberl, their way of life, and their entire world, it’s up to these young saviors to put their skills to the test and keep everyone safe from harm. It’s hardly worth repeating here, as it’s a device you’ve heard many times over, but Trails in the Sky takes an old premise and makes it feel real.
Estelle and Joshua (junior Bracers, to you!) are light-hearted, relatable characters, as is the world around them. As you make your way through the easily 40 to 50-hour quest, getting to know them comes in the form of plentiful conversations that can just as easily grate on the nerves with length and redundancy but offer bountiful insight on these youths as well as their father (Joshua’s adoptive father) and the acquaintances they make along the way. If you have the time and the patience there is so much here to explore: the lore, for instance, is exhaustively detailed and provides a satisfying amount of backstory for what could otherwise end up as another cookie-cutter RPG.
And even though Trails in the Sky’s modus operandi seems dated, what with some of its less-than-entertaining quests required of you by those who request assistance from Bracers, its classically Japanese RPG character archetypes, and its experience system, it also incorporates many a beneficial mechanic that newer releases often leave out, much to the chagrin of hardcore players: the save anywhere system, the hyper-speed at which characters can move, and a reprieve from the confines of super serious strategy RPG battles.
Rather than painstakingly estimating the number of spaces your party may move, you simply choose a spot on the battlefield and your character will go there. Moving advances turns quicker than others, such as spellcasting, using items, etc., and mastering this is tantamount to acquiring bonuses, gathering sepith, and leveling up. It’s unfortunate that the game seems all too eager for players to breeze through battle, however, which is one aspect I welcomed in my heart of hearts but the purist in me feverishly rallied against. You max out at level 44, and can do this rather easily, so fighting on quickly seems pointless unless you’re truly along for the story to unfold.
Collecting equipment, recipes, books, and pieces of the Trails in the Sky mythos scattered about the world will eat up more of your time than battles will, and New Game + only ensures you’ll be back for a second nostalgia trip. The pleasant soundtrack accompanies some very SaGa Frontier-ish sprites and environments, and though not as memorable as Falcom’s flagship Ys series, begs a few re-listens long after your journey comes to an end.
And as is often the case with games that quickly become dear to my heart (I’d liken this one to Lunar: Silver Star Story) I never wanted The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky to end. Despite its overused JRPG trappings and the few slight irritants, I’d say the RPG market is a lot better for hosting what I truly consider a hidden gem, and its easy to imagine fellow role-playing fans who may have seen their interest in the role-playing genre exhausted over time by a glut of lesser titles find their faith restored by it. Those who might confuse this wonderful new adventure with fellow Falcom franchise Ys will find much to love and admire here, and Xseed Games has done a great service by lovingly localizing the first bit of the Legend of Heroes series, and I can’t wait to see more.