WORKING HARD TO EARN ITS GRADE
Trails in the Sky exceeded my expectations. Even after months of anticipation, I didn’t expect it to become, without a doubt, one of the best RPGs I’ve ever played. It’s the game that’s been sorely needed in this genre for years now. It’s Whimsical, fun, and engrossing, as well as deeper than most RPGs on the market today. The people who worked on Trails lovingly crafted this game with great care, and it shows. It’s a call back to the golden age of JRPGs, and is one I feel that most gamers will enjoy. It’s good. Really good.
For a long time, the Trails in the Sky trilogy has been rather infamous. The first one was released in 2006 (with a 2004 PC release prior to that), with the rest of the following not too long after. It quickly gained heavy acclaim in Japan, but there was never talk of an English release. The reason being that this particular Trails alone clocked in at 1.5 million Japanese characters and the sequel, spread across two UMDs, contained even more. However, XSEED Games came through for us all and licensed not only the entire trilogy, but three additional Ys games from Nihon Falcom in an attempt to give the developer stable ground in the West. It seems crazy; the PSP market isn’t great right now, and projects as big as these are usually taken on by big companies, but XSEED has my respect for it.
Oliver’s dialogue is superbly crafted; a highlight of the script, really
This is because their translation work is phenomenal. Each line is crafted with care, making the script deliver a degree of character depth and personality that is unheard of these days. This also extends to the in-game text, too. In the game world, there are various books and newspapers to collect and many of them are several pages long. This includes a multi-chapter murder mystery, a cat-to-English dictionary (seriously), and newspapers that runs up to almost twenty pages among other text-heavy works. In addition, the cutscenes, told entirely through text-based dialogue, can run for several minutes. More memorable moments include one of the coolest sword fight I’ve seen in a game and an entire play put on by the main characters. For those that don’t like slower paced games this probably isn’t for them, but I think even they could appreciate just how much work went into establishing a story and setting that extends beyond just this one game.
The story is pretty typical for a JRPG, but it comes off as genuine and manages to be different in enough places so that it doesn’t feel like the road already traveled. The biggest difference from most RPGs is that Trails has two main characters: Estelle Bright and her adopted brother, Joshua. It’s not a hero and sidekick dynamic by any means; these two characters share the lead equally. They fit into archetypes, sure; Estelle is bratty and a bit annoying while Joshua is cool and calculating, but I found both characters to be very loveable, memorable and well deserving of their lead roles.
If only she had that dictionary on her…
They work as Bracers, which are essentially trained mercenaries that help out the common citizens in need and do other things the army doesn’t typically get involved in. At first, this may seem a bit cliché and tired. However, the game quickly opens up to allow the player to tackle a multitude of sidequests, making the player actually feel like a mercenary. There are so many sidequests, in fact, it’s impossible to complete them all in one playthrough. In addition, what sidequests become available in the game largely depend on a number of player-made choices during the course of the game. Choices in JRPGs are usually superficial but here, they’re taken very seriously, a number of them affecting what the characters say later on.
Most games can’t get by on story alone. Thankfully, Trails’ gameplay delivers just as much as its story. The battle system is possibly one of the most clever I’ve ever come across, utilizing turn-based combat with Strategy RPG elements. The characters are free to move around the (rather spacious) area they’re given to battle in during their turn, there are no random encounters, and each type of attack, from normal melee attacks to magic and special attacks, feel useful in their own way. If the player runs into an enemy by accident and doesn’t want to fight, they can just choose to run at any time, and will always escape. If the player loses during a particularly challenging boss battle or regular enemy encounter, which the game likes to have at times, they’re given the option to retry the battle, however the battle is rebalanced to give the player more of an advantage. If they lose again, it’s rebalanced again. It’s simple, effective, and something other RPGs should really pick up on.
Buffs and de-buffs only get important late into the game, at which point they get pretty useful
Then, of course, there are the other cool things the game does gameplay-wise, like giving the player the option to cook whatever meals they may come across in their journey, to supplement the rather barebones amount of healing items. There’s the the option to specialize a character to the player’s liking outside of battle. Even the treasure chests in the game have their own special message for the player if they check them a second time. There are several cool things that the game does to help flesh out the game world like so few RPGs do. Despite being seven years old, the game can hold its own against any RPG coming out this year.
I really can’t stress enough how much fun and whimsical Trails in the Sky is. The soundtrack is simply superb and fun-loving, the translation has been handled with care, and the game world has so much to do, it puts most other RPGs to shame. I was taken completely by surprise that a company like Nihon Falcom, which produces the traditionally story-light Ys series, made such a story-centric game just as good, if not better. Yes, story clichés, like people mysteriously vanishing and martial arts competitions are here. Sure, the graphics aren’t the greatest, but the game is incredibly solid and extremely fun. I’d suggest to anyone looking for not just a good RPG, but a good game, pick The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky. It’s one of the best PSP titles to date. I just hope that XSEED manages to finish the trilogy on the PSP like they planned on. It’s a trilogy that, going by the first chapter, will be worth every penny spent on it now and in the future. I can’t wait for more.
Those fiery red lights means their special attacks do EXTRA damage!
The Good: The battle system, the sheer depths in which the world is fleshed out, and the extensive amount of side quests all stand out. As does the dramatic twist ending. Also, Oliver is one of the most memorable RPG characters in years. The story doesn’t get bogged down by philosophical musings.
The Bad: Mostly, it comes down to how the player likes the cast but, uh…collecting all of the chapters to the mystery novel is pretty tedious, as are a few of the sidequests.
The Ugly: That the rest of this wonderful trilogy might not make it to the PSP! I hope XSEED manages to pull it off.
Perhaps the answer is in the Second Chapter?